“Sure is a fine looking motorcycle,” I thought to myself, striding through my garage, eyes fixed on the 2017 Honda Rebel I’d just parked. And that’s what I kept on thinking as I walked straight into a concrete pillar and browned out for the rest of the day. But up until then, I was really appreciating the subtle coolness of this bike.
(Full Disclosure: Honda let me borrow a Rebel 500 as long I picked it up and returned it to the company’s facility in Torrance a week later.)
It’s not that the Rebel is knock-out gorgeous, or even exceptionally distinct. It just’s tidy and simple and refreshingly devoid of bullshit. This motorcycle is quietly stylish with a low-key aura, and despite the vaguely vintage-greaser “bobber-bike” inspired-design, it’s not in-your-face enough to embarrass anyone.
The Rebel doesn’t come with any gimmicks or over-promise with an obnoxious exhaust note, either. If this bike is rebelling against anything, it’s the idea that a motorcycle has to make every stoplight a stage and put you to work whenever you want to ride.
That means it gets out of your way to let you enjoy easy, everyday riding. The Rebel welcomes new riders with open arms and coddles old ones with a gentle hug. For these reasons, the Rebel is a perennial favorite choice for beginning riders, a mainstay at MSF classes across the world.
Those of you with more advanced skills are more likely to get bored on this bike, but there will still be some appeal for those who are more about the ride itself than what they’re riding. Or folks who can’t afford a Harley-Davidson but really like the look.
What Is It?
When Honda released its OG Rebel decades ago, the idea was to take the bad boy cruiser aesthetic, tone it down and tighten it up a little, sew mellow engine into it and make the seat low enough for anybody to swing a leg over it without wobbling. Basically, Honda hoped to remove as many of motorcycling’s intimidations as possible while hanging on to just enough of a Hell’s Angels vibe to make new riders feel cool.
The 2017 Rebel is pretty much the exact same concept with fuel injection, a slightly-forward raked riding position and decent brakes. And the new look leans more “wax-beared hipster” than “Santa-bearded hillbilly.”
Why Does It Matter?
The concept of a mass-appeal motorcycle is almost an oxymoron. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, bikes are massively outnumbered by cars and trucks on American roads. And the bikes that are out there tend to be specialized by nature. But the Rebel, which is “specialized” in everyday riding, is probably the closest thing to a single bike that could be appreciated by the largest range of riders.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Rebel a harbinger for the entire motorcycle industry, but it certainly is positioned to bring new people into the sport. And no matter what kind of riding you’re into, more fellow bikers means more innovation and options in the scene.
The Rebel’s seat height is a remarkably low 27.2 inches. Practically speaking, that means you can be less than five-and-a-half feet tall and sit on this machine with two feet firmly flat on the ground. And that means there’s no need to panic when you pull up to a stoplight.
It also helps keep the Rebel’s weight low. Since the bike is 408 pounds ready-to-ride, (a few more if you order the ABS version) a 150-pound rider’s ass is a significant portion of the mass being moved. For that reason it’s better to be in the bike than on it, so to speak, and the Rebel’s chassis design seems to do a good job of keeping the rider’s weight close to the road.
The problem with making a bike that’s gentle and easy to ride is that, for more experienced and enthusiastic riders, there’s just not enough going on to keep the stoke hot.
The Rebel 500 is a smooth accelerator, but it’s not particularly energetic. And its 471cc parallel-twin is not the kind of high-revving rager that likes to be squeezed and slapped into submission.
Surely you’ve heard Jalopnik talk about slow car fast- the concept that it’s more fun to hustle a lightly powered vehicle than it is to hold the reins back on a big supercar? Yeah, the Rebel doesn’t really have the rotational speed to subscribe to that.
And with 550-plus pounds of riding weight, the Rebel is no scalpel when it comes to canyon-carving, either. The machine is composed and pleasant at the speed limit, and usually a little beyond, but I got the sensation that brave and talented bikers would find the machine uncomfortably unsettled before they really start scaring themselves.
City commuting, beach highway cruising and short tours around your local backroads are where the Rebel shines. Just get on, move out, let the wind wash over you and this bike will make you smile. It will get windy, too, especially as you start getting north of 70 mph.
With a three-gallon fuel tank and factory claimed fuel efficiency of 67 MPG, you should be able to eat 150 miles of asphalt at a comfortable pace without stopping. You won’t want to take the Rebel that far without giving your ass a rest, though.
The upright riding position is fairly easy on the back, but the hard seat started to chaff my butt through my armor-woven jeans after about 40 miles. At six feet tall, I found myself riding with just a little round in my spine as I leaned into the handlebars.
I felt like this position gave me an alertness without being too rigid, but I’d probably spec a little more rise in the handlebars so I could sit completely upright. That might help me eat more miles between pit stops.
The first few hard charges you pull off stoplights in the Honda Rebel will feel like freedom. You are on a motorcycle, after all. But the bike just not made to assault severe turns or terrain for all the reasons I already mentioned.
The brakes have good with an aggressive early bite, and they reel the bike in pretty effortlessly from reasonable speeds. An ABS model is available too, which I didn’t ride but would presumably provide a little more confidence stopping in slippery situations. For what it’s worth, I didn’t have any loud-skid lock-up code brown moments riding around without anti-lock brakes, but I didn’t exactly invite that kind of danger, either.
Like I said, the Rebel doesn’t really inspire you to whip it into a frenzy on the edge of control.
Who’s It For?
The Honda Rebel feels really welcoming to new riders who want to feel cool without looking like assholes.
Anyone who wants to casually ride a motorcycle without worrying about it falling apart or requiring some weird dance of carb-priming and starter-kicking to turn over every morning will probably dig the Honda Rebel. But the machine’s amiable personality will appeal most to riders at the earlier stages of their riding careers, and old ones who are over their days of wheelies and knee-dragging.
The Rebel starts at about $6,000, and if you’ve started shopping for bikes on Craigslist that might sound like a lot of money. But of course, the cheap classifieds crapshoot has its own set of costs and inconveniences.
$6,000 for a brand-new vehicle that makes a decent commuter and weekend entertainment, with a warranty and not a single scratch on it, sounds like a pretty good deal to me. But I we can’t talk value without acknowledging that you can have pretty similar performance out of a motorcycle for a fraction of that price, if you don’t mind riding something that might need a little more special attention.
The Honda Rebel is an easy ride into the world of motorcycling. You could start your riding career on one of these and be happy for years, or ride into the sunset on one when you’re tired of fiddling with finicky bullshit that comes with wilder machines.
You’re not going to get on the low seat of this thing and hear war drums in your head, but that’s pretty much the point: casual motorcycling on a machine you’ll still be staring at as you walk away from it.