Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, Honda introduced America to the fun of smaller-displacement motorcycles. With its “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” advertising campaign—and a slew of low-cost and lightweight machines—the company put the Baby Boomer generation on two wheels and made lifetime enthusiasts out of many of them.
Since 1985, countless new riders have been introduced to the world of motorcycling astride a trusty Honda Rebel 250. As one of motorcycling’s longest-running models at 32 years, these light and compact machines were easy to ride, forgiving, rugged, and reliable. Now for 2017 Honda has introduced a pair of Rebels meant to win the hearts of young riders once again.
Powertrain and Performance
Honda has discontinued the 250 and now offers two distinct powertrains for Rebels, a single cylinder 300 and a twin-cylinder 500. Other than that, both share the same styling and chassis components. Both look very similar, except for the engine. Perhaps the easiest way to tell the bikes apart at a glance is by the number of exhaust pipes coming out of the front of the engine.
For the 300, Honda borrowed the 286cc liquid-cooled single found in the CB300F and CBR300R. The Rebel 500 shares its liquid-cooled 471cc DOHC twin-cylinder engine with Honda’s CB500F, CBR500R, and CB500X. However, 300 and 500 Rebels get different fuel injection and ignition maps to boost torque. Both have gear-driven counterbalancer shafts to reduce engine vibration. Redline for the 300 is 10,000 rpm, while the 500 redlines at 9,000 revs, but there’s no tachometer. Honda doesn’t provide power ratings, but rear wheel horsepower on the 300 is rumored to be just under 30, while the 500 is said to be in the mid-40s.
The 300 really feels like it works hard to keep up with traffic, and above 48 mph plenty of vibration comes through to the rider. Although the 300 can cruise at around 70 mph on a level road and has a top speed of 80 mph, significant grades will trim your speed down quickly. While the 500 revs high at interstate speeds, the vibration is less. It can also pull away from most traffic and feels more at home on the highway.
Clutch pull is light, and both models have smooth six-speed gearboxes, a nice upgrade from the 250’s five speeds.
Chassis and Handling
A tubular steel frame uses three solid mounting points for the engine, those lugs being the only difference between 300 and 500 frames. Both models use a 41mm conventional fork with 4.7 inches of travel, and twin rear shocks with two-step preload and 3.7 inches travel.
A single 296mm two-piston front caliper and solo 239mm rear single-pot caliper, all by Nissin, provide braking on both versions. These offer sufficient stopping power for a light bike, and have nice modulation feel. ABS is optional on each, and works well. Honda claims the base 300 has a curb weight of 364 pounds, while the standard 500 scales out at 408 pounds. ABS adds six pounds.
Jumbo 130/90-16 front and 150/80-16 tires help absorb bumps and give the Rebels the look of a bigger machine. Both have quick handling with a light, neutral feel and a tight turning radius, yet are stable in faster curves and higher speeds on straightaways. Ground clearance while cornering is good, but when you start to ride aggressively you feel the limitations from the budget-priced (and non-adjustable) suspension parts. Shock damping is weak, especially on rebound.
Features and Ergonomics
Riding positions are the same on both models. The solo seat is low enough for just about everyone, at 27.2 inches. However, the designers left most of the padding out to get it that low, and after a short ride it had me squirming. It’s also a long reach to the bar, which is surprising given that many potential buyers will be smaller riders. Footpeg position is with feet slightly forward, semi-cruiser style. There’s a small round instrument cluster that contains a speedometer and it can be difficult to read in harsh sunlight.
Honda stressed that these bikes were designed to allow easy customization, and items such as fenders and seat can be conveniently removed and changed to get a different look. The peanut-shaped gas tank also begs for custom paint.
While the 300 is easy to ride, it’s likely that many owners will “outgrow” the smaller engine after a few thousand miles. However, the 500 has enough power to still be fun for more experienced riders, and is better suited for all-around urban and suburban riding with some highway jaunts thrown in.
In the U.S., both models are available in matte silver, black, or red, while the 300 also comes in matte pearl white and the 500 can be had in bright yellow. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the 300 is ,399, while the 500 lists for $ 5,999 (add $ 300 for ABS). For the extra $ 1,600 you get a much more lively 471cc engine with a sporty feel that can keep up with highway traffic and still have something left for passing.
+ nice styling, slick gearbox, competitive price
– hard seat, not highway friendly
Distributor American Honda
MSRP $ 4,399 / $ 5,999; ABS $ 300 extra
Engine single cylinder / 2-cylinder, both DOHC 4-valves per cylinder
Displacement 286cc / 471cc
Bore and Stroke 76x63mm / 67x66.8mm
Fuel Delivery PGM-FI; 38mm throttle body / PGM-FI; 34mm, 2 throttle bodies
Cooling liquid w/ thermostatically controlled electric fan
Ignition computer-controlled digital transistorized w/ electronic advance
Transmission 6-speed, multi-disc wet clutch, chain final drive
Frame tubular steel semi-double cradle
Front Suspension Showa non-adjustable conventional 41mm telescopic fork; 4.7in travel
Rear Suspension Showa twin shocks adjustable only for spring preload; 3.8in travel
Rake/Trail 28° / 4.3in (110mm)
Brakes Front/Rear Nissin 2-piston caliper, 296mm disc / Nissin 1-piston caliper, 239mm disc
Tires Front/Rear 130/90-16 / 150/80-16
Curb Weight 364 (165kg) / 408lbs (185kg) (ABS adds 6lbs) (claimed)
Wheelbase 58.7in (1,491mm)
Seat Height 27.2in (691mm)
Fuel Capacity 3gal (11.4 liters)
Fuel Grade premium
Colors matte pearl white, matte silver, black, red / bright yellow, matte silver, black, red