2017 Honda Rebel 500 | First Ride Review

The 2017 Honda Rebel 500 was built for the urban jungle, with soft suspension, light weight and ripe-for-customization style. (Photos by Kevin Wing)
The 2017 Honda Rebel 500 was built for the urban jungle, with soft suspension, light weight and ripe-for-customization style. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

If you’ve taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse (as well as many other learn-to-ride courses), chances are very good that you did so on a Honda Rebel. Since 1985, the little Rebel 250 has provided a friendly, affordable introduction to the world of motorcycling, and in those 32 years it didn’t really change much, basically looking like a scaled-down version of a full-size cruiser.

But now there is a whole new generation of young riders-to-be, and the last thing they want is a bike that looks like a carbon copy of their dad’s chrome-piped Harley. They’re fickle, craving nostalgia for the past while wanting to put a unique stamp of “mine” on their ride. Sheer power takes a backseat to style and practicality, and since they came of age in the time of $3-plus/gallon gas and the Great Recession, they’re sensibly price-conscious. These are the riders that Honda has targeted with the new 2017 Rebel.

Honda made it very clear who they are targeting with the new Rebel: style-conscious Gen Y riders who crave nostalgia and a unique look. While the steeply sloped tank and cast wheels harken back to the early '80s, the blacked-out engine and exhaust and minimalist lines are thoroughly modern and sophisticated.
Honda made it very clear who they are targeting with the new Rebel: style-conscious Gen Y riders who crave nostalgia and a unique look. While the steeply sloped tank and cast wheels harken back to the early ’80s, the blacked-out engine and exhaust and minimalist lines are thoroughly modern and sophisticated.

Honda started with a blank canvas, and, notably, that canvas was located in southern California, where the Rebel was conceptualized and designed. Replacing the old air-cooled 234cc parallel twin are two engine options: a 286cc single-cylinder and a 471cc parallel twin, both liquid-cooled, DOHC mills lifted directly from the CBR300R and CBR500R, but retuned for more torque and low-end grunt. In a fairly impressive feat of engineering, the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500 share the same steel trellis chassis, and in fact about 85 percent of their parts are identical across both variations.

Both the 300 and 500 roll on cast 16-inch wheels fitted with fat 130/90 tires on the front and 150/80s on the rear, with a single brake disc both front and rear. ABS is a $300 option for both (although the only bike color it’s available in is black). The 3-gallon gas tank slopes down to a dished solo saddle (neither bike comes with a passenger seat or foot pegs, although they are available as options), and a narrow handlebar and mid-mount pegs put the rider in a comfortable position that is surprisingly un-cramped—as long as said rider is young and/or under 6-feet, 2-inches or so.

Thanks to its mid-mount controls, the Rebel is capable of decent lean angles, but the soft suspension will have you limiting your speed on irregular pavement.
Thanks to its mid-mount controls and steel trellis frame, the Rebel is capable of decent lean angles, but the soft suspension will have you limiting your speed on irregular pavement.

At the press launch in Venice, California, a hip beach community west of downtown Los Angeles, I spent most of my time aboard the Rebel 500, knowing I’d be hitting a mix of freeways, twisties, beachfront cruises and city streets. The Rebel is just as easy to ride as ever, with a light clutch lever and solid gearbox that willingly offers up neutral at stoplights. With the retuned engine focused on low-end power, it seems to runs out of juice pretty early, but at reasonable speeds and around town, the Rebel 500 has enough get-up-and-go to squirt through traffic, and it hung with 75 mph L.A. freeway traffic without breathing hard. As expected, the 300 is lighter and buzzier, better suited to around town than long freeway stints, and at a starting price of $4,399 it’s also highly affordable.

Thanks to the mid-mount foot pegs, the Rebel is capable of decent lean angles, but its sporting performance is hampered by extremely soft suspension that is both under sprung and under damped. On sinuous Sunset Boulevard, I sat back and let the exotic cars and luxury SUVs jostle for lane space at well over the speed limit, since the frequent pavement irregularities kept the Rebel feeling somewhat out of sorts in the continuous curves. In doing so, I discovered that my experience was much better that way, anyway. The Rebel 500 is so light and easy to maneuver that I could just relax and enjoy the ride, focusing on keeping an eye out for a potential photo op or coffee stop.

The Rebel is surprisingly comfortable for such a small motorcycle. Narrow handlebars make full-lock U-turns easy, and the scooped solo saddle is comfortable enough for a full day's ride around town.
The Rebel is surprisingly comfortable for such a small motorcycle. Narrow handlebars make full-lock U-turns easy, and the scooped solo saddle is comfy enough for a full day’s ride around town.

When I did stop, the new Rebel drew appreciative glances and comments in a way I daresay it never has before. At one point on Hollywood Boulevard, I found myself stopped in a line of traffic with a front row view of a crew shooting a scene for the TV show “NCIS: LA.” The perils of living in the L.A. area… With some time to kill, I struck up a conversation with two of the motor officers who were doing traffic control, one of which was on a Honda ST1300. He was intrigued by the new Rebel, repeating over and over again what a good-looking bike it was, and I snapped his picture on it. The attention drew a few curious bystanders, who wandered over to see what the fuss was about. This, despite Chris O’Donnell chasing bad guys on camera not 50 feet away. Who knew a Rebel could be so cool?

It’s clear that Honda designed the new Rebels for style and individuality, and both versions are ripe for customization—even if that just means a new handlebar, seat or paint. For those who are more ambitious, the Rebel’s rear subframe is easy to remove or modify, with the frame, subframe and swingarm all being made of easy-to-weld steel. Honda plans to offer plenty of accessories as well, including saddlebags, a rear rack and a handy 12V outlet (which our test bikes had installed, allowing us to keep our phones charged for the numerous photo stops).

The 2017 Rebel is a welcome departure from the tired, homogenous styling of the previous version, and with the new choice of two engines (and price points), the Rebel has reestablished itself as a solid contender not just for a “beginner bike,” but also a fun, cool choice for a new generation of riders.

2017 Honda Rebel 500 (left) and Rebel 300 (right).
2017 Honda Rebel 500 (left) and Rebel 300 (right).

2017 Honda Rebel 500
Base Price: $5,999
Website: powersports.honda.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 471cc
Bore x Stroke: 67.0 x 66.8mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 58.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 28 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 27.2 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 408 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.0 gals.
MPG: NA

The small LCD display has fuel level and speed front-and-center, as well as a clock and odometer.
The small LCD display has fuel level and speed front-and-center, as well as a clock and odometer.
In a nice touch, the Rebel's front brake disc carrier is cut to match the cast wheel's spokes, for a clean look.
In a nice touch, the Rebel’s front brake disc carrier is cut to match the cast wheel’s spokes, for a clean look.
The rear subframe unbolts easily, and steel construction is easy to weld for home-built customizers.
The rear subframe unbolts easily, and steel construction is easy to weld for home-built customizers.
The Rebel 300 and 500 share 85 percent of their parts, including the frame.
The Rebel 300 and 500 share 85 percent of their parts, including the frame.

29 COMMENTS

  1. That 500 cc honda rebel is a very impressive machine.. It’s a very safe bike to ride for either a beginner or an experienced rider that wants to go on small rides. Too many sport bikes. I dont feel the sports bikes are good for a first time rider..

  2. Forgive me for not being blind, but has anybody else noticed that today’s “naked” bikes are just plain butt-ugly? I seriously wonder if there’s anyone left at Honda who’s over the age of 19. These bikes suck! And it doesn’t limit itself to nakeds: A few years ago, we were asked to accept the Victory Vision. (God!) Later, Yamaha’s various and sundry twins and triples (which were naked). (Yuck! — Put on some clothes.) Maybe, Harley’s V-Rod and its progeny? (What did they drink?) To me, a good-looking bike was the 2011 Honda VT-750-RS in the Bubba Shobert livery. Now, that looked good, and at a fair price. Yamaha’s new SCR-950 LOOKS good, but it doesn’t add up: Over 550 pounds for a scrambler that can’t?

    I keep waiting for something reminiscent of the 70s, but it just ain’t a-happenin’. But, then, I don’t spend 20 hours a day staring into, and tapping on, something that gives me both brain and crotch cancer.

    • After my rant of a day ago (which I still stand by), I finally read Jenny’s full article. A great piece of moto-journalism! Befitting of a fine magazine. The perspective of someone who still has a connection with her basic training probably opens a needed insight into just what has to be built to attract new riders. However, I’m not yet sold on millennials, or their choices. Just learned two days ago that (here in Kentucky, anyway) they are using their dads’ toolkits to straighten their teeth! Saw it on our CBS affiliate, so help me. Maybe they can pocket the money for braces, and use it instead on a new Rebel. (Yeah, I know … “Got teeth?”)

    • I think that’s just a matter of personal choice. IMHO the two new Rebels are good-looking machines.
      Just an opinion.

  3. “(neither bike is available with a passenger seat or foot pegs)” — “neither” should actually be either, offered as options.

    Also, “…comfortable for such a small motorcycle” — with a wheelbase of 58.7″, this could be considered pretty standard, rather than small (virtually the same as my Bonneville). I appreciate the comments about its suspension, and would like to know how that fat front tire affects handling/steering; ‘guess that info will be saved for the full review.

    • Well, I just wanted to thank you Jenny for such a great article! My 17 year old daughter and I are riders and have been looking for new bikes! This bike is so cute! Yes, I’m a woman and I am going to call it cute! We LOVE the naked blacked out look and the short seat height – something women riders sometimes have trouble finding! We love the colors they come in, the curved tank and the fat tires. I began on a Rebel 250 and passed it on to my daughter when she was ready to ride on the road. This just might be the perfect next bike for her. I do believe we’ll see one of these in our future… maybe two. ~Tara

      • Glad you like it! I’m very happy that Honda decided to offer two engine options for the new Rebel…gives those who would like a bike they can really “grow into” a great option. Happy Riding! -Jenny

  4. “(neither bike is available with a passenger seat or foot pegs)”

    Honda’s website says these are available accessories.

  5. These look like the entire bike was designed without remembering they would need a fuel tank. Ooops, better sit a gas can on top of the frame rails, maybe sculpt a curve on top, so it doesn’t look like we forgot. Sounds like a very capable small bike, based on Jenny’s review, but I guess ugly is the new cool, at least to some of us old farts …

  6. I’m done with big bikes. Light, agile and fun is how I got into bikes at 11 years old. 30 years later, the Honda Rebel 500 is just the bike I’ve been looking for. I love the thick tires, blacked-out engine and bobber seat, and I appreciate the latest technology like ABS, fuel injection, in addition to a comfortable upright riding position. I do wish they offered traction control.

    Beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, and I find this bike to be enchanting. I’m getting this bike.

    • I agree! I’m a new rider and just bought the 500 abs. Enchanting is the perfect word. Can’t wait to ride it!

  7. Looks good to me. For a first time rider and someone who doesn’t have a lot of money the Honda Rebel is probably going to end up as my first bike. Great review!

  8. I’m 6 foot tall and weigh about 230 lbs. is the rebel 500 going to be too small for me? Will I look “goofy” riding this bike?

    • Hi Mike, at six feet tall you’re on the far end of the “will I fit on this bike” spectrum, but even so I think you’ll find it surprisingly comfortable. The place where you might run into trouble would be in full-lock turns, you might hit your knees with your hands. As for looking goofy, I don’t think you will. There were plenty of guys your size on our press ride, and they looked just fine. -Jenny

      • Mike,

        Jenny is probably right. I’m 5’9″ and 133 pounds, and started riding a Honda CL-125A Scrambler, ca. 1968. With the exception of being blown around silly by semis at 65 mph, I loved that bike and wish I hadn’t traded it in. A suggestion, however: One of the best looking bikes sold by Honda recently was the (now discontinued) Shadow-RS. Some think that stood for Rally-Sport; Honda said it stood for Retro-Standard. If you can scrounge $8,000, maybe considerably less, there might just be some of those yet floating around in the ‘New-Old-Stock’ section of your Honda dealer. A quick call to Honda in California (866-784-1870), and they will work hard to help you find the exact model and year you want, in any state. The VT-750-RS came in many colors, and, I believe, departed after about 2012 or so. Moreover, if you don’t mind feet-forward seating, there are still two other Shadows being listed as current models: the Aero and Phantom. All recent Shadows are 750s, and have ample wheelbases, I think in the 60 to 65-inch category. Regardless, if you’re a beginning rider, you’ll want to upsize soon, probably within a year of purchasing a 500. It’s just the nature of the beast.

  9. I don’t agree with the upgrading part of your comment. A new rider should never get anything over 500 cc. In reality a 250 cc would be a perfect beginner bike. I lost count on how many bikes I have had both street and dirt, but I down-graded to a CBR500R last year from a KLR650, and have had V4 bikes as well.

  10. Dave (from the ‘other’ Dave)

    Your point is well made. For years, I’ve gulped as so-called experts recommended sticking newbies on Harleys and other giant tractors with two wheels. I, myself, even bought a Honda CBR-250-RA-3AC (non-California) back in 2013, just to get something light under me. (I’m 69 this year.) However, in the case we’re dealing with here (the guy, Mike), we have a rider, who I’m assuming is a relative newcomer to the sport, and who weighs in at 230 lbs., and is six feet in height. For a guy built like Mike, a 750 all of a sudden isn’t that big. Nor is the Shadow’s power that overwhelming (a very mild state of tune). The ‘RS’ I referenced is roughly a 500 pound motorcycle. Since Mike weighs about twice what I do, that would be the squinting equivalent of my sitting on a 250 lb. beginner bike, like a 125. I only want to save Mike some money, and it’s cheaper to buy a bike that both is within your ability to control it, and has the advantage of keeping you sated as you grow into it.

    I think my attitude on what constitutes a beginner bike has evolved, based on what I’ve observed, of late. However, probably like you, I can’t get certain images out of my head … like the dude who plunked down $30K for an e-glide, then promptly rammed it into a parked 7,500 pound station wagon, broadside, right outside the dealership, all caught on video … then, he fell over. I just know he’d never ridden a motorcycle before.

  11. Yes, my first bike at 13 was a nice used 1974 XL100. When I turned 16 I got my motorcycle license and bought a new 1980 XL125S. In Illinois you have to be over 18 to get anything over 150cc so the 125 was a good economical beginner bike. I went up and down with engine size a couple times. I bought my current bike like my previous Kawi KLR for a commuter bike. I got up to 62 mpg on the KLR, but my current CBR I came just shy of 82 mpg last summer. I am not a racer anymore as I have been through that and have seen the metal being slapped on my wrists from the days of my youth. Yes, the Shadow 750 would be better to stretch out on as would a Yamaha WR250R dual sport that has a high performance engine with about 35″ seat height. Me being 6′ tall doesn’t faze me with my 3 1/2″ lower seat height of my current CBR.

    Ride on and always wear a helmet and riding gear. Do not dress for the beach!

  12. Love the looks of this bike, sat on one at my dealer. Big front tire looks funky compared to my GS 450L skinny front tire. Not sure why the seat is so hard and the cheapo looking speedo is such a downer, it pretty much prevents me from being excited about this bike.

  13. Hi.
    I’m in the UK and after riding bikes for over 60 yrs (yes I know ) of all sizes and find this machine perfect. No longer able to throw a leg over ,in many ways, this low seat is ace.
    Reviews go on about youth and female riders but there are lots of oldies out there too.
    My last bike was the cb500f with the same engine and gave me 84 mpg average, this is uk and not usa gallons.
    Buy and enjoy and forget the crap .
    Brian
    Scotland

    • I got almost 82 mpg with this engine last summer and that’s in US gallons. Honda rated the CBR at 74 mpg. I am not sure if they rated the Rebels mpg?

      Lyle, obviously the features of the speedo are basic and its black not chrome trimmed to match the bike. A little retro in shape but more contemporary in features.

  14. i’m in the process of doing my full license and i get discount at Honda dealerships. I am a big guy so cruiser bikes are really my only option as i would be a bit top heavy for a race bike plus I’ve always loved cruisers. i went to have a look at the Honda rebel 500 and i loved the look of it. the only thing i was a bit disappointed by was the size of it being so small :(. So didn’t leave me with much option really but to give it a miss. and the only other Honda that would have suited me would have been the cb1100 but as my first bike is way to heavy and big for me to get experience on. Then i found the Kawasaki vulcan 650s and omg the looks and the comfort of that bike is insane. Kawasaki even adjust the foot pegs, saddle and handlebars to suit the riders size and comfort needs. Was a bit of a shame with the Honda as i would have got a really good discount. Maybe if i wasn’t 6 foot 1 and weigh 20 stone this bike would have been perfect as the performance it gives for a 500 is brilliant.

  15. Have you considered playing around with something meatier? If you’re a conservative sort of guy (conservative riding, not necessarily leaning), and if you’re really ‘big’, you might want to look at the R nineT BMWs. I know the price frightens almost every beginner off, and if so, it’s certainly understandable. But, if you are in a position to swing such a purchase, the Beemers are well under the 500-pound limit that would put newer riders off. AND, you’d have a bike that probably will become an heirloom as you grow into it. ‘Light’ weight, smooth performance, moderate skills needed … it’s a complete package. And, with five (I believe) variants, you could certainly find a riding position to suit your preferences. Never mind all the heads you’d turn. Good luck riding!

  16. With regard to my above comments, I’m assuming American-style licensing schemes. If you’re in Europe or elsewhere, displacement might factor into your choices. My apologies for not considering that. D.C.

  17. I would stay away from BMW’s especially if you are a new rider and looking for something reliable and to get around on. For cruisers the Shadow Fantom and Aero are nice with likely a little more leg room than the 500 Rebel. A Kawasaki Verse or KLR650 though a different style bike offer a lot of leg room. I had a 2008 KLR for 53,000 miles.

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