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2021 Honda Rebel 1100 first ride review

Feb 08, 2021

If you’re in the market for a new, mid-size cruiser for under $10,000, there aren’t a lot of options. 

If you want one with modern features like ABS and LED lighting, and a curb weight close to 500 pounds, the pool shrinks to a puddle. Finally, if you’re after the ease and convenience of cruise control or an automatic transmission, your choice narrows to one bike: Honda’s Rebel 1100. And given this new cruiser’s relaxed yet exciting engine and impressive handling, it would be a wise pick, whether you’re looking at the Rebel as your first motorcycle or have decades of riding experience under your belt.

Honda Rebel 1100 riding.
Honda's Rebel lineup was founded in 1985 and until now has always been limited to small-displacement models. The new 1100 is the largest Rebel to date, but it's still very approachable. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Origins of a Rebel 

The 1100 is the largest and most sophisticated machine in the Rebel’s 36-year model history, and like the revamped Rebel 300 and Rebel 500 that were introduced in 2017, this latest cruiser makes use of an existing engine. In this case, it’s the 1,084 cc mill from the Africa Twin. The motor’s uneven firing order already gave it a V-twin-like lope, and with a heavier crankshaft and revised cam timing it now has a lumpier, more relaxed cruiser character.

Honda Rebel 1100 engine.
Honda's 1,084 cc parallel twin has the right demeanor for a cruiser, and benefits from ride modes to tune throttle response and power. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Honda slotted that potent parallel-twin engine into a chassis that matches the look and feel of the 300 and 500, all the way down to the low 27.5-inch seat height. Closer inspection reveals beefier frame tubing, a blacked-out 43 mm inverted fork, piggyback shocks, and a bigger LCD dash. Other key features, like the 3.6-gallon gas tank, LED lighting, and sturdy steel fenders, are more or less upsized versions of the parts found on the smaller models. The big difference, then, is the performance offered by the larger engine and a features list that’s unmatched in the mid-size cruiser category. 

Honda Rebel 1100 dash.
The focal point of the cockpit is a circular LCD display. Fuel level, ride mode, rpm, air temp… it’s all there. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Like the adventure bike it was lifted from, the 1,084 cc engine is available with an automatic, Dual Clutch Transmission. The DCT version has a claimed curb weight of 509 pounds and costs $9,999. Getting the manual-clutch model drops the curb weight to just 487 pounds and lowers the price to $9,299. Both the automatic and manual-clutch models have four switchable ride modes (three are preset, one is customizable) with varying levels of throttle response, engine braking, and traction control. The Rebel also comes standard with ABS and cruise control, making it adaptable, convenient, and safe. 

Fit and feel

With a seat height that’s only slightly taller than a milk crate, anyone will be able to throw a leg over the Rebel 1100. The scooped seat cradles your backside, while mid controls place your boots far enough forward to feel relaxed but not so far out there that your butt is the only thing holding you up. The bars are low with a mild sweep, so your posture is upright and plenty comfortable, and you have a clear view of the large LCD dash and the road ahead. 

Honda Rebel 1100 seat.
Beneath the Rebel’s scooped saddle (which I will admit wore a little thin after 100 miles) is a rare and precious thing: storage! Large enough to stow a sweatshirt, the three-liter cargo compartment also has a USB-C charging port. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Honda placed the ignition switch on the side of the bike, just inboard your left knee. Turn it, thumb the starter, and the engine sets the chassis throbbing and emits a satisfyingly deep (albeit muted) rumble from the muffler. On the DCT model I rode at the press launch, thumbing the “D” button slips the transmission into gear. From there, no further action is required, as the DCT smoothly shifts up and down through the gears to match your speed. You can always override the computer using the paddles on the left grip, or take over control completely by switching to Manual mode. 

The Africa Twin engine is a good fit for the Rebel. Its calm yet burly demeanor means you can lug it and enjoy the sensation of the power pulses, or spin it up and stretch your arms out. There’s a lot of grunt on tap when you twist the throttle — you’ll have to step up to the 1,133 cc Indian Scout to get comparable performance. Cruising at 75 mph in sixth gear puts just 4,500 rpm on the dash, and the mirrors stay clear all the way up to the 8,000 rpm redline, though you do start to feel a little buzzing in the footpegs at higher engine speeds.

Honda Rebel 1100 riding.
Is the Rebel beginner friendly? I’d say so. With a low seat and good handling the Rebel is easy to ride, and tunable electronics allow you to tailor the performance to suit your skill. If the 1100 seems too big, Honda always has the Rebel 500 and 300 to start on. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

I noticed vestiges of the abrupt throttle response that Zack first pointed out on the 2020 Africa Twin 1100 Adventure Sports, but found that switching to the Standard ride mode (from Sport) smoothed things out. I also preferred manual shifting via the triggers, mostly due to my desire to control the timing of downshifts. Overall I appreciate the twist-and-go functionality of DCT and the fact that it’s impossible to stall the bike. Some folks may look at the tech as being exorbitant, but DCT strikes me as being remarkably similar in function to the Rekluse clutches that have become popular with hardcore off-roaders, and nobody thinks those riders are inept. As always, don’t knock it ‘til you try it.

Ride quality and handling

The seat height may be short, but suspension travel isn’t, at least compared to other cruisers. The Rebel is working with 4.8 inches of fork stroke and 3.7 inches of rear-wheel travel (Indian’s Scout has three inches, and Harley’s Iron 1200 only has 1.6 inches. Yikes!), and Honda selected spring rates and damping schedules that keep things smooth and controlled most of the time. The ride does get jarring over choppy pavement, and some of the heavier riders looked like they got rocked pretty hard on some hits. As is the case while riding any cruiser, you’ll learn to spot potholes and bumps and steer around them. 

Rebel 1100 suspension.
Honda is historically pretty good with suspension setup, and the Rebel is no different. Both the front and rear shock are adjustable for spring preload. Also, check out that chain. Honda is serious about the blacked-out approach. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

That being the case, it’s a good thing the Rebel handles so well. Even with a fat 130/70-18 front and chunky 180/65-16 rear tire, the Rebel responds to a light push on the handlebar and changes directions with ease. Steering feels a little heavy at parking-lot speeds; faster than that and it's low effort. As a lean-angle aficionado, cornering clearance isn’t as abundant as I’d like, but you drag your boot heels (and then hard parts) a lot later on the Rebel than on other bikes in the class, so I’d rank the Honda as one of the better corner carvers in the category. 

Honda Rebel 1100 on a twisty road.
Bring on the curves! Between the strong engine and excellent handling, the Rebel is a riot on a twisty road. Just keep the lean angle in check or you’ll start a wildfire. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Finally, there are the brakes, which again are toward the top of the class. Honda threw a big 330 mm disc on the front wheel and it’s clamped by a radially mounted four-piston caliper. Bite and feedback are excellent, but it takes a strong pull with two fingers to slow the bike down from speed. I supplemented with the rear brake as needed, all the while knowing that ABS had my back if I really needed to squeeze on the binders. 

Honda Rebel 1100 static parked.
Black paint is cheaper than chrome, and easier to keep looking good. The manual and DCT model are both offered in Metallic Black and the Bordeaux Red Metallic seen here. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Final thoughts on the Rebel 1100

In the end, Honda has taken a model that’s historically been aimed at beginners and given it enough performance to satisfy veteran riders. It’s a fun, easy to ride bike, and when compared to models like Harley Davidson’s $9,999, 564-pound Iron 1200 and Indian’s $12,399 (with ABS), 561-pound Scout, the Rebel has the leg up in every way except outright engine character, square inches of chrome, and, depending on your priorities, country of origin. Then again, some might consider the Rebel’s Japanese engineering an asset. 

And any way you look at it, there’s now another excellent option in the mid-size cruiser category.

2021 Honda Rebel 1100
Price (MSRP) $9,299 with manual clutch, $9,999 with DCT 
Engine 1,084 cc, liquid-cooled, eight-valve, parallel twin
final drive
Six-speed, chain
Claimed horsepower  N/A
Claimed torque N/A
Frame Tubular-steel double cradle
Front suspension Showa 43 mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, 4.8 inches of travel
Rear suspension Showa shocks, adjustable for spring preload, 3.7 inches of travel
Front brake Single Nissin four-piston caliper, 330 mm disc with ABS
Rear brake Single Nissin single-piston caliper, 256 mm disc with ABS
Rake, trail 28.0 degrees, 4.3 inches
Wheelbase 59.8 inches
Seat height 27.5 inches
Fuel capacity 3.6 gallons
Tires Dunlop D428, 130/70-18 front, 180/65-16 rear
Claimed weight 487 pounds (manual clutch), 509 pounds (DCT) 
Available Now
Warranty 12 months, unlimited miles
More info