Bikes don’t get any easier to ride than Honda’s new cruiser twin
It’s far too easy to dismiss the new CMX500 – but do so and you’ll miss out on a refreshingly capable and great fun machine. The words ‘Honda’ and ‘Rebel’ may combine about as well as oil and water; its looks may be a little, er, ‘challenging’, especially compared to established middleweight bobber/cruisers such as the Harley 883 Iron. And the new Honda’s budget spec, with just 45bhp and basic suspension, brakes and equipment, is unlikely to excite. But the overall resulting bike is ridiculously easy and entertaining to ride, is a pleasing lump of metal in its own right and is cheap and accessible to own. So much so, in fact, that the new Rebel may very well be the bike that entices a whole new type of rider into motorcycling and that’s a great thing by any measure.
The Rebel, or CMX500, to give Honda’s newcomer its formal moniker, is the latest addition to Big H’s family of A2-licence compliant, novice-friendly, 500cc parallel twins as first introduced in 2013 and then updated and face-lifted slightly last year. Made in Thailand to reduce costs they’re all built around the same new, easy-going, 47bhp parallel twin motor, simple tubular steel frame and budget suspension and brakes and comprise: naked, upright CB500F roadster; fully-faired, slightly racier CBR500F sportster and the slightly taller, half-faired CB500X adventure bike. And all are thoroughly competent, pleasing and unintimidating machines to ride, too.
The arrival of the new Rebel, though, widens the appeal of this family even more. The intention was two-fold: both to create a machine in the vein of the currently popular bobber/cruiser/custom style yet also one which was as easy to ride and accessible as possible, in keeping with the mantra of the CB500 family.
And, in true, meticulous, thoroughly refined Honda fashion, the Rebel delivers exactly that. To deliver even more easy, off-the-throttle torque, the parallel twin engine’s been detuned slightly, which also has the effect of clipping peak power by 2bhp. While to make the seat as low and accessible as possible the tubular frame has a new, lowered rear sub frame. In addition, short, twin rear shock replace the monoshock rear suspension of its siblings; the Rebel’s got bobber-style fat-tyred wheels which are just 16 inches in diameter rather than the 17s of its other family members and, naturally, the seat, tank, bars and clocks are new, too, in keeping with the bobber style.
The result, though, actually works brilliantly well. Though seeming a little blobby, bent and bland in pictures, in the flesh the Rebel’s definitely more robust and industrial looking. It’s chunky and tactile, typical Honda quality is evident everywhere and, though undeniably minimal and basic, the Rebel certainly has all the basics a new rider needs. The single, round, instrument pod, for example, may be minimal but is packed with info, ranging from a digital speedo to warning lights for everything necessary.
But unquestionably the best bit about Honda’s newcomer is how it rides. From the moment you glide over the ultra-low seat and reach forward to the flattish, tubular bars you feel welcome and just know this is a bike that’s going to be an absolute doddle to ride. The Rebel is.
Honda has a knack for getting the ergonomics of its bikes ‘just right’ and the Rebel is the perfect example. On board you feel like you’re on a 250 rather than a 500; the riding position, being pretty much upright and less ‘cruisery’ than you might expect, puts the rider very much in control; being so low and light it should be completely unintimidating for shorter and, dare I say, novice female riders and yet it all handles in an intuitively neutral way and is light, precise and fun, too. Whether wiggling through town traffic (or figure-of-eighting around some cones), the Rebel is an absolute breeze. Yet when the roads open up, unlike so many ‘custom’ style bikes, the new Honda is also stable, neutral, easy and fun.
Adding to all that is the easy willingness of the Rebel engine. Inherently smoother and freer revving than some rival singles, the Honda twin is, again, both easy and predictable yet smooth and long-legged enough for reasonable distances. In short: for an A2 bike, it’s the perfect powertrain. Some sub-47bhp bikes I’d be shy of riding over 30 miles. The Honda, by comparison, does it all.
And that says it all about the Rebel, really. Where its sibling 500s are all great at being the type of bikes they are and all with the same easy, reassuring, flexible 500cc heart, the Rebel delivers as an easy cruiser built on the same, proven foundations. The difference here is that, by being a low-seated, manageable cruiser, the Rebel’s also the least intimidating and most accessible novice bike of them all.