1978 was a big year for Honda. During that year they had manufactured exactly 2,639,738 motorcycles, making them the largest bike producer in the world, and also released the CX500 onto an unsuspecting audience. As a replacement for the CB four-cylinder series of middleweights, the CX was the second water-cooled machine to be produced by Honda, the first being the GL1000 Gold Wing, and the new twin cylinder machine was a mix of old and new technology, creating a motorcycle quite unlike any other.
The press love to put new machines into pigeonholes, it makes their job easier you see. When the CX500 was launched, not only did most folk think Honda had lost their minds, but there wasn’t a suitable box available to put the new machine into. On paper, the bike was big and potentially underpowered and not at all in keeping with the rest of the world’s idea of a modern, middle weight, machine. Of course, the spec sheets can’t tell you everything and what most people were missing was the experience found during a ride.
Honda has, since the mid seventies at least, displayed a scant disregard for convention and fashion, choosing instead to create their own and be damned. Of course this has led to more than the fair share of heartache especially on the race track, but when they get it right, boy do we sit up and take notice. I often imagine segments of the Honda factory to be not dissimilar to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. You get the picture, ridiculous and unfeasible ways of making that wonderfully simple beast, the motorcycle, and the exact same product that other manufacturers put out at the touch of a button. Close examination is made of the correct way to do something before a team of hapless buffoons are let loose to do it the complete opposite. On the face of it the CX500 was doomed to failure; In reality however, the new CX was a real contender and, once actually tried and tested in the flesh, quickly showed its potential to the press and public alike.
It’s dated engine design and ugly duckling looks didn’t bode well for the types future, but as they say, never judge a book by its cover, unless its one sat on a shelf in an Amsterdam sex shop that is. The CX proved to be a tough cookie and not at all sluggish or ungainly. With a top speed well into treble figures and a chassis capable of keeping the plot straight and true, the type quickly won fans the world over, but never more so than in the UK, where the V-twin became the darling of the despatch rider and serious two wheeled commuter alike. It didn’t win the hearts of the average biker, and never could have, due to its looks and style ethos but it did win the war of attrition by a long way, with many still being used for some serious biking on a daily basis. As it turned out the original design remains the most popular and heavily favoured for its endless mile munching ability and unsurpassed reliability.
Four years after the launch of the CX500, the plastic maggot came of age. First emerging in 1981, as the very rapid, fully faired, Turbo version and then the stylish and sporty CX500E Eurosport model one year later. The E model was introduced as a sports machine especially for the UK market, it would have been a great success in the middleweight category too had it not been for the LC’s and “sexier” four-stroke fours. A fuel gauge was added to the instrument panel for those long journeys and gone was the rounded styling that earned the first versions those cruel nicknames. Styled in sharp and angular manner, with a neat handlebar fairing and sweeping seat and side panels, it was, at the time, arguably the prettiest, and most complete looking, Honda ever created. Brushed aluminium Comstar wheels finished off the cosmetic revamp.
Featuring a diamond type frame along the same lines as the CBX1000, the CX500 E can be quite a well-behaved machine if care is taken in it’s handling. Rarely one to keep a design on the go for too long, Honda didn’t miss a trick with the introduction of the Eurosport model, the chassis made the most of the latest technology and thinking. The wheelbase was significantly longer; 30mm to be precise while the rear end was kept in check by Honda’s proven Pro-Link, single shock, rear suspension. Up front, the forks were updated and beefier too. The 33mm items on the Z, A and B models were replaced by 37mm ones, while the internals were modified too, with the addition of air damping and also a lengthened travel.
What is a relatively heavy all up weight for a 500cc machine doesn’t feel that way to the rider. The narrowness and compactness of what could have been a real large lump of an engine works well in the chassis. The design of the CX unit keeps the power train in one straight line all the way to the rear hub when it has to make a final 90-degree turn to transmit its 50 or so horses to the wheel. This straight line thinking also results in most major components being little higher in the chassis than the rear wheel spindle, thus creating a centralised mass around the footrest area and leaving nothing of any great weight higher up than your shins. Superb Manoeuvrability is the overriding impression that the rider gets from this design attribute.
Close inspection of the engine reveals the cylinder heads to be angled down and out by 22 degrees. This is for a variety of reasons, pure rider comfort being the main one, as the carburettors can be tucked well out of the way of knees, and a straighter, power gaining route, for the induction tract being another. The fact that this then naturally bends the exhaust flow safely out of the way of the front wheels arc, greatly reducing the overall length of the power plant within the chassis, is an added bonus. Of course, cam chains cannot safely, or reliably, twist around their axis, so, with the cylinders heads now out of line with the rotation of the crank and camshaft, the use of pushrods to move the four valves per cylinder became necessary. It was the old way of pushing valves, and not at all in keeping with the technological advancements of the era, but it had to be and above all else it worked very well. The major result from the owner’s points of view was the ease of servicing provided by this method. All you have to do to check and adjust the tappets if remove the two cam cover bolts on each side and measure the gap of the tappet before adjusting to suit. This all important task required no more than the basic of tools to perform, (although the proper Honda tappet tool is advisable, part number 07708-0030400) and this meant the end of big dealer maintenance bills, yet another facet that endeared the type to the high mileage brigade.
The tubular engine design is many times stronger than the box like casings used in a conventional across the frame power plant and once this is bolted firmly in place within the steel frame the result is a sturdy and tough beast. Unlike the similar Guzzi and BMW designs that favour the inline direction of power train the components whizzing around inside have little impact upon the smoothness of the low running. Cleverly designed rotors and clutch baskets damp out any miscreant vibrations before the get the chance to ruin your day. On and off the throttle, the usual see saw effect of the shaft drive is missing too, the inline configuration removes most if not all of the sensations found with across the frame power plants that deliver their drive via a solid shaft to the rear wheel. The compact V-twin has all the attributes of a diesel engine, almost any gear and rev combination will yield forward motion. This makes for a bike that can be sat on for hour after hour or thrown around a busy city centre without complaint. CDI ignition apart, Honda chose not to up rate the engine in any way and it produces the exact same amount of power as the earlier models. Even so, the ride feels livelier although the top speed is around 5mph slower than the older model. A lot of this perceived excitement is down to the competence of the chassis and improvements in the braking department. Honda placed great store in the CX design’s ease of use and while it is exactly the same, control and feel wise, as any other conventional motorcycle to ride there is a large element of convenience about the whole package.
Despite the longer chassis, and extended travel of the suspension, the CX500E does return a sportier ride than the earlier models. Strangely for a sports machine, the forks feature 11mm longer travel than the previous CX versions, but this extra movement is well controlled, featuring air assisted damping and an effective anti dive set up. The TRAC (Torque Reactive Anti-Dive Control) system works by using the braking action to pivot the brake caliper and in doing so actuate a valve in the left hand fork leg, this restricts the damper oils motion and stiffens the front under braking. The harder you brake, the more it shuts the damper valve off, this is met by the force of the oil in the forks to give a balance between the two actions. Simple in its operation, and yet staggeringly effective, making it the best of such systems from the period.
The first CX models, the A and B versions featured single piston floating calipers up front and a dated, single-leading-shoe drum design working on the rear. Braking was good, but not eye popping, as the weight of the engine and shaft drive gang up on the twin stoppers to make life hard for them. For the E model it was twin piston calipers all round, vastly improving the set up seen on those earlier variants although little difference can be felt between the early drum and later disc set up, if anything the drum has more feel than the super keen hydraulic brake.
With as seating position not unlike the later VFR750 the ride is both comfortable and relaxed enabling the rider get on with the job in hand. Good feedback is to be had however even with a plush seta and position, should a decent set of S bends be encountered then the sport will not let you down or shy away form the proceedings. Honda’s commuter tool, par excellence, becomes a willing participant in such games. The 18inch front wheel is considerably more sure footed than the larger 19inch version of the first CX and the extra width afforded by the rear 120 section rubber helps the handling too. The old CX wasn’t a bad performer in this department but the Sport is head and shoulders above.
A replacement for the E model arrived in 1983, a year after its introduction, with a cosmetically similar, but mechanically improved, 673cc version. Both the bore and stroke were increased, to 82.5mm and 63mm respectively, and the sump was given and extra half litre of oil to cope with the increase in lubrication demands. Side panel badges apart, the main difference between to two types were the use of black engine casings on the later model. The larger capacity machine remained in the Honda UK line up, also receiving a turbo, for a further three years until 1986. The increase gave the CX the extra oomph it sorely needed and the type was a great success, the CX650, in its various guises, is now highly sought after by CX fans.
Honda had been playing with a V twin design since 1973. The first models featured an air-cooled 350cc engine housed in a CB200 chassis. To tempt non-bikers into the fold the idea was to sues as much car technology as possible, the transmission was semi automatic with just two ratios, hi and low, to choose from. The lessons learned from this machine led to the first of two water-cooled designs, one with a conventional v-twin power plant while the second featured supercharging. The latter was not an immediate success and yielded a small return in power. This was later seen put to good effect with the CX500 and 650 turbos of 1981 and 83.
The fist CX500Z suffered from a major mechanical defect in the form of a failed cam chain tensioner. Honda immediately sprang into action with a modification to the original design and all was well. The type became a firm favourite with bikers the world over and Honda had created their own class of motorcycle especially for the CX to sit in.
Honda CX500 E Specifications
- Engine – water-cooled, four-stroke, 80-degree pushrod V-twin
- Capacity – 496.9cc
- Bore & stroke – 78mm x 52mm
- Compression Ratio – 10.0:1
- Carburetion – 35mm Keihin VB1AA-A
- Max Power – 50bhp @ 9000rpm
- Torque – 31 ft-lbs @ 7000rpm
- Ignition – CDI
- Transmission – Five-speed, wet-clutch, shaft-final-drive
- Frame – pressed steel and tubular “diamond” construction
- Suspension – 37mm telescopic forks, air/oil damped, TRAC anti-dive braking system. Pro-link rising-rate, single-shock, rear
- Wheels – 100/90 x 18 120/80 x 18
- Brakes – 2 x 275mm disc, twin-piston, floating-caliper, left side activating the TRAC anti dive within the fork lower. Single 275mm disc twin-piston floating-caliper
- Wheelbase – 1495mm
- Weight – 208kgs
- Fuel capacity – 19 litres
- Top speed – 106mph
Honda CX500E Sport Gallery
[dmalbum path=”/wp-content/uploads/dm-albums/CX500E Sport/”/]