Honda Rebel: Smile easy rider

The 2017 Honda Rebel looks and rides like a larger motorcycle than it is. Rider position is still relaxed with arms gently extended and mid-mounted foot pegs. There's lots of throttle available for freeway traffic where the Rebel easily holds a steady 75-mph freeway pace. Motor Matters photo

BY JOE MICHAUD
Motor Matters

The Honda Rebel model line has a three-decade history of introducing new riders to motorcycling. Those early Rebels were popular rider-training machines with thousands of neophytes learning to ride on the ubiquitous CMX250 in the 1980s. Well, the line is reborn with a fresh look for the new season and the Rebel is shedding that “first bike” image.

Despite its cachet with the industry ad folks, describing small displacement machines as “entry level” smacks a bit of “you’ll grow out of this quickly.” Well, that’s not always so.

The 2017 Rebel 500 looks and rides like a larger motorcycle than it is. Rider position is still relaxed with arms gently extended and mid-mounted foot pegs, but gone are the spindly exhaust pipes and exaggerated “sit-up-and-beg” foot-forward controls of its smaller displacement predecessors.

With a wet curb weight of 410 pounds, generous use of the six-speed transmission gives the 471cc, eight-valve, liquid-cooled, parallel-twin a decent throttle response for quick canyon work or plodding urban clot. There’s beaucoup throttle available for freeway traffic where the Rebel easily held a steady 75-mph freeway pace, the urban minimum on some southern California slab. At speed, feel was surprisingly smooth at both pegs and grips. Honda engineered a primary couple-balancer to quell the vibes of the 180-degree-crank DOHC motor at top revs. Sweet.

In top gear, at full revs, speed may reach three figures. However, you will not be blazing past your liter-bike friends in top-gear roll-ons. Instead, find some roads more suited for the Rebel torque figures and you may discover that maxV is not always the necessity others may think it is.

Generous ground clearance and light/nimble handling make this bike a hoot on the right roads. The Rebel turns in well and holds a good line if the asphalt is smooth, but let the road get chattery and the economical suspension is quickly overwhelmed if a sensible pilot is not aboard. The front end is non-adjustable with 41mm tubes with 4.8 inches of travel, the rear is a dual-shock with basic pre-load cam-ring adjustments providing 3.8 inches of travel. With an overall length of 86 inches, the Rebel 500 has a turning radius of less than 10 feet. Nice for urban parking and crowded maneuvers.

Single hydraulic discs front/rear perform well for the bike’s weight and the Dunlop rubber (130/90 front and 150/80 rear on 16-inch wheels) works well. The chunky tires are the same size as those used successfully by Indian on their popular Scout and do much to improve the Rebel’s eye appeal. The bespoke steel-tube frame is narrow at the rider’s inseam giving a seat height of 27.2 inches. The cast wheels, upswept fuel tank, and the sexy exhaust remove much of the “beginner” look to this bike. Nice job, Honda.

Money was saved in basic cockpit instrumentation. Instrumentation is housed in a high-mounted compact dial with speedo, fuel gauge, and trip odometers. Sadly, no tachometer or gear indicator. The clutch is easy-squeezy and the transmission shifted well, although engaging first from neutral sometimes made an un-Honda-like clonk. The exhaust is muted enough to make engine speed and shift points a bit vague at first, but nothing to which an owner won’t adapt. A tachometer is always nice.

The peanut-tank holds 2.9 gallons of unleaded 86 octane and I got an average of 65 mpg despite giving the bike some serious stick while riding with hooligan friends, so figure an easy 120-plus miles before needing a petrol stop and a walk-around. The stock seat is small, more of a pocket than a seat. There’s no room to slide around but I found it surprisingly comfy despite my initial tactile impression that I was sitting on an open catcher’s mitt. I did a 250-mile morning with no complaints, so it fit me OK.

It is available in four colors and offers an excess of enjoyment for an affordable price of $5,999. Add three Benjamins for the ABS model, available only in black. Honda considers the bike to be a blank canvas, available for owners to personalize and offers accessories from the Honda catalogue including decent small saddlebags, a windscreen, a handlebar 12-volt power port, and a passenger seat. The max weight capacity is 346 pounds so you’ll learn to accelerate early if hauling two-up.

Honda calls the new Rebel “accessible, fun to ride, and easy to live with.” They got that exactly right. Sure, the ad-folks claim the Rebel may be a great choice for a new motorcyclist. Honda would also like to include anyone who wants a lightweight easy-rider or even a savvy commuter looking for a fun trip to work that gets 65 mpg. Might as well get to work with a smile on your face. Ride safe.