There are better entry-level bikes for the money, but few look as cool as the Honda Rebel 500
It’s the rear brake reservoir that sealed it for me. The detail on this one feature is how you know Honda cared for how this bike is styled; the fit and finish is better than an entry-level bike has any right to be. I’m impressed by how much licence Honda gave its designers and how much they let them execute their vision.
Is Honda’s entry-level cruiser aggressive and polarizing? Absolutely. On an aesthetic scale of V-Rod to CTX, the 2019 Honda Rebel 500 swings toward the V-Rod. It looks tough, and more than one Harley-Davidson owner has given the Rebel an appreciative glance. The high-tilted, 11.4-litre fuel tank is retro cool in spirit, but angled and chiseled in a very modern way. Honda designed this bike from the ground up to make it easy to customize, with a completely removable rear fender and subframe making it even easier to accommodate the plethora of aftermarket options. I’m surprised I don’t see more variations of this bike on the road, but customers seem to enjoy the stock look. I agree with them.
The Rebel 500 shares everything but the engine with the Rebel 300. The 500 is $7,199; the 300, $5,299. If you’re lucky, there are still a handful of 2018s on showroom floors, and you might save some money going for one of those. But the fundamental question is, “is the 500 worth $1,900 more than the 300?” The simple answer is “Yes.”
It doesn’t matter that at 188 kilograms, it’s 20 kilos heavier than the 300, because the 471-cc liquid-cooled twin is one of the smoothest powerplants in the entry-level market. The throttle is well-weighted and the transition from closed throttle to open is wonderfully smooth — not always the case with motorcycle fuel injection systems — which means newer riders don’t have to manage that untidy, herky-jerky feeling you can get with many small and medium engines. Honda has a knack for making bikes idiot proof, and this is a good example of that ethos.
In that same spirit, the clutch pull is light and its friction point is quite distinct, making it easy to navigate in town. There’s enough grunt to cut through city traffic and enough top end to keep up on the highway. Though there isn’t a tachometer, the 45-horsepower parallel-twin tops out at around 8,500 rpm, giving it plenty of room in the rev range for passing on the highway.
ABS is standard, which is appropriate for this class — and I’d argue any class of street bike. The single, 296-millimetre rotor up front is paired with a two-piston caliper – I still think a 188 kg bike should have bigger brakes. The back brake is a 240-millimetre single-piston disc, and feels a lot less wooden than other back brakes. More than on most beginner bikes, I found myself using the back brake as well as the front.
The heft of the 500 is well hidden by its low 691 millimetre seat height. Its comparatively long 1,491-mm wheelbase, meanwhile, gives the Rebel more stability and road presence than a 500 ought. Does it handle as well as a sport bike? If you care, you haven’t read this far. The-41 mm conventional forks and twin rear shocks are adequate and provide good levels of compliance. The wide bars help get the bike tipped in, and ground clearance is more than enough for riders of this class. Road manners are relaxed, and there’s plenty of travel to manage the potholes without harshness.
There are a few quibbles however. The clutch cover, for instance, intrudes into the right leg area. This is a major flaw in the ergonomics of this otherwise laid-out motorcycle. The other is Honda’s habit of putting the horn above the indicator switch on the handlebar. The result is I kept getting flipped off when all I was trying to do was activate the turn signal.
The gauge cluster is also a little tricky to read when the sun is shining directly on it. The fuel gauge is a welcome addition but a lot of entry-level bikes now have tachometres and gear-position indicators. This cluster is simple and uncluttered, but decidedly plain compared to some of its competition .
Ultimately, the Rebel 500 is exactly the right bike for you if you value aesthetics, even more so if you’re looking for something easy to ride comfortable and confidence inspiring that also packs a surprising road presence. There are other entry level bikes for less money — but none that are cruisers this well executed.