This modest Honda CB500X has been transformed into a true Adventure Sport motorcycle reminiscent of the original ‘travel bike’ – Ted Simon’s Triumph Tiger T100. But is it a pointer to real world values, or just a pointless folly? RUST investigates…
It’s more than 40 years since Ted Simon set off from the Grays Inn Road in London on a four-year around the world trip on his Triumph Tiger T100. His subsequent book of the journey Jupiter’s Travels, became a best seller and an inspiration for others to follow. And because of Ted’s eloquence and his background in journalism, the book remains almost certainly the finest ever in the genre of motorcycle travel.
The Triumph Tiger he rode was a 500cc twin, weighing 170-kilos, producing 41hp, capable of 105mph (with a favourable following wind) and would turn in 45-60mpg which with a three-gallon tank meant a range of around 150 miles. So Ted ran out of fuel a fair few times on his trip, but with a modest 760mm (30”) seat height he could always get his feet to the floor when it did. In fact the Tiger was modestly proportioned all round, with a shortish 1400mm wheelbase rolling on 19/18in wheels.
Now those stats are a very long way from currently favoured adventure bike specifications. Adventure bikes today have been supersized… a rider can typically be tapping into anywhere between 100 and 150 horsepower on machines that weigh the best part of 300kg (600lbs); and when it comes to seat height you can be talking more than 900mm (35in), even on the more modest options. Big is what these bikes are. And the aftermarket is fond of making them bigger still.
Which brings us rather neatly to the bike we see here: a Honda CB500X Adventure. It’s a Honda CB500X subtly modified to adventure spec using 19/17in wheels and with 50mm of added suspension height, front and rear. Plus… tyres, engine guard, handguards and a few other off-road items. And significantly this Honda is a 500cc twin, producing 47hp, capable of a solid 100mph (no tail wind necessary) and when returning 80mpg it means the 17.3-litre tank (about 3.8 gallons) offers about 300 miles between stops. So what we’re saying we have here – at long last – is a modern incarnation of Ted’s Triumph. And we only waited 40 years…
Rediscovering the Middleweight
Yet such is the march of time and the sway of public opinion, that a Tiger for our time doesn’t necessarily receive the enthusiastic response you might expect.
“It’s noticeable that you have the two camps,” explains the bike’s creator John Mitchinson of Rally Raid Products. “Some people get it straight away, like adventurer Austin Vince (of Mondo Enduro fame). Then you get those that just think ‘why the hell did you choose that bike?’ Unfortunately you can’t convince those people, they don’t see the benefit, they see it as a lack of something. They don’t see that it could take you places the bigger bike couldn’t.“But it’s a good compromise between weight and power. It weighs 200kg, goes 100mph, and returns 75mpg – what’s not to like? It’ll ride at 85mph all day and it doesn’t feel stressed. A 1200 would be quicker, but on this bike you can go places the 1200 won’t. It’s not an enduro bike, it’s a middleweight adventure bike.”
Middleweight adventure bikes have, for a while, been rather elusive beasts to find. Time was when we had plenty of choice; from the mid 1980s into the 1990s we could choose from Ténérés, Funduros, Pegasos, XLs, DRs even KLRs – all singles, of course. But there were twins as well, like Transalps and KLEs, not to mention the original 650 Africa Twin and exotica like Kanguros. And you could almost place the early 800cc BMWs in there, as middleweights. After all the first R80G/S only produced 50hp in a package weighing 186kg (with a full 19-litre tank). But lately, the rise of the 1200cc super-adventure bike has come at the cost of the middleweight variety. BMW have plodded along with their Rotax-engined F650s and to their eternal credit Yamaha have maintained the new (in 2008) Ténéré for the faithful few, but options have been limited.
It was this dearth of middleweight machinery that set John Mitchinson and Jenny Morgan at Rally Raid Products (RRP) on the long and painful path towards creating the CB500X Adventure. RRP is a company that emerged from Mitchinson’s own fascination for rallying. After a lifelong motorcycling career that followed the typical path of trials to scrambles to enduro then to rally, Mitchinson ended up riding and racing a series of KTM 690s. As the 690 is sold as an enduro bike, Mitchinson took the step of developing his own long range tanks, fairings and instrument towers to convert the bikes into rally racers.
As an engineer and specialist in plastic mouldings he had the skills to make the best job of it and soon, by popular demand, was supplying his fellow competitors. In time, with the adventure sector ever expanding – there were adventure riders, too, looking for added fuel capacity and fairings to complete their conversions of the veritable 690.
His first kits were made using moulds hand-hewn from foam using carving knives and scalpels. But such has been the demand that the first moulds simply wore out. His second set of moulds were made using CAD design and 3D modelling, after first having had a 690 laser scanned top to bottom. Accuracy is down to ±0.1mm – it’s a proper 21st century operation. RRP exports worldwide and while America, Australia and Europe have been traditional markets, they’re seeing increasing demand from emerging markets such as South America, Asia and Russia.
The KTM 690 does, though, sit at the super-enthusiasts end of the adventure market. For their next project RRP were attracted to a more everyman ideal. Morgan had witnessed the keen take-up of the Honda CB500X by American adventure riders. Stock, its off-road capability is limited, but given a keen price point and the real-world specifications it was identifiably a good launch point for a project.
“We liked the idea of a smaller, lighter adventure bike, but with full-size capability,” explains Mitichinson. “With the demographic of riders getting older there’s a probable trend toward smaller adventure bikes. Even if you’re used to riding a 1200 there’ll come the day when you still want to ride but you don’t really want a 300-kilo 150hp machine – you’ll have more fun on a bike two-thirds the weight and half the power. And for half the price!” And so began the creation of the CB500X Adventure.
The project started with the wheels. As standard, the CB500X is equipped with cast 17in wheels – no good for real adventure – but finding alternatives proved almost impossible.
“You’re stuck with a 17in rear” says Mitchinson, “because the 500X has a gearbox driven speedo, and while there were 17in spoked wheels available they didn’t come with the cush drive that the Honda has – so that meant we had to develop our own. We tried a 21in front but it was too high, fouling the radiator, so we settled on a 19in as a good compromise.”
In fact Mitchinson ended up with bespoke solutions front and rear. The hubs he designed himself using the KTM 690 rear hub as his starting point. And having first created these in CAD they’ve been milled from billet using his own £50,000 CNC machine. The hubs, which are finished with black anodising, take the standard axles, bearings and cush-drive. The heavy duty rims are laced to the hubs using 36 heavy-duty stainless steel spokes. Built to rally-spec they’ve got maximum strength and durability designed in.
The suspension came next. Standard it’s very basic road-oriented stuff, which is in no way up to the job of off-roading. It’s also a bit short, leading to ground clearance issues. But suspension development is no easy task and it took Mitchinson and Morgan months of designing and testing different solutions before they settled on a specification. Long story short, they finished with a bespoke rear shock and linkage that offered 50mm more travel; and forks which were both valved and lengthened to gain 30mm more travel up front. The suspension was a collaboration with Dutch suspension specialists Tractive who put both sets of suspension through exhaustive dyno testing to ensure a top quality solution.
There were still niggles, such as the 19in front wheel striking the radiator at full compression. That was solved using a stepped top triple clamp that afforded the front forks a further 20mm clearance. So the new set up gives the bike 50mm (2in) of additional ground clearance – necessitating a longer sidestand (and removal of the centrestand).
That, essentially, is the job done. But a full conversion to adventure spec requires other additions, such as the engine guards, off-road spec footrests, handguards, even luggage racks – all of which RRP have developed or sourced. On the test bike even the graphics are bespoke – but that’s not something you’d immediately spot – Mitchinson, as always, at pains to make the finished article look factory-standard.
“I wanted the bike to look like Honda had produced it themselves, it should have a level of fit and finish that accords with OEM and I think that because so many people have mistaken it for a stock bike, we’ve achieved that.”
Find out how the bike rides by clicking on one of the links below…