Honda Motor Co. Ltd had revised its popular trio of CB500-series – the CB500F, CBR500R and CB500X for Year 2016. First announced during the EICMA Show 2015 held in Milan, Italy, the revised trio made their international debut approximately 6 months later and were available in Malaysia since the beginning of September 2016.

All 3 models retained the proven and reliable 471cc parallel twin engine featuring a maximum horsepower of 47 from their original versions introduced back in 2012 for Year 2013-2015. What’s revised with the new trio are better styling, improved brakes, adjustable front forks, new exhaust pipe (except for CB500X) and LED-type headlights.

The trio are available in both ABS and non-ABS versions but for Malaysia, the CB5500X also comes with ABS, hence it is designated as CB500XA. Non-ABS type is also available. Both the CB500F and CBR500R are initially also offered without ABS in Malaysia. This is based on the preference of local riders opting for non-ABS models from the original 2013-2015 editions, according to Boon Siew Honda. However, both models are now available in ABS.

Having the same 471cc engine does not mean all 3 bikes are the same there are differences in terms of handling and performance. For starter, the CB500XA, as reviewed here, is equipped with default trail tyres that are meant for minor off-road riding and touring, as it is designed for adventure and touring, as compared to its 2 siblings which are utilized for sports enjoyment and speed.

In addition, the CB500XA has a taller seat height, and a higher volume fuel tank capacity, at 17.3-litre, which is unchanged from its predecessor to ensure a longer ride without interruption for fuel top-up along the way. Given the fact that all 3 models are fuel economy machines, the CB500XA could go all the way to Alor Setar with just a full tank in cruising mode (110km/hr to 145km/hr) starting from Jalan Duta Toll Plaza, or to Johor Baru.

The default trail-type tyres, are longer lasting than the grippy Dunlop D222 installed on the CB500F and CBR500R. However, this affects the CB500XA somewhat in terms of extreme leaning angle and cornering as the grip level is unable to cope with such a demand. Since these tyres are aimed at touring and adventure riders, extreme cornering is not something they would want to try with the CB500XA.

For those who do, it is just a matter of swapping the default tyres to sporty type which offers superb grip at the corners. I had a moment with the CB500XA when I subjected it to extreme cornering at one of my regular corners – the rear wheel slipped mid-cornering but still managed to upright the bike without any incident. It is not the fault of the CB500XA but the limits of the default trail-based tyres have been reached.

A maximum lean angle of 45-50° will be just right for the CB500XA when cornering with these tyres. The revised 41mm Showa front forks offer adjustment, as compared to its predecessor but only for preload. There’s no provision for rebound damping nor compression. Bear in mind the CB500XA is just an entry-level motorcycle, so the features it has, are adequate for novice riders especially those who have upgraded from riding a moped and 250cc models.

While extreme cornering in the dry condition is not recommended, rest assured the default tyres allowed superior grip when riding in the wet including cornering without any tendency to slide. However, do make sure the rear tyre does not venture into white lines and white arrows on the tarmac when raining as these could cause the CB500XA to wobble or lose grip while riding.

Having said that, it is to be noted that both the front and rear suspension, in their standard settings, delivered superb comfort when riding over bumpy stretches of road surface. I had subjected the CB500XA to a bumpy segment, and unlike a few models from competitors’ which felt those bumps harshly throughout the ride, the CB500XA absorbs all of them in its stride comfortably. A biking buddy of mine who followed me on that journey on his rival brand touring model, had lamented of that segment’s bumpy surface.

As for the brakes, both front and rear used Nissin pads, with a 2-piston caliper supplying the power to stop the single 320mm for the former and a 1-piston caliper on the single rear 240mm disc. A single-sided brake for the front is a bit on the risky side for anything above 300cc, but with ABS, the CB500XA is able to thwart most tendencies to skid when last-minute emergency braking is applied as it ensures there’s no locking of both wheels.

With Malaysian drivers having a reputation for bad and reckless driving, with tendency to change lanes without warning, the inclusion of ABS in the CB500XA is definitely a welcome feature regardless of how most riders may feel about the function interfering with their braking style when riding fast.

On paper, a maximum horsepower of just 47 derived from a 471cc engine sounds like not much where performance is concerned. When the CB5500-series was first announced in November 20102, the trio’s specifications had many bikers and motorcycling media gasping in disbelief. Many of them had their doubt wiped off the moment they tried those bikes for actual riding.

Any doubt about the CB500-series’ performance has been casted away once the rider started the engine, engaged the clutch and rides off. Yes, 47hp is nothing spectacular, to say the least but Honda has tuned the parallel twin engine to maximize the performance out of it. It is super smooth all the way from the moment one accelerates the CB500XA from 0km to its top speed of 185km/hr.

Granted, most bikers cruised at between 120km and 155km/hr on the highways, and relishing the challenge of tackling twisty old roads at speeds between 80km and 125km/hr so the CB500XA and its siblings have been tuned to offer superb acceleration for these kind of rides. It maxes out at 185km/hr – that’s where the 47hp makes the difference, or the limit. Bigger capacity bikes, such as the Honda CB650-series, have twice the power (new for 2017 editions have been revised with 90hp) or the company’s newly-announced 2017-edition of CBR1000RR standard and SP/SP2 models, which feature 189hp!

The higher horsepower of the bigger capacity Hondas allowed them to go beyond 240km/hr for top speeds, in addition to superb acceleration from 0-100km/hr and better feel when cruising at between 110km and 155km/hr on highways and twisty roads!

For riders who have no interest in cruising beyond 200km/hr when riding, the Honda CB500XA is more than enough to meet their needs for a motorcycle during a weekend leisure ride or even as a daily commuting bike.

UPDATED: For experienced riders, the CB500XA delivers the kind of performance and handling similar to bigger capacity models on twisty roads particularly riding at between 125 and 155km/hr. Coupled with the default suspension settings, I found the CB500XA absorbs majority of the bumps with ease, allowing me to ride much faster than bikes with stiffer settings. While ensuring that I do not overdo it at the corners with the CB500XA, the bike is able to handle cornering duties with ease, clearing multiple S-curves with just 4th gear, with the downshifting to 2nd or 3rd when encountering steeper parts or slow bends.

In fact, riding the CB500XA up the Ulu Yam-Goh Tong Jaya road needed 4th gear for ¾ of the ride, with 3rd being the only gear in negotiating the steeper S-curve segment just before the police beat base. The same applies when riding the bike up Fraser’s Hill, only 3rd and 4th gears were utilized to reach the top from Gap point below, with 11 minutes taken for the ride up, and 15 minutes for the way down thereafter.

However, the twisty road towards Sang Lee New Village after riding down from Fraser’s Hill is very bumpy nowadays, with numerous patches and potholes but the CB500XA’s suspension is able to absorb most of them with ease, allowing for a decent speed throughout the ride until reaching the area’s iconic sculpture of a hand holding a durian (photo below).

As noted earlier, the CB500XA is one of the fuel saving motorcycles to ride. I did 2 separate long distance rides with it over 2 consecutive days, the first being a 293km and the other a 375.5km journey. Both rides, the CB500XA was fully filled to its 17.3-litre capacity. The 293km ride only consumed approximately 10.9 litres while the 375.5km trip used up 14.5 litres. I have never been able to clock more than 330km on other brands of motorcycles with engine capacity above 500cc with just a tankful of fuel like the CB500XA is capable of.

The figures mentioned are based on the bike’s electronic sensors – which gave the usual data like average consumption per 100km, average usage on actual riding moment and the amount of fuel remaining – the last part is a more detailed data than the fuel gauge on the LCD speedometer, as it countdowns to the amount of main fuel capacity before switching over to the reserve amount of 2-litre right after 15.3-litre has been utilized. From there, the Cb500XA would calculate the amount of the final 2-litre remaining as I racked up the mileage while looking for nearest station of my preferred brand of petrol – either Caltex or Petron.

The fuel remaining data is very accurate – if it has indicated that I had used up 1.3-litre of the reserve amount, that’s exactly what’s left inside the tank as the next top-up literally filled up with only 16.3-litre. This gave me an assurance I have nothing to worry about when looking for a station as I could push the CB500XA until the 1.8-litre warning mark.

The fuel consumption nature of the CB500XA is a noteworthy feature because it is a 6-speed, liquid-cooled 4-stroke, 471cc parallel twin engine with 47hp. When you compared it to a Kawasaki Ninja 250R, a Z250 and the Versys X-250 variants, all of which featured a 17-litre tank, similar 249cc parallel twin engine with 34hp but good for 395km mileage overall, the CB500XA is the better choice among them, with faster acceleration and top speed (185km/hr vs. 170km/hr for the 250cc trio).

Posted by Philip Chong

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