The CB500X is a middle-weight ADV bike, and a direct competitor of Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300. The recently updated model is equipped with a 19-inch front wheel, full LCD dash and better suspension, making it more capable than the first iteration. I rode a Honda CB500X for the first time back in 2017 and wasn’t overly impressed. This time around, I did a 1,500+ km road trip on the updated model and liked it much better.
With 38K km on the odometer, I felt it was the perfect opportunity to compare it to my 3-year old Versys-X with comparable mileage (even though it is likely that the CB500X had seen more abuse). In this review, I will compare both bikes in the following areas: (1) build quality, (2) design, (3) ergonomics, (4) equipment, (5) engine, and (6) ride quality.
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1. Build Quality
CB500X: the CB500X is a well-built bike. The quality of the plastics and the paint please the eye, as well as the touch. All panels are sturdy and well aligned. Despite the 38K km on the odometer, everything still feels solid and there is no creaking. The handlebars are tapered, the gas cap is all metal and the switch gear is made of quality plastics. Absolutely nothing to complain about!
Versys-X: the Versys is well built, but not on a par with the CB500X. Some of the plastics don’t feel or look as premium. The handlebars are less beefy (although they have held up fine after several drops). The rear mudguard feels a bit loose after 3 years of riding over rough terrain, whereas the one on the CB500X was still rock solid. Overall, the Versys-X withstands the test of time well, but not quite as well as the CB500X.
CB500X: in my book, the CB500X loses a few points in this area. The overall design looks dated and uninspiring. Overall the CB has a lot less road presence compared to the Versys-X. It lacks a luggage rack which I find unforgivable for any bike that is marketed as an ADV bike. Aftermarket solutions are available, but you’ll need to dig deeper into your pockets. And finally, I am not sure how I feel about the exposed flexible coolant hose on the front-left side of the engine.
Versys-X: for a 300, the Versys-X is an awful lot of bike… It feels and rides like a much bigger bike. Its design is more angular and aggressive, giving the bike a lot of road presence and character. I love the DID spoke wheels, which give it a more purposeful look. However, you’ll have to make due with tubed tires. The cherry on the cake is the sturdy luggage rack, which also doubles as grab rails for the pillion. I couldn’t live without it.
CB500X: the CB500X feels like the smaller bike in this comparison. I felt the riding position to be slightly awkward. The foot pegs are mounted too high and too far back for my taste, resulting in a slight forward lean (similar to a sport touring bike). Also, my right boot would regularly hit the heat shield of the exhaust. Standing while riding did not feel very natural, due to the aforementioned forward lean. Sitting, however, was comfortable, even on longer rides.
Versys-X: I think Kawasaki really nailed the ergonomics on the Versys-X. It features a comfortable and upright riding position. Unfortunately, Kawasaki ‘s ergo-fit low and high seats are terrible, both feel like a slab of concrete. Transitioning from being seated to standing while riding is easy and feels natural. There is ample leg room and the handlebars are wide. Thanks to the lower weight, the bike feels nimble and is easy to maneuver (even at low speeds).
CB500X: in base form, the CB500X is the better equipped bike here. All the lights on the CB are LEDs, including the turn signals. Both front and rear suspension feature preload adjustment. The CB500X shares the same multi-functional LCD gauge cluster with its bigger sister, the CB650R. Despite providing more information than the cluster on the Versys-X, it suffers from poor readability (especially in bright sunlight). Center-stand, panniers, crashbars, AUX lights are all optional.
Versys-X: skip the base model and go straight for the Touring package. This package adds a set of panniers, centerstand, one-point hand-guards, 12v outlet, crash bars, and a set of PIAA LED fog lights and you get all this for less money than the base CB500X. Believe me, when I say that a center-stand is a must-have on an ADV bike! The suspension setup is basic (preload adjustment in the rear only), but works well enough in most situations. The bean counters at Kawasaki forced the engineers to skip LED lighting altogether, which makes the bike feel cheap. The gauge cluster has a big old analog tachometer: I wouldn’t have it any other way!
CB500X: the CB500X features a 471cc parallel-twin DOHC engine. It churns out 47hp at 8,600rpm and packs a decent punch in the mid range. I found the engine to be pleasant for riding on fire roads and soft off-roading thanks to the available low-end torque. Above 7k rpm, the engine feels strained and vibrations can be felt in the handlebars and foot pegs. Best to keep it purring in the mid range. Fuel economy is excellent. I averaged around 3.5L/100km during my trip, fully loaded with luggage.
Versys-X: the Versys-X also sports a parallel-twin DOHC engine, but it’s an entirely different beast. Due to its small size (296cc), it doesn’t produce a whole lot of torque, but the torque curve is flat throughout the rev range. Peak power arrives 11.5k rpm. Needless to say that this little engine revs to the moon and is silky smooth while doing so. The lack of low-end torque and the revvy character of the engine are likely to put off many riders. I have learnt to live with it, but the continuous shifting can become frustrating from time to time…
6. Ride Quality
CB500X: the CB500X feels well planted in most situations. My bike was fitted with a set of excellent Metzeler Karoo Street tires, and I felt very confident as from the get-go. Thanks to the increased suspension travel, the updated suspension handles bigger bumps without any fuss. However, I feel that the otherwise good experience is tarnished by the vibey nature of the engine.
Versys-X: the Versys-X is a very fun bike. It’s lighter and more nimble than Honda’s CB500X. The engine is super smooth and its exhaust note can be addictive once you rev past 8,000 rpm. The suspension is great for on-road driving, but off road you are sure to bottom out sooner rather than later. The riding position is excellent, as mentioned earlier but a better seat would turn the Versys-X into the perfect companion on longer trips.
While neither one of these bikes would be my first pick for a RTW trip, they are great fun and very reliable. When I take the design out of the equation, the bikes scored 3 points each. And I feel that’s a fair assessment, as they are both great value for money. The Versys-X in Touring guise gives you the best bang for your buck. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. I prefer the more aggressive design of the Versys-X and love the engine out on the open road. However, if you’re doing a lot of off-roading or city driving, you would probably prefer the grunt of Honda’s 471cc twin.
Click HERE for my full review of the Kawasaki Versys-X 300.