November 20, 2017
We recently had a chance to borrow a new 2018 Honda Rebel 300 for a couple months. Most Harley riders would write this machine off as too small, too goofy, too not-a-Harley. We are pretty non-denominational around here and ride a wide variety of bikes, not just Milwaukee Tractors. The previous generation Honda Rebel stayed virtually the same for the past three decades and it was pretty obvious the downscale cruiser was long in the tooth and ready for an overhaul. The design is now contemporary, a little bit wild and confident enough to be unique and not just an awkward 1/2 scale HD wannabe. Most of our customers are overqualified for a new Rebel, but for new riders or commuters who need a drop-dead reliable, comfortable bike on the cheap, this might be the ticket. We asked our Product Manager Erik "Westy" Westergaard to thrash it for a while and give us his impression. Ol' Westy is a hell of a rider, so it seemed kinda fun to put him on the new Honda to see what he thought. -Bill It’s easy to find reviews of any motorcycle online. Most write-ups seamlessly weave the technical specs into some well-formulated prose by people who are much better at this than I am. I’m not a writer, but I feel my 40 years of riding and racing qualifies me to comment with some authority on a 300cc commuter bike. When riding any new motorcycle, I try keep my expectations in line with that bike’s intended use, then push it a little to see if it excels in any area beyond that. My review of this bike is focused on what the bike does and doesn’t do—not on the specs and tech. Plenty of that stuff is easily found on the Googles. I'm six foot tall, so I was convinced I would look like a monkey having his way with a football on this Rebel. Fortunately, Honda has worked some voodoo on the ergonomics, because this bike felt great. The relatively low 27-inch seat height, upright riding position and slightly forward mid foot controls made for a comfortable riding position, but more miles would be required to have a strong opinion.
First RideFiring up the Honda Rebel from dead to running reminds me of a Prius at idle. You hear it and you know it's running, but nobody else can tell. Acceleration also reminds me of a Prius. Don’t try drag racing your friends. You will lose. Even if he is on a scooter. A Razor scooter. Anemic power aside, we like to split lanes in CA and this narrow little bike shines in that arena. It is ridiculously easy to ride, very maneuverable and handles like a bike half its weight. Honda did a great job on this and the bike feels so much lighter than it is. Slow, or fast—once you get there—this bike handles great. You do go through the gears quickly. Tons of shifting all the time, frankly. Suspension might be a little soft and does some weird things in corners when hitting bumps at full lean, but otherwise the Rebel is fun, stable and easily tossed from side to side. Brakes are fantastic. Not a single complaint or desire for them to be any better than they are. The fat tires make lane changes across uneven pavement and freeway grooves a breeze with barely a wiggle. I always give some no-handed time on a bike to see how easily it transitions with my knees into turns. This bike excels at that. One of the easiest to change directions with no hands of any bike I have ever ridden. I heard a friend Bill say once “It’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast, than to ride a fast bike slow.” This bike epitomizes that statement.
The CommuteMy daily commute is 55 miles door-to-door, and includes everything: super-congested freeway time, 30 miles of twisty two-lane over Ortega Highway from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Elsinore, and some bumper-to-bumper city riding through morning gridlock. I have literally been on these roads a thousand times, so I was looking forward to shaking down the Honda Rebel on familiar turf. The start button, horn and all other controls are typical and easy to find. The clutch is a very easy pull, maybe slightly easier than expected. The cockpit is simple with a single digital gauge that is easy to read day or night. It also has a 12v plug for charging your devices, or perhaps firing up your stogie using a lighter from a ’72 Mustang. I’m not sure why they chose to have that style 12v outlet rather than just a smaller, perhaps dual, USB plug. The seat is firm and comfortable, albeit only big enough for the rider—more on this later.
Where Did the Rev Limiter Go?The new-and-improved Honda Rebel is aimed at beginners, and rightly so. From that point of view, it is perfect. The seemingly governed power is comfortable and won’t scare anyone from learning. As a rider that likes more power than this bike provides, I completely understand Honda's intention: keep it safe for the noobs. As-is the Rebel isn’t completely without some ability; the non-ABS version gives controlled drifting-type skids and wheelies can be realized with a little finesse. My last commute before turning the bike back in, however, something changed. I don’t know how, but I found another power curve that I had not experienced before. During early shakedowns I bounced off the rev limiter and felt like the ignition was cutting out at a “safe” point during acceleration, which forced all the shifting I mentioned earlier? Was I subconsciously riding this bike as I thought was intended? Was I previously feeling the ignition cut out at what I assumed was the rev limiter and just began riding at that perceived false limit, or was it something else? The bike suddenly had noticeably improved acceleration in higher RPM’s! It had RPM’s! The bike just became way more fun! The wind noise easily drowned out the exhaust note, and with no tachometer I had no idea where I was in the RPM range but 80mph was achieved easily and did not seem like something I should be doing for very long. It felt very comfortable at speed; stability and handling were fine. The only concern I had was that the valve-train was going to look for an exit through the top of the cylinder head. I found a slower area and without the wind noise obstruction, grabbed the clutch and a strong blip of the throttle and confirmed my suspicions: no rev limiter. I don’t know how, or why but somehow the rev-limiter stopped working and now it is a different machine. I would commute the shit out of this bike now. – Westy More info can be had here: Honda