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A reliable as old horses Honda motorcycle transformed into an overland machine with hand-made parts and thousands of miles development to deliver a cheap-as-chips Adventure bike? Sound too good to be true? Rally Raid Products have done the unthinkable and transformed Honda’s common-as-muck commuter CB500 and made it handy off-road and a viable option for overland bike travel.
You might quite rightly ask, “why on earth a Honda CB500? That soft roady thing?” That bike which frankly you never look twice at either on the road, as it bimbles past you in a traffic jam, or in a showroom alongside bigger, more exciting machines. I’m just as guilty of ignoring this huge-selling but ultimately as dull as a librarian’s cardigan kinda bike.
I’m just as guilty of ignoring this huge-selling but ultimately as dull as a librarian’s cardigan kinda bike.
Well, why not? Commuter bikes and Honda should ring a bell for a start because both are synonymous with simple, cheap, economical, reliable and readily serviceable motorcycles. Drop the commuter moniker, insert adventure and suddenly you have bike which makes a lot of sense, on paper – if only it worked better off-road.
Funnily enough that is what UK-based Rally Raid Products (RRP) thought just before they began crafting their CB 500 X Adventure: a bike born from a relatively boring but rugged and reliable commuter hack with a host of bolt-ons to make is useful on the trails and as an overland bike. In the words of RRP the CB 500 X is an “all-road trail bike.”
Honda clearly thinks the idea of an off-road capable CB is no bad idea either. The recent EICMA motorcycle show in Milan showcased a couple of concept models including the CB Six50. Whether Honda actually goes one step further and turns concept into reality remains to be seen but if the Italian Honda R&D arm has been busy then there’s a chance. In the meantime, if you’re interested then Rally Raid is a genuine option.
In very simplistic terms the Honda CB 500 X Adventure essentially fills a hole in the adventure bike market – a twin cylinder kinda hole. At one end of the scale you have the more traditional single cylinder trail bikes like the Kawasaki KLR650 and Suzuki DR-Zs which are great bikes without question but smaller, lighter, less comfy and to a degree limited when it comes to distance travel. Then a little jump occurs up to the Triumph Tigers and BMW GS 800 of this world. Only single cylinder BMW’s 650s and Yamaha’s XT models occupy the middle ground where there’s little else on the market currently to attract those of us with less experience, less budget but who still want a decent adventure road bike which can capably hit the dirt (NB mid-weight capacity bikes are making a come back if the 2015 motorcycle shows are anything to go by so this may change in the coming years).
What helps make the CB 500 X a hole-filler, the Honda CB 500 in any guise in fact, is its twin cylinder, 471cc engine. Docile to ride and very economical it still has broadly torquey power delivery which cruises on the road and delivers soft useful power off-road. It’s never going to blow too many skins off rice puddings but that’s its charm. It is the very definition of a bullet-proof engine.
The CB is and was always designed as a cheap, reliable, and relatively basic motorcycle. It remains a classic commuter machine, a favourite with couriers and an ideal learner or first bike. It’s been around for 75 years (approx. more or less) and there’s a reason for that; people keep buying them.
What have RRP changed? On this test bike the list includes a couple of inches more travel suspension, stronger spoked wheels and an increased front wheel size to a 19inch rim, stronger top triple clamp which raises the handle bars and give you a range of adjustment in the bar position. Fatter footrests, stiffer suspension, some engine protection down below, more ground clearance under a bashplate, Conti TKC tyres and switchable ABS.
The point behind RRP’s CB5 is the options you have depending on what you want, need or can afford. Experienced overlanders themselves, the bikes and parts fitted are all extensively tested by the RRP team who’ll happily lend advice and help steer your ears.
How would you describe Rally Raid Products? Adventure and rally bike specialists tailoring their own products and working on existing models like the KTM 950/990, 690, Triumph Tiger 800 and others including the CB500. Engineering their own parts and honing in on a select few useful overland machines, their tailoring of bikes and parts to suit a purpose is as much a passion as a business.
The front suspension, like the rear shock, is a simple conversion which you can fit yourself with some mechanical skills.
The hinge of the CB500 Adventure is the engine that rides so easily, particularly off-road where slow speed riding is a breeze thanks to the smoothness of the power delivery. It is a sweet bike to ride slowly and because Rally Raid haven’t changed the engine or gearing at all that translates over to work well on any riding surface. Robust we said and robust it is with very healthy oil change and service intervals of 8000 and 16000 miles respectively. Those are good numbers if you’re looking to ride across continents.
The chassis is a simple too, nothing too agile or athletic to write home about but what makes it so manageable is a short wheel base – 1410mm or just over 55inches. Which is short compared to many adventure bikes and helps the user-friendly ‘attitude’ of the CBX in most situations. On a trail it can turn tightly in a small space and that can be invaluable, making it a very manageable machine to boss in any situation.
The short wheelbase also makes it pretty easy bike to ride up more technical terrain: rocky tracks, rock steps and the like are relatively easy with a deft throttle hand and if you leave the clutch lever well-alone the TKC80 tyres and short wheelbase make easy work of most things remotely technical.
I’d prefer and recommend some wider handlebars to increase the control you have over this very controllable bike. The standard bars fitted are ok but have a peculiar bend and don’t give as much leverage as the bike could well use.
RRP have thought of that and in one of the ‘levels’ you have an option for different triple clamps to accommodate different bars, including wider trials type (go check their website for more info).
The higher triple clamps and risers we tested here are a direct replacement for the weaker, budget OEM parts. They have a couple of spec designs that are designed in-house to work with either the standard wheels or larger, spoked front rim to give you more suspension travel with the adventure suspension kit. They also have options for fitting GPS systems and steering dampers.
This CB500X is fitted with suspension developed by Dutch specialists Tractive Suspension with RRP. Together they worked to improve the standard Honda kit with increased travel (2 inches) and improve the performance without ramping up the costs too much. Basically the shock is a direct swap for the standard part and is available in a couple of different specifications: with and without the high speed damping control. RRP will also help match the settings to your weight and how or where you ride.
The forks remain the standard 41mm set but, depending on which RRP ‘level’ you opt for you can fit more progressive springs, damper rod and controllers. You can go a whole lot further with suspension and replace all parts but this is a more cost-efficient way of using what’s there already in terms of fittings. The front suspension, like the rear shock, is a simple conversion which you can fit yourself with some mechanical skills.
The bike we tested here could have done with a little more setting up for my liking but the range is there to suit most moderate riding conditions. Not everyone needs fantastic off-road performance from a bike and that’s not what the CB 500 Adventure is about. Whatever your level though you do need front and rear suspension to match each other and on this bike it was a bit out of kilter. Basically the shock was sitting and riding too soft and low, had too much sag while the forks had too little sag, which created a miss-matched handling on road or otherwise and while the CB tracks a good line in corners a lot of that is down to the wheelbase and tyres. It would have given better feel and confidence off-road with a more even keel. A stiffer rear spring or more preload, would easily bring the balance back toward where it should be.
This is meant as no criticism but Rally Raid’s CB 500 feels like a highly developed bike which someone has worked on to turn into an adventure bike, rather than an adventure bike that Honda designed and built themselves. Everything works, fits, is reliable and no question will do the job but it doesn’t quite feel right. Like I say that is no great criticism it’s part of the game by the way – you’re buying a kit to transform a standard bike to adventure spec and that means getting to know the thing damn well with the spanners.
Part of the beauty of this bike is that it does need some DIY self-build skills, and to a degree that’s what makes it an attractive proposition
The brakes are all standard, which is to say bog-standard and inexpensive Honda Nissin parts. Depending on where in the world you buy your CB 500, it may or may not have Honda’s ABS system fitted. Honda’s standard (and basic) ABS is actually not a bad system that works OK well in most conditions. Use the brakes hard and the inadequacies show, of course, they get hot an dfade and the lever goes a little soft. But during normal riding it was only the really slippery, rocky trails where you’d know it was there at all and the good news is that despite the cheapness of the systems front and rear it works fine off-road.
As ever though there are times when you want ABS out the way to stop it getting in the way. Five times longer stopping distance than you desire is never good so RRP have developed a switch to turn it off. This simple, very neat and easy to reach little button is wired into the ABS system, over-rides it and sits near your left thumb for easy use whenever you need it.
Overall the brakes are ok but nothing more than that. They could do with some more alertness at the lever on the road as they have that classic, cheap road bike feel which means things aren’t especially precise and the response from the front tyre when you use the front brake is a woolly one. A bit more feel would help you exploit the Continental tyres better in tricky, off-road situations too. But, and here’s the thing which makes the brakes suit the beast, they work and will work for thousands of miles which is the main thing for many people who will be interested in this bike.
By design the CB5 is a cheap to manufacture bike which in turn means it comes with some basic parts fitted. Lever and mirrors, footrest hangers, exhaust, handlebars and so on. Scan that parts list and you’ll find plenty of concern in terms of fragility and durability. Replacing parts like levers is common and easy but the RRP CB takes a couple of extra steps in replacing the footrest hangers, strengthening the triple clamps as mentioned and a host of metal work at the rear including a stronger number plate hanger and luggage racking.
Different RRP options are available for the CB500 and you could just cherry-pick your preferred parts as you wish. A lot of the parts already are (or soon will be) made in-house by Rally Raid, which tells you something about the experience of the people behind the products. They work out what’s needed, try it, modify it, test it again, then hone the part to make it work and remain cost effective. That includes the top triple clamp, engine protection, luggage racking and excellent wide footrests (which feel like they’re holding your boots like spikes). We should add all parts fit all CB500 models post-2013.
A major part of the upgrade are the stronger, spoked rims: a must for serious off road riding. The 19-inch front changes the handling of the CB a touch but you’ll find no ill effect on the road – it’s still as sweet and easy ride on the Tarmac making turns confidently. Off-road of course it helps to have a narrower front profile cutting the ground under you.
The point behind much of the products (and kits) is they are DIY parts and so require some mechanical skill. Nothing too complex mind you and Rally Raid can help you with that or you might know a local mechanic.
Stacks of people travel the globe in all kinds of bikes. But what does a bike boil down to if you’re going to travel? Comfort? Fuel economy? All-road skills? Reliability? The Rally Raid CB500X Adventure ticks those boxes and very definitely should be on your list if that’s your aim in life. Not least because it is relatively inexpensive when you’re weighing up budgets of buying a bike, kitting it out and shipping it around the globe.
Part of the beauty of this bike is that it does need some DIY self-build skills, and to a degree that’s what makes it an attractive proposition in my eyes. You take a good, reliable and capable bedrock of a bike like the CB500, fettle in some well designed parts to make it work off-road. Hey presto, you have a basic, cheap, reliable and economical all-terrain bike which you can tailor to your needs. You’ll get to know you bike far better because you’ve had to do the labour and knowing your bike can be extremely handy. You need to work on it, you need to make it suit you and I like that idea. Rally Raid have created the concept, done the hard part and developed the parts, you need to bolt it together and make it work.
For sure it needs setting up to suit you and a big part of that is getting the suspension balanced, plus a wider set of bars I would suggest. But Rally Raid have made a very capable bike and everything is in place here. The bike already has great fuel economy it just needed those essential items to make it work as an all-road bike – which is very much is. It’s a bit of cliché to write (and a no-no for some two-wheeled die-hards) but some bikes mimic four-wheeled brethren and if any bike behaved like a short wheelbase 4×4 like Land Rover’s 90 Defender then this is it.
To learn more about Rally Raid Products kit for the CB 500 X Adventure Click Here.
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- Nimble and Easy to Manage
- User Friendly Off Road
- Practical, Reliable, Economical
- Not Exciting to ride