What would I want with a junked out 1978 Honda CX500?
1978 Honda CX500 Gauges and Tank, originally uploaded by evanfell.
I came to Los Angeles and within 3 hours of arriving I was already picking up a bike.
For some reason the CX500 and CX650 motorcycles have slipped my grasp over the past few years. I was supposed to pick one up about a year ago, but that deal got squashed somehow. So when I saw this “beauty” up for grabs I jumped on it.
Obviously it is a dog. A dead dog. The bike is beat to junk and weathered worse than McCain’s face. It is only missing the headlight, blinkers, side covers, and clutch lever, but the seat, gauges, throttle, tires are absolute garbage. – On the plus side the motor turns over fine so I’m sure it will be a runner.
The Honda CX500 was introduced in 1978 so this is a first year model. Common problem points were stator failure (particularly on the early models) and cam chain slop. With the cam chain properly adjusted at regular interval these bikes will run 100,000 miles easy without a rebuild while cruising 80 mph all the while. They were marketed as a downsized touring bike, this is true particularly with the CX650 which was available in “Silverwing” trim with full touring fairing and luggage.
I haven’t decided to what extent I’ll dig into this bike. I have a crush on this CX500 dual sport bike which I believe was built by Phil Kopp in Australia.
It’s obviously a poor mans HPN rally bike, but sometimes you just have to work with what you have.
The disadvantage of a CX500 for this style of bike (compared to the BMW Boxer) is the counter shaft design of the motor. Transversely mounted twins are notorious for having a gyroscopic effect when you hit the throttle. Honda eliminated this by having the output shaft spin the opposite direction as the crank. While this smooths out the motor in a sense, it also makes it slightly more complex, heavier, and more difficult to modify for performance. But I digress. ..
I’ll post my progress as it comes.
Evan’s Answers 2: 1996 Yamaha Virago Jetting Concerns
In Evanâ€™s Answers I attempt to respond with sound advice to questions regarding motorcycles sent to me from visitors of this website. If you would like to pick my brain just email me
I don’t want to make a habit of doing multiple Evan’s Answers consecutively, but I have a couple of really great new How-To articles and they won’t be ready until tomorrow. Check back for them, together we’ll take your old bike and make it new!
I just modified my 1996 Yamaha Virago XV1100 to accept a Harley Davidson K&N air cleaner assembly. I am thrilled with the modification and my OEM jetted carbs are great from idle to 3/4 throttle. After that the bike feels as if it has a miss. I believe that I have to replace the main jets. Another Virago tech forum member did a similar but not identical mod and had to open his main jets two sizes larger. My Hitachi HSC40’s have stock sizes of, Front #122, Rear #128. Does that mean that I should go, Front #126, Rear #132 ? I appreciate your advice.Â
Your jet size estimates sound correct. When you change an intake or an exhaust you’ll generally go up on the main jet anywhere from 1 to 3 sizes. 2 is probably about right for your bike, but personally I never make jetting adjustments in increments more than one jet size. If I was you I would pick up a 124, 126, 130, and a 132. I’d go up one size on the main jets then give it a ride. If it still stammered at open throttle I’d go up one more size.
Most (imported) transversely mounted air-cooled V-twins like your Virago run the rear cylinder richer than the front to keep it cooler because it doesn’t get a whole lot of air flow. Kind of an interesting solution to a specific problem. Just part of the reason the big twins never have a competitive edge in any racing circuits. (No I am not referring to Ducati air cooled twins, they are transversely mounted, but they are 90 degree motors tilted forward allowing for much more airflow.)
Thanks for reading the blog. Let me know how it goes.
Evan’s Answers 1: Finding KTM 500 Parts
I reaquired my first race bike, a 85 KTM 500 MXC. I am having a very difficult time finding a good Elba headlight and exhaust pipe for it. Most of the bike was still there just not running. Any help would be appreciated.
Finding original parts for the KTM open class race bikes is and increasingly diffcult challenge. There are not many of these bikes around in good condition, particularly being parted out. If you want to find a stock Elba headlight you are going to have a difficult time. You can keep your eyes open for one to pop up on eBay, or you can ask around in the ‘Oldies/Big Bore’ forum on KTMTalk. Other than that you’ll be pretty much out of luck.
For those who don’t know what we are discussing, Chad is looking for one of these:
This is a photo of mine! 🙂
Acerbis at one point made a Elba style replica headlight. You can still find replacement bulbs and straps for them at Bike Bandit, but I don’t think they are making the headlight unit anymore.
As for the exhaust pipe, there is only one pipe still available for the old KTM big bores, but it’s a good one. Dynoport makes some awesome pipes for KTM 500’s of all years. You can find them right on the Dynoport Website. Be prepared to pay for the rarity!
Thanks for the questions,
Me on the KTM 300exc in Colorado
Evan Fell Kicking Ass, originally uploaded by evanfell.
Epic riding recently.
The riding in the Taylor Park area of central Colorado is simply amazing. Nothing compares to it on the east coast.
This is somewhere off of Italian Creek Trail before reaching the Flag Trail Trailhead. The side of this rock wash is sheer cliff. Fun!
1982 Honda Nighthawk 450
1982 Honda Nighthawk 450, originally uploaded by evanfell.
This is my 1982 Honda Nighthawk 450. What a fun little bike these are. This is about as close as you can get to a perfect city commuter bike. I am of course partial to a CB350 or kin, but this Nighthawk 450 sure fits the bill pretty well too.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s bikes motorcycles were going through a lot of changes. Many were dropping their mechanical ignitions in favor of electronic systems. Consoles and gauges which were once steel were fast become plastic. Larger amounts of body work were becoming common place, and some funky wheel combinations were hitting the market.
These nighthawk 450’s are great little bikes for what they are. They are great for zipping around town or quick jaunts down the interstate. The motors are smooth, make good power, and are relatively low maintenance. This was definitely a transition motorcycle for Honda. They were beginning to make motorcycles that were styled a bit more sporty and aggressive. The same features you see on this bike can also be seen on the CB750F, CB900F, and CB1100F models of the same time period. They were using well formed fuel tanks and plastic body work that was designed more for aesthetics than it was for function.
Honda did not jump to plastic headlight buckets and gauge clusters on this model like they were about to do on the Honda Magna’s and Sabre’s. They did however switch to a real dorky style of wheel. It is styled like a Comstar Wheel, but it can be disassembled. The radial supports unbolt from the rim and hub so the wheel can be taken apart. I would bet that the singular glaring reason Honda started using these wheels was the cut costs. It is easier and faster to cast several small pieces than one large one. Personally I have always preferred a spoked wheel in every case.
These Nighthawk 450 motors were essentially the same beast as the CM400 and CMX450 motors. They really do run smooth and reliably. This is an excellent first bike for someone just getting into riding, or is even perfect for someone like myself who prefers to ride a small and simple machine rather than the big hogs and performance driven bikes that most are drawn to. In almost every case a bike like this is all you need to have a great time on two wheels. The small stature, light weight, and peppy motor make it a blast to zip around on. It is very maneuverable, and the seat is soft and wide. The Honda Nighthawk 450 is indeed a great all-around bike.
My 1986 Honda CR250R
1986 Honda CR250R, originally uploaded by evanfell.
I have now owned a couple different 1986 250 two-stroke MX bikes. My first real dirtbike was this 1986 Kawasaki KX250 which I haven’t written about yet – but here is a photo.
This Honda CR250 was a little beat up but I was able to buy it for a song. When I bought the bike it had low compression, the plastics were faded and a couple bits were worn, but all in all it was a fairly solid old ride.
The 1986 Honda CR250R was the last year of the rear drum brake. It boggles my mind why Honda was still running a drum brake in the rear when the other manufacturers had updated to discs. I don’t know for sure, but I would be willing to be that the factory Honda racers in 1986 had disc brakes on their race bikes. (Anyone know a little history about this? I’d love to hear it.). However, Honda did jump right to a dual piston front disk brake, which sort of compensates for the weak rear.
Despite the low compression I was able to get this bike running real well. It needed a new piston and rings for sure, but that didn’t stop me from putting a little saddle time on it. It amazes me how little the performance of off road bikes has changed over a 20 year period. Sure new bikes have better suspension, the motors run a little crisper, and they’ve shaved off 15 pounds, but to an amateur rider all of those factors amount to very little. Most off-road riders and racers run new bikes simply because of the hype and marketing. The fact of the matter is that any good rider on a bike from the 80’s will still whoop the pants off an amateur on the latest model 250. Once liquid cooled motors and mono shock bikes became common place, the rider was the only thing that made a real significant different on lap times.
This 1986 ran very strong. I don’t recall what carb it had, I know my 1986 KX250 had an enormous Kehein that was the size of a bible. The Honda is certainly a little better carbureted and pulled harder up top, but this could be purely a factor of superior jetting rather than components. The CR250 suspension was also a bit more progressive than the KX250 with an inverted front fork, the KX250 had a bit of a spongy quality to it which made whoop sections tricky.
By all accounts the 1986 CR250 was the superior bike to the KX250, save the rear brake. Dirt, mud, water, and fast motors simply do not mix with drum brakes. Goofy.
My 1986 Honda CMX450 Rebel
1986 Honda CMX450 Rebel, originally uploaded by evanfell.
The Honda CMX450 was only made for a couple years in the mid 1980’s. It was essentially the big brother of the Honda CMX250 Rebel. The 450 uses the same motor as the CM400 with with a few extra cc’s. The CMX450 as has a sixth gear so it can cruise effortlessly down the highway.
These bikes are fairly difficult to come by and hold their value extremely well.. These bikes are popular among women who like cruisers because they are a physically compact bike with a low seat height. I am 6’3â€ and looked like an orangutan riding this thing. My knees pointed straight up and hit the handlebars when I cornered.
These bikes are also very popular because of their smooth road manners. The motor runs like a watch and is buttery smooth when setup properly. They pull even through all the gears and are comfortable putting around or wicked open. I was extremely impressed by the performance of this bike â€“ for what it is, it goes well.
I’m not particularly a fan of the aesthetics of any of the Honda CM style motors. They look a little funky to me with the squared valve covers. They are also anodized rather than plain aluminum like the previous Honda CB motors. The anodizing tends to bubble up and crack a bit over time and there is simply no good way to fix it. Once oxidation sets in the only way to clean these motors up is to send them off to be re-coated â€“ though you could probably paint it reasonably well if it started to get real bad.
The other problem I have with the CM motors is that they don’t have a kick start backup. By the 80’s electric starting systems on motorcycles had long been common place, and the components were much less prone to failure than ten years earlier, but I love kick starting bikes. There is something great about having to use manual force to get a bike churning.
All in all the Honda CMX450 is a great little cruiser. It doesn’t fit me well at all, but I very much enjoyed cruising around on it for a while. It makes a great bike for a new rider, or an experienced rider of small stature. Purrs like a kitten.
My Yamaha XS650s and my XS650 Fantasies
Yamaha XS650 values have been skyrocketing the last few years. The early models in particular are quite valuable. However, they were sold in such large numbers over such a long duration that it is still possible to find some old junkers for pretty cheap.
I picked up the two XS650 specials below for a ‘bargain’. I put ‘bargain’ in quotes because they would only be a bargain to the right type of person, a person like myself, who likes a challenge and is handy with a wrench. Both bikes had a difficult time over the last ten years spending most of their time outdoors, uncovered, in the new england winters.
1980 Yamaha XS650 Heritage Special
1981 Yamaha XS650 Midnight Special
These Yamaha XS’s had an uncertain history. I bought them from a father and son who were given them when their neighbor died. I’m not sure if the neighbor was responsible for the butchering, or the father and son team, but someone did some shade tree work to these bikes and it didn’t turn out so well. Both bikes had a lot of snipped wires and some creative wiring. Neither had working electronics when connected to a battery. They were covered in lots of rust, didn’t have keys, were missing a couple parts,and had frozen everything â€“ except the motors. The motors were rock solid, looked to be in good condition and kicked over with great compression.
I’m not much of a chopper guy, but I’ve always wanted to hardtail an XS650 and build a bar hopper. Something like this:
These Yamahas seemed like just the ticket, so I picked them up. There is a lot of debate over the best years of the XS650’s. By all accounts the electronic ignitions introduced in 1980 (correct me if I’m wrong on the year) are more care free than the point based ignitions of previous years, but there is something in the mechanics of a points ignition that has always interested me. I like to tinker, and points definitely allow for that.
The later model Yamaha XS650’s however had a different frame which was a little more ‘robust’ with many heavy gussets that weren’t present in previous years. This makes for a little more work to get the stripped down chopper look (if that’s what your going for).
All in all I was extremely excited to finally have a couple xs650 twins in the garage and had all sorts of sketches of what I envisioned. Unfortunately those plans got curbed a little earlier than I expected and I moved on to my off-road bike projects instead. An XS650 chopper is still in my future though. As well as an XS400 SOHC cafe bike similar to the one I had before.
A Slice of Life in Bradford PA and the Surrounding Region
While at Majestic Trails I commuted to Bradford, PA each day to scavenge wifi. I tend to work very strange hours while on the road because I want to spend peak daylight hours adventuring. The nature of my job requires me to be accountable to the Internet for a tremendously draining amount of time. So every day, every single day, I find my way to free wifi, no matter what it takes. Whether it’s a library, a coffee shop, a bar, or a private business, I scout it out and make it work.
Bradford PA, Summers Night, 2am
In Bradford the wifi choices were limited so I spent many hours sitting outside of the Hospital on a bench, and at what I like to call my â€œMidnight Mobile Command Centerâ€, which was located in the parking lot of a strip mall across from a cafe which had terribly short hours. I have no shame, no comfort issues, and no need to keep up appearances. I need to exchange emails reliably with my clients, and that’s exactly what I do.
Riding a Motorcycle Across Loose Terrain
For many riders beginning to venture off-road the biggest challenge they face is riding across loose terrain. When riding on pavement traction is consistent leading to predictable acceleration, cornering, and braking. There is also little need to monitor wheel position, suspension action, or balance â€“ on the road, it’s all a no brainer.
When a rider first hits a packed gravel road they generally don’t find too much of a difference. Besides from driving a bit slower and being careful of pot holes, there isn’t a whole lot more involved.
But that isn’t the type of riding I’m talking about here. I am talking about loose terrain, rough 4wd roads in the deep country that offer both challenge and reward for the rider. Below I am going to attempt to explain proper body position, maneuvering, braking, and navigation across roads that look something like this:
Whether you are on a dedicated dirt bike, a dual-sport or adventure bike, a giant GS or equivalent, or even a street bike or cruiser, you’ll be amazed how well you can exceed on difficult terrain while being aware of just a few crucial factors.
First, Heads Up!
The key to riding difficult terrain strewn with rocks, ruts, and holes is to keep your head up! Look forward, down the road. Your eyes should be focusing down the road 15 yards. The goal is to find the easiest route as you approach it. The easiest route can never be determined when looking down at your front wheel. Watch the lines, draw them on the ground, and point your bike where you want it to go. Your body and thus your bike will follow where your head is pointed, so always look where you want to go. Heads Up!
Moderating Riding Speed
Without a doubt the biggest cause of riders having difficulty in terrain like this is not because of the terrain itself, but because they are scared to ride over it. When inexperienced riders come across difficult ground their first reaction is to slow way down to a crawl and paddle their way across it with both feet walking on the ground. Moderating speed is extremely important in these conditions. The faster you ride, the smoother the ride is going to be. By maintaining speed through â€œdifficultâ€ sections you increase your ability to balance effectively, and thus you increase your control over the motorcycle.
A good way to practice finding the proper speed is to find a short section of loose rocky terrain. Ride through it at a crawl, then turn around. Ride back through it, but this time go just a slight bit faster. Keep driving back and forth across the same terrain 4 or 5 times increasing the speed each time. You’ll be more comfortable with the lines each time and this will help you overcome the uneasy feeling of maintaining speed through a tricky section. Remember, a motorcycle is just like any other skill, practice makes you a better rider.
Your Suspension is there to Help
Sometimes avoiding the larger bumps, rocks, or potholes is not to your advantage. Keeping the front wheel pointed straight ahead helps a lot with stability. Sometimes riding directly over rocks and debris rather than going around will actually be the easiest and most stable route. Your suspension is there to absorb the rocks, let it do it’s job. If you focus on the line and the bikes momentum and speed, the suspension will do the rest.
Braking! Not too hard.
When the ground is loose the front brake is not your friend. The front brake should always be applied extremely cautiously in an area like this. If you feel the front wheel dig into the ground you are squeezing the lever too hard â€“ careful or your handlebars will jackknife and send you flying.
I always like riding on loose terrain because of the flexibility I have with the rear break. You can use the rear brake to your advantage when cornering and maneuvering on loose terrain. Locking the rear brake under these conditions will often be simple, but this can be very enjoyable and give positive braking effect as if on a pedal bike. Become aware of the point at which your rear wheel locks, and use that point to slide the rear wheel around corners, to drop it around rocks, or to slide the rear down a camber to keep the front wheel pointed upwards and forward.
Depending on your bike, tires, and brake sensitivity you’ll really just have to feel it out. Practice helps.
Get Off the Seat. Body Position.
Beginning off-road riders often have never had experience riding a motorcycle while standing. But standing on the pegs and manipulating the bike beneath you across the terrain is the easiest way to maintain balance and sharp control. Standing should be practiced in a safe location prior to riding difficult terrain. A rider should be able to stand on their bike comfortably, if you can’t, you either need to make some adjustments to your setup, or you need more practice and direction. The balls of your feet should be on the pegs, your knees slightly bent, your back arched, elbows out and head over the handlebars. Depending on the bike you are riding and the purpose it was built for standing may or may not come naturally. Practice in a controlled environment then work up the difficulty.
When riding across loose terrain while standing you will be able to maneuver the bike more effectively. The bike will also be able to bounce up and down over rocks and ruts without affecting your position or throwing you off balance. When standing you have essentially lowered the center of gravity of the bike making it easier to manipulate.
Practice Practice Practice
There really isn’t more to it. There is a reason some riders have an easy time through terrain that others call nearly impossible. It rarely has anything to do with the bike or their level of daring, it has everything to do with their experience. Practice riding outside of your comfort zone and you will become a better rider. Remember to always where proper protection.
So get out onto the loose terrain and start practicing.