I felt it had to be a cruiser bike for the November review and there has recently been press about a non-US cruiser alternative from Honda. The bike uses the Africa Twin 1100cc powered twin-engine, and has been configured to sound like a V-twin. The Honda Rebel is low (27.6”), black and mean looking. Back in the day, bikes, and especially black bikes, were noisy and always said ‘Rebel’.
I ‘rocked up’ at Honda Newcastle and Graeme showed me around the modern version of this cruiser. It has DCT (dual-clutch transmission), i.e. no manual gears. The gears change automatically in drive mode, or you can select the gears yourself. You do so by putting the correct mode on the handlebar switch and click the plus and minus buttons like the paddles on a Tiptronic car.
I have ridden three Honda versions of this transmission before. Excellent for pillion passengers’ opinions because helmets don’t ‘dink’ on poor gear changes by riders. Excellent for long-distance tourers, but would it cut the mustard tooling around the mean streets of the toon?
First impressions, the bike is squat, powerful and well-engineered, but not an inch of chrome on the whole thing. Classic twin rear shock cruiser looks. Wash it and leave it – no polishing. Rebels don’t need polishing.
A twist of the key in the ignition under your left thigh, select mode, press the drive button with a harrumphy, woofly start from the massive exhaust and off we go.
I had a ‘Wallace’ moment when I automatically pulled my left hand in and looked for the left-hand gear lever when I should have been up into second and for a moment couldn’t work out what was going wrong! Oh dear, I’d forgotten in a couple of seconds that I was on a DCT bike. Force of habit. I was up the road blasting away from traffic lights straight away but when I turned onto the absolutely jam-packed nose-totail A1 I could hear myself decide that this is not a game of soldiers that I wanted to play. I swung the bike around a couple of mini-roundabouts and headed for the A697
to Wooler. After I got around those two mini-roundabouts, I couldn’t work out what was different, and then I realised that the footpegs hadn’t grounded out, which they normally do on low cruisers, and I had “given it some” around both of those mini-roundabouts on the throttle and it just wiggled in and out of them. Excellent.
I found a clear piece of road going towards Ponteland on the back roads and, with nothing behind, I wanted to see how good these brakes were and it brought me to a halt pretty damn sharpish. I later found out that had I been in the sport mode it would have clicked the gears down automatically with even more engine braking. Top marks.
Making my way to Kirkwhelpington, I switched to the button change system and I had no problems whatsoever up and down the seamless box. The bike loved well-surfaced A and good B roads and liked traffic. I turned off and went on some poorly surfaced country roads with some tight twists on them. With the harder bobber suspension, it wasn’t happy. I must put my hand up and say that I think if I changed earlier back into drive rather than selected gears, I would have coped better, and if I had had longer on the bike.
I got into the swing of it and got back on the bigger, sweeper-type roads, and the bike got back into its stride. I didn’t have the confidence to switch the cruise control on, but as it’s a Honda, I assumed that it would work very well. In the sports mode, the acceleration is quicker than you would think for a heavy machine, but it is pulling 1100 ccs after all. There is a smaller CMX 500 Rebel for the junior rebels out there.
With the very low seat, riding at slow speeds means that you have to adopt that slight paddle approach with your feet, but there were no problems and it liked to go and would pull very well in all of the gears. I missed the big clunk into first gear with American cruisers (which seems to be a given), although you could hear the first gear, you just had to listen out for it. This is a chain drive and produces 86 BHP and my model had the comfort seat. I think a nice fly screen would work on it but it’s a new model and there are no aftermarket (sound louder) pipes available yet.
Where to stop? I had heard about a café in Gosforth called Café Beam in the old Gosforth High Street Fire Station premises. It is a charity café run by 25 youngsters with learning difficulties and disabilities and helped by volunteers. Parked up and parched on what was a hot and very blowy day, I had a lovely lunch there, attended by Sophie who took my order with the assistance of Lauren, the co-ordinator, who told me all about Café Beam. It’s been at that venue since 2018, and gives youngsters the opportunity to interact with the café’s customers and the chance to work in the community.
I plumped for a stack of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and a pot of tea. I should have gone for the half stack – it was a huge portion and very well done. The food and service were of the top order. Thank you Sophie, Lauren and the gang. I will be back!
Returning the bike to Newcastle Motorcycles, Graeme gave me a de-brief on how to get the best out of the DCT and I realised I had made some mistakes on the all-too-brief jaunt in selecting the right mode and going about it, but I don’t think it would take much getting used to. I have ridden an Africa Twin with it and the VFR 1200 and it suits the bike. If you want a non-DCT (oldfashioned manual) and you want to rebel against DCT, that bike retails at £1,000 less at £9,000! Both bikes are excellent value for money. They have the usual Honda efficiency and attention to detail. I particularly liked some of the touches – the square-angled tyre valves on each tyre so that you can get air in easily; the big LED round headlamp with four LED bulbs with the two amber ‘running lights’ indicators on either side. This was such an easy cruiser bike to ride. It’s just over half the price of the more traditional transatlantic alternatives but with a different approach and none the worse for that. Go on – give me that rebel yell and ask for more, more, more! Thanks to Newcastle Motorcycles for the loan of the bike and Café Beam for filling me up with a smile!