Honda Rebel Returns

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Honda Rebel
Honda Rebel - photo: Kevin Wing

The Honda Rebel 250 was introduced in 1985. After 31-years, it was retired in 2016 and replaced by two motorcycles, the Rebel 300 and 500. The up-spec bikes are entirely new, sharing nothing with the former model except the name. These two new bikes share 86 percent of their components, which is essentially everything outside of engine parts.

The 300 borrows its 286cc single from the CBR300R. The 500 receives the same 471cc parallel-twin found in the CBR500R. Both are liquid-cooled and three-point stressed members of the tubular frame. Honda has tuned both four-valve-per-cylinder, DOHC motors with more low-end grunt than their sportbike donors, while retaining the same high-revving top-end. An international joint effort, the heart of these machines is Japanese, but American designer Edward Birtulescu is responsible for the aesthetics.

Ergonomically, both bikes have a comfortable and familiar cruiser-style, feet-forward riding position and easy to reach bars. The 27-inch seat height should make this a favorite for the inseam challenged. However, the seat was a bit too narrow in the rear and wide at the front for taller riders, putting pressure on the back of the thighs. This became noticeable after only a few hours thumping around Los Angeles.

Maneuverability was stable and predictable, a testament to good underlying geometry, even though Honda went bobberish in the styling department with a fat front tire. Pillion accoutrements are absent, but conveniently available for $140. Lean angle was claimed at 30 degrees. Though it was easy to touch peg on the very first roundabout, it should be ample for the average Rebel rider and never hindered the riding experience. Pegs are positioned well for riding, but could present shin bangs for shorter riders duck-walking around a parking lot, which is inevitably where many 300s will end up for training.

The 300 has plenty of pep, and hit 70 mph on the freeway, but it pays to wind it up, as the power comes on much stronger in the top half of its 10,500 rpm powerband. The 500 looks and feels larger with the engine filling the entire frame (the 300 leaves a visible gap). A 46-pound weight difference is noticeable and in favor of the heavier 500, which simply feels more planted, with less vibration and more usable power through its slightly shorter rev range. Another nod to modernization are disc brakes at both ends; the older 250 had a drum rear.

If ride intent is completely urban and never on the highway, we’d suggest saving $1,600 up front and more at the pump by buying the 300. Otherwise, for most riders, the 500 is the better choice for both long-term satisfaction and possible customization. ABS is available for a mere $300, though it’s unfortunately only available on the black models. Also, the Matte Silver Metallic is the only color other than black to have a color-matched tank and rear fender.

Honda had only a small handful of bolt-on parts available in the U.S. at launch (over 70 in Thailand), but the bike was designed very modularly, so the aftermarket should take kindly to this platform, and many engine performance mods from the existing CBRs should bolt straight on.

For a model being marketed as “Make It Yours,” there weren’t many readily available options to actually do so at launch. Yet, after half a day riding each of these bikes, we believe Honda is on the right track for another 30 years of Rebellion.