It was a cool Friday morning, I was giving our 2001 Honda Helix a major tune up and oil change and needed to pick up a new spark plug plus order a few other parts so I ran over to my local dealer Generation 3 Powersports in Florence S.C. and that’s when I first saw the new Honda Rebel 1100 in real space.
Late last year Honda announced that they were going to be selling an 1100cc Rebel cruiser and I’ve started watching it with interest and immediately decided that if I got the chance to I was going to ride one. It turns out that my friends over at G3 had one in stock, better yet it was the DCT model. So I took a seat on it and the senior owner Don came over and held it up for me to put my feet up on the pegs and see how I fit on it. For me the fit was very good, with my 29” inseam my knees were right at a 90 degree angle and nestled up to the tank in a good location. When I mentioned that I have been wanting to ride one he informed me that he had this one set up for demo rides and I immediately jumped at the chance to take it out.
I’ve ridden several of the old Hondamatic motorcycles of the late 70’s and early 80’s and enjoyed them a lot, of course on that day, when I went to the dealer, I was getting parts for my 250cc scooter that has a CVT transmission so unlike a lot of people I have no problem with the thought of riding a motorcycle with an automatic transmission. Honda’s dual clutch transmission has been out for a while now and has proven to be a reliable system that works well in the NCT700, Goldwing and Africa Twin motorcycles. Unlike a CVT which uses a belt sliding between variable pulleys to infinitely adjust speed the DCT is an actual gearbox with the shifting controlled by an ECU that actually learns your riding style and adapts to it.
Let’s talk about the motorcycle and the riding experience for a bit. For a cruiser the styling of the current Rebels is unconventional, Honda chose to plot their own path with parallel twin engines and modern industrial styling. The 1100cc parallel twin engine is much better than any v-twin powerplant in terms of power per cc and smoothness. Plus it’s different, some might not like it but I prefer my Japanese cruisers to be distinctly Japanese and all of the newer Rebels fit the bill. The blacked out styling is distinctively different from the typical shiny cruiser style, but is definitely modern and contemporary.
Like every modern fuel injected motorcycle the engine fires right up and settles into a nice muted idle. The rhythm of the exhaust note is not a lumpy idle like a v-twin but a steady staccato beat. It’s a little quiet but not too quiet. The engine revs quickly and eagerly in a way no old school v-twin like my Shadow ACE 1100 can match. There are selectable ride modes but for my test I just left it in standard, my goal was to experience the motorcycle not the electronics. I do like the factory cruise control a feature normally found only on 900 pound luxury touring motorcycles. With a total weight of 505 U.S. pounds fully fueled for the DCT model, (slightly less for the manual transmission version), the Rebel 1100 is a pleasantly light weight motorcycle to have such features.
Lifting it up off the kickstand the first impression is that Rebel 1100 feels much lighter than 500 pounds. The handlebars are just like the old superbike bars we all used to put on our bikes back in the eighties, you lean forward just a little bit to reach them, which is a super comfy position for me. I thumbed the button to put it in drive and made a couple of laps of the parking lot to see how the initial acceleration and braking felt before heading out on the road. It’s a bit of a weird sensation sitting on a motorcycle and not having a clutch handle. You can manually shift using push buttons on the left handlebar but I deliberately did not do that. The buttons are there if you want to play with them but much like the paddle shifters in my wife’s car I suspect most people will play with them a time or two and then never touch them again.
Pulling out onto the road and cruising felt great, kind of like riding an old CB400F but with a lower seat and triple the horsepower. Some test riders may not have liked it but under acceleration the DCT always picked the right shift points for me. While I didn’t do any performance testing once I got clear of town I did whack the throttle hard for a quick run from 35 to 70 mph and the gearbox responded exactly like it should have. The front end felt light and it accelerated hard. Now I understand why it has electronic wheelie control, the Rebel 1100 engine is that good. Many have criticized the fact that it lost a few horses compared to the Africa Twin that this engine was derived from, but in the real world you’ll never notice the difference.
I didn’t get to any real twisty roads just a few city street corners and a couple of nice two lane sweepers but that was enough to tell me that the Rebel 1100 handled much better than any other cruiser that I’ve ridden including the 2017 Guzzi V9 that I recently sold. A really good rider on a Rebel will spank an average rider on a sport-bike with no problem. I love my vintage motorcycles but I have to admit these modern machines are truly marvelous and I may have to give buying another new one some serious thought.
You might think that a bike with such a low seat height of 27 and ½ inches would be a rough ride but in this case you would be wrong. The Rebel 1100 and I rode through a few intersections with some seriously rippled pavement and horrible patchwork and the ride felt just fine. One of the things that has turned me off of new bikes is that the new ones I have purchased always seemed to need either a replacement seat and/or shocks to be comfortable. This one has nice suspension including Showa rear shocks with piggyback reservoirs that work very well just as they are.
Braking is good, the ABS system works unobtrusively and provides great stopping ability. Which will be reassuring for those times when the DCT system doesn’t downshift when you think it should, on up-shifts I always felt that the DCT shifted at the right time and held the right gear for the right length of time to match what I was trying to do. Once or twice the downshift didn’t occur when I wanted it to but after we got used to each other, things smoothed out. You should be aware of this little quirk but do not let it stop you from buying a Honda with a dual clutch transmission if you want one, once you get used to it, everything becomes seamless.
When you think of a Honda Rebel you probably think of the cute little 250 beginner bikes that were a staple of riding schools everywhere for decades. These were finally superseded by the current generation of 300 and 500 Rebels that the Rebel 1100 is descended from. Yet the Rebel 1100 is not really a beginners bike. With it’s light weight and low seat height it could be, but the power and handling it has are more than enough to keep an experienced rider happy. This is the maximum Rebel for the rider whose skill has outgrown the smaller Rebels but not their inseam. It’s a serious motorcycle for serious riders who just happen to have outgrown the smaller Rebels or who want a cruiser style ride but not another big, heavy and slow chrome plated v-twin motorcycle.
If I bought a Rebel 1100, which is a distinct possibility, it would get the touring accessories and passenger accommodations before it left the dealer. The first thing I’d do is take it out for a nice 2-300 mile ride just to get used to it. The next thing I’d do would be to strap it to my work table, take a few measurements and then fire up the Solidworks CAD software and design some cool one of a kind custom parts for it.
The Honda Rebel 1100 is one of those rare motorcycles that I can unconditionally recommend to everyone who is comfortable sitting on it, at my 5’-10” height, it is a great fit for me, rides well, handles great, has plenty of power and best of all is available with Honda’s dual clutch transmission if you want it.
Whether you opt for the 6 speed manual or the DCT automatic the Honda Rebel 1100 is a great real world motorcycle for real motorcyclists.