James May ‘I’m telling myself it’s a future classic’
There’s a certain irony that one of the most mocked motorcycles of modern times has finally become, if not quite a bona-fide classic, then as a choice basis for that most fashionable of current two-wheeled trends – the home-brewed, hipster-style, café racer or scrambler.
Time to re-acquaint ourselves with the bike derided for so long as The Plastic Maggot – the CX500.
Over the years since its debut in 1978, Honda’s quirky V-twin commuter has, in fact, been many things. Launched as an innovative, high-tech even, middleweight designed by the man behind Honda’s CBX-6, the CX went on to become a hugely popular ‘bike of the people’. Later, thanks to its durability, it was a faithful hack to a generation of despatchers and winter commuters. While finally, dug out of countless sheds and barns, it’s now being rediscovered as a basis for countless specials or even as a classic in its own right. Even James May fell under its spell – almost. “I’ve just accidentally acquired a near minter,” the classic Honda buff (pictured below, right) admitted a while back. “Did a swap with someone I know. I’m telling myself it’s a future classic.”
Nor is he the only celebrated admirer of the bike once considered the ugliest of motorcycle ducklings. Feted bike designer Sacha Lakic also turned to the humble CX for his latest creation, his café racer GTS.
“I’ve always been a great fan of the motor,” said the designer responsible for most Voxans plus Bimota’s infamous Mantra. “A magnificent V-twin, full of character.”
In fact overall, although ugly and more worthy than inspiring, the CX has far more going for it than most realise.
Conceived as an innovative but versatile middleweight likely to appeal to a whole new generation of riders, the CX was designed by Shoichiro Irimajiri, the genius behind not just the CBX-6 but also Honda’s Gold Wing and many of its ‘60s racers.
As such, although many don’t know it, the CX bristled with innovative tech – so much so Honda used the slogan ‘First Into The Future’ on its sales literature. So, although liquid-cooling wasn’t exactly pioneering, the CX was the first V-twin so equipped, and it came with shaft drive too. It was also Honda’s first V-twin and the first bike of any type to boast tubeless tyres.
But most cleverly of all, Irimajiri, concerned the transverse Vee layout, (chosen for compactness with a low Cofg) might result in the carbs obstructing the riders’ knees, twisted the CX’S cylinder heads inwards by 22 degrees, an arrangement enabled by using pushrods instead of camchains. In so doing he produced an engine layout, which remains unique to this day. It worked, too, the CX proving not only easy to ride and agile but also economical and sufficiently reliable to acquire a large following – particularly with despatch riders. Nor were they the only ones. The CX was a huge hit with everyman bikers, too.
“My CX was very important to me as I had just passed my test,” MCN reader David Anderson remembered recently. “I was wary of going up to a too-big bike so bought a secondhand CX. It turned out to be the perfect choice. It had a bulletproof engine and the handling was really good. I loved it.”
It was all enough to prompt a whole family of CX variants: the custom-styled CX500C came in 1979 along with a Deluxe version (characterised by its reversed Comstar wheels). The Gold Wing-inspired Silver Wing arrived in 1981 while a ‘Euro-styled’ Sport version came the following year. But most radical of all was the CX Turbo which debuted that same year and was then superseded like the rest of the CXS by a 650 version in 1983.
Ultimately, of course, it couldn’t last. The CX was replaced by the more conventional (but less successful) VT500 in 1983 and Honda’s V-twins took a different path. Instead, perhaps the CX’S greatest legacy is how strongly it still lives in the memory.
“I’ve owned sports bikes, naked bikes and even a Buell,” says MCN reader Chris Edge, who’s now turned his CX into a café racer (see right). “But my CX still gets the most attention because ‘everybody had one’.”
The CX may today be creating lots of fond memories and even more questionable café racers, but maybe it’s not quite a classic just yet.
‘‘My CX still gets the most attention because ‘everybody’s had one’ ”