When we drew straws for bikes before our LAMS adventure, I was quietly confident that I’d scored the pick of the pack with Honda’s CB500X. Its comfortable upright riding position, long-legged stance and trademark reliability make it ideal for tackling a long journey over mixed terrain. And with an average fuel consumption of around 3.5L/100km it’s little wonder it’s popular with continent traversing adventure folk the world over.
Honda is clearly very proud of its 471cc parallel twin and has used it to power three different LAMS models. The CBR500R is a race-oriented supersport bike ready for the track, while the naked CB500F boasts café-cool styling for the street. At the other end of the spectrum is the CB500X, a multi-talented machine that needs little more than a set of dual purpose tyres to change its bias from comfortable commuter to capable soft-roader. It has the power to open up a whole range of riding options for its lucky owner, and will no doubt win plenty of kudos from new riders who don’t want to be restricted to silky smooth sealed roads. This attribute has not gone unnoticed by aftermarket accessory providers, such as Rally-Raid Products Ltd, who now offer purpose-built adventure kits for the CB500X with wire wheels, a 19-inch front, new triple clamps, longer travel suspension and various other pieces of hard protection. Of course, we wanted to test the bike as close to stock as possible in an effort to really assess its capabilities straight out of the crate, so all we did was fit a set of Pirelli MT 60 RS dual purpose tyres before embarking on our cross-country foray into the Victorian high country.
With temperatures plummeting to just above freezing, and a mixed route of tar and gravel ahead, which included around 45km of two-wheel drive back roads, I’d be lying if I said I was chomping at the bit to get out there. However, my confidence was buoyed when we completed our bitumen segue to the off-road sector and I had a chance to appreciate just how light and well-balanced the little Honda really is. The short wheelbase and wide, raised ’bar made the bike a pleasure to flick around and utterly predictable in the greasy conditions. These attributes were even more highly valued when we transitioned to the dirt for our adventure from Marysville to Kevington on a series of gravel roads that were spattered with slick sections of red and orange clay. The ABS, which is permanently switched on, saved my skin a number of times when we were chasing our imaginary competitors through the slop. In fact the CB500X was virtually unflappable under brakes during the whole unsealed journey, which made me want to disengage the rear ABS just so I could enjoy sliding it around a bit more!
When we emerged unscathed from the forest, my feelings of surprise gave way to nostalgia at the prospect of navigating the next 70-odd kilometres of winding bitumen to Jamieson. Not because I was tentative about the the twisty rain-sodden roads that lay ahead – well maybe just a little – but more because I’d just popped my adventure cherry and couldn’t wait to get back on the dirty stuff.
On the final leg of tarmac switchbacks, the ultra-linear power delivery did an impeccable job of putting the power into the slippery surface in spite the dual purpose tyres we’d fitted. The bike had no issues cruising along at highway speeds when the technical mountain roads opened up, and its low, wide seat was like an armchair for my weary bones after a long day in the saddle.
As we rounded the final corners alongside the Goulburn river on route to the Kevington hotel I had time to reflect on the trip as a whole, and the performance of Honda’s CB500X. Is there any other LAMS bike that could get through such a journey and have you grinning from ear to ear at the conclusion? It probably wasn’t the fastest on tar, or the most thrilling tool for off-road use in our LAMS shootout, but I’ll bet that the Honda CB500X is the most comfortable and versatile of all the bikes on test by a Kevington mile.
Why do this?
Anyone who’s keen to build their motorcycling skills on the road will benefit from a bit of mixed terrain riding. Many of the best road racers come from a dirt riding background because it’s more cost effective for junior racing, but also because off-road riding is bucket loads of fun!
In the absence of the spine tingling speeds and lightning fast reflexes that are required to push the limits of traction in grippy road conditions, off-road riding also provides an opportunity to become comfortable with the bike moving around and interpret the ‘feedback’ that resonates through the ’bars. Understanding how the bike reacts when you’re losing the front or winding on the power at slow(er) speed breeds confidence, and this transfers easily to situations where you have more grip and pace, such as on the road. I walked into this test as a novice off-roader but emerged with a huge grin and solemn commitment to continue riding dirt, thanks to the enjoyment I’d experienced on this humble little Honda.
Why this bike?
With its bulletproof motor, comfortable ergonomics and well balanced chassis, the CB500X is the perfect platform for beginners. However, it will also strike a chord with hardened adventurers who demand utter dependability from their steeds. It’s a Honda, so you can take solace in the marque’s reliability, and the knowledge that parts will be reasonably inexpensive and in abundant supply. There’s a host of accessories and more serious mods that will transform it from a daily commuter into a raging off-roader, but the base model was well capable in mixed terrain when fitted with a set of Pirelli MT 60 RS dual-sport tyres. And a few well-placed pennies in the suspension coffers could give it the potential to rival the best purpose-built adventure bikes.