On the virtues of buying a 1981 Honda CX400: The case of the Returning Motorcyclist

This question was posed on Netrider by a returning motorcycle rider who’d been offered a CX400 for $3,700 and was worried whether (as a grey import) it’s odometer reading of 9500kms was trustworthy, so I felt compelled to answer it. I’m putting my response on my blog as part of my drive to push the blog further in 2014. The returning rider had spent the past 20 years wearing down a recalcitrant wife. Also it gets me in academic dress off the top of the blog.

Now, I had a 1980 CX500. When I bought it it had 27,000kms, then 75,000kms, then 56,000kms, then 80,000kms. Each time the fix was because of a stuffed speedometer. And I’m not mechanical. I’d put pretty much no faith in the odometer reading. Like, less faith than I have in Geoffrey Edelstein’s search for true love in strip clubs.

A CX400 is a real, real, enthusiast’s bike. It is not the bike you buy to get into motorbiking; it is the second bike you buy to have in the shed to tinker with when something breaks. If you are looking to ‘save money’ this is not the place. A CX400 was the underpowered version of the gulle-pump and I think meant only for Japan and Europe – I don’t think they even came here originally. Also I think $3,700 is a pretty high price for a CX; I sold my quite-good and running CX500 5000kms a year ago for $3,100 – I still miss it.

Even if the kays are original, the bike is still 30 years old and it is highly likely bits will break as soon as you use them with intent. In my view there are two reasons why a bike has low kays: the person got on the bike and scared themselves and then put it in a barn, or it was always breaking and they got sick of it and put it in a barn. For an older bike that you want to ride, you want to buy a bike that is being ridden.

I guarantee that you will spend the $3,700 in the first year again fixing the bike – waterpump and stator are one of the top five ways to suck money from your wallet with a CX unless you can fix that yourself, or have a knowledgeable friend who works for beer (CXs need the engine-out to fix this fairly common age-related problem). More than likely you will need to budget to immediately replace fluids (brake fluid, coolant, forks) and tyres (>7 years old tyres are a great way to develop a love of ice-skating).

Unless you have a real love of the older bike and appreciate its foibles in comparison with modern bikes, I’d spend the money on a nicer, newer bike. $3,700 will get you into a much more reliable, safer, and daily-ridable bike. I loved my CX, and I rode it everywhere (regularly did 500km days on it) but bits broke with monotonous regularity (ever looked for parts for a 30 year old bike?), skinny tyres did not engender cornering confidence, the shaft is located high in the engine and the bike will twist if revved in an entertaining fashion, and so it was more top-heavy than the waitresses at a Hugh Hefner pyjama party.

Your questions:

  1. $3700 is this to good to be true? A: No, but it’s a bit high (probably for their rarity)
  2. How trust worthy are import bikes? A: Fairly OK but it is what it is – an uncommon variant of a 30 year old model and likely of unknown provedence.
  3. Has the odometer been tampered with, how prevalent is odometer tampering? A: Using my super-powers of mass-fraud detection I can’t tell if it’s been tampered with, but are the kays original? Well I changed my speedo 5 times so yes, if not prevalent it’s accepted practice… of far more importance for a bike that old is the documented service history.
  4. Any feed back would be appreciated thanks. A: For a returning rider with rusty skills and a recalcitrant missus an import CX (low-kay or otherwise) is not the answer.

There are 71 road bikes (naked and sports tourers) on Bikesales that are less than 10 years old and 250-750cc capacity for < $4,000. They are all likely better options. You want to get back into riding, not into ringing your mechanic to find out when you can come and pick it up (if you ARE a mechanic the CXes are fantastic to work on, as I understand it, and I was able to do the basics on mine). For mine, as an older gent of some means I’d stretch the budget out to $5,000, spend some money on gear (say, $1000), and I’d be sure to go for a refresher course as a returning rider (say, $400). If there’s one thing Netrider grimly reminds us, it’s that returning riders are over-represented in the accident statistics.

There are a few nice GS500s in that list for < $5000 but also some CB400s and cruisers and Fazers and all the bikes people on this forum love. I loved my CX and still have one as a project bike, and there’s a terrific forum (www.australiancx.asn.au) for the bikes. If you are serious about the CX I’d go and have a look at that website and read some of the stories of people that have bought these bikes. They’re terrific (the people and the bikes), but I really don’t get the feeling a CX400 is what you’re after.

2 thoughts on “On the virtues of buying a 1981 Honda CX400: The case of the Returning Motorcyclist”

  1. A good reply to the OP and very much what I’d say to someone thinking of buying a CX400.
    In short – DON”T. They are an overweight, underpowered bike that revs at over 6000 at 100kph.
    I have a 650E and it’s heavy enough and wouldn’t want to have a lower pwr to wt ratio and the 400 is only about 10kg less. These things were built for Japanese urban cruising and not suitable for AUS highways.

  2. I always assumed the CX400 was produced specifically for home market (they still do that, like the SR400) due to japanese tax or age restrictions. I imagine it shares a majority of parts with the 500, but it’s an odd bird best left alone. Incidentally, the original prototype was 350cc but was found lacking.


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