The best sports cars offer the most raw driving experience. No electronic nannies, skimpy safety features, an intense sensation of speed, and in many cases no roof. One of the most prominent examples of a good sports car is the venerable Mazda Miata. But where do you go from there? Take away some bodywork and you have a Miata Kart. Take away even more bodywork, half of the engine, half of the wheels, and you’re left with a motorcycle. Simplify and add lightness? How about a curb weight of 450lbs wet and a 46hp V-twin? How about the constant thrill of imminent death?
The CX500 was born in 1978 as a part of a tsunami of what was known as “Universal Japanese Motorcycle”. Sitting somewhere between a cruiser and a sportbike a UJM is meant to be The Motorcycle. It is Motorcycle. 2-up seating, moderate proportions. The CX500's look is dominated by its defining feature: the 500cc longitudinal water-cooled V-twin. The “backbone” frame design of the CX500 means that the engine itself is an unstressed external member that dangles from the frame below the bike, put on display for all to see. But more on the engine later.
The stepped 2-up seat gives the bike an awkward amount of donk, and the brake light is roughly the size of a brick and is perched on an enormous chrome bracket that proudly erects itself from the stiff, curved rear fender. Boner.
For whatever reason, this bike is also TALL. An incredible amount of ground clearance and super thick seat means you better have inseam on your side if you want to reach the ground on one of these, further enhancing the somewhat awkward looks of the CX.
No ABS, no traction control, no radio, no clock, no doors. It has a helmet holder and fork lock, so I guess those are worth a point.
Many motorcycle people will utter the words “Moto Guzzi” upon seeing a CX500, and the reason for that is down to the engine. The Honda engine is a 2 cylinder V-twin with an 80 degree angle between the cylinders, but unlike your confused 45 year old uncle’s Harley Davidson the CX engine is rotated 90 degrees in the bike with the cylinder heads poking proudly out the sides of the bike. Moto Guzzi is the only other motorcycle company to adopt this particular layout. The engine is referred to as the “Twisted Twin” due to the 22 degree twist of the heads. As you can see, this puts the carbs more inboard so that they sit under the fuel tank instead of jutting awkwardly into the riders legs. This twist necessitated the use of pushrods as opposed to a timing chain. That didn’t stop Honda from giving the engine a timing chain tensioner infamous for catastrophic failure in the ‘78 and ‘79 model years.
This was also the first V-twin Honda ever made. 10:1 compression, redline at 9,650rpm, 4 valves per cylinder. The Honda water-cooled V-twin is known for its incredibly flat torque curve and incredibly easy to manage power delivery. Unlike a sport bike, there are no peaks in the powerband as it will smoothly rev from 3,000rpm to redline and has no problem at all going from 25mph to 100mph in fifth gear, though if your rip through the gears you’ll hit 60 from a standstill in about 5 seconds.
Common issues: Fragile windings in the CDI stator, timing chain tensioner needs replaced at 40k, mechanical water pump seal needs replaced if cracking open a CX500 engine for the first time due to age.
The CX500 employs a 5 speed manual transmission operated with the left foot with a shift pattern 1-N-2-3-4-5. The engine is integrated into the lower crankcase, reducing the length of the engine but contributing to its extreme height. Due to the crankshaft being aligned with the frame the CX500 also has another feature unique for the time: a shaft drive to the rear wheel. The transmission and this shaft spin the opposite direction of the crankshaft in an attempt to counteract the torsional load of the engine. It doesn’t work. This is fine, though, because feeling the bike tilt underneath you as you rev the engine is one of the unique joys you get with these bikes.
Gears slide into place easily and the transmission is impressively happy to power-shift without using the clutch, a feat many of my friends are unable to perform on their bikes.
So let’s talk about height and how it affects motorcycle performance, and Peter Negru will likely correct me on this in the comments: The CX500 is a tall bike. This negatively affects performance because of an inverse-pendulum effect when changing direction: not only do you have to move left to right, but a massive up/down movement has to happen as well. This makes transitioning a bit scary, especially for a newer rider like myself. However. An experienced rider will be able to “deal with it” and in fact circuit racing sportbikes are often incredibly tall because the ability to lean farther into turns outweighs the negatives associated with the pendulum effect.
The one neat thing the CX500 has going for it in the handling department is being the first production motorcycle to ever have tubeless tires, thanks to an improved ComStar wheel design. Other than that it’s basic forks in front and twin shocks in back. Yay.
Hahahahahahahahha fucking garbage.
Single disk in front and drum in back. You’ll stop eventually, but plan ahead. Way ahead.
oh, wait. I forgot one
Ah, there we go.
$1100. That’s what it was. $200 and two weekends later I did a full engine service and it’s in tip-top shape. This is a bike with 62k miles which is absolutely obscene for a motorcycle. And somehow it’s been getting me to work every day for a month since then while being one of the most fun vehicles I’ve ever owned. Crack open the throttle and listen to that V-twin grunt its way up to redline until you look in the rearview mirrors and laugh at all the cagers a mile behind you.