WORDS AND IMAGES: MICHAEL COWTON
SOMEWHAT AKIN to its namesake Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, Honda’s Rebel is big and bold, and defiantly smooth with a hint of spice… a born classic that will become deservedly famous for its quality.
A tad OTT, you ask? Not at all. I have been riding the CMX1100 with six-speed DCT automatic transmission, one of two versions of the new Rebel 1100. DCT is gearing up to be the transmission of the future, and to my mind is the perfect choice for this bike.
There is little wonder that those earlier smaller displacement Rebel 500 and 300 models became an instant hit with riders both new and experienced. The motors were based on existing sports bike models, and prices were reasonable. Enter the 1100, and Honda has taken things up a notch. I own a couple of Harley cruisers, and this year I had on long-term test a Triumph Speedmaster from the new Bonneville range, but with all due respect none of them compare to the Rebel in terms of fun and flexibility.
There is definitely something intuitive about this bike, and not once did I sense any lack of control. That is likely due to the 700mm seat height, placing me particularly low to the ground. Add to that the triangular effect of the grips and foot pegs with the seat, not forgetting how light it feels, and everything feels relaxed. And you know what? The odd thing is that I was expecting to keep reaching for the clutch lever, but I didn’t… not once.
And that is the beauty of DCT. It is actually a welcoming move away from a manual clutch, although that is still there on the Rebel if you want it, via paddle shifters on the left-hand grip, used simply via thumb and forefinger. First time aboard I flicked the bike to Drive, and it was all twist-and-go. Simple. You see, the Dual Clutch Transmission takes care of the shifting for the rider, so all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. There was only one point where I got flustered a few times, and that was riding at walking pace in heavy traffic at the approach to roundabouts, a time when I like to control a bike’s stability by using the rear brake and clutch. It was no big deal though, as at first I just hung back more than usual until I had a relatively safe distance to ride forward.
With throttle-by-wire management, you can play with four preset modes. Sport, naturally, is going to give you a more aggressive feel, maximising power with minimal traction control. Standard is great for poodling around if you’re not in a hurry, and I reverted to Rain mode once when I got caught out in a freak burst of the wet stuff, offering the reliance of traction control on any slippery sections. I was riding in early winter, with road debris and leaves clustered in the verges. Thankfully, ABS comes as standard, and remains on all the time. Honda has also treated us to a customisable User mode, where you can choose between three levels of power, traction control and engine braking, and how aggressive you want the shifting to be. I did not get much chance to play with this, but if I get the bike again for a longer test period, it will be fun to use. Nothing like a touch of personalisation.
At first it felt odd that the Rebel popped through the gears with such ease, and upon approaching speed restrictions at villages, I was surprised to see the bike at 30mph and showing fifth! But then, I as sitting over a motor from the Africa Twin, one which has been deliberately detuned for more low rpm power. It is both smooth and satisfying, just like the Rebel bourbon.
When it is time to pull up, the Rebel has been treated to a single large 13-inch disc up front with a radially mounted four-piston Monobloc calliper. At the back end is a 256mm calliper. That rear brake comes in particularly handy in urban environments. Cornering is a doddle with 43mm cartridge-style front forks, and piggyback rear shocks. A few times I experienced some discomfort on rough roads, but a spanner wrench to the Showa shocks should adjust nicely for a smoother ride.
Whilst chatting with Honda’s delivery driver, I was surprised to learn that Honda had been refining and improving DCT for the past eleven years, since the time of the 2010 VFR1200F. Those tweaks are highly impressive, to the point where I thought the bike was reading my mind. If it was, it couldn’t rock my mind set, because I always felt wonderfully in control, thanks to the well-balanced chassis and low centre of gravity.
As to the liquid-cooled parallel twin 1084cc engine, whilst it gives out less than the Africa Twin, you are not going to miss it on this cruiser because of its size.
A couple of minor niggles, one being the clock display. Sure, there is plenty of information for you to gaze at, but it is all so packed in that it is difficult to pick out some info quickly. Also, I felt that the foot pegs were on the small size, and the side stand looks like an afterthought.
The Rebel has a shorter wheelbase than most cruisers, and is also chain driven as opposed to belt driven like most. And rather than being an out-and-out cruiser, it sits more comfortably in the sport-cruiser bracket, alongside the likes of the Indian Scout and Kawasaki’s Vulcan S.
A quick revisit to the seating position. I’m 6ft with an inside leg of 32 inches, and whilst I enjoy the very low seat, at first I felt somewhat cramped even with the pegs at mid-forward position, as I felt my knees were quite high like a sports bike, but I was surprised at how quickly I bedded myself in and never once felt that I needed a break to stretch my limbs.
Whilst this isn’t a touring bike per se, there are various accessories you can acquire to make it your own, by heading down either the Street way or the Touring way. The former line-up includes a standard fit diamond stitched – or forward set – replacement seat in black or brown; a rear rack for load carrying minus the pillion seat; a tank pad; headlight fairing; short front mudguard; and wheel stripes. For a touring look, accessories include replacement rider and pillion comfort seats; passenger back rest and foot pegs; rear rack; fabric saddlebags; and a screen for wind protection. The latter actually offers the bike a completely different look. As a cruiser type of guy, that is the way I would probably go with this, as everything will be detachable.
Honda was looking to market an engaging ride, and one with engine and handling performance potential to spare. Without doubt, from the ground up the company has achieved this. Everything about this bike has a nice look and feel, from the blacked-out modern styling to the uncluttered handlebars; this is a bike to be ridden and enjoyed. And as to the price, expect to pay £9099 without DCT and an additional £900 with DCT. That is, of course, your choice, but whichever you may decide upon, I urge you to ride one, otherwise, with apologies to David Bowie…
Rebel rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!
HONDA CMX1100 REBEL DCT
- PRICE: £9999 (£9099 without DCT)
- ENGINE: 1,084cc, liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 8-valve, parallel twin
- POWER: 64kW/7,000rpm
- TORQUE: 98Nm/4,750rpm
- TRANSMISSION: 6-speed
- FRAME: Diamond Steel
- FRONT SUSPENSION: Preload adjustable 43mm cartridge style
- REAR SUSPENSION: Preload adjustable twin piggyback rear shock
- WHEELS: Multi-spoke cast aluminium
- FRONT BRAKE: Radial mounted monoblock four-piston brake calliper, 330mm floating single disc
- REAR BRAKE: Two Single piston calliper, 256mm single disc
- FRONT TYRE: 130/70B18 M/C
- REAR TYRE: 180/65B16 M/C
- SEAT HEIGHT: 700mm
- FUEL CAPACITY: 13.6 litres
- GROUND CLEARANCE: 120mm
- KERB WEIGHT: 223kg
- CONTACT: www.honda.co.uk