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2021 Honda Rebel 1100: MD First Ride

The new DCT works far better than earlier designs. Low speed handling is essentially faultless now without any of the hesitation, or jerking, experienced on some of Honda’s earlier generation designs. Although experienced, aggressive riders might occasionally second guess the gear selection by the DCT, for the most part it just flat works, and 99% of the time most riders will be happy to leave it in one of the pre-selected modes.

We began the day in Sport mode, and were genuinely surprised by the quick response of the transmission to throttle inputs. This is a fast bike, for any genre, and certainly for a cruiser priced under $10,000. Sport mode will not only downshift more quickly and offer sharper throttle response, it will hold a lower gear through corners and allow quicker acceleration on exit.

We ended up preferring the Standard mode, however, even while rolling along at a good pace with experienced riders on twisty roads. The throttle is less “excited” and the ride is just a bit mellower, while the low-end torque of the Rebel 1100 makes gear selection less important than it might be on another bike.

The excellent engine and transmission work in harmony with a chassis that combines good high speed, straight-line stability with a nimbleness unexpected for the category. Not sure we have ever described the handling of a cruiser as “playful”, but the Rebel 1100 comes close to this and sets a new standard against competitive machines. On very tight, twisty roads near Fallbrook, California, the Rebel 1100, aided by a very generous 35° bank angle before anything touches down, simply carved it up.

Most impressive, perhaps, is the ease in which the Rebel 1100 changes directions. It switches from a deep lean angle on one side to the other at the rider’s command. All the while, the DCT set the desired pace without leaving the rider wanting a traditional manual transmission.

The front brake is very strong and offers good feedback. The rear brake was also easily controllable with variable foot pressure, offering just the amount of assistance the rider wanted.

Seat comfort was good over the 150 miles, or so, we rode at the press launch. The only comfort issue we encountered was the tight distance between the seat and footpegs, but part of this issue could be down to the age (and inflexibility) of the test rider.

It is hard not to be impressed by the value offered by the Rebel 1100. With standard cruise control, and the aforementioned rider aides, it certainly has plenty of features that belie its bargain price. This is without even mentioning the now highly-refined DCT transmission, which is slowly converting even experienced riders (the editor is raising his hand) with its performance and efficiency.

Honda is offering a number of accessories to customize a Rebel 1100, and aftermarket support is already well underway. Take a look at Honda’s website for additional details and specifications.

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87 Comments

  1. Mr.Mike says:

    A fine engine but has low visual appeal, practicality, and sportiness. A bike generally needs to rate well in at least one of those to be successful.

  2. ABQ says:

    As a resident of New Mexico I am confused by what Honda calls “Rain” mode. Say What?
    I would appreciate a sand and pebbles mode.
    And my usual complaint about the gas tanks being too small to cross the vast distances between gas stations on backroads in the west.
    Aside from that I would probably add some highway bars with extra pegs up front. But that’s just me.
    Also just me: I would like to have the rear brakes up on the handlebars of the DCT fitted bike. Because I don’t have a right foot. Honda did that for the Silverwing scooter. Hand brakes would work for the DCT models. (same complaint for CanAms)
    Overall I like the concept of the Rebel. I just need it fitted for me.

    • mickey says:

      Rear brake on the left bar would be awesome on the DCT

    • Mick says:

      It’s kind of funny. My little electric bike has a rear brake on the bar and I think that it’s kind of a pain.

      That is until I jump back on one of my other bikes and have to get used to using my foot again. Particularly on my KTM. My right foot and my KTM brake pedal don’t get along as well as they should.

    • Schmuck says:

      I’m probably wrong, but I recall hearing at one time that the locations of major controls on motorcycles are governed by federal motor vehicle regulations.

    • Marcus says:

      It wouldn’t be difficult to adapt a hydraulic master cylinder to the left handlebar.
      Racers use thumb brakes there. Large scooters also have left mounted hydraulic master cylinders there. Maybe even a hydraulic clutch MC would suffice (though I have no idea of the bore size or stroke of a clutch MC).

      • Jeremy says:

        There are a few solutions for left-hand rear brakes. Some have their own hydraulics, some mechanically operate the stock rear brake hydraulics via a cable. I use a left-hand rear brake on my dirt bikes and don’t think I could go back to the foot brake.

        • todd says:

          True. The rear brake is almost impossible to use while standing on the pegs along some gnarley trail. I need to get a rear handbrake.

        • Dave says:

          That’s interesting to ponder. I do lots of cycling and set my brakes up conventional (rear=right, front=left) and people ask me if that messes with me when I go back and forth between the moto and the bikes. It never does. I’m running two completely different mental programs. I rode an mtb with the levers reversed and couldn’t ride it. Totally messed me up.

          I wonder if I could do it if it were a moto?

          To the original question, there are a number of hydraulic clutch levers. If one had the right piston diameter/volume that would be a pretty simple solution.

          • Jeremy says:

            I ride mountain bikes as well. I used to have my brakes set up conventionally. Like you said, two different mental programs kept everything in order – but only to a point. I realised that in those lizard brain moments when the mind needs to react without thinking, I did hesitate several times on the mountain bike in particular, mentally sorting out which setup I was riding before reacting. Again, just a fraction of a second delay, but delays that nearly had some pretty severe consequences. Now, I set my mountain bike brakes up moto style to keep everything peachy. Made adapting to the LH motorcycle brake that much easier, though there is a little bit of a learning curve when working the clutch and brake independently. And, oddly enough, my brain never once looked back to the old bicycle setup. It was as if my bicycle had always been set up moto.

    • fred says:

      I haven’t researched it thoroughly, but it s/b fairly straightforward to add a rear brake lever to a DCT bike. It would depend on the handlebar real estate on the left bar, but basically would amount to pull a hydraulic clutch master cylinder & lever off a donor bike, and install longer brake lines.

      The research would be to compare the stock rear mc bore size with the potential donor clutch mc bore size. My guess is a lot of competent shops or mechanics could do it, but would probably shy away due to the litigious nature of society.

      It would be a fun project if you’ve got reasonable wrenching skills.

      Edit>
      LOL, I missed Marcus’ post. Great minds think alike. 🙂

  3. Dave says:

    Pleased to hear Honda is innovating on the cruiser experience. It’s too low to the ground for me so I remain excited at the news that Honda has applied for a copyright for “NT1100”. If this engine winds up in something similar to my old NT650 Hawk, I’ll be headed to the dealership.

  4. mickey says:

    Good to hear Honda’s latest iteration of DCT is getting better. The early ones I rode were kinda crude feeling on downshifts.

    I can see a 2021 NC 750X DCT (new lowered, higher horsepower, led lights, larger trunk capacity etc) finding a spot in my stable in another year or so.

  5. Gary says:

    I applaud Honda for trying to come up with bikes that have mass appeal. But, wouldn’t they do a bit better here if they incorporated an Italian design team to clean up some of the contrasting visuals? Start with that tilted fuel tank and blend it to cover the frame section while adding capacity. Then modify the old fashion look of that circa 1930’s exhaust pipe. That rectangular add-on radiator might also be blended into a more pleasing overall appearance; it can be done as not all bikes with radiators look like they came from a car. Maybe a future more standard model with built in dual seat will come along and save the day!

  6. bandit says:

    Man its ugly. I dont like the tank, the rear guard,the exhaust, the engine. Just a mess

  7. Marcus says:

    I saw that. I’d still rather a standard naked version.
    And if they made one and brought it to the US, we’d have to wait a couple of years.

  8. TP says:

    I’ve always looked down on cruisers for ridiculous ergonomics and for often being owned by unserious posers but this is one that I like. In fact, if the pegs feel right and if it works with a windshield for touring, I may get one.

  9. Gary in NJ says:

    Not my style, but I appreciate that Honda has created a cruiser all its own; it’s not trying to be any other bike (well except the Rebel 500/300). Light-weight, standard-ish ergos, good brakes…yeah, I get where they are coming from. It’s even well priced. Nice job Honda.

  10. Schmuck says:

    Dirck, is the DCT really all that? Most of the magazine testers give it praise, but does it REALLY work that well? Asking, because a new Wing is in my future, and contemplating the DCT vs manual question.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      For a sport bike or naked, I would personally stick with a traditional manual transmission. For cruising or touring, however, I think the latest generation DCT works really well. I haven’t sampled the latest DCT tuning on the gold wing, but I have previously had some issues with low speed handling, where are the bike would lurch or hesitate. I didn’t have any of those problems at low speed on the rebel 1100.

    • jimmihaffa says:

      I also have questions for Dirck about the DCT. Ok, it’s not glitchy and makes like easier, but to Schmuck’s point (great handle if you can buy it)… what tangible operating differences are there between a clutch operated system and DCT? I ride a scooter with a CVT and the left side (would-be clutch lever) serves as a rear brake actuator. Is it the same on the Rebel? What are the dynamics of this arrangement. I would imagine if you’re used to a clutch and backing off the throttle a touch for engagement/disengagement, the fact that the DCT does this for you might be awkward to coordinate brake pull if all braking is handled by your throttle side hand? I don’t know, am I overthinking this Dirck? ..bail us out here.

      • Dirck Edge says:

        There is nothing where the clutch would normally be. The rear brake is still operated with a lever beneath your right toes, like a manual transmission bike. The Rebel 1100 DCT doesn’t create any low speed handling/lurching issues, unlike some of the earlier iterations. As I said in the article, it won’t always select exactly the gear you want, or downshift as quickly as you might like, but it works very well overall, and matches well with the way a cruiser or tourer will be ridden. The Sport setting will hold a gear longer and downshift quicker, but I was happy with Standard setting … even while keeping pace with faster riders than you might normally encounter. If you have ridden modern, larger displacement scooters, it can be nice and relaxing to remove the clutch/shifting functions, as well. Just twist and go.

    • Tommy D says:

      I am a long time sport bike rider and former club racer. I picked up a leftover 2018 Honda Goldwing last year. I got the DCT on a whim. I LOVE IT!!!. I think it suits the bike well. The best part of the DCT is carrying a passenger. The shifts are so seamless and the ease of pulling out into traffic becomes no issue. You really understand how much attention you paid to clutch/shifting once you ride a DCT and feel at home. When carrying a passenger you really notice your $10 dollars worth of attention can be spent on better things. (for those that understand the Keith Code reference)

  11. dp says:

    While I generally do not care for cruisers, this one seem to have some panache. To my taste, the exhaust should be a bit upswept though – it would break the mold and add to overall impression. The rider seems to be hanging on it competently and with a gusto. Good job overall!

  12. SVGeezer says:

    I come from the sport bike side, check my screen name, and have felt for a long time that a cruiser style format could work well for that. Getting the weight of the engine and rider low should make it more flickable as a baseline. Seating the rider low should cut drag a bunch. The longer wheelbase makes wheelies and stoppies which plague sport bikes less of an issue. You just need a really good rear suspension as your legs aren’t one anymore, good brakes, and good ground clearance.

    Don’t let preconceived form overrule function. This seems to be getting close and may be near perfect for hard street riding in the twisties.

    • todd says:

      How about the Gurney Gator? The problem with the cruiser as a sport bike is everything you just mentioned. “Get the rider and engine low”, there goes suspension travel and cornering clearance. “Longer wheelbase” slows down steering and make the chassis more flexible. “Low drag” not really a factor as long high speed straights are fairly uncommon in sport bikes tracks but there’s always “the tuck” which you can’t do while sitting upright on a cruiser. The R6 is the pinnacle of sport bikes. It is exactly the way it is for the best performance possible. They add paint and graphics for styling.

    • Jeremy says:

      “The longer wheelbase makes wheelies and stoppies which plague sport bikes less of an issue.”

      What you call a plague, I call a feature.

    • TimC says:

      Low CoG is impt for cars, not bikes. Mass centralization is what makes them turn.

  13. Hot Dog says:

    Fantastic engine and I’ve got 2 machines with DCT in them that’re infallible. We’re being dragged into the future, fingernails on the chalkboard, with the autoloader. If I was a cruiser guy, this bike would be a nice option but I’m not one. The good thing is there’s rumors that Honda has a road/touring bike planned for this platform.

  14. Tommy D says:

    This bike must have a GREAT personality. Yup that sums up the review.

    • Grover says:

      Couldn’t agree more. Looks very odd and cramped. I guess that if you’re coming from a scooter and the next step is a cruiser then this is the bike for you.

  15. VFR_MANE says:

    This sounds like a fun value packed machine. Now Honda, take that killer engine and stuff it in a CBR500R, add dual front discs, good
    suspension and I would line up to buy one .

  16. Mick says:

    Aaaand Honda is not embarrassed at all that the cruiser that they put the Africa Twin engine in weighs quite a bit less than the Africa Twin.

    The beatings will continue until moral improves.

    • Motoman says:

      Not surprising this one is lighter since its as bare-bones as it gets. Doesn’t even have passenger accommodations.

      • Mick says:

        I find it odd that you don’t see anyone doing a Ducati Scrambler kind of thing with their parallel twins.

        With a subtle change of the shape of the parts on this bike, using the same materials, and even colors, you could trade a suspension upgrade for the metal fenders and use standard DTX plastic.

        Toss in a nice set of spoked 19s and BANG! Ducati what?

  17. cw says:

    Though I have reservations about the ergonomics of this bike, I am simply glad to see more another non-v-twin cruiser-ish bike. Now we have V-twins, V-4s, parallel twins, boxers, transverse twins, triples and thumpers. Now if Suzuki would just do something interesting with a certain 1340cc motor that has already underdone the expense of becoming E5 compliant…

  18. Jeremy says:

    I’m still not sold on the looks. Nothing wrong with Honda’s take on this genre particularly, I just think that most cruisers look a little ridiculous. I do like that it seems like Honda’s own interpretation of a cruiser though rather than a copy.

    The review is pretty facinating, though. Makes me curious to try one out.

    • Motoman says:

      Agree with you in the looks of the bike and cruisers in general. Never did get the gynecological-exam riding position. And this one seems ride almost comically low at the rear of the bike. Based on Dirk’s comments though it seems to handle pretty good.

      But I am curious about by the motor too.

    • Hot Dog says:

      Ok, you opened the can of worms and I’ll bite. This bike’s seat is too low for my long legs. The whole thing reminds me of a dog dragging it’s arse on the carpet. The tank’s range is half of my bladder’s holding time. The feet out riding position kills my back. Other then that, it’s a great machine for somebody (else).

  19. todd says:

    This looks ridiculously easy to turn into a cafe racer / roadster with a few, simple hacks. Who will be the first?

  20. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    When ever I see a cruiser like this ( limited rear suspension, awkward egos ) from a side view, the great classical sea chantee ‘Pants on the ground ‘ rings in my brain skull for at least an hour.

  21. StickyTires says:

    This bike would be a blast to ride. The only similar bike I’ve ever ridden is the Bobber. It had plenty of get-up-and-go, handled great, sounded really good, and was built nicely. My primary bike is a 2015 Connie, and it’s a great all-around bike, but this would be way more soulful for those 2 to 3 hour weekend jaunts.

  22. Kermit T Frog says:

    “Hey Kermie. What’re you rebelling against”?

    Me: “Stupid “cruisers” with tiny tanks and styling so fugly they’d make Medusa BEG for a mirror.”

    To the list of crap spat out by the Japanese marques such as the Yamaha Bolt, we can include the Honda Rebel 1100. It is totally without merit. I would rather never ride again than ride this two-wheeled turdle.

    This thing is perfect ofr Komiefornia’s Goobenor Gavin Screwsum. That thing needs to be in constant motion otherwise it and it’s “rider” wll be instantly covered in flies. Ugh! Where’s my Neuralyzer when I need it. This thing needs to be forgotten.

    I loathe Honda for foisting this on the sighted. For the record. The Scout is also worthlessly fugly too. Dung Beetles everywhere are kneeling to homage to this turdle. Enough Go to Hades, Honda.

    This bears repeating.

  23. Marcus says:

    I’m not a fan of the Rebel styling but put that engine in an upright naked frame such as the cb500F (cb1100F ?) and I will be the first in line.
    Honda, make it and take my money.

  24. Seems like my kind of bike. Especially the DCT. I wonder how much vibration this big twin is going to make at highway speeds? Any comments Dirk since you are the only one who rode it?

  25. Fred N says:

    I do hope that Honda put this same engine into a roadster standard type of bike soon.
    The Internet has a few photoshop pic’s on this concept and should be cheap to produce from the Thailand Factories. A 600/750cc version would be no brainer too.

  26. John says:

    Engine design and performance: check. Handling: check. DCT and other tech: check. Looks: fail. What inspires me and gives me hope is that Honda will bring back the Valkyrie, with DCT. Keep it under $20,000 (wishful thinking?) and there will be very little to complain about for cruiser fans.

    • Snake says:

      As a current Valk owner I can certainly see the development idea, as the Goldwing already has DCT, but the reality is that you pretty much don’t NEED DCT on the Valk. I already do so little shifting once under way, thank to the torque, that DCT is really rather superfluous.

      In 5th (top) gear on a B-road / state road I don’t have to downshift when dropping from highway speeds (55MPH+) to town speed zones (25MPH+), the engine handles the range without complaint in top gear.

  27. motorhead says:

    Honda makes an all-new bike: a high performance, light-weight, mid-sized cruiser. Will we punish Honda or will we embrace something new that is apparently quite comfortable, fast and agile? I still like. That sweet engine is going to stay around. They put it into quad ATVs, too.

  28. Louis says:

    A very nice and welcome addition to the Honda lineup. Since you were able to meet with Honda staff, were you able to find out if the new version of the NC750X is coming to the U.S., and if so, when will it arrive at the dealers?

  29. Larlok says:

    Not the kind of machine Would be interested in. So I thought. Great work as always, Dirck!

  30. Gary says:

    Cool bike, but I could totally see how the tight gap between seat and footpegs could be a problem. Maybe a taller custom seat would solve it.

  31. Neal says:

    The thinking man’s (or woman’s) alternative to the Scout. If I were ever in the market for something with cruiser ergos, but not for touring, this would be my pick. Looking forward to seeing what comes of the NT1100 chatter.

    • John Bryan says:

      Looks more and more like Honda’s going all in on twins. It is a bit ironic that the company that brought us the modern 4 cylinder motorcycle that put the final nail in the coffin of the classic British twin will have more twins than fours in it’s lineup.

      Should this have been Honda’s cruiser template all along rather than building faux-HD Vs? Some of the Shadows reminded me more of a VW Bug with a fiberglass ‘40 Ford front end than a chopped Knuclehead – at least a big parallel twin cruiser wouldn’t have seem so forced and awkward.

      The certainly coming soon NT 1100 sport tourer is a great next step but how about a CB1100R Neo Sport Cafe too?

      • Wendy says:

        The sport touring market is vanishingly small. This bike, despite the tiny tank, would be easy to put a light touring set of accessories on and enjoy. Most people like the ergos of a cruiser and don’t want the commitment of a sport tourer.

        • Neal says:

          I think that depends on what you’re putting in the sport touring market. Bikes like the Concours and FJR don’t sell anymore, Bikes like the BMW GS and V Strom are hugely popular, but too tall for me and I’m pretty normal sized at 5’9″ 165. I think there’s demand for street-oriented, relatively light, luggage ready bikes with seat heights between the Rebel (too low) and an Africa Twin (too high). That’s what I’d like at least, I love my little CB500X with saddlebags but if I ever want to replace it, there’s not much out there with similar function, ergos and seat height.

          • fred says:

            You really ought to test ride an FJR and a Concours 14, if you haven’t already. They are amazing bikes. I believe the FJR may have a bit lower seat height.

            I’m about an inch taller than you, and the C14 is right at the edge of my comfort limit with the seat height.

            The GS and Strom are not in the sport-touring class, though both are nice enough bikes. Perhaps an RS or an RT would work.

            If you don’t object to buying used, there are lots of bikes from when sport-touring was more popular. Aprilia Futura for one example.

            You are right about there not being much of a choice in 500cc sport tourers. That class never happened. There were a number of 600cc class sport bikes that got “moved” into the ST class over the years. The CB650R is one of the few left.

        • cw says:

          If you haven’t, search for a photo of the NT1100. It is the format that will now be called “sport tourer”: half fairing on an adventure bike platform on 17″ wheels with whichever manufacturer’s version of Pilot Road #s. It used to be called a “commuter”. What they really are is various flavors of “practical”.

          Whichever name the marketing departments or journos decide to throw at them, I’m just glad they are here.

          Because fun and pretty is fun – and pretty…but I still need somewhere to put stuff.

          I still dream of the day when engineered modularity results in being able to buy one bike and make it into whichever one you want that day, week or weekend.

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