X-FACTOR | Honda CB500X

How Well Does Honda’s ADV Scheme Scale?

Honda's latest X bike, the CB500X, is a machine we know borrows a lot of CB500F/CBR500R architecture—so much so that you wonder how different these three motorcycles could possibly be. Different wrappers on the same bike? That in mind, we thought a more interesting exploration would be to see how the CB-X stacks up against its very similarly styled cousin: the slightly older and slightly more expensive NC700X. Even though the CB500X and the NC share basic styling themes and are close in displacement (471cc and 640cc), they appear to approach the common ground from different directions. The NC has innovative architecture, with a laydown parallel-twin and steel-tube frame that allows a central storage trunk big enough for a full-face helmet. Fuel, all 3.7 gallons of it, goes under the seat.

The CB500X is mostly just a restyle job on the CB500F/CBR500R twins. Repurposing the same steel frame, Honda draped new, slightly butched-up bodywork around the now-familiar 471cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin powerplant. The list of functional alterations is short: a larger, 4.5-gal. fuel tank and a longer-travel fork. Honda says the 41mm, non-adjustable Showa strokes through 5.5 inches, instead of the CBR500R's 4.3 in.; the shock has the same 4.7-in. of travel. As a result of the higher-riding front end, wheelbase grows by 0.4 in., rake increases to 26.5 degrees (up 1 degree), and trail increments to 4.3 in. from 4.1.

Such changes usually Novocaine up handling, but that's not what happened here. Thanks to different tires—the X model rolls on Pirelli Scorpions—and a taller, wider (by 3.25 in.) handlebar, the CB-X flicks into corners with an eagerness that makes it feel lighter than the 425 pounds (wet) our scales show. Its steering is neutral, if not exactly light, with little of the CBR500R's tendency to become heavy feeling as you lean farther. Because the CB-X shares frame, suspension rates, crazy-squishy footpegs, and low peg carriers, it has functionally about the same cornering clearance as the CBR500R, which is to say not quite enough. The additional fork travel helps incrementally—an increment you'll measure with a micrometer not a yardstick—but the X's chassis is plainly more eager for fun than its softly calibrated suspension allows.

Honda says the NC700X is 42 lbs. heavier than the CB-X, and, in fact, it's larger in just about every major dimension: wheelbase, rake, trail, and seat height. The actual displacement difference is just 169cc and, thanks to the way the engines are configured, peak power is very close: 47.1 horsepower at 6300 rpm for the NC and 43 bhp at 8600 for the higher-revving CB-X.

Numbers are one thing, of course, but subjective impressions indicate even more of a gap between the CB-X and the NC. Dominant in the NC's personality is its low-key engine, which revs smoothly and surely to a 6500-rpm redline, one made to seem even lower by the engine's 270-degree crank, a feature that makes it sound even lower revving than it is. But the NC also has considerably more flywheel effect and absolutely spot-on fueling; the injection is no doubt aided by the engine's modest output, but we should offer praise nevertheless. It's that good.

Where the NC is smooth and slightly sedated, the CB500X is livelier, though on the Official Scale of Frisky, it's more of a five than an eight. Vibration-free beyond expectations, the CB's little twin revs freely and feels like it has plenty of room to the redline—just the opposite of the NC. Power is more than adequate, and even top-gear roll-ons feel sprightlier on the 500, mainly because of its gearing. But we're not talking Multistrada here; both Hondas are polite, safe-feeling, and well-aimed at returning and beginning riders.

From the saddle, the NC feels marginally larger, but both are nicely human in scale, a departure in a world of super-sized ADV machines. Our ergonomics measurements show the NC and the CB-X to be very similar, with the CB having a marginally taller (by 0.8 in) bar that's slightly closer to the rider (by 0.6 in.). A taller, closer-set windscreen on the CB-X further amplifies these impressions, but they're subtle. We like the CB's basic aerodynamics better; good coverage, less turbulence.

What surprised us the most are the differences in refinement. The NC's suspension has better ride motions—even the 10,000-mile example we used as the benchmark—with none of the clomping over concrete-slab roads the CB has. And then there's the fueling. Our CB-X testbike exhibited too-sharp response on trailing throttle and again as you try to pick it up on the exit of the corner. The NC has far, far more predictable behavior, no doubt aided by extra flywheel and a flatter torque curve. Oddly, the store-bought CBR500R we tested earlier this year was better.

We all want seamless throttle response, sophisticated suspension, and stand-on-the-nose brakes, but at the CB500X's pricepoint ($5999 base, $6499 with ABS), you're asking a lot. The more difficult question is which one? The NC700X is a superb, flexible commuter—one of the best. The CB-X's relative lack of refinement makes it more work, but the payback is a machine that's more engaging to ride. And with enough difference in price tags—the non-ABS CB-X is $1500 cheaper than the manual-trans/non-ABS NC700X—you can probably fix the CB-X and dip into the long list of official Honda accessories. That, we like.

Tech SPEC

Price $5999 ($6499 w/ABS)
Engine type l-c parallel twin
Valve train DOHC, 8v
Displacement 471cc
Transmission 6-speed
Measured horsepower 43.0 bhp @ 8600 rpm
Measured torque 28.3 lb.-ft. @ 7100 rpm
Frame Tubular-steel semi-double cradle
Front suspension Showa 41mm fork
Rear suspension Showa shock adjustable for spring preload
Front brake Nissin two-piston caliper, 320mm disc
Rear brake Nissin one-piston caliper, 240mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion
Rear tire 160/60ZR-17 Pirelli Scorpion
Seat height 30.9 in.
Wheelbase 55.5 in. 
Fuel capacity 4.5 gal. 
Measured wet weight 425 lbs.
Contact www.powersports.honda.com
X Factor Honda CB500X 02
Honda CB500X
Honda’s two latest X bikes share styling concepts but almost no parts, and, for that matter, little personality. The CB500X is energetic where the NC700X is calm. Almost to a fault.
Honda CB500X
Honda’s increasingly familiar and multi-talented LCD instrument panel comes with a truly dumb “amber” filter that makes it difficult to read. Really?
Honda Power Curves
**What the Magic Wheel Says: ** On our dyno, the NC700 reveals fairly prodigious torque (orange line) low in the rev range. On the road, though, you also notice how it signs off abruptly at the 6500-rpm redline. The CB500X also has a commendably flat torque curve, and has a much revvier personality—power tapers near the redline so that you seldom smack the limiter. The NC wins the award for best throttle response.
X-Factor Honda CB500X
Although the engines in all the CB500s are exactly the same spec, our CB-X testbike had much less refined fueling than the CBR500R we sampled earlier this year. Hmmm.