I have completed three tours of Thailand on the CB500X yet never got around to writing a review of the bike.
Honda builds the CB500X in Thailand and it is a common model in the rental fleets in Chiang Mai, often the cheapest option in a big bike which is why I have chosen it my last few rides there. The first time I ride this bike was in 2014 on a then band new machine.
That model I found the suspension to be little harsh and so on my next tour I returned to riding a Kawasaki ER6, the other locally made bike. On subsequent visits the CB500X remained at same price of about 1100-1200 baht a day while somewhat surprisingly the older higher mileage ER6 models became 500 baht a day more so I returned to the Honda.
Whilst appearing identical two years on the bike had received some changes. Visually the headlight was now a LED unit, the screen revised and brake lever adjustable. The fuel tank is slightly larger, the seat redesigned. The forks now had spring preload adjustment and the rear shock new damping rates. The bike was a big improvement from the first one I rode.
My second time on a CB500X I was in a group and often riding with two young guys from Austria who wanted to go faster so I was pushing the bike along at a brisker pace than I would riding alone. In that scenario I felt the bike a bit lacking. Despite my less is more mantra the 500cc parallel twin is a bit under powered for sporty riding and passing vehicles was often delayed as the engine does not have the punch needed to get past something quickly and safely.
Also the single rotor brake up front is fine for regular braking but in that sporty riding mode there were a couple of times that I could sense the brake was at its limit.
Another two years on, 2019 I am back on a CB500X in Thailand which has a new exhaust and couple of minor styling changes. The exhaust now meets the Euro4 requirement and that along with perhaps some altered engine mapping seems to have left the bike less responsive. Not sure but the seat looked even more padded than the last time and I found it very comfortable this tour which was at a slower pace where I spent longer spells in the saddle.
The upright riding position is very good for me, maybe less so if you are not as tall. The screen seems to have grown slightly from the earlier version and does a reasonable job. The switch gear is good size and solid. The finish could be better, I am not a fan of the mat paint. This photo taken morning of first ride day and the finish soon collected dust that clings more than to a gloss coat and then lingers despite rain rinsing the bike a few nights. Braking more than adequate at sensible pace I rode on this tour.
Back to that engine. On this slow ride I was never asking much of it and power wise it was enough most of the time however I still found myself not pleased with the way it feels. Honda’s NC700/750 engine which I presume is related to the 500 is an engine that people often dislike. A chap I know in Japan had the NC750X and soon sold it saying the engine was too lacking in character and riding the CB500X again I kind of see what he meant. It is slightly dull in the power delivery and leaves you feeling detached.
Could it be fixed with an aftermarket exhaust and remapping? I feel that might help. The ER6 I rode in Malaysia with aftermarket muffler was marked improvement over the standard one. Kawasaki’s ER6 and BMW’s very similar feeling F700 engine have power that builds in the mid range and peaks in the upper rpm’s where as Honda’s engine is very linear or flat. Of the parallel twins I have ridden the only one I really liked was the MT-07 which has the 270 crank and perky character.
Honda have recently announced a major update to the CB500X. There are multiple enhancements to the engine, a slipper clutch, revised handlebars and a 19″ front wheel. The rear shock and ride height have been altered as well the muffler, rear brake, windscreen, fuel tank and colour LCD dash. It still looks almost identical at first glance but I am very interested to ride the new model. The CB500X has always been priced at an attractive point. The new one will likely creep up in some markets depending on how much the local dealers think that can extract for it but should come in reasonable compared to the crazy prices I see on some ADV styled bikes.