1978 Honda CX500


It was unbelievable. I had built a collection of big twins representing the best of the 1970’s from around the world, and not one Honda. Honda, the company that redefined the motorcycle industry, in its infinite wisdom, had shied away from big twins. Soichiro Honda had directed his engineering staff to increase horsepower through higher RPM, achievable, ultimately, only through component size reduction as a result of cylinder multiplication. Thus, twins became fours, and fours became sixes, and as red lines shifted to the right side of 10,000 RPM, horsepower (and reliability) increased, for sure. Who can argue with Honda’s successes? Still, there was a time when Honda Motor Company did experiment with big twins. Honda released its 450cc twin in 1965, and the Black Bomber’s DOHC layout with torsion bar valve springs got plenty of notice. The 4 speed 450 evolved through the 70’s into a 5 speed 500 with disc front brake. Then in 1978 came Honda’s final big twin of the decade: the CX500. The very non-conventional engine featured water cooling and a CDI ignition system for its transverse v-twin. Short pushrods and 4 tiny valves per cylinder allowed the red zone to stretch into 5 digit territory. A disc front brake, decent forks, shocks and electrics and a robust frame with Comstar wheels and shaft drive provided excellent road-holding. Plus, I have a connection to this model: I shared a ride on a 78 CX500 at a Bridgehampton, Long Island endurance race back in the day. I must admit, it was impressive. Tall and heavy, and a bit anemic at low RPMs, it nonetheless handled decently and spooled up to reasonable power production as the revs neared the red line. It may not have been a great road racer, but it was just shy of being a fabulous road bike. Unfortunately for Honda, some early problems with cam chain tensioners required a major recall campaign to sort things out. The original model bravely featured a headlight nacelle, a unique styling touch, and had a large fuel tank and oversized and comfortable seat. This was the model I needed to round out the retrotours collection. Finally, a CX500 found me. At a party I met a friend’s friend and when motorcycles came up in conversation, he mentioned that his dad had a 78 CX500 in the basement gathering cobwebs. One thing led to another, and I got invited over for a look see even though there was no intent to sell. As is often the case, the owner eventually ‘saw the light’ and for fair market value the machine was mine. It was a straight forward restoration, with many items available through ebay at a bargain. Modern tires, Ikon shocks, a fork brace, carb and brake overhauls and lots of TLC soon had the bike up and running. It’s a great ride: reliable and confidence inspiring—never surprising and always forgiving—it feels like it could roll on forever. This is the paradox of many Hondas: by doing everything so well they can border on being bland. Still, when the road is long, when comfort and reliability mean as much as all out performance, when joy comes from getting the job done efficiently, the CX500 has a way of satisfying.