Tag Archives: rally raid cb500x

Quick spin • Africa Twin DCT review

See also:
Honda X-ADV
Yamaha XT700 Tenere
Honda NC750X DCT
In 2020 I bought myself a manual AT

There’s one problem with marrying Honda’s ‘have your cake and eat it’ DCT transmission with their 270°-crank parallel-twin engine: you can’t dip the clutch and blip the throttle for the sheer fun of unleashing the motor’s V-twin-like growl.


As for the other 999 reasons, after less than an hour’s riding I can see why this third generation of Honda’s sophisticated electro-hydraulic Dual Clutch Transmission system (baffling image right, baffling video below) is expected to outsell manual ATs. They say last year, of the Hondas sold with optional DCT (VFR1200X, Crosstourer, VFR1200F, NC750X and -S), less than half were manuals.


I’ve not read the recent rush of road tests to glean the impression, but Honda’s prolonged promo campaign for the Africa Twin appears to have paid off. Their nostalgia-tinted hype in reviving the rugged spirit of the original 1980s Africa Twin (right) conveniently skips the similar XL1000V Varadero (left) which sold in the UK till about 2011 and now goes used from two grand. That seems to be a bike which most actual owners recall far more fondly than reviewers or pundits, and is what Honda have succeeded in comprehensively eclipsing with the new AT – not the original AT which is from another era. Good technical article on the AT.


The test bike I tried was fully optioned: luggage racks (hideous topbox removed on request), crash bars, spots, centre stand, taller screen. Maybe the hot grips were extras too.
Outside the shop the dealer explained how the DCT works. On the right bar you have a rocker switch (below left) marked Neutral; Drive and – on this latest DCT – three Sport settings. Once the stand is up you press D, open the throttle and glide away like a scooter.
And this version of DCT (also on 2016 NC750s) includes refinements like gear-holding gradient sensors and a clutch-slip reducing ‘G switch’ (right), all with a matching array of ABS/Traction Control settings to help align the model’s aspirational CRF1000L moniker and potential with the like-named CRF dirt racers.


The sales guy recommended the S1 mode which holds revs longer before changing gears, and within a few miles I agreed with him. As you decelerate the DCT smoothly drops down through the gears at just the right pace – on my unhurried test ride at least. In the Sport modes it’ll do so more briskly. The regular D setting was up in sixth by 30mph which made acceleration unpleasantly juddery. It’s presumably great for economy but it felt less good for the chain and transmission. I neglected to see if there was a ‘floor it’ kickdown like on an auto car, but at any time you can use the MTB-like thumb and forefinger shifters on the left bar to manually change up or down. You can lock it in Manual too, using the A/M button below the Drive selector.


The clutch-like lever on the left bar is actually an out-of-reach handbrake, a bit like on my late 1970s 400AT (right). That bike ran a less efficient two-speed, foot-shifted torque converter using fluid and turbines. Don’t ask me exactly how, but with DCT there’s no power-robbing slippage apart from at rest and momentarily when it changes gear, so the bike responds to acceleration and deceleration much like a manual bike. And if you still have trouble getting your head around your DCT you can get an optional electronic foot-shift lever to emulate the left-bar shifters.


I did sense the weight on pulling away (probably a quarter of a ton fully fuelled), but once on the move I was surprised how quickly I adapted to that mass, as well as the DCT. No twitching left hand or foot, just the novelty of smooth, scooter-like propulsion without the small-wheel stigma. Riding gently in Drive you can detect the shifting – ride harder and it becomes barely perceptible.
Some bikers proclaim such automation emasculates the motorcycling experience – for a young, hard-charging Gixxer pilot with licence points to spare, perhaps. But aren’t sports bike quickshifters also chasing smoother progress through automation? Me, I’ve had my share of tearing around – it was my job for over a decade – but 37 years ago my 400 Hondamatic made town riding a whole lot less tiresome. I’ve had a lot of bikes before and since, but I can’t say many have had a slick gearbox and a light, smooth clutch operation which enhanced the riding experience. For the moment I’d be happy to experiment with an alternative, and just as with 4WDs, I believe auto shifting can actually make some off-roading easier. On a bike this size I bet crawling up a rocky, washed-out hairpin in the Anti Atlas would be much easier than feathering a clutch or risking a sudden stall and tip over, just because first gear is typically too high or you misjudged the input required.


Back in mid-winter Surrey. Once I popped out onto the Epsom bypass I was able to open it up and couldn’t suppress a broad grin spreading across my face. At this speed you have to concentrate hard to detect any gear changing activity as the bars on the reversed LCD digital speedo hurriedly rearrange themselves to match the pace.
That’s probably the best thing you can say about DCT – after 40-odd years of mostly manual shifting you adapt to it in no time – it’s no harder than trying an auto car for the first time, but much more fun. A better test for the DCT AT might be charging down some switchback canyon where conventional engine- and wheel-braking give the impression of greater control. That’ll have to be for another time but I do wonder how the front 21-incher would perform. Meanwhile, at the other end of the speed dial, I found feet-up, walking pace U-turns close on lock-to-lock as easy as you’d expect on a direct drive automatic. Until that tank is full, the bike feels very well balanced for its low-set weight.


Other stuff on the DCT AT? It looks great in black, white and red, the colours of Honda’s nearly Dakar winning CRF450R-based desert racer (right). The coppery-bronze crankcases (like the new Husky 701) add a nice touch, too.


They’ve really got to grips with seat height on this bike – something that stops so many riders enjoying big Advs. With two levels (850mm and 870) and two seats offered, there’s about 50mm of potential variation, assuming I heard the dealer right. I had mine set at 870 (34.25″) and it felt lower than my CB500X RR. The suspension felt plusher too, though right now my 500X is still set for load carrying, and one back lane pothole shot a harsh jolt through the AT’s bars. On the picture above left you can see a rear spring preload adjustment knob, and doubtless there are more compression settings front and back than a squad of saturation divers.

About the same time I was riding around north Surrey two Italian guys took a brand new and old XRV AT for a ride around Mauritania.


Among the accessories, the high screen worked great for me at up to 90. Heated grips were another seamless addition, with a heat-level bar packed in on the busy lower LCD display. Real-time rumination over the innovative DCT took my mind off the bike’s more mundane aspects, but the real question here is: would it make a good overlander? Or, in what way is it better than the all-conquering R1200GS?

I’ve long thought that by the time such bikes are properly equipped and loaded, they’re just too heavy for the sort of all-terrain travel I like to do, but that doesn’t stop masses buying, equipping and actually taking them on the road. The Honda looks significantly less colossal than a GSA, even if it’s probably no lighter, though I imagine it’s more economical. And the benefits of DCT is either something you appreciate or not. For overlanding I’d take it.


Riding back home I was reminded what a great all-round machine my Rally Raided CB500X is (left). Off-road ready for half the price with a used base bike, 10-15% lighter on the dirt, and more economical by the same amount too. The AT builds on the same great looks and performance – far outdoing what I recall of the original Africa Twin which I occasionally encountered in the Sahara. It was regarded back then as a heavy and juicy machine. I also like the fact that Honda ignored engaging in the current 150-hp mania with the latest mega Advs from Ducati, KTM and BMW. Instead, they’ve focussed hard on trying to create a full-sized machine with better gravel-road manners than most, even if the antics demonstrated in the video below require surnames like Marquez and Barreda.


The transmission system’s complexity on the road can’t be any worse than a regular gearbox, except you have two clutches to share the load. All the electronic engine management – well we’re all getting accustomed to that aren’t we, and I’d sooner it came on a high-end Honda than some other marques.


The new Africa Twin is clearly a brilliant road bike and I imagine a pretty good gravel roader, but there are a few of those already. It’s also heavier and costs way more than I’d ever spend on a travel bike – and there are many more in that category too.
But finally encountering the marvel of DCT does make me reappraise bikes like a DCT-equipped NC750X which, in the original 700 form (left) now goes for about £3000 used. Problem is NC-Xs come with the same soft, budget-level suspension as the CB500X and, like my 500, probably don’t have a bar/seat/peg set-up suited to me standing, unless I get into cable transplants. Meanwhile, for the moment there’s CRF1000L at your nearest UK main dealer so you can decide for yourself.


Rally Raid CB500X – the first 2000 miles

CB500x Index page
Rally Raid Level 3 kit plus BARTubeless sealed rims on Heidenau K60 / Golden Tyre GT201 tyres. RR rack and backplate, Palmer Products screen, Barkbuster Storms, Tutoro oiler.
Weight about 220kg (485lbs) plus 25 transit/10kg piste payload. Me, 105kg in gear


It hasn’t rained much yet, but as expected the all-road tyres: Heidenau K60 and similar Golden Tyre GT201 on the back – are flawless for what they are. Crossed Spain at low 30s psi, now running high 20s road and track and not one scare so far. Obviously they don’t have the edge bite of a proper knobbly, but for my sort of riding on dry, stony tracks, that’s academic on a heavy CB500X. A back TKC on an F800 that did just 900km with us looked like it was half gone by the end.


To date the BARtubeless wheels have lost no air except each time I check them, and the stainless HD spokes haven’t budged. Some front spokes have a minute half-mil creak in them, the rears are as solid as an alloy rim. This is after some mountain tracks that left one XR with a fully loosened set of front spokes. Whoever makes these wheels knows their spokes from their elbow.


With me at 6′ 1″ plus riding boots, the Honda handlebars are too low for standing up for anything longer than an impact-absorbing jolt. Partly this is because they have to be set back so the Barkbusters can clear the dash on full lock (left – look long enough and it makes sense).
Having to sit down changes the way you ride on the dirt, and not in a good way. Perhaps refitting the OE bar ends might set the Barks further out to clear the dash. Iirc, John M said that V-Strom Bark clamps have the sort of bend that suits the X. Removing the Storms would be a shame but I may try that as I have some spare RR adjustable levers should I snap a Honda lever. Back home my stronger alloy fatbars are waiting on RR clamps, but they’re actually lower than the OEs so will need quite a stack of risers.
It reminds me of the problems you can have when converting a road-oriented bike into a trail bike, as I found with my TDM earlier in the year. Dedicated trail bikes have a higher headstock in relation to the footrests, something not very convincingly shown in the gif, left, with a 660Z behind a TDM.


To get it right for my height may need at least two more inches of bar height if I’m to keep the hand guards. (Note in the picture right, my hands are above the bars in a comfortable stance and I’m only wearing thin-soled slippers). As that may need longer cables, reorganising the hand guards will be less hassle.


As they come from RR, the forks are miles better than the OE arrangement, but after a couple of thousand miles of road and trail they don’t quite evoke the plushness of the simple, Hyperpro-sprung XCountry I used over the same terrain last year. The BMW forks didn’t have any adjustment but were set up (with a new back-end and me present) at HP HQ. Maybe that’s got a lot to do with it.


Part of the negative impression has been down to the unnerving creaks from the cockpit as the bike hammered over the rocks and which gets mistakenly conflated with the fork action. A quick check over after the tour revealed that the two bolts supporting the whole fairing on the headstock (left) had come loose… again. It’s a good thing RR supply M8 nylocs for the job. Keep a eye on these bolts, off-roading CB-X people. Fyi, other than that there was nothing the Honda needed other than wiping the sand-caked chain with some used engine oil.
I also noticed one gaiter looked like it had ‘vacuumed in’ as if there was no breather hole and the pumping action had sucked it against the forks. This would cause stiction, and I recall Bas at HP telling me that eliminating stiction (drag) contributes greatly to smooth fork action. When I snipped the zip tie prior to cutting the whole thing off the tension was released. Looks like it was merely mounted with a small twist. Now it’s zip-tied back up and might help improve the fork action.


The CB-X RR forks have preload adjustment and air bleeders (nothing to bleed so far) so, as I’ve progressively jacked up the back-end, the forks were well overdue for some preloading too. What looks like a 17mm lock nut is hard to get to with a socket as the bleeder gets in the bleeding way, but my trusty Knipex adjustables (which also make a great spoke wrench, right) managed to get in there. I turned the hex adjuster in seven faces (just over one turn). The forks still felt soft but we’ll see how it rides on the next tour. Now I know how, I can give it more turns down the track.


The Palmer Products adjustable screen mount was of course great for the two-day 115kph transit of Spain and northern Morocco. But the first afternoon on the piste proved that the added kilo of weight and forward displacement of the mounting hardware supporting a tall Honda screen would probably break something if left for too long (that ride is what probably loosened the cockpit bolts). As it was, the other guy with a similar arrangement on his F800 had some screen screws fall out.
Another reason to remove it is the screen position feels rather unnerving close when briefly standing up on the piste. I know of a guy who was killed by his screen in a freak over-the-bars accident, and even if it didn’t guillotine me, I’d rip the whole thing off if I went flying the same way. The screen unscrews from the frame in five minutes and will go back on in ten for the ride home. Riding around warm and dry Morocco in short spells up to 100kph is OK without a screen.


The Daytona heated grips were great on a foggy night and morning in north Spain, and doubtless will be even more useful on the colder ride back. Compared to Oxford grips I’ve had on other bikes recently, the adjustment is crude: off, very high (for short-term warming up, they say); and warm, which seems to equate with the medium setting on Oxfords. I don’t suppose they’ll be much cop if temps reach down to freezing point, but that’s the time for lined gloves.


Running down through Spain it was clear the Tractive shock was loosening up from the way the headlight lit up road signs miles ahead. After a few days on the piste it needed urgent preloading. One of the more rallyesque riders in my group advised I first tried the easy option: a few clicks in on the low- and high-speed compression damping on the remote reservoir. That put me on 15 of 22 for low-speed, 11/18 high-speed, and 18/24 on the rebound damping at the base of the shock, but that didn’t do enough (click totals may vary from official Tractive sources; it’s what I felt).
John M warned me the spring preload would be a faff, but it’s actually not so bad: two big allens to remove the LHS footrest hanger and the preload collar or ring is there between some frame tubes. Mine was about halfway down the threads. There’s no usual lock ring requiring a C-spanner, instead there are about 8 peg-locating holes in the collar which I realise are for a hydraulic remote preload adjuster (left) which would eliminate all this aggro. But Tom G at Tractive explained they don’t suit the shorter and more constricted CB-X RR shock. That’s a shame as I’d buy one in a shot.
The shock comes with a multi-bit tool, but with the supplied 6-mm peg fitted, you can’t make enough collar-turn to line up the next hole before fouling a frame tube. After a bit of trial end error I found a short 5-6mm allen key levered with a ring spanner worked best. That gives you enough space to turn the collar from one hole to the next.
The preload ring is held in position with a single tiny hex-head locking screw. But as there’s only one it means the presumably essential locking requires you to bring that screw back into the narrow 20-30° working aperture between the frame tubes.
Doing this I managed 1.5 turns on the collar bringing the lock screw back in position. Next morning this was initially better but the shock was still occasionally bottoming out harshly on the rocks and even bottomed out gently over a fast concrete ford at 90kph. I know they say bottoming out proves all the suspension movement is being used, but this felt too soft for the hefty mass of a CB500X with me on it.


I’ve never really got into suspension, having run what I brung for years until seeing the light with the Hyperpro XCountry. I still don’t fully comprehend the exact relationship between compression damping (high- or low-speed) and preload. I’m sure the answer is just a Google away, but assume adequate preload with sag must come first. That’s hard to do alone while cranking away on an allen key with a ring spanner. Two nights later I put another turn on the preload ring (2.5 from delivered). At this point on a cool morning it initially felt like it needed more rebound damping, but by now most of the piste was over and the forks were in greater need of attention.
I’ll do some more experimenting on the next lap, but do wonder if the remote reservoir’s position alongside the cylinder and behind the radiator  might negate their purpose in getting cooled away from the pumping hot shock. I touched the reservoir which was only warm; the mounting bracket maybe 40-50°C. When the bike’s thudding down a steep pass, working the suspension hard at little more than walking pace and the fan running, whatever’s in the reservoir will get quite hot. The shock action does seem to soften through the day and the temps here are only in the mid-20s.

The longer RR sidestand needs to be redesigned or beefed up. As a prop for a bike it works, but side stands can suffer upward impacts similar to bash plates, need to perch a bike on one wheel when doing wheel or chain work and may need to press down to break a tyre bead.

I came off the boat in Santander thinking the bike was leaning on the stand a bit more than normal. Turns out the lashing down – or maybe the crashing of the ferry on the overnight swell – had bent the stand so the foot was 2-3 inches further forward (left). This greater lean now puts more stress on it, and when retracted it stuck out.


Closer inspection showed the bend was not on the Honda frame tab but  just below the stand’s pivot (above). The RR stand is made of flattened, not round tube, and the alignment of the flat face is right into the bending force. Checking my earlier pictures, it looks like the OE stand shares the same flattened profile (i.e.: not round tube), so it must simply be down to greater leverage on the new stand due to the added length.
Once I knew the problem I decided not to bend it back and took great care not to stress the stand when getting on and off. But two days into the tour it folded on me anyway (left). Kicking it back out of the way, I was surprised how thin the tube’s walls were, though I can’t say I’ve ever dissected a motorcycle side stand closely.
Luckily there was time to text John and get him to send a reinforced stand with one of the next group flying in. I figured this was a better solution than getting a bush mechanic to repair or make up a new stand, as the actual angle of the stand from the pivot is quite critical.
Now I see a picture of John’s chunky reinforcement (left), I think it may not go far enough past the point where mine fractured. I may get a fin of 2-3mm sheet spot-welded to the other flat face at the top of the stand, against the force of the bend.
Overall I think an equilaterally stiff round tube with a thicker wall will be a better long-term solution to the greater forces put on the RR stand, as well as a wider foot for soft terrain. When a side stand is all you have, it needs to be bombproof, but my experience is all part of the testing procedure.


The big footrests are a revelation, offering great grip plus a broad platform on which to stand, were I able to do that for long. Even with full MX boots some riders found the normal-sized pegs on the XRs a pain to stand on for long. There’s no noticeable loss in comfort from the rubber-capped OE pegs, and the RR pegs are a tad lower and further back too (see above). I find the heel of my right boot touches the can’s heat shield when stood upright.

The RR skid plate / crash bar has lately been used as a surrogate prop in place of the side stand, and while it’s taken a few flying hits, I don’t recall bottoming out on anything big. It’s doing its vital job unobtrusively.

The RR rack hasn’t really been put to the test either, carrying light dry bags lashed to the side, with inner tubes and a fuel bag lashed on the inside spaces. As mentioned elsewhere, I miss an old-school tube rack’s tubes for something to grab on to.


Most of the off-road riding has been on stony or rocky tracks typical of Morocco, with very occasional soft sand or loose shingle in the oueds, and the odd fast gravel road. On these gravel roads the CB-X can go as fast as you like, the tame power delivery adding up to reliable traction on the hard, all-road tyres. The suspension is never taxed and appropriate use of the brakes for the conditions scrubs off the speed, with the added back up of ABS in case of a stray mule.
On the rough trails, particularly on the inclines, the CB-X is a bit of a tank, as is any bike this heavy. Such tracks (usually the abandoned and unmaintained middle sections between remote villages accessed from one end or the other) are not enjoyable on anything bigger than an XR250. The bike crashes along with the cockpit creaking as you try to minimise impacts while steering, braking and balancing. But these tracks very often lead you to the most spectacular places. One route (MA7 in the Morocco book, left and bottom of page) we reversed over the Jebel Timouka I wouldn’t want to repeat on the CB-X with six bikes in tow, but I’d sure like to ride it again.

The great thing is the engine’s soft power adds up to velcro-like traction rather than more photogenic, knob-ripping torque, which means you get no more tired than you need. Climbing a rubbly switchback feet up but sat down at walking pace, you’re not fighting the thud of a big single (or Boxer twin come to that) which needs to be damped with a slipping clutch, all of which makes the bike easy to ride. I find the six-speed gearing ideal for all this: low enough on gnarly pistes and with a top end 75-mph cruise. For once no need to meddle with the sprockets.
Most of the XRs had harmless low-speed falls, the F800 a few more. Apart from my bike falling over when the stand broke, I’ve not yet come close and I hope it stays that way. On a bike this heavy, falling or hammering the suspension until something breaks is to be avoided at all costs, even if it means I’m slowest in the group. The number one priority is preserving the bike to get me round the circuit and back home.


My fuel consumption’s varied greatly: Spain to Marrakech (sustained 115kph cruising where possible) returned 66.5; 63.5; 60; 57; 60; 61.5mpg UK. That’s between 20.2 and 23.2kpl (other conversions here or right).
Once on tour speeds rarely exceeded 90kph so that rose to 80.5; 87 and 78.5mpg (27.8 to 30.8kpl) which was better than some of the XRs, and usually a little better than the F800 which was a handful to ride smoothly at slow speed.


I plan to change the oil and may need a new air filter back home. The Tutoro chain oiler doesn’t work so well on the piste: the oily sprocket picks up all the sand and grit but the lube goes nowhere. I turned it off; it’s back to hand oiling with a toothbrush.


The seat is hanging in there but I don’t think the Aerostich wool pad will help disguise the pulverised foam from too much sitting down. Whatever, it’s got to be better than an F650/800 seat. Eric used an ‘XL bubble wrap’ Air Hawk 2. Without it, even with a Wunderlich seat, he can’t go much over a 100kms.

There’s still experimentation to be done with the CB-X’s suspension and bar position, but as it is it’s hard to imagine doing what I’m doing on a standard CB500.Add the necessary proper engine and lever protection, and carrying ability and you have an all-road travel bike ready to go. Read a broader conclusion here after 5000 miles.


CB500X Rally Raid ready to roll

CB500X RR Index page
Tubeless Conversion Index Page

Just a couple of days before I’m off and I’ve finally got the CB-X converted to full Level III spec at Rally Raid. I started the job at home by fitting the clever drop top clamp, precision milled on John’s CNC 4-axis milling machine (right). Marvel what a 5-axis miller can do in this mind-boggling vid. The clamp enables positioning the fork tops 20mm lower which with the 30mm longer damper rods gives two inches more travel and room for the bigger wheel. It’s a more expensive solution to screwing on dodgy fork extenders – something I looked into when trying to Tenerise a TDM900 earlier in the year.


Removing the whole headlight/fairing/dash unit (left) is actually quite simple once you get your head around it. The pdf instructions from RRP are all clear – all the more so when you look back at them. Side panels off then three screws on each side of the fairing and then the crucial double 12-mil bolts on the steering head which take all the weight. Ease back the LHS to unplug a couple of connector blocks and away it comes. RRP include some alternative 12 mils with nylocs in the kit. I saved them for later and a 1000 miles down the road, when I got to their workshop one had fallen out. RTFpdf.


Removing the ignition barrel from the OE top clamp is where things slowed down. First, two crosshead screws holding on the HISS ring needed undoing from underneath. Why crossheads FFS? I almost lifted the bike off the ground getting the pressure in there – luckily they both turned with a nice crack of shearing Loctite. Later John advised these are actually JIS head screws – some sort of Japanese standard that’s possibly better than Phillips. Could that be why we had all that trouble using Phillips drivers on Jap monkey metal crossheads in the bad old days? Probably not.


The next step required drilling out the chunkier undoable barrel security bolts (left) and – long story short – that took me days of faffing: blunting and crudely resharpening drill bits over and over on a distant neighbour’s grinding wheel. It’s an awkward job with an upside-down drill just off centre and the chuck spinning close to cables and wires, but I got one out then Mr Postie delivered a few cobalt drills the day before we had to pack up and relocate cross country. never heard of cobalt drill bits but with a better technique (slow rpm, nib in oil), the second bolt head fell away in a few seconds. John at RRP says he may include a cobalt 9mm with future kits.


I was hoping to fit some stronger Renthal fatbars (right) but the taller RRP clamps aren’t quite ready yet, so it was back on with the taller OE bars, (left) – there’s plenty of cable slack to do this – the lift is not that great. On went my trusty Barkbuster Storms (now on their 4th bike) as well as some Daytona heated grips I’ve had lying around for so long the rubber’s gone grey. They look a bit crap compared to the Oxfords that came with my last couple of bikes, but they’ll last as long as they last and were dead easy to fit. I also fitted RRP’s 12-volt double PTO mounting plate – much neater than having the PTO zip-tied to the ignition barrel. The Barks required the usual compromises with lever angles – apparently, a Bark V-Strom mount has the curve to get under or over a brake hose. I have some neat shortie adjustable levers (right) from RRP too but will fit them if mine snap. The Storms ought to reduce the chances of that.


The next day I set off on a 480-mile run down to North Yorkshire, including the full length of the fabulous A68. I was trying out a new Powerlet heated vest which I’m sure helped me arrive less tired, with just one stop at a Gregg’s 350 miles in. The 500X returning an average of 76mpg while I marvelled at the OE Pirelli tyres’ grip in the wet.


BTW, let me put in a good word for the big Tech 7 Adventure Bike cover. Yes, there is such a thing, and it fits bikes up to tall screened GS12s and S10s. Still only £23 from M&P, I’m sure it’s much tougher than those £10, last-a-year silver jobbies, has two under straps just inside each wheel, but also has an elastic bottom to make those straps unnecessary unless it’s very windy.  Low-profile black to reduce visibility on dark streets and compact enough to make a handy travel cover or groundsheet.
Update 2019: After 3.5 years the waterproofish laminate is shot and the fabric is sun faded, but all the stitching and elasticity and clips are intact and it all hangs together. I need waterproofing, so bought an Oxford Aquatex for £20 for my Himalayan.

A few days later at John’s workshop near Bedford wheels and suspension were needed to finish the Level 3 job. I’m trying out some RRP wheels sealed with a mystery polymer by BARtubeless in Italy to run tyres tubeless. With his rally racing background John’s more of a tube or mousse man. For less aggressive solo travels to which the CB-X is more suited, I err towards tubeless and gel, as do a few other potential RRP customers. RRP may end up being the UK supplier for BARTubeless.


One problem with them is the thick layer of polymer in the well of the rear rim making tyre mounting difficult. That’s what they found earlier fitting a Golden Tyre GT 201 (left; 150 / 70 R 17 TL 69V) I bought from Adv Spec. You need the depth in the rim’s well to give enough slack in the bead when doing that last bit of levering. Of course, some tyres are harder to mount than others and the GT201 (a K60/MT60 look-alike) is stiffer than the TKC which RRP typically use. While in the area they adjusted my recently bedded-in x-ring chain and John recommended fitting a nyloc nut on the chain adjuster bolt (right); apparently the OE nuts fall off.


Heidenau K60 19-er leftover from my old GS500 project went onto the front rim with no hassle. I got a chance to try out my Motion Pro Bead Buddy II (left, blue), a ‘hands-free’ clamp that forces the bead down in the well when levering on the opposite side. It’s the same as putting your weight on the tyre to push it down (not so easy on the tyre rack, left) and it did the job.


Another problem is this RRP front wheel doesn’t have a rim with the vital bead retaining lip for tubeless use. A label from BARTubeless warned to keep the pressure at least at 1.6 bar or 23 psi to reduce the risk of it dislodging into the well and losing pressure. As it is, 1.6 bar is the lowest I’d run tyres on a CB-X at anyway, so it should be OK. I know when I DIY sealed my Tenere’s 21-inch front wheel (also no lip, unlike the rear) I had leaking problems, but that could be down to the 21’s narrower section (don’t ask me how or why). Anyway, I’ve Slime’d both wheels, will keep checks on the pressure and am taking a light inner tube just in case (although that embossing – above – would need nuking to stop rubbing a tube up the wrong way). Hopefully, this experimentation won’t impinge on my Morocco ride, as it did with the Tenere.


The forks came out, got cleaned up and the internals were all replaced. John showed me the Honda ‘progressive’ spring which is really a ‘twin rate’ coil off something shorter with a tacky white plastic spacer to elongate it for the CB-X (visible back left). John replaces it with a full length linear spring from Tractive (left) and tackles the progressive response with a 30mm-longer damper rod (right) using some clever deforming shims as well as some much lighter fork oil that’s less prone to losing viscosity when hot. On top, the forks get pre-load adjusters (as will 2016 CB500Xs)  and air bleeders.


While the forks were off he slipped on some gaiters I tracked down on ebay and which John told me where the best fit he’d found so far. Gaiters are an old-school thing so it’s hard to find sets that are short enough for a modern 41mm fork which in the gaiters’ heyday would have correlated with a ten-inch travel MX fork. As you can see left, these 41 x 60 x 250 fit well on the 2-inch longer travel forks.


Like a pampered factory rider letting his pit crew take care of things, I wasn’t paying attention when the Tractive shock and revised linkage plates got fitted, but that looks like a tricky job needing a spare pair of hands. A small dent needs bashing into the silencer and the remote reservoir fitted by the engine on the other side.
There’s full 3-way adjustment on the Tractive, but apparently, the shock preload is a bit of a faff with the Tractive took supplied. What I’d like is a hydraulic preload knob option. I found that so handy on last year’s Xcountry as loads changed, but I never touched my Hyperpro’s other settings once set up for me. TBH I’d struggle to know exactly what needed doing. Again, it’s a rally vs travel thing. I spec’d a 120Nm spring as I’m fond of food.

All this extra suspension needs a two-inch longer sidestand which Rally Raid fitted. It’s a shame it doesn’t include an extended foot for soft terrain support, but something can be bodged on down the road. They did mention that with the longer stand the greater weight can cause the stand to swing down on heavy drops which can engage the engine cut out. Another reason to get ride of those annoying switches. Or maybe more spring tension.


We went out for a quick spin around the back lanes, but new tyres, wet leaves and the completely new feel to the front end made for an edgy ‘on marbles’ ride. The bike’s added tallness suits my 6′ 1″ much better (you can see how low the bike sat on the right, with a bit of baggage on the back). Now I can still almost get both feet flat on the ground, though the shock is bound to loosen and sag a bit in the upcoming miles.


One good thing is the RRP platform footrests (left) feel up to an inch lower than the rubber-capped OEs which makes less of a leg bend and also standing up less effort. Turns out they’re a bit further back too (see image, right).
We rode up a local potholed ‘dogging’ lane (complete with a scrunched-up copy of Razzle – that takes me back…) and standing on the X felt spot-on for my height – very comfy indeed – thanks to retaining the higher OE bars and helped by those big pegs. No more stooping, as on last year’s X bike.


A bigger diametre front wheel has a greater gyroscopic effect which makes changes in direction (aka: steering) slower. That’s why road bikes run 17s, even if they look all wrong when fitted to an ‘adventure’ bike like the Ducati, right. Initially, it feels like the rake’s gone all Easy Rider or the head bearings are too tight, though actually the new K60 19-er noticeably lightens the steering – good for pivoting through traffic. That greater force also improves tracking (straight-line stability), not that the OE X was deficient in that respect.


Setting off back to London in the dark and the rain I took it easy, and once I dead reckoned my way out of Bedford and onto the M1 (compass on my jacket sleeve proving useful), I sat it out on the motorway and by the time it came to tackling Hyde Park Corner at Friday rush hour I was fully accustomed to the Honda’s new feel. Taller may mean higher CoG, fewer dabbing chances and the need to step on a footrest to get on, but it’s all given the CB-X that trail bike stance which I know and love. Only thing is this time it won’t be accompanied by the thump of a big single, but a smooth and as economical 500 twin.


Thanks to John and Adam for doing in half a day what would take me half a week. There’s more on their CB500X conversions here – and more from me and the bike later.

Some of the RRP parts I bought, some were exchanged for advertising in the 2016 edition of AMH.

CB500X – chain oiler and rack

CB500x Index page

On the CB-X there wasn’t an obvious place around the back to mount a new model Auto Pro 1 Tutoro chain oiler. I saw a couple of people on the forum perched theirs on the pillion footpeg mount, but with off-roading and stone flying on the agenda, I can’t see mine lasting too long back there, even with the reservoir rock guard that comes with the latest model.


The next best place I could find was on a front downtube behind the radiator. Who knows, the warmth might make the oil runnier and better penetrating – or maybe just more splashy. The delivery tube needed an extra 6 inches which I had from an old Tuturo kit.


They have a new nozzle swingarm mount too: a plate and nylon bolt (right) you zip tie on to better secure the twin nozzle in front of the sprocket, instead of positioning it with a coil of bent wire. I think I’ll add some more support to the nylon bolt at the inside of the swingarm to stop it getting snapped off. As it is, I can see it all getting swept off by off-road debris. At least with the bendy coil you can bend it back. I may add that too.


I’m a bit concerned about the state of my chain. At only 3000 miles there’s rust on the outer plates which probably means rust on the inside too which will ruin the o-rings soon enough. Neither I nor I doubt the previous owners neglected it that much, so it must have been a cheap batch, like those that found their way onto some F-series BMW twins a few years back.

Even though it’s far from worn out, I think I’ll have to take a leaf out of my own book and fit new. The upcoming trip to Western Sahara and back will rack up at least 7000 miles, and even with the new oiler, in the sands I doubt my dud OE chain will make it to 10k.


I made that mistake on a Funduro ride to Libya once  (left). Lots of sand on that trip and the no-name chain was slipping by Tunisia on the way back and despite my best efforts, the back sprocket was totally shot by Maidstone. I had to hire a van the last 25 miles home. On other Sahara trips o-ring DIDs have lasted fine.


Again the forum has mixed reports on chain life, even with very regular maintenance. A quality chain wants to get on there quick before the sprockets wear. Normally that would be a DID gold x-ring, but I couldn’t find an X on ebay so let’s take a chance on a JT X1R version for £53. It’s good to try new stuff anyway, and I’m sure it will last the run in the desert sands, now the Tutoro is lubing it.



Rally Raid’s pannier rack arrived, along with a few extras. At £230 delivered, it was a good deal more expensive than a regular Hepco pannier rack (right) which seems to be the only one that’s a general purpose rack, and not specified for a certain type of luggage. As it is, it’s way too far back like so many of these racks, though with throwovers that doesn’t matter too much.


The RRP side rack weights 4.7kg in steel and seems based on their KTM690 rack, a bike whose plastic fuel tank is the rear subframe and so needs a bit of extra support. Being more heavily built than your H&B, the RRP CB-X rack does away with the rear cross brace and is said to be made to fit the Giant Loop Siskiyou throwovers.


The rack replaces the 1.8kg pair of grabrails and uses their six mounts on the chunky subframe, so that’s actually less than 3 kilos added overall. The third mount is a bracket that goes behind the pillion peg mounts and the whole lot was easy to fit and lined up precisely.


I did wonder if the short side height might not support my tall Magadans so well. As it is on the right the upswept silencer will get in the way whatever set up you use. Sticking out equally on both sides, there’s heaps of room to stash stuff behind (left) or fit one of those tool tubes. Though I’d rather have a slim rack, I can see those spaces becoming handy.


RRP also sent me their 1.8kg tail rack to look at, though I’m not a fan of these CNC ‘plate racks’.  I fitted it anyway to see how it looks, as it mounts on the side racks very easily.


I prefer traditional tube racks and the reason becomes clear once the grab rails are removed: there’s nothing to grab on to! Not so much for a pillion but when picking up or manoeuvering or back-end dragging the bike into the cow shed where it currently lives. It’s really quite frustrating. For a while I thought I might bolt on grab loops to the tail rack mounts, but have decided to try and get an X-rack style sheep rack made (right).


Other RRP goodies included a nifty rear brake reservoir guard (left). Now I look at it, it’s quite exposed, just as the oiler would have been back there. And a nifty pair of adjustable shorty levers. I’ll get round to them when the new front end arrives.