Pint-Size Adventure Bike, Full-Size Fun

I was riding the Honda CB500X back from spending the morning with my daughter and 3-month old grandson, throttling down a sparsely trafficked four lane county road. I glanced at my right mirror and noticed another motorcycle making for me in the right lane. I could tell by the silhouette it was another adventure bike by the wide panniers on either side. I gassed the little twin ADV, making him/her give chase. The stretch of road was undulating but largely empty, so we had some good natured fun diving across our pair of southbound lanes as he/she gradually gained on me. On a long straight the rider finally caught me and coming alongside on my right, I glanced over and saw my companion/competitor was a guy on a BMW 1250 GS. He was pointing at my Honda, pumping his thumb vigorously, clearly thrilled with our little chase through the curves.

We finally came to a stop light and pulled up beside each other, lifting our face shields for a quick chat. “Wow, as I was chasing you down,” he exclaimed, “I was expecting this to be a big Ducati or Triumph or something! It’s a little Honda 500! How cool is that?!” Needless to say, we both had a blast, and it just gave me one more reason to love this pint-size adventure bike.

The little ADV that could. Punches above its weight class.

Honda had given us a 2023 Honda CB500X for a month or so, and I was looking forward to spending some time on this diminutive adventure bike. I must admit, however, that I’m not a huge fan of the adventure category. Across all of motorcycling, ADV and Touring (Honda Goldwing, the Harley and Indian “land yachts”, etc.) are my least favorite segments, mainly due to my smaller stature. The ADV motorcycles I personally find to have too short a wheelbase, too tall suspensions and ride height, and typically are too top-heavy. I’m just not comfortable on most bikes in the segment. Prior to this Honda, the only ones I’ve ever ridden that I actually felt relatively comfortable on was the Royal Enfield Himalayan, which I felt was a bit underpowered, and the Triumph Tiger Sport 660, even though I had a small mishap with it on a road trip.

Could the small displacement CB500X be a game changer for me?

One of the first impressions I got of this Honda was when I threw a leg over and uprighted the bike, I could mostly flat foot on it. At 5’8”, about 150 lbs and a 31” inseam, this instantly eased my concerns. With a ride height of 32.8” and wet weight of 439 lbs. yet a suspension with 5.9” travel up front and 5.3” in the rear, I felt this to be an ADV built more for my size, age and limited off-road chops. The CB500X runs a 471 cc liquid-cooled, DOHC parallel twin mill, same as in their CB500F, CBR500R, Rebel 500, and all-new SCL500 Scrambler. It’s a proven powerplant that punches above its weight class. I just wish it was a true 500. It’s closer to a 450 than a 500. Hmm, if Honda married this ADV setup with their CB650R mill,… (grinning at the thought)

Light, low enough, quick and nimble- I’m warming up to the ADV segment.

I also discovered the CB500X seems to love higher revs, for shifting and just running. The bike shifts through a 6-cog gearbox that’s butter smooth due to a slipper clutch, which I was pleasantly surprised to find on one of Honda’s smaller bikes. I’ve been running the rpms up in each gear to 5-6K between shifts, with a nice approving howl from the engine and exhaust. Did a stint out on Atlanta interstate with it (taking my life in my hands, I know), and noted the CB500X turns a tick over 6K rpm at 75-80 mph, growling at the surrounding traffic on my city’s somewhat treacherous highways. This is a fun little ADV to ride, that holds its own even on the occasional superhighway.

This is a rev-happy little powerplant.

I’ve been looking for more opportunities to get some practice on dirt and gravel roads near me here in semi-rural north central Georgia, and discovered a YouTube channel called MotoTrek with helpful videos about off-road motorcycling. With how manageable the CB500X feels, it’s been the perfect steed to go work on some skills. Standing up on the pegs, flexing a bit at the knees, comfortable, relaxed bar reach and grip, and letting the small ADV move around beneath me while on the throttle, all skills the folks at MotoTrek emphasize, is so easy and confidence inspiring on this Honda. This bike and their beginner videos are moving me forward.

Let’s go work on some dirt/gravel skills…

Phil G, our “media guru” turned some miles on and off road with the CB500X, but concludes, ”The bike is really too small for me. I’m folded up on it like a gorilla on a minibike.” Of course, Phil is cramped on most bikes beneath 700 cc, standing at about 6’2”. Phil loved the fit and feel of the Yamaha Tenere 700 and Triumph Tiger 900 Rally we sampled, while I am finding this smaller ADV fits me very well in the rider triangle. If you’re not comfortable on a bike, you’re not going to feel confident on it, and will be more prone to mishaps, accidents and even injury.

Comfort breeds confidence.

The Honda CB500X has no multiple ride modes, no switchable traction control, and no front or rear suspension adjustments. It does run an ABS, but it’s non-switchable. And yet, who really needs all those? I suppose some hard-core ADV enthusiasts might. Like the larger Yamaha Tenere, this is just elemental adventure motorcycling in a more compact and affordable package, with a motor well-tuned for midrange grunt and torque.

Road Dirt media specialist Phil G. felt a bit cramped on the CB500X. Gorilla on a minibike, indeed.

Ours came equipped with some Honda accessory farkles, as in an engine and front fairing guard, a 12V plugin port, rear pillion grab rails, and a pair of really nice removable hard bags and mounts. After the difficulties we all had with bags on the Honda Rebel 1100T, these are a breeze to open, shut and lock, or completely remove. And they’re decently spacious, with an adequate capacity for road tripping (unsure of actual size, and couldn’t find it on their site).

It should be noted that the Honda CB500X runs on cast wheels- a 19 inch front and a 17 inch rear. So it’s not really factory suited for heavy duty off-roading, bouncing off large inanimate objects, and “berm banging” like Phil calls it. It does have 4.3” of ground clearance, so road riding and light duty off-road suit this bike best, at least in factory setup. The bike has become a bit of a cult fave in the ADV world, with numerous aftermarket companies building and supplying all kinds of mods and add-ons, from spoked rims, beefier forks and shocks, to full world-traveling luggage kit.

The little Honda’s unobtrusive dash and cockpit setup. Nice array and layout.

I like the simple yet ably functional Nissin brake systems fore and aft, with a pair of radial mounted 310 mm discs up front and a single 240 mm pinching the rear. With the ABS, it’s a good setup, even if it’s non-switchable. I do a lot of engine braking while I ride anyway, and try to avoid the brake lever and foot brake when I’m on dirt and gravel, but I trust these Nissins when needing to put a squeeze on calipers.

With multi-color, multi-function, TFT and touchscreen displays on so many motorcycles these days, I like the simple, unobtrusive black/white display of this CB500X. It doesn’t force itself into my vision with vivid colors, curvy rpm lines, and overall bright white screens. It plainly and clearly shows me the basic info needed, as in mph, rpm, and range to E, with white alphanumerics on a black background. I like it. Oh, and the non-glare plexiglass screen they used is nice as well, when the sun is shining over your shoulder. No blinding reflection.

Perfect bike for getting my “dirt legs” back in shape.

I’ve spent most of my days with the nimble little CB500X just putting around my part of the state, throttling out through the countryside or sliding around some dirt and gravel roads working on my limited off-road skills. Mike Boyd, one of our contributors, owns one himself, a 2021 model, and completed a trip out west on it two summers ago. You can check out his story and photos HERE.

Not sure I’ll ever fully jump into the off-road ADV craze, but if I did pull that trigger, this Honda CB500X would be a frontrunner for consideration. I’ve felt that comfortable on it. You riders that stand around 5’9” and under, male and female, I think this would make an excellent choice for a capable road/dirt motorbike.

For more on the 2023 Honda CB500X, click here:

Honda CB500X

Rob

Rob’s Gear:

Sedici Marco Mesh Jacket

BILT Amped EVO & Qualifier Helmets

REV’IT! Davis TF Jeans

BILT Tourer Boots

Indie Ridge Summer Gloves

*Check out our video review here:

Cycle World Athens

15 Comments

  1. Marcos

    Thanks for a well-written and thorough review.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      Thank you Marco, and it was our pleasure. Definitely loved that little ADV.

      Reply
  2. CRIS P

    I own a 2021, love the bike. I’m a 5’7, 175 lb, middle aged woman. it suits me very well.

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      It’s well suited for us shorter-in-the-inseam riders.

      Reply
  3. JAROSLAV PETERKA

    Hi! I am not a rider. My daughter is, with a Vulcan 800. I enjoyed your review and comments. Simple language. Thank you. P.S. I build 1/12 scale bikes. Wish you safe riding!

    Reply
      • RJM

        one correction, the cb500x does have rear shock preload adjustment

        Reply
  4. Belray Bill

    If you want over 20% power increase, replace the air box with K&N Velocity stacks, spike the cat. converter and replace the front sprocket with one tooth larger, and put it on a bike dyno. Amazing difference!

    Reply
    • Gareth

      Hi Belray Bill – very interesting !! Do you have B4 & after readings please ? Buying one for my son after owning a 2013 for a year which I can only praise !! He will welcome a few extra ponies !!

      Best , Gareth

      Reply
  5. Mark

    What brand/model bags did this bike have? Thanks

    Reply
    • Rob Brooks

      I’m assuming OEM Honda bags, installed on the bike prior to our taking possession.

      Reply
      • David donne

        I call bs on that one B B. What on earth makes you think that adding a tooth on the front sprocket is part of a 20% increase. Don’t even believe that K & Ns plus a new pipe would give you that.

        Reply
  6. Simon Chin

    Good article, I thouroughly enjoyed reading it, I am 5 feet 7, about 150 Ib. About 2 years ago I wanted to buy an adventure touring bike, I spent about 1 year doing tonnes of researches, I have narrowed down to 2 bikes, CB500X & Suzuki V-Strom 650. At the end I bought the V-Strom mainly due to I was given the opportunity to rest-ride the V-Strom, whereas my local Honda dealers wasn’t able to provide me a test ride. And there was also at that time year 2021, CB500X has not evolve to the current “perfection” yet, it was still single front brake disc then & other smaller refinements yet to materialized. But CB500X remain close to my heart, proven reliable & bullet-proof engine, easy to maintaine, good for filtering city traffic.

    Reply

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