Honda CBX 550 Series (Australian Specification)

There is a Japanese translation.

Honda released the CBX 550 4 cylinder in Australia in early 1982, and it remained on sale until late 1984, early 1985. It featured a 16 valve, 572 cc four cylinder engine that derived its parentage directly from the monstrous CBX1000 six cylinder of 1978 an onwards. Claimed horsepower was 65 ps @ 10000 RPM. Claimed Dry Weight was 184 kg which meant that power-t-weight ratio was exceptional for such a small bike and it proved to have no trouble adapting to a number of different roles from commuting to serious long-distance touring.

The CBX 550 could do the standing 400 metres in 12.72 seconds and had a top speed of 186 km/h.

The bike was packed with innovative features. As well as being one of the first mid-capacity bikes to feature four valves per cylinder, it also boasted inboard enclosed disk brakes (two on the front compared to only one for the domestic Japanese 400 variant). Passive Anti-Dive front suspension was also innovative for a mid-capacity bike as was Honda's patented Pro-Link rear suspension. A six speed gearbox was also fitted but sixth gear, far from being an overdrive, was a valuable pulling gear on the highway and utilized the motor's wonderful torque figures amazingly well.

The disk brakes were very interesting. Instead of having the brake attached to the axle, the rotor was attached at three points around it outside edge and the caliper gripped it from the inside instead. The whole brake assembly was then encased in a metal, ventilated shroud. This meant that cast iron brake rotors could be used without the concern of unsightly rust (a problem that had caused the other manufacturers to fit stainless steel rotors instead). But the CBX's brakes actually worked in the wet unlike the competitor's stainless steel exposed disk brakes.

There was a weight penalty of course, with unsprung weight being increased due to the extra metal at the bottom of each fork leg, but brake efficiency was seen to be a fair price to pay in return. The front forks were air assisted with a tube linking the two so that the pressure was balanced in both legs. Similarly, the rear shock absorber was also air-assisted.

The fuel tank held enough fuel to allow for 230 km in between stops and fuel consumption of upwards of 50 miles per gallon was common in touring mode. This rider actually saw 300 km on the clock late into Reserve several times on trips. Astounding efficiency.

The engine was designed to be a low maintenance unit and proved markedly robust with the exception of the cam chain tensioner which was of poor design and saw the cam chain starting to rattle after about 20000 kms from new. Various after market "fixes" were largely unsuccessful in solving this serious design flaw.

The other minus of the CBX was the exhaust system which would usually be rusted beyond repair after 20000 kms and sometimes less in damp climates. While the standard system did provide excellent torque from around 3000 rpm right through to the 11500 RPM redline, and look fabulous to boot, it didn't last and was usually replaced about the time the bike's warranty expired, mostly with after market four-into-one systems. These were usually lighter, more rust proof and gave better top end performance at the expense of the motor's wonderful torque figures. My 4-into-1 took the power band up to over 4000 RPM before good torque figures were produced. The after-market exhaust also had one more benefit; it allowed much better access to the rear axle spindle when replacing rear tyres was required.

In touring mode the bike excelled, being smooth, powerful and nimble with ample spread of torque to allow for most highway expectations. Indeed, it was my experience that I lost count of the number of times that I went to shift up to top gear on the highway, thinking that I must have been in 5th because the bike was still pulling hard, only to find that I was in 6th gear already!

Thankfully Honda resisted the temptation to fit a 16" front wheel to the CBX, (they did with several other models at around that time) However, the CBX was always a little "nervous" around the front end especially on trailing throttle when slowing down. Many owners masked this problem by fitting a slightly larger section front tyre to increase the trail, but this tended to make the steering slower and reduced the wonderful manoeverability of the bike. I found it best to stick with the standard front tyre but to replace the steering head bearings with tapered roller items (non-standard) and do them up a little more tightly than suggested. This did not reduce manoeverability, but markedly reduced the "shimmy" on slow down.

This instability was a function of too much weight concentrated down low on the front forks with all the metal associated with the enclosed front disks. I would be interested to hear, but I'd bet that CBX400 owners did NOT experience this problem because that bike only had a single front disk!

The CBX had a reasonably comfortable seat, but I always fitted a sheep skin cover when touring as I also tended to cover large distances in a day. Australia is a BIG place. I fitted a rear rack and a small top box and used "throw-over" panniers when touring. My present CBX has a small rack and top box and the previous owner has fitted Krasuer panniers which are very nice, but again, I only use them when touring.

A few other things that may be of interest. Do not use a have a large collection of keys attached to your ignition key. The weight of them pulling down on the ignition key/steering lock unit wears the barrels inside the lock and makes the lock unusable after a while and a replacement necessary. After I had learned this from experience, I only ever put the ignition key in the lock by itself.

Be careful when removing the side covers. The plastic tabs that hold the side covers on break very easily and I have not found any adhesive that will successfully stick them back on. Replacement side covers are VERY expensive. Flush out the brake master cylinders with fresh brake fluid at least once a year. The rear cylinder is prone to rust and it can be quite unnerving to be riding along and have your back brake slowly jam on and slow the bike to a crawl.

I bought my first CBX, a low mileage 1982 model in mid 1983 and rode it for nearly 60000 kms in the next 7 years, doing commuting, some sports bike "scratching" and some serious long distance touring. I found it competent and indeed exceptional at all these tasks. I sold it in 1988 and bought another low (VERY low) mileage example in mid 1993. It was a 1982 model also but only had 8500kms on the clock. I have since raised that to over 23000 kms and the bike is presently off the road receiving new fork seals, carburettor overhaul, rear brake master cylinder and a tune up. I hope to be back on the road for the Australian summer (December to March).

Some Important Australian Considerations:

The CBX 550 was imported into Australia in two forms. The standard CBX 550 which had no fairing and a headlight that pivoted with the forks, and a CBX 550F2 (to provide marque identity with the CB 900 F2b) which had a smaller version of the 900 F2b's frame mounted fairing, with a fixed headlight. Colour schemes were red/orange/black and red/white/blue (HRC's corporate racing colours) Of the two schemes, strangely, the red/orange/black outsold the HRC-inspired colour scheme. Late in 1984 and on into 1985 the bike was also sold with a solid orange colour, no pinstriping and Honda decals. This model is rare in Australia.

I hope this information is useful and provides some interest to those who still love the mini-CBX that was Honda's finest sub-sized superbike. For a model that had such a short run, it has proven to be remarkably popular and enduring. I love them!!

Phil Hall (