Honda updates the classic model all while keeping the price the same.
Debuted in 1985, the Honda Rebel has been bringing beginner riders to the sport for decades. The model saw significant changes in 2017 and now, for 2020, Honda keeps the updates coming to further entice its intended audience. The added assist and slipper clutch, suspension refinements, modern LED lighting, a new gauge layout, and a thicker, more dense seat are all part of the 2020 package..
Honda told us its primary target is women and beginner riders. In fact, the manufacturer shared some numbers showing that a growing portion of Rebel owners are women with 36 percent of owners for the 300 and 28 percent for the 500. It also found that an impressive 61 percent of Rebel 300 purchasers are first-time owners and 45 percent are first-time owners for the 500. This shows that while both females and first-time owners have their sights set more on the 300 model, there is still a significant percentage who end up opting for the 500. I don’t blame the latter percentile’s higher interest in the 500 as it is not as intimidating as the displacement may imply.
A key update that will be helpful to a beginner is the new addition of the assist and slipper clutch. This is said to reduce lever effort by 30 percent and, in practice, the clutch pull was very light eliminating any intimidation factor that a tougher lever actuation may present. The Rebel’s 471cc powerplant remains unchanged for 2020, and I found the power is smooth and manageable, with plenty of low-end torque for getting off the line and enough horsepower to pull the taller gears for cruising and moving at highways speeds. We ran the 500 on the Cycle World in-house dyno and concluded that the parallel twin makes 40.8 hp at 7,900 rpm and 29.9 pound-feet of torque at 6,300 rpm at the rear wheel.
Honda says spring rates have been stiffened to improve overall comfort and handling. As a result of the increased stiffness, I found that the Rebel 500’s front suspension under hard braking was firm, keeping the chassis balanced and limiting front-end dive under hard braking. Rebound damping was quick initially but slowed on its return to static ride height. Generally, the 41mm fork and twin shocks felt stable over potholes and rough roads with 4.8 inches and 3.8 inches of travel, respectively. However, under larger, harsher bumps the rear did bottom out causing the bike to feel unstable at the rear when I was bucked up out of the seat.
Nissin hydraulic disc brakes are employed by Honda at the front and rear. They do not have a hard initial bite (as should be expected from a beginner-friendly motorcycle) but a strong and communicative feel pulls the bike to a smooth stop as you increase lever effort. This is a positive aspect for beginner riders who need a more controlled, steady stop upon a fast, tight squeeze that can come from less experienced fingers. Both the 300 and 500 are also available in ABS options at a $300 addition to the base MSRP—a solid choice for new and experienced riders.
The Rebel 500 carries its weight down low which makes not only picking it up off the stand easy but taking the twisties with confidence as well. Hitting the crest of the turns the bike was planted thanks to its low center of gravity and the power pulled it out of the turns with a tame sweep that was confidence inspiring. Without the saddlebag accessory the Rebel 500 tipped our scales at 418 pounds and weighed 422 pounds with the saddlebag attached.
The new LED lighting throughout is a notable change for the 2020 model year. Four LED lamps are tucked into the circular casing, and LED turn signals and taillight (even the license plate light) are clean and modern. The previous models’ taillight section used to protrude awkwardly, but this has now been tidied up nicely.
The larger semi-circular LCD gauge is also new. It displays information like time, speed, gear position, and fuel level readout, but is missing a tachometer—an odd omission. Additionally, you can also scroll through the odometer, two tripmeters, average trip mpg, and current mpg. A toggle switch on the hand controls rather than a button on the gauge would be handy, but the Rebel is a more basic ride. Regardless of this, all of the information displayed is easy to read at a quick glance.
In terms of the ergonomics I found the riding position to be comfortable for my 6-foot-tall frame. The reach to the bars was natural and relaxed, however, the peg position was slightly compact for my long legs, because it put my knees a little too far above my hips.
The seat has seen some changes including the thickness and density. Our Rebel test unit was equipped with a seat from Honda’s accessory line, so while we didn’t get a chance to try the stock seat, the foam in the accessory one is also updated to the new 2020 spec. Whether an hour-long or two-hour-long stretch, saddle soreness barely even made itself known with this upgrade. We measured the seat height at a low 27.6 inches (Honda claims 27.2 inches for the stock seat) and its thinness between the legs makes for a very easy stretch to the ground.
Honda has paid great attention to the rest of the fit and finish of this motorcycle. It is especially orderly in terms of wiring. The wrapped cables on the handlebars and braided hose covers near the engine show that Honda paid attention to even the minuscule and less exciting details in addition to the updates I mentioned before. And all of these finer points of the finish make this machine look more expensive than it is.
Our Rebel 500 test unit wasn’t quite stock, fitted with elements from Honda’s accessory line. Equipped with the headlight cowl, fork boots, 12-volt accessory socket, custom-looking seat, left 14-liter saddlebag, and saddle bracket, $410.70 was added to the price tag.
Overall, Honda’s Rebel 500 carries the torch for the beginner cruiser category and with smooth and torquey power, comfortable ergos, useful updates, commendable attention to detail, and affordable pricing these machines will continue to be enjoyable regardless of gender or skill
MSRP: $6,199 (non-ABS)/$6,499 (ABS)
Engine: 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin
Bore X Stroke: 67.0 x 66.8mm
Transmission/Final Drive: 6-speed/chain
Cycle World Measured Horsepower: 40.8 hp @ 7,900 rpm
Cycle World Measure Torque: 29.9 lb.-ft. @ 6,300 rpm
Fuel System: PGM-FI
Clutch: Wet multiplate
Engine Management/Ignition: Full transistorized ignition
Frame: Diamond-type steel tube
Front Suspension: 41mm fork; 4.8-in. travel
Rear Suspension: Dual shocks; 3.8-in. travel
Front Brake: Nissin hydraulic disc
Rear Brake: Nissin hydraulic disc
Wheels, Front/Rear: Cast aluminum
Tires, Front/Rear: 130/90-16 / 150/80-16
Rake/Trail: 28°/4.3 in.
Wheelbase: 58.7 in.
Ground Clearance: 5.3 in.
Seat Height: 27.2 in. (claimed)/27.6 in. (measured)
Fuel Capacity: 3.0 gal.
Claimed/Cycle World Measured Wet Weight: 408 lb./418 lb. (w/o saddlebag), 422 lb. (w/ saddlebag)