This is the bike they give you when you take your MSF course. Virtually indestructible, this bike is THE quintessential beginner bike. It’s low to the ground, ergonomically fit for those who are short like me, has a small engine – what more can you ask for?
I’m not going to lie, I was scared as shit to ride this thing home after I bought it (so I made my BF ride it home for me lol). The power, lean, weight… just the fact that I was learning how to operate a machine that could kill me, scared me. I spent about a week riding in an empty parking lot, learning how to shift, turn, abrupt stops, etc. It was a challenge for the first few days. And then I moved onto small suburb streets, and then main streets, and then after about a month I was on the freeway.
The ergonomics on the Rebel are great. I’m 5’2 and I can easily put both feet firmly on the ground. I am in an upright “cruiser” position and my arms are at a comfortable reduced reach angle. It weighs about 350lbs, so you can easily push this thing from a hill or incline, making parking perfect for beginners.
It is carbureted, so you’re going to have to warm it up for about 5 minutes before you can get up and go. I’ve read on multiple forums that this bike eats up oil, but I’ve only had to add a bit before going on a long ride from SF to Monterey.
First gear, like most, is sensitive. But I can completely let go of the clutch and give it <5% throttle and it won’t stall! First gear will get you up to 10mph and second gear will take you up to 25mph. This bike is the most comfortable in third gear, where you can really feel the power of the small v-twin as you give it some juice and feel it immediately go. I usually ride around town in third because anything after that and she’s screaming. Fourth will take you up to highway speeds, and I’m usually at full throttle in fifth on the freeway. She won’t go much past 80mph, 85 if you’re going downhill. What I find annoying on the Rebel is that usually the most comfortable speed, whether on local streets or on the freeway, is right at the cusp of the gears, ex. right between 3rd and 4th or 4th and 5th. This means I’m always thinking “am I going fast enough to shift up or should I slow down and stay in this gear”. At least the analog tachometer and speedometer makes it easy for me to see what’s going on and visibly shows you when to shift and when it’s safe to downshift.
The rear brake is trash on the Rebel and the front brake is not that much better. You really have to utilize engine breaking on this bike. The seat is comfortable, however, to make up for the suspension. And the tires are just the right size to feel every single nook and cranny on the road. Strong winds will just about knock you off onto the next lane and forget about riding directly against the wind. You’ll be at full throttle in 5th gear and your tach/speedometer shows you barely passing 60mph.
But would I buy this bike again for my first purchase? ABSOLUTELY! If you’re in any way nervous about riding for the first time, you won’t have that much power to get yourself into any trouble. It has just enough give that you won’t be stalling 24/7. You’ll learn the basics on this bike and you’ll still be able to ride for hours on it. You can get one of these at a dealer for $5000, but you can easily get these on Craigslist for under $2500. And if you find a Rebel 450 for sale- take it!
Would I recommend switching out a few sprockets to make this bike go beyond 85+mph? No. It’s not worth it. If you want more speed and more power, get a bigger bike. Unless this is a project bike, where you’re turning it into a bobber or cafe racer, I wouldn’t modify it. I did have saddlebags though which were perfect for motocamping and weekend trips out of town. The sissybar/passenger seat rest was helpful for longer touring trips where I tied down my backpack with bungee straps, but as far as carrying a pillion – it’s not that fun.
What I’m looking for in my next bike is more power, specifically to get out of any immediate danger faster, overtake cars with more speed, bigger tires, better brakes, and a bigger fuel tank so that I don’t have to stop and fill up every 80 miles. I’ve narrowed it down to the Harley Davidson Iron 883, and the “craigslist special” Super Low 883. They are both bigger versions of the Rebel and perfect for a first Harley motorcycle.
I took this bike to SF – LA and back, on highway 5 and PCH. I was at full throttle the entire time, and although comfortable, I wouldn’t recommend it. On my way back up, my left crank case seal popped off (happens frequently on Rebels) and my bike started spewing oil. I had to get it towed to a local shop and the replacement cost about $90 to fix. I sold it after that trip and upgraded to a HD Iron 883! Everything I learned on the Rebel translated easily onto the Iron, except the weight difference which has been a small struggle for me so far. But 10/10 recommend this bike for beginners who want to learn at a slow pace before making a bigger bike commitment.