James May ‘I’m telling my­self it’s a fu­ture clas­sic’

Motorcycle News (UK) - - Feature - TV’S The Grand Tour co-host and clas­sic Honda buff James May

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’ ”

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