Between the automotive and motorcycle industry, some new products get lots of attention and praise because they bring different new features to the table. For a bike named the “Turbo” the Honda didn't exactly stand out for its speed. Let's explore the history of the Honda CX500 Turbo and why it is still talked about today after it's manufacturing years of 1981 to 1986.
Development and History
The development of the CX500 Turbo comes from previous decades of horsepower wars between Japanese and American bikes. Riders cared more about the power of the bike than an excess of features, and would readily gobble up an odd looking bike or less than amazing ride if they can get there faster.
CX's line replaced the CB550, which was very popular in its own right. The lineup offered some new features that weren't common on bikes yet, including liquid cooling, a long mounted engine, and air free tires. The new platform initially had to compete with the powerful Suzuki GS750, a sportbike of the day. These sportsbikes sold very well despite having some reliability issues and sometimes having no limiter, which could readily lead to destroying an engine.
The engine is one of the more surprising parts of the bike. Honda equipped the CX500 Turbo with a 497cc engine, which isn't much for the time. Instead, as the name suggests, Honda added a turbo in addition to the first computer controlled electronic fuel injection system that came from the factory.
Honda didn't oversize the Turbo with a 51mm part. The resulting top speed was 130 miles per hour, though many who had driven the bike to suggest that saying it can go 130 miles per hour and getting a CX500 Turbo to reach that speed wasn't exactly a quick process. The bike weighed in at 579 pounds wet, which didn't help in an era of superbikes.
Don't take these notes as criticism of the bike. This was still the first turbocharger available on a motorcycle and a good start to the concept of using a turbo to pick up torque and speed.
Compared to motorcycles like the Kawasaki Z1R-TC, the CX500 was quite comfortable. Honda had 37mm Showa forks and Honda's TRAC anti dive system. You could also adjust the rear shocks. Decent sized disc brakes made it a fairly safe bike, and bigger brakes in back – 300mm, stopped the rear tire. Other cool features, for the era, included an electronic ignition system which put convenience way ahead.
Drivers enjoyed the handling of the Honda CX500 Turbo. It was smooth and torquey, though turbo lag was also noticeable. Riders with longer legs would like to know that the inlet tracts were pushed out of the way and away from a rider's knees. In short, the Honda CX500 looked a little odd visually but was quite comfy.
One visual element that drivers loved about the CX500 Turbo was the giant word “TURBO” painted in huge letters on the exhaust pipes.
Impact on Motorcycle
Computers weren't exactly common on motorcycles before the Honda CX500 Turbo. Honda managed to combine electronics that had a purpose with an overall pleasant and easy to ride design – which in part helped offset the fast but dangerous motorcycles of the day. With the introduction of the turbocharger, Honda also set the stage for motorcycles to become the monsters they would in the 1970s and 1980s.
In reality, the CX500 sales didn't go real well. Honda only made about 5,000 of them before upgrading the engine to a 650 Turbo a year later. At the moment, a preowned CX500 Turbo can be rather expensive simply because they are few out there, and they bring some serious nostalgia. The bike is more of a collector's item than a practical rider today, as you could get something more comfortable for less with no issues.
In all honestly, you are more likely to see a Honda CX500 Turbo in someone's garage or a museum before you see one on the road in this decade. They belong in the museum though, as a centerpiece of the start of the war of turbochargers that made bikes even faster in the coming decades.