Picking our 2017 Cruiser of the Year should have been a more difficult choice than it was, but when you weigh price, performance, and finish, it really boiled down to one chassis and two engines. The Honda Rebel 300 and 500 were not the fastest, most technologically advanced, or badass bikes released this year. No, they’re much more approachable and friendlier than that. The strength in these models lies in their starting price, simplicity, and ability to put new riders on bikes. Hitting the market at just $4,400, the 2017 Honda Rebel 300 is our choice for the Cruiser of the Year.
The Honda Rebel is an icon. The 250s of previous years were affordable, lightweight, reliable, had a low seat height, and were made for 30 years so finding parts is still easy. Honda really checked all of the boxes for beginner riders. To replace that iconic model, Honda offered more options for riders who feel like they might need them. A higher-powered 471cc model allowed an easy step up from the smaller 286cc, with the engine going from one to two cylinders and larger displacement for the 500 model. While the option for a larger model is great, I honestly found the 300 version to be plenty adequate—something that surprised all of my friends for more reasons than one but mainly because I’m 6-foot-4 and everyone had always assumed the Rebel was a small bike for small people.
A true cruiser should be able to cruise comfortably without feeling too pent up or tiring. The rider should be able to pull up after an hour-long ride without feeling like he or she just wrestled an ape. There are many other factors that define the genre, like a low seat height and torque-rich engines, but the cruising factor is the most important in my opinion. The new Rebels are lightweight, narrow, and comfortable for a range of different-size riders. These versatile ergonomics, the smooth delivery of power, and suspension that damps the bumps well on the highway (even if it is a little springy in some corners) make for an awesome daily commuter and weekend fun machine.
When riding the Rebel 300 on the highway, it took a little more time getting up to speed than its larger counterpart. And when you whip the throttle, it isn’t going to react with the haste of a larger engine, but it’s plenty adequate. Off the line, the engine is surprisingly torque rich and is a blast from green light to red light when jamming in the city.
In talking to younger riders, it seems many are looking to Craigslist for bikes they can actually afford. But when you put those older used motorcycles next to something new, reliable, and refined like the Rebel—with comparable price tags—the Rebel begins to look really good. Sure, buying an older bike is unique and you’re not as likely to run into an identical one on the road, but learning to ride on a new bike that’s mechanically sound has huge advantages. Most new riders don’t know what to look or listen for when trying to source a problem with their motorcycle, and having a new bike will at least give you the base knowledge of what the bike is supposed to sound like with nothing wrong. Not to mention the security of knowing exactly who has turned a wrench on your bike; I’ve had more than one bad experience as a result of a terrible backyard mechanic who had “fixed” the bike before I got it.
For the price, the Rebel is really hard to beat. It can do everything a cruiser should and do it damn well for the price. Will you want to eventually step up to something bigger? Possibly. But this is a safe, comfortable, and very affordable bike to learn on and grow with as a rider.