I hated the Honda Rebel from the moment I first sat on it, but it’s not intended for me. It’s physically too small for my 6-foot height and 200 lbs. I settled my butt on its too-hard seat and folded my legs up to the pegs in a position that’s unnatural outside of a doctor’s office, and set off on the long road to misery.
But like I said, this bike really isn’t intended for somebody like me. It’s small, friendly, unintimidating. So I gave it to my wife to ride for a while. She’s only just got back into the saddle after two decades away from the handlebars, and she needed a bike like the Rebel to restore her confidence in motorcycles.
She was okay with it, but she never took it over 80 km/h, and she didn’t ride for more than 20 minutes at a time. When you ride like that, most bikes are fine. The engine started when the key was turned and the button was pushed, it putted around with no surprises, and it slowed down when the brakes were squeezed. Her kind of bike.
(That said, there’s a recall on new Rebel 300s because the rear wheel can lock up while riding. That’s not good at all, and very unlike Honda. Fortunately, the test bike was a Rebel 500, which has two cylinders and a bit more power compared to the 300’s one-lunger.)
So let’s just leave it as understood that if you’re a new rider and you want a bike that looks good and isn’t going to scare you, and you don’t plan to ride it far from your funky downtown loft, or just over to the Cat Café, then the Rebel is a great buy (as long as it’s not a new 300 that’s not been fixed yet). It costs $7,199 for this year’s model, up $100 from last year despite no changes. ‘Nuff said. Stop reading now.
However, if you’re a larger rider, or a rural rider who will travel more distance, or an experienced rider who enjoys a thrill, then the Rebel will only disappoint. Stop thinking about buying one now.
I rode the Rebel 500 out in the countryside, and over the tram tracks of downtown Toronto, and everywhere in between, and was never once comfortable. I needed an extra two inches of leg room to be able to stretch out, and there was no way around this. At one point, at speed on Hwy. 401, I tried tucking my legs up onto the rear pegs like a teenager on his way to high school, but all that did was melt my right boot on the muffler.
The problem is that when your feet are beneath you on the pegs, you’re still sitting fairly upright, and there is absolutely zero weather protection on the bike. Every part of your body is hit by the wind. Dean is a larger guy than me, and when he rode the Rebel 500 last year, he wrote that “your chest becomes a literal parachute.”
That said, Costa is about the same size as me, and he was far more forgiving of the Rebel’s ergonomics when he rode it in 2017. I don’t think he left Venice Beach, though.
To be honest, I felt a little clownish on the Rebel. When I stopped at a Tim Hortons, I wanted to walk inside and assure everyone that it was not my bike, just a tester, but then I looked through the window and realized that it’s actually a very good looking motorcycle. Even when I sat on it, while it felt too small, it didn’t look too small. So instead, I bit my ungrateful tongue and ordered a donut. When I reached home an hour later, however, I had to take a hot bath to warm up, despite wearing a sweater and insulated leather jacket on the 12-degree C afternoon.
They say that any day with a motorcycle is a good day, but I’d have to disagree if it’s with a Honda Rebel on the highway, and if you’re taller than my 5-foot-9 wife. Curled up on the seat as I was, it took about 20 minutes for my crotch to go numb. I’m not talking about just a loss of sensation – I’m talking totally lifeless. You’d could have given me a vasectomy with no anesthesia and I’d not have noticed. In fact, I might have preferred it.
Perhaps the only thing worse than being on the Rebel’s seat is being on the Rebel’s pillion seat: you don’t want to be back there if you have an ass any larger than a crack addict’s. There’s just no space, and the 500’s 45 hp would surely be taxed by the extra weight. Normally at CMG, we test our assumptions before publishing them, but I just couldn’t find anyone willing to sit on the tiny pillion, even stationary. You’d be better off replacing it with a luggage rack.
But that’s the beauty of the Rebel: it’s designed from the outset to be customized. I was at the static launch in California when Honda pulled off the wraps, and each of the bikes in the room was quite different, despite all being the same Rebels. The rear fender removes completely, and Honda expects the Gen Y target buyers to create exactly the bike they want from a plethora of aftermarket parts, for not much money.
Maybe if I fitted extended pegs, and maybe if I changed the bars for pretty much anything that’s a little more forward, and maybe if I added some padding to the seat, I might be happier with the Rebel. But then my wife would hate it. Honda makes lots of motorcycles and they’re not all supposed to fit everybody. I’ll just move on from the Rebel, but that doesn’t mean you should, too. It’s a nice, happy bike – far too nice for a grumpy old bugger like me.