When Honda brought us the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500 four years ago, I called the small-displacement cruisers the most important motorcycles to debut for the 2018 model year. Now, Honda is adding a third model to the family: the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100

Debuting last November, the Rebel 1100 was Honda’s big new model for the 2021 model year , and the bike is basically the amalgamation of the Rebel cruiser line, with the familiar parallel-twin engine found in the Honda Africa Twin 1100 adventure bike.

This new metric cruiser is arriving in Honda dealers as we speak, but the American Honda team invited us to Murrieta, California to ride the Rebel 1100, to see if this interesting, if not odd, motorcycle was more than the sum of its parts.

Our ride saw us burn close to 200 miles, with a mix of tight canyon roads, rolling sweepers, and some urban commuting – the typical duty a bike like the Rebel 1100 would see in the real world.

Big Red will admit that the Honda Rebel 1100 is not a cruiser for everyone that rides in this segment, but the bike brings a unique appeal to a large market, and it does so with a certain flair that has been absent from this space. Let me explain.

The Anti-Cruiser and Why Honda Made a Bigger Rebel

At first glance, the Honda Rebel 1100 might seem like an odd motorcycle to make. Take it one step further, the liquid-cooled 1,084cc parallel-twin engine seems like an odd choice for a segment that is dominated by air-cooled v-twins.

With a style all of its own, the current Honda Rebel lineup is very much seen as being a family of cruisers, though they don’t necessarily follow the cookie-cutter cruiser ethos that others have used to define the segment.

To put it succinctly, the Honda Rebel 1100 is an oddball in the most mainstream and conservative segment of the motorcycle industry.

For these reasons, and for some others that I will touch upon later in this review, I very much consider the Rebel 1100 an anti-cruiser model – as oxymoronic as that might sound.

I say this because the Honda Rebel 1100 takes the cruiser market, and turns it on its head. In fact, the whole Rebel lineup is designed to redefine what this segment should mean to riders.

This is because Honda isn’t trying to make a better Harley-Davidson. Instead, the Japanese brand is trying to offer riders something tangible, and with value, that isn’t the same-old, same-old.

This has been the backbone of success for the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500, which have had the unenviable task of creating new riders out of thin air, and giving them an approachable motorcycle to begin their riding journey upon.

Honda had a problem with this approach though.

After going through all the trouble to get first-time riders into the industry, Big Red was losing these riders as they moved up the food chain – not all of them were seeing something in the Honda lineup (say, a Fury or a Shadow) that they wanted to ride.

According to a study done in 2018, Honda saw that only 36% of its Rebel 300 owners were upgrading within the brand, while the rest went elsewhere.

Those numbers got worse as they progressed to the Rebel 500, as only 27% of those owners found a new bike in Honda’s lineup despite 88% of them bumping up in displacement with their next machine.

Doing their research, Honda discovered that many of these Rebel riders really just wanted a bigger Rebel – one with more features, more power, and more sophistication – to match their growing tastes. Enter the Honda Rebel 1100.

I usually wait to have a conversation about affordability until the last section of the review, but before we get into the technical nitty gritty, I wanted to discuss maybe the most important feature on the Honda Rebel 1100: its price tag.

This is because pricing is an integral part of the feature package on the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100, and in fact one of the key elements of this bike’s raison d’être.

The point of the Honda Rebel lineup is to offer a value-packed motorcycle that is approachable to younger riders.

This means balancing the need to have electronics and other high-tech features against price-point access, the latter being a critical element for getting younger riders into our sport.

If the Honda Rebel 1100 is supposed to be the next stepping stone in the progression of riders through the Rebel 300 and Rebel 500, it has to approach motorcycling from the same lens as these entry-point motorcycles.

To that vein, with the manual model starting at $9,299 MSRP ($9,999 MSRP for the DCT model), the Honda Rebel 1100 is one of the cheapest full-size cruisers on the market – and it is not a stripped-down motorcycle.

Honda has left plenty of meat on the bone with this motorcycle. 

By The Numbers

As we have mentioned several times before, at the heart of the Honda Rebel 1100 is a familiar motor to anyone who has climbed aboard the Honda Africa Twin ADV bike.

With 85hp (64 kW) at the peak, and 72 lbs•ft (98 Nm) of torque on tap, this incarnation of the 1,084cc parallel-twin engine has its noticeable differences from its dual-sport counterpart.

First off, Honda has increased the flywheel weight by 20%, which results in an increase of spinning inertia by 32%. The valve timing and valve lift have also been revised, which creates a unified pulse feeling around 4,000 rpm on the digital tachometer. Then there are the more obvious changes to the engine’s intake and exhaust.

All of this creates a punchy motor that pulls very linearly across the rev range to the 8,000 rpm redline. That power can be augmented, however, as Honda has included a fairly robust electronics package with the Rebel 1100.

There are four riding modes (three preset modes, one user mode) with three power levels, three traction control levels (plus the ability to disable the TC), and three engine brake control settings. The Honda Rebel 1100 also has cornering-ABS, which is powered by a six-axis IMU.

The electronics continue with the optional dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which is now in its third-generation of operation, and the inclusion of this technology on a cruiser model is on a mad-genius level of thinking.

For those who don’t know, a DCT offers a clutchless motorcycle experience that can be fully automatic, if you want it to be, with  Honda’s solution having three levels of programming for shift-point strategies.

Like on Honda’s other DCT models, the rider can always override a gear selection with the shift buttons on the left-hand control, which works like the paddle shifters on high-end sports car.

On its face, the DCT option seems like an odd choice for a cruiser segment, but it creates some interesting opportunities, which we will get to a minute, but all of this technology comes at the cost of an additional 22 lbs to the Rebel 1100’s mass.

This puts the Honda Rebel 1100 DCT model at 509 lbs when fully fueled at the curb (487 lbs in its manual gearbox configuration, for those who don’t want to do the math).

Despite the weight penalty, even the Rebel 1100 DCT variant is a fairly light offering in this space, and it feels as much between your legs.

Making things even easier to handle is the fact that the Honda Rebel 1100 has a seat height of just 27.5 inches (just 0.3 inches taller than the Rebel 500).

This helps to keep the mass low on the motorcycle, while also making the Rebel 1100 an approachable machine for riders of every size and skill level – another key component to the Rebel lineup’s core purpose.

With mid-controls for the foot positioning, the sitting posture can be a little awkward for taller riders though, and the handle bar reach is a little on the longer side, making the ergonomics only worse.

The cockpit is easy enough though, with the round LCD dash showing quite a bit of information in an easy-to-read layout…even when in direct sunlight.

On the DCT model, the clutch lever is replaced with a hand control for the rear wheel parking brake, while the right-hand controls the radially mounted four-piston brake caliper and its 330mm disc.

Suspension is rather basic, with both the dual rear shocks and front forks featuring preload adjustment only. There is 3.7 inches of suspension travel in those front forks, while the rear has 4.8 inches of travel.

With that ride height, Honda boasts a 35° maximum lean angle, which while not overly impressive for a street bike, it is still a class-leading figure in the cruiser segment.

The details include rubber that comes in 130/70-18 sizing for the front, and 180/65-16 in the rear; full LED light all around, including the headlight; and a 3.6-gallon fuel tank that sits awkwardly perched on the frame.

If you want to bring a friend, well…you can’t. At least, not until you buy an aftermarket seat (and pegs) that goes directly on top of the rear fender.

On the Road

For the bulk of our test ride, Honda had us on the DCT version of the Rebel 1100, though this author spent a good stint on the manual gearbox version as well.

Aside from shifting (or a lack thereof), both bikes are virtually identical in how they ride – even with the 22 lbs of weight difference.

In all honesty, Honda’s dual-clutch transmission deserves its own dedicated review, as the use of the DCT is a complicated one, and one’s opinion on this technology can be swayed by what type of riding you are doing, and what kind of rider you are.

On the Rebel 1100 DCT, the dual-clutch transmission feels like a smart move by Honda.

Hopping on the bike for the first time, you might grab for the clutch lever a couple times at a stop sign, but you quickly learn to enjoy not having to operate the gearbox.

Out of the three shift strategies programmed into the DCT, I found the sportiest setting to be the weapon of choice, as the other two settings were too lazy for my tastes, and tended to stick me in too tall of a gear for the riding at hand (no one needs to be in 6th gear while doing 35 mph, Honda).

When using the sportiest level, I found the gearbox was reading my mind correctly about 90% of the time, with the error coming with the Rebel 1100 DCT holding the revs longer than needed out of slower corners.

In this situation though, the difference between man and machine is easy enough to correct, as a simple finger trigger button would upshift the gearbox right away, and settle the engine into more of a cruising rev.

I preferred this more than having to go the other way through the gearbox – constantly downshifting for power – which would sap the fun out of a quick turn, or leave you hanging on needed passing-speed.

As one would expect with dual-clutch technology, the shifts are lightning fast and precise, with one caveat. As was my complaint on the Honda Gold Wing DCT model, I found the Honda Rebel 1100 DCT to be imprecise at low-speed decelerations.

The problem seems to be in how the DCT drags the clutch when decelerating, which sometimes would include a lurch as the throttle attempts to rev-match the gearbox. The effect is usually an unpredictable movement just as you are coming to a stop at traffic or a similar situation.

The issue isn’t a large one, but it does serve as a reminder that Honda hasn’t quite emulated the wide range of human preferences and uses for a motorcycle clutch lever.

Beyond this one complaint, even my cold-hearted sport biker roots enjoyed the DCT after a few minutes, and even missed it when I hopped onto the manual gearbox. For newer riders, I see the DCT as a game-changer.

Essentially an automatic gearbox, the DCT removes one of the bigger hurdles to riding a motorcycle, which frankly is something that needs to be accepted by the motorcycle industry.

It seems only a matter of time before solutions like a DCT gearbox or Rekluse’s auto-clutch become options on every motorcycle model. 

With shifting out of the way, one can focus more on the punch that the Rebel 1100 provides its rider, and it does pack a punch.

I dare say that the brute acceleration that this big parallel-twin offers is the best feature going on the Honda Rebel 1100. This is a bike that loves to race from stoplight to stoplight.

It might not be a sport bike, but the Rebel 1100 is a sporty cruiser, and it can get the blood moving when you ask it to.

Unlike many other cruiser models, you aren’t scrapping pegs and boards through every turn, which means your fun is really only limited by your desire to go faster.

Well, that is not entirely true. The real rate limit on the Honda Rebel 1100 is the seating position, and perhaps this is the only element that would give me pause when it comes to recommending the Rebel 1100 to another rider.

This is because the 27.5″ seat height is just a little too low, especially with your legs pushed forward by the mid-controls. The ergonomic are also challenged by the long reach to the handlebars.

After about an hour in the saddle, you start to feel the fact that you have been carrying all of your weight on your tailbone, which is certainly a factor when you are dealing with the limited suspension travel and sparse saddle cushioning that the Rebel 1100 provides.

Then, we get to the fact that the engine case from the parallel-twin engine hinders a comfortable resting angle for one’s right foot, which in-turn puts strain on the rider’s knee.

It is a weird afterthought of a design element, and makes the Rebel 1100 a burden to ride for extended periods.

This is perhaps the price one pays for having a cruiser-styled bike. There is some good bad-news on this topic though, as the 3.6-gallon tank doesn’t provide too much range for the Rebel 1100.

By the time your body needs a break from the ride, your bike will need a stop at a gas station – so, there is some synergy there.

Fit and finish is typical Honda-good, except for the fuel tank mounting, which seems loose to the touch on all the bikes we had at our disposal.

From a riding point-of-view, my only real complaint comes to the front braking system, which is pretty anemic for this rider’s taste.

For other riders coming off an American v-twin brand, the brakes on the Honda Rebel 1100 will seem rather good, but we were left wanting more from the setup, which honestly would benefit from a second disc on the front wheel.

There is just too much bike here to stop effectively with a single caliper and brake disc. Some more aggressive pads might close the performance gap in our mind, but we imagine Honda’s styling choice by having a single disc (as well as the fact that it keeps costs down) made a noticeable performance compromise on a bike that is otherwise devoid of deficiencies in riding ability.

There is one last item to note, as we did see some gremlins pop-up while riding the manual gearbox Honda Rebel 1100.

During low-speed, low-rev shifts between first and second gear, the bike we were on would grab a false neutral. This was an easily repeatable problem for this author, though Honda’s press officer had a tougher time reproducing it, even in back-to-back tests.

With 300 miles on this particular bike’s odometer, I would believe the break-in period was to blame for the bike failing to hold the gear, and that an oil change was needed to flush out the gearbox. Of note, my colleague on the other manual gearbox Rebel 1100 motorcycle noted no issues. 

Still, the problem was present and repeatable for me, and we at Asphalt & Rubber aim to provide transparent reviews.

Yeah, But Would You Buy It?

Ok, enough already – let’s get down to brass tacks. Should you go out and buy a Honda Rebel 1100?

Talking to an old riding buddy about this machine, he offered that my review on the Honda Rebel 1100 should be three simple words, “better than expected.” Admittedly, “expectations” were not something I had in spades going into the Rebel 1100 launch.

The model is fascinating from a business perspective, and it is an interesting critique on the thinking within the motorcycle industry, but the Rebel 1100 is not exactly in the wheelhouse of my two-wheeled interests.

There is something intriguing about the Honda Rebel 1100 though, especially in its DCT form (I promise to write more on this for our A&R Pro readers). The bike is spritely off the line, and handling is pretty good when all things are considered.

The metric cruisers have never struggled to build a better mousetrap than what the American brands have been able to build, and that trend continues today.

Technically speaking, Honda has always built a better cruiser than what comes from a brand like Harley-Davidson, and the Rebel 1100 continues that trend.

On the spec-sheet, and on the road, the Honda Rebel 1100 shines against the performance packages that otherwise count as the cruiser segment’s status quo.

However, metric cruisers have invariably lacked what can be argued to be the most important element in this category: soul.

There is a certain je ne sais quoi that comes with an American v-twin cruiser, and whether you call that soul, personality, character, or something else, it is an element that Japanese motorcycles have struggled to find.

The Honda Rebel 1100 is another one of those motorcycles.

While the 270° crank on the parallel-twin motor provides a more tractable power delivery, and Honda has perfectly tuned the bike’s fuel-injection to have a snappy throttle response, but the Rebel 1100 fails really to find this x-factor where man and machine become one.

Entirely intangible, and equally subject to the whims of each rider, this concept holds back the Honda Rebel 1100 from being a “great” motorcycle in my mind, and instead I would say that it is merely a “good” motorcycle.

Counterintuitively, that might be high praise for Honda, as the Japanese brand has hit a mark that so many other manufacturers have failed to reach meaningfully in this category.

Good technology, high performance, aggressive pricing, all wrapped up in an approachable package for riders of all levels and of all shapes and sizes? That is a paradigm shift for this space. I’m not sure that there are any “great” cruisers on the market, despite their popularity.

This leaves me thinking that the Honda Rebel 1100  is the motorcycle that Indian should have made with the FTR1200, and should have made with the Scout. This is the motorcycle that Harley-Davidson is missing in its plethora of cruisers.

This is the motorcycle that the Yamaha Bolt fails to be in every regard, and this is the motorcycle that won’t rise and fall as a fad like what sits in Triumph’s heritage lineup.

All things considered, the Honda Rebel 1100 feels like a quiet hit for Big Red, and we expect Honda’s competitors to take a long look at this unassuming motorcycle, as those brands try and understand what they have been getting wrong for all these years.

Photos: © 2021 Drew Ruiz / American Honda – All Rights Reserved