TO INFINITY AND BEYOND!
THE HONDA CX500!
IT'S BIKE OF THE WEEK, HURRAH!
Well, after all, the ad-men actually said “first into the future”... I suppose the first thing to get out of the way is the whole “plastic maggot” thing - At the time, it was often described thusly, in letters to bike mags, by mulleted throwbacks who thought Edward Turner was a good designer, and could hum the whole solo from “crosstown traffic”.
It was considered a sensible, heavy, slow, reliable workhorse - a far cry from the image Honda wanted to project. Quite frankly, Honda shot themselves in the foot with the shape of the tank and seat. That's it. That tank and seat.. ah!
I would like to inform you that we don't have violence on my planet
Who is to say what is beautiful? Well, right now, here, it's me, because I am the beholder. That's going to be the title of Carl's first Rock album.. He does I.T. So he would think that's awesome.
Let us compare it to a summer's day - is it more temperate? No. Sorry, it's not you, it's me, I've got loads going on in my head at the moment, it's just not a good time in my life for this, etc.
It would have been so easy to make it look slimmer and lighter and faster and more desirable, just with different lines on the tank and seat... oh well. To those who could see beyond the superficial cosmetics it was a total winner.
The actual bike itself was almost a masterpiece from Honda's most radical designer Shoichiro Irimajiri, who was also responsible for the similarly groundbreaking Goldwing and CBX1000. A fellow, I think we can assume, unfettered by convention, and one free to pursue his convictions. Well done to his boss.
In fact, thinking about it, the Goldwing was also mechanically marvellous, but hampered by weird styling too..
Anyway, here's a list of why it was mental
1. It was pushrod, not overhead cam(s). At the time this was like buying Kevin Keegan, then deliberately tweaking his hamstring. There were sound reasons for this however, if camchains had been used, the cylinders could not have been angled out, the carbs would have stuck out and got in the way of everything (a la Guzzi).
2. It was water cooled - this was super dooper. Before this, if you thought of watercooling, you thought of 2 stroke racers. Or all cars since the year dot.
3. It was a V twin - this was a complete departure for Honda.
4. It had shaft drive. Again, for Honda, this was only seen on the earlier Goldwing, and signified sensible reliability over outright performance. Personally, I reckon exposed drive chains are something that should only be seen on a 1940s agricultural threshing machine, but there you go.
5. It had alloy wheels and tubeless tyres, a big deal then. People didn't trust them initially, and old codgers put tubes inside for extra peace of mind- times have changed grandad!
6. It was an example of Honda throwing all it's engineering resources into a middleweight all rounder, not a niche thingy.
7. What it wasn't. It wasn't, as you would expect, an air cooled across the frame four, with Double overhead cams, chain drive like everything else.
8. It seemed to have been styled by a Martian with Glaucoma, coming down from a banana skin high.
So, to us teenage bike fans in 1978, it was a peculiar mix of amazingly advanced thinking and daring engineering, and the usual middle ground Honda conservatism.
Where are your rebel friends NOW?
The magazine road tests of the day all damned the bike with faint praise - they were professional bikers who wanted something with “character” that would wheelie, guzzle petrol, and vibrate when thrashed.. The public on the other hand, voted with their wallets, and bought one.
My brother bought a two year old example in black with the red flash on the tank, and added the charming (or weirdly pointless) little screen on the hideous nacelle. And crash bars and a topbox, they all had them, along with a rust holed collector box. Along with the Superdream, this collector box was famous for rusting away in no time at all- any bike you buy now will have been through dozens at least.
He used it to go to work in the Dockyard, and visit his girlfriend, and once did an indicated Ton with me on the back, and it never broke down at all, ever. It is the most reliable bike ever made by anybody ever.
They were quickly adopted by the then burgeoning courier community in London, and became thought of as a “hack”. I must say, that when couriers pick a bike as a favourite, it says more than any ad campaign could - real world bikers doing a billion miles a week need reliability, and if they give the thumbs up, it's a badge of honour.
Although on the other hand, it means you might buy a bike that's been round the clock twice, and a courier's choice will never again be thought of as glamourous or sporty.. Since its initial release, image has been the CX500s major problem, or salvation, depending on which side of the fence you are reclining. If you are an independent thinker, it means you will get a good bike cheap. Like MZ's.
If you are swayed by fashions, it means you will never own this ugly duckling, and miss out on it's “boring reliability”. Frankly, if you aren't into constantly tearing engines apart, it's a decent choice even today.
But that engine's ugly isn't it? And the tank and seat!
Buzz, I would love to see you try...
Normal humans have taken to “improving” the CX500s looks by turning it into a half-baked and bodged up “cafe racer”... let me tell you this - the CX500 isn't, and never will be, a cafe racer. It doesn't matter what you do to it, it's one of those bikes that will always be what it is.
Have a look on ebay right now, there are always tons of them on there. Warm up your eyeballss first, because there will be a lot of massive eye rolling going on, particularly when you see what some owners think they are worth..
Some facts for the fact lovers out there in factland
USA models only had one disc on the front.
Early Z model camchain problems were dealer modded, shown by three dots stamped next to the engine number.
The designers brought out a Custom version that was (and this really is a noteworthy acheivement) uglier than the stock bike.
The clutch action is featherlight, in fact, like a white feather ( as we all know softer than black ones due to absence of melatonin). Gearchange goes sideways, in a sense, so to speak, as it were.
There's this weird bloke who works in our office, he's got long hair and likes Status Quo, and he used to be a dispatch rider and rode a CX500 probably like a million miles or something. He says the main thing is the top heaviness; with a full tank of petrol when slowly filtering through traffic the bike had a tendency to keel over and hernias were mentioned when attempting to keep the bike upright once it started going over. The engine was mounted high in the frame and with a big petrol tank full up, this got on some peoples wicks.
Spares are still cheap...
78x52 very oversquare engine,
80 degree pushrod,
4 valve head,
19 inch wheels which limit tyre choice,
drum rear brake,
221kg wet weight (that's 487lbs in old money). Heavy.
4 1/2 gallon tank.
Different versions include the Eurosport (twin pot discs, anti dive, pro link rear suspension), Custom version, 650cc and turbo types, reckoned to be the top examples of the breed.
So in summary, the CX500 is still the bravest and best useful motorcycle Honda have ever made. It still has an appearance only a mother could love, and if you've never ridden one, I would urge you to - you might like the superb comfort and throbby old motor and find yourself dumping Miss World in favour of “Olive” off “On the Buses”.
Any comments or complaints or indeed praise for this bike of the week email us at:firstname.lastname@example.org and we will have a word with Jerry!
NB: Apparently 'everyone likes Status Quo' - agree or disagree? In the world of Blue Peter it would have been answers on a postcard but in actual fact it is even easier these days so you can let us know by some electronic means at your disposal should you feel strongly about this or anything in this article - looking forward to hearing from you :0)
SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER
Sign up to receive updates and new posts straight to your in-box.