Honda brings one of its most recognized model families into the 21st century with a complete overhaul of the much celebrated range. Now available as the Rebel 300 and 500, this reworked line sports water-cooled mills and fuel-injection induction control to meet modern and near-future emissions standards. A sportier look greets the eye this time around, though the Rebel still targets the same small-, entry-level market. I’ve been looking forward to covering this range since the unveiling at the Long Beach PIMS over the weekend, so please join me while I check out this next-generation machine.
The original Rebel was released in 1985, and was designed to reflect the culture prevalent among cruiser riders at that time, and the bobbed fenders, low seat height and buckhorn handlebars struck a chord with the riding public. As popular as it was, the design was getting rather dated. Enter the new-for-2017 Rebels that retain the same small-cruiser stance but with a bit of a nouveau-bobber finish. An experienced eye will pick out the similar flylines between this gen and the previous one, but everything below that point are as chalk to cheese.
A fat front tire leads the way beneath the cut-down front fender, and the fuel tank looks cut back as well over the exposed frame members. Unlike the originals, this new generation comes with a solo seat instead of a two-up saddle with an unusual loop behind it that closes off the frame and acts as a mount for the canted-forward shock absorbers. One can only hope the seat is more comfortable than the original, ’cause I can tell you from personal experience that my ’87 Rebel was softer than a cinderblock, but not much. Overall, we have a much more modern look with elements borrowed from thesector that don’t look at all out of place on these pocket cruisers, but instead gives them an edgy, modern appeal.
A tubular-steel frame connects to the engines at three points with a pair of downtubes that mount the radiator up under the steering head. Instead of the old backbone-style frame, this new set of bones has an external structure similar to a Trellis frame, and a die-cast aluminum subframe mounts the rear fender struts while keeping things light at the ass end. A tubular swingarm completes the standing rigging with a pair of coil-over shocks on damping duties. The 28-degree steering head angle and 4.3 inches of trail gives the Rebels a stable demeanor that helps keep the ride from feeling too squirrely, but depending upon which model you choose you are still looking at something between 364- and 414-pounds curb weight so that will only help so much. You’re still going to feel every gust of wind and pressure wave from the surrounding traffic.
At 41mm, the front forks are rather beefy for such a small bike and they provide a fairly plush ride with 4.77 inches of travel at the axle, but come with nothing in the way of adjustments. In back, the dual coil-over shocks give up 3.77 inches of travel and come with the usual (read: minimal) preload adjuster but nothing else. One thing that hasn’t changed much is seat height; at 27.2-inches tall the new gen is only around a half-inch taller than the original. I gotta say that if that’s too tall for you, perhaps the two-wheel life isn’t in your cards.
Cast 16-inch wheels mount the 130/90 front and 150/80 rear hoops, and I’m proud to announce that Honda has finally abandoned the rear drum brake on the Rebel family. A single-pot caliper binds the 240 mm rear and 296 mm front disc, and both the 300 and 500 have ABS as an available option.
Everything up to this point has been consistent across the range, but naturally we have some differences when we get to the engines (hence the ingeniously clever names). At the bottom of the scale we have a 286 cc thumper that breathes through a 38 mm throttle body with electronic fuel injection to meter the juice. This one-lung mill runs a 76 mm bore and 63 mm stroke with a somewhat warm 10.7-to-1 compression ratio.
The larger of the two engines doubles up with a twin-cylinder layout, and the 67 mm bore and 66.8 mm stroke measures out to a total of 471 cc with 34 mm throttle bodies feeding the mill. Dual over-head cams time the four-valve heads across the board, and liquid cooling manages the waste heat for the whole family.
A six-speed gearbox keeps the RPM in the usable range for both models, and unsurprisingly, we have a standard clutch with no slipper or hydraulic-assist in evidence. As usual, Honda is keeping its cards close to the vest, but if you’ll reference the graphs you’ll see that the engines are close in power delivery to the CBR-R models of similar displacement. The CBR300R puts out 30 horsepower and 20 pounds of grunt, and the CBR500R cranks out 46.9 horses and 31 pounds of torque, so you can consider the Rebels to be plenty strong enough for a pocket cruiser.
These new models retain the affordability factor of the originals with reasonable price tags. The Rebel 300 rolls for a tentative MSRP of $4,399 and comes in Matte Silver Metallic, black, red or Matte Pearl White while the 500 comes in same with Bright Yellow in place of the MPL paint for $5,999. Honda has yet to announce the price on the ABS versions, but you can figure on it being something around $500 more, if I had to guess.
The usual suspects just didn’t seem appropriate anymore since they are all so last century, so instead I looked for another sporty pocket-cruiser and found a likely competitor in the . Both are built for a younger market, and as such carry features and looks that somewhat blur the line between sport and cruise. Granted, the Rebel carries more of an Asian/Euro sport flavor blended with its cruise-tastic ingredients and the Street reaches for more of a look that is equally as sporty, just with a healthy dose of Americana mixed in.
ABS is optional across the board, but adds a security option that has no equivalent on the Honda side. In one of the few times Harley doesn’t exactly wow us by offering only red, blue and two shades of black on the palette — it’s a let-down from the King of Paint but it allows for a competitive comparison with the plain-Jane offerings that is usual from Honda.
At 491 cc, the H-D mill has a few cubes on the Honda’s 471 cc displacement, and embarrassingly for Harley, the Rebel 500 cranks out 1.5 pound-feet more than the Street 500’s 29.5 pounds of grunt. Sorry Harley, but you guys need to tighten up a little bit!
Honda picks up another win at the till with a (tentative) price of $5,999, while Harley asks $6,849 for its Vivid Black model, and jacks it up to $7,144 for the bland (by Harley standards) paint selection.
In the end, they are comparable, and folks who have to have a Harley won’t bat an eye at the price difference, but folks not Hell bent for leather are going to find the new Rebel an attractive alternative.
“As much as I liked the original Rebel, I gotta say the new one is pretty boss. The design is modern, but not overly so, and while it doesn’t look much like the original it does enjoy a certain charm all its own. Having said that, the previous gen enjoys a rather devout following with a whole custom culture built around it, and only time will tell if the new gen will draw the same kind of fanbase. “
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “When I first saw the new Rebel, I said ’Wow!’ But now that the initial surprise has worn off, I’m not sure what to think about it. Yes, it is more modern and it will attractive some new folks to the fan-base, but I wonder what the die-hard Rebel fans are going to say. I thinkI prefer the old Rebel look, but I do like the technology on the new model, if for nothing else, at least for the rear drum brake.”
|Model:||Rebel 500||Rebel 300|
|Engine Type:||471cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin four-stroke||286cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke|
|Bore x Stroke:||67.0mm x 66.8mm||76.0mm x 63.0mm|
|Induction:||PGM-FI; 34mm throttle bodies||PGM-FI; 38mm throttle bodies|
|Ignition:||Computer-controlled digital transistorized w/ electronic advance||Computer-controlled digital transistorized w/ electronic advance|
|Final Drive:||Chain; 15T/40T||Chain; 14T/36T|
|Valve Train:||DOHC; four valves per cylinder||DOHC; four valves per cylinder|
|Front:||41mm telescopic fork; 4.77 in. travel||41mm telescopic fork; 4.77 in. travel|
|Rear:||Twin shock; 3.77 in. travel||Twin shock; 3.77 in. travel|
|Front:||Single 296mm disc w/ hydraulic calipers; (ABS model W/ABS)||Single 296mm disc w/ hydraulic calipers; (ABS model w/ ABS)|
|Rear:||Single 240mm disc w/ hydraulic calipers; (ABS model w/ ABS)||Single 240mm disc w/ hydraulic calipers; (ABS model w/ ABS)|
|Rake (Caster Angle):||28º||28º|
|Trail:||110mm (4.3 in)||110mm (4.3 in)|
|Seat Height:||27.2 in.||27.2 in.|
|Ground Clearance:||5.4 in.||5.9 in.|
|Wheelbase:||58.7 in.||58.7 in.|
|Fuel Capacity:||3 gal.||3 gal.|
|Curb Weight:||408 lbs.(ABS: 414 lbs.)||364 lbs. (ABS: 370 lbs.)|
|Color:||Matte Silver, Bright Yellow, Black, Red (ABS: Black)||Matte Silver, Matte Pearl White, Black, Red (ABS: Black)|