Honda CX500 – The Liquid Cooled V-Twin With Shaft Drive

Back in the mid-70’s middle-weight motorcycles ruled the roost. The big four Japanese manufacturers were all competing in the same category and for the same audience: Young and New riders.  Honda saw the need for a new attempt to capture their target audience and that came right at the end of 1977 for the 1978 model year, in the form of the Honda CX500.

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Honda CX500 Background

Shoichiro Irimajiri was assigned the task of designing a new middle-weight; Honda backed the right horse with this decision as Irimajiri was credited with the GL1000 and iconic six-cylinder Honda CBX. The assignment was clear, look to the future, don’t look back, go to a clean sheet and come up with something completely new.

The design team took this seriously and the end result was a motorcycle that was unheard of for Honda: a water-cooled V-twin engine with shaft drive.

V-twins traditionally were air-cooled, so water-cooling a V-twin was revolutionary and forward thinking; moreover it was a V-twin concept from Honda not Harley Davidson – some would say the undisputed king of V-twins.

Honda CX500 Specs

The Honda CX500 engine was a four-stroke, longitudinal 80° V-twin, OHV, 4 valves per cylinder which were operated by simple pushrods. The intention behind this was to keep the engine design simple yet effective, maintaining Honda’s reputation for reliability; further to which it was also compact.

“Irimajiri twisted the heads 22 degrees inboard to pull the carbs in closer to the middle of the bike and out of the rider’s way” Motorcycle Classics.

The camshaft was tucked right in the middle of the V between the cylinders. 

While the engine design was new and different, in fact it has never been replicated to this day, it was far from a duff concept. Top speed was a little over the ton according to Honda (although I’ve seen a claimed 114 mph), 0-60 in 5.4 seconds, max torque hit 46Nm and max power was 50 horsepower. 

It is rumoured that the Honda CX500 was actually smoother than the Moto Guzzi’s of the time, despite its 80° angle which threw off the balance slightly, the Guzzi’s theoretically had the perfect 90° angle for a V-twin. The water-cooling reduced noise emission and engine temperature.

The Honda CX500 was a large bike and heavy for a 500cc with a dry weight of 205 kg. Thanks to the engine layout the exhaust pipes protruded out and were really the statement piece of the machine. It was also the first mass-produced motorcycle to feature tubeless wheels. 

Honda was pushing the CX500 as a sports and touring bike at the same time although in the end it was more of a tourer. The shaft final drive meant that touring and commuting was ideal, but it removed the precision for the sports rider. 

“The initial feel is touring and the new Honda CX500 rider tends to move away in a calm fashion. Light clutch, light throttle, light gear change. Torque at the bottom is adequate and one need not buzz the engine.” Cycle World 1978

The suspension came in the form of a 33mm Showa tele hydraulic fork and adjustable shocks on the back. It was notably soft for a comfortable ride, however, it wasn’t great for hard cornering (as with some sports riding style), and neither was it great for touring with lots of luggage. This would go on to be addressed with later models and the aftermarket was quick to offer alternatives for the suspension system on the model.

In Europe the Honda CX500 came with twin discs up front for stopping power while the US version had just a single disc. 

Overall the Honda CX500 was unconventional in every way and the Japanese company did a great job of looking forward to the future with the model. 

Let’s take a look at how it performed upon its release. 

Honda CX500 Performance

The Honda CX500 spawned 7 variants (including the larger CX650 and the infamous CX500 Turbo) and although production for most markets ceased in 1983 it continued production until 1985 with around 400,000 units in total sold. With those numbers the CX500 went down as a successful model for Honda. 

In a February 1978 review Cycle Guide editors said, “Our first look at the machine was quite a letdown,” while Cycle World singled out the CX’s engine, saying it “looks like an air compressor.”

One problem that came up with the early models was the cam chain tensioner breaking, and this would have led to complete engine destruction on most bikes, thanks to the engine design most CX500’s were saved from this. 

It took a couple of model years but Honda fixed this problem as soon as they were able to. The alternator was also tricky to begin with, but once again Honda addressed this. Despite initial bad press due to these couple of faults, Honda committed to the new model and the end result was a solidly built motorcycle that gained a following thanks mainly to its reliability.

The bulletproof reputation of the CX means that there are many examples still riding the streets to date and in good condition. So, if you are interested in buying one, check out my buying guide next.

Finding a Honda CX500 For Sale

If you are looking in the UK, average prices for a CX500 seem to be around £5,000. There are however, some exceptions like this example being in very good original condition advertised at £3,250. 

At the other end of the spectrum is this 1982, CX500 Classic Tourer which is priced at £10,999 and is a US import; according to the Ad only 200 of these were initially imported to the UK and only 5343 produced overall. 

In the US you can expect to pay an average of $3,000 again with exceptions either side of that price. Smart Cycle Guide is showing a CX500/D for $2,500 in Colorado, the bike is in very good working and original condition.  

Cycle Trader is showing this motorcycle for $12,000 that is a custom cafe racer based on the CX500.

a well built custom Honda CX500 Cafe Racer like this one can fetch $12,000

If you check out this piece on a Polish built Cafe Racer dubbed the ‘Twister’ on Cycle World you will see that the CX500 has seen a boom in recent years among custom bike builders looking for a new bike to make their own.

When purchasing a Honda CX500 it is important to remember that many riders used these bikes for touring and commuting, so you can expect some wear and tear. It is unlikely that many bikes will be in collector worthy condition and those that are you can expect to pay more for.   

You would be unlucky to find a CX 500 that hadn’t already had the timing chain tensioner sorted but its always best to check just in case. Dealers secretly punched 3 small dots in the shape of a triangle next to the engine serial number.

Restoring a Honda CX500

A CX500 is a great choice for a restoration as it is a bike that stands out from the crowd, is affordable, would make a great first project for novices, relatively easy to work on and also makes an ideal base for those wanting to put a custom spin on it. 

Picking up a donor bike for your project for $500 like this one (which needs a starter motor and battery) will put you in good stead to make a tidy profit, if your intention is to sell the restoration down the line. Parts are also reasonable and there is nothing priced out of reach that would make the project not worth its value.

Parts are readily available with my go to company for original parts CMS in the Netherlands shipping worldwide. Ebay is also a great source for parts and there shouldn’t be too much of a struggle to find anything that you need.

Is a Honda CX500 a Good Investment?

The CX500 continues to have a following today – just check the CX500 forum with its half a million posts and over 32,000 members!

It’s not the most famous of Honda’s or the most collectable. At the right price a CX will likely make you some profit in a few years but certainly won’t double in value or anything like that. The model will hold its value but in terms of a financial investment there are better choices out there. 

However, there is money to be made on a CX500 custom build if you have the skills. There is no end in sight for the custom cafe racer boom and the CX500 seems to have found its niche.  

Verdict

Always one for the underdog and for manufacturers with their designers being brave and committing to a completely new approach, so the Honda CX500 gets a big thumbs up from me. 

It’s another reliable Honda that will carry riders across the country even today if required. How many bikes from 40 plus years ago can you say that about?

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