Honda battle dress in a style of its own, and 500’s cry is more purr than Rebel yell!

by Jill Boulton

“Rebel Rebel, you’ve torn your dress
Rebel Rebel, your face is a mess …"

First impressions count, according to the David Bowie song. Apparently, we form an opinion of someone within half a minute of meeting them for the first time. Is the same true of motorbikes?

I did not buy the Honda CMX500 Rebel for its looks, and have never bought a bike on that basis. A bike is, by its very nature, an attractive thing! If it works, has a bit of power and it fits me, any bike is a great prospect – even if it’s not, sadly, an MV Augusta F4 Agostini.

“I think it’s one of the strangest-looking machines I’ve ever seen,” said one of my biking contacts, politely and apologetically, when he first saw my Rebel.

I thought that was a little unfair. ‘Have you never clapped eyes on a Yamaha Niken?’, I mused to myself. Or a BMW C1?’ (which I was once brave enough to ride for a week – but that’s another story).

Looks-wise, the Rebel is a bit ‘out there’, however.

I took an instant dislike to the massive, chunky EURO 4-compliant exhaust and am still hunting for a replacement that will look “right” and sound a bit more Rebellious than the Honda CBR500’s purr – but what looks “right” on a Rebel? At least the tractor-sized exhaust covers up the frame, which isn’t very pretty. And the big chunky drainpipe is actually growing on me. I’ve seen some poor aftermarket replacements, and the industrial look just adds to the Rebel’s oddball appeal, so I might even keep it!

If you want to make the Rebel easier on the eye, change the exhaust and remove the pillion seat and pegs. A black paintjob makes the bike look a little more ‘together’ than this grey.

Even if you don’t like cruiser/chopper/Bobber-style street bikes, there is, surely, a certain appeal in a pared-down, simple machine. The Rebel represents a really good antidote to the fully-laden BMW GS-style ‘adventure’ bike with all its bells and whistles. (Editor’s note: every bike is an adventure bike).

With that in mind, what looks right on the Rebel is the minimalist approach. Far from adding Honda’s expensive and predictable accessories, I had the pillion seat removed even before the bike left the showroom, and then the rear footpegs went – giving a much cleaner look, as well as being legal (if your bike has rear footpegs, it needs a pillion seat too, to keep within the law).

I have, however, added an essential Dart café-racer-style flyscreen in black, but that’s it in terms of accessories so far, unless you count the miniscule wildlife-scaring device I stuck on the fork brace. I do need some proper luggage of course, but the jury is still out on that one, too.

The black paintjob makes the machine look a bit more ‘together’, and less like something you made yourself with a random pile of leftover bike bits. (With apologies to anyone who bought it in grey or red – I just think that in black, the bike looks a bit more co-ordinated).

So, if the Rebel is an outfit chosen from a wardrobe, it’s one that appears to have been thrown together – but you know it took a lot of planning to achieve that ‘look’.

“You’ve got your mother in a whirl
She’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl …”

The fact that the Rebel can’t easily be pigeon-holed appeals to me.

The little Honda combines the bullet-proof CBR500R engine and a mix of parts from other Hondas with a different frame and a few bespoke plastic bits to keep the price down, of course. Plus the oversized exhaust.

You can, however, classify the Rebel as a budget bike. There’s one central digital display, which does most essential things except give you a tacho reading. I like the idea of a retro-style tacho attached  to the bars, next to the digital display, to add to this bike’s odd appeal. Another item for my shopping list …

The seat is firmly – very firmly – in the budget category. It’s really not comfortable after less than 100 miles, and is also on my long list of ‘to-dos’, also because I don’t like the cheap-looking vinyl it’s covered in, either.

But the hard seat is kind of OK – because you have to stop every 100 miles or so to fill the tank, which is small. There’s no centre stand either, which makes lubing the chain a bit of a challenge.

But am I complaining about the Rebel? Not really, because ….

“Hey babe, your hair’s all right
Hey babe, let’s go out tonight … “

Sometimes s/he really looks quite attractive (see main picture, taken when I ran out of fuel … ) and there’s no doubt about the ease with which this bike can be ridden. The Rebel is by far the most user-friendly bike I have ever thrown a leg over (click here for a list of all the bikes I’ve ridden).

Not only is the seat a seriously low 690mm, the not insubstantial 190kg weight is carried low down, too. Coupled with wide, straight bars and a neutral seating position, this is a bike you can easily get on with … until you get a sore bum or have to stop for fuel, which is quite often.

A ride out with Edinburgh and District Advanced Riders was a great test of the Rebel’s abilities to keep up with the Triumph Explorers and GSes. Its agility on narrow back roads and awkward junctions impressed; the tyre tread is unusual, but seems to do the job well – on the one occasion I hit loose surface dressing, the bike skipped a bit but still felt really stable, and eager to keep going in the chosen direction.

We like dancing and we look divine …”

“Does she corner?” was another comment from an IAM rider before our ride out. The bike corners as well as the rider – the Rebel is sure-footed, and feels really happy on A and B roads. Point and shoot. This is one confidence-boosting, fun bike to ride!

Suspension is a bit soft and bouncy, which is just as well given the concrete seat, but this doesn’t upset the bike’s ability to keep up with the big boys through the twisties.

“You want more and you want it fast …"

The only roads she doesn’t really love are motorways – but who loves motorways? The Dart screen helps with wind blast at higher speeds and I understand the Rebel will reach 100mph, which is about as rebellious as this bike gets. But you won’t be tempted to go that fast, because this is bike that wants to live its life on the back roads.

During most riding, the bike’s 45bhp doesn’t usually feel inadequate, although after only a couple of thousand miles of ownership and previous experience of more powerful bikes, I am still getting used to the extra planning needed for swift and safe overtaking. You need to work the Rebel’s gearbox and then give it some …

So you just need to coax (thrash?) the power out of her sometimes.

“Rebel Rebel, how could they know?
Hot tramp, I love you so!”

‘Love’ is a big word. The Rebel is not the love of my life, nor a one night stand. And if this Honda is rebellious, s/he’s about as rebellious as someone who wears a pair of ripped jeans these days – in other words, not at all!