A dedicated off-road kit from a UK supplier transforms the Honda CB500X into something special.
The Honda CB500X is a nice little motorcycle. The comfy, upright riding position, quick handling and bulletproof, responsive motor all combine to make it a great streetbike, though its stock cast 17-inch wheels, minimal ground clearance and spongy, short-travel suspension make it as off-road-ready as a Lincoln Navigator.
At a recent press event hosted by Honda Canada on Vancouver Island, the primary focus was Honda’s new Africa Twin, but my attention kept straying to a rather serious looking CB500X outfitted with knobby tires and true off-road wire wheels, which were part of a kit assembled by Rally Raid—a UK-based company that specializes in on- and off-road products for various makes and models.
Honda Canada had put together two 500Xs with Rally Raid’s full stage three kits, prompting one Honda rep to boast that, in this configuration, the bike is “now a serious, go-anywhere adventurer.” I raised a Spockian eyebrow at this suggestion: “Logic dictates this cannot be so.”
Yet on the impromptu motocross course that was part of the press launch event, I was thoroughly surprised and impressed. The engine felt torquey and very free-revving while the supple, well-damped suspension soaked up all the bumps. The bike proved capable on the gnarly single track, breezed through the mudhole and was a treat on some hard-packed gravel roads.
The Rally Raid kits are comprehensive but not cheap: the distributor, Giant Loop in Bend, Oregon, lists them at $2,899 (or $3,715 in Canadian dollars).
With the kit, the cast wheels are replaced by heavy-duty aluminum rims with billet machined hubs and stainless steel spokes, while a 19-inch tire adds to the off-road performance.
Rally Raid turned to Tractive Suspension to upgrade the forks and replace the rear shock with a remote-reservoir unit that’s fully adjustable. The swingarm linkage is upgraded to a new billet type to work with the longer travel suspension.
A billet triple clamp makes way for the new front wheel as well as allowing customers more handlebar options. A longer kickstand is required to handle the taller suspension and a new front fender matches the profile of the 19-inch front tire.
The bottom line is that the kit provides 51mm more rear suspension travel, 31mm more front travel, while ground clearance is increased by a significant 66mm and damping is hugely improved. The stock 810mm seat height also increases to 871mm.
Installation is fairly straightforward. The main hurdle is removing the ignition switch from the stock triple clamp, which requires drilling out the hardened security bolts with a very good drill bit.
The bash plate/crashbar assembly fouls an exhaust bracket, which must be notched with a die grinder, and the kit is actually designed for use with an aftermarket exhaust. When using the stock exhaust, you have to create a clearance dent with a hammer.
The Honda technician who performed the installation reckons that while the instructions aren’t the best, anyone who’s somewhat mechanically capable should be able to correctly do the job inside one day. The only issue that’s cropped up is that both kit side stands failed and had to be reinforced and re-welded.
The second day of the Honda press event was a 375-km street loop and when I wasn’t on the Africa Twin, I made a beeline for the kitted Honda CB500X because it’s very good on the pavement as well. I loved the responsive motor, the riding position and how it steered very lightly in the turns. The only thing I didn’t like were the kit levers, which felt short and plasticky.
As the owner of a 2008 KLR650, it was natural for me to compare the two motorcycles and how they perform. They have roughly the same power (46 hp for the 500X, 42 for the KLR) and weigh about the same at 196 kg gassed up and ready to go.
But where the 500 feels compact and agile, the KLR is tall and top heavy, and when on the trails, even my six-foot three-inch frame can’t stop it from toppling over once it starts to go.
Where the KLR plods nicely along with a purposeful, determined cadence, the 500 spins up quickly, and is much smoother as the aftermarket pipe gives it a nice, growly note.
The KLR soldiers on with 1985 technology—carburetor with choke and a five-speed box—while t
he Honda CB500X has fuel injection, a six-speed transmission and ABS on the front.
A blip of the throttle and a quick tug on the bars easily lofts the front wheel of the kitted 500X. To get any altitude on the KLR, throttle hard and yank the bars with authority.
VERDICT ON THE HONDA CB500X WITH RAID KIT
At first, it doesn’t seem to make sense to throw four grand at a motorcycle that lists for just over $7,000. Yet the kitted Honda CB500X comes in at thousands less than the 800cc displacement adventure bikes and scouring the classifieds could turn up a used donor bike to save a couple thousand more. And, in truth, not everyone wants a 1200cc heavyweight that’s fine on the highway but exhausting in off-road environments.
I actually inquired about buying one of the kitted 500s Honda brought to Vancouver Island but, sadly, they were spoken for long ago. It takes quite a motorcycle to get me to think about trading in the KLR!
By Steve Bond Canadian Biker #322