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Honda Cruiser Bikes Past and Present

When we think motorcycle cruiser most picture a big ol’ American Harley cruising down the highway but as the BBC would say “other brands are available’ and Honda, the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world is one of them. 

With cruiser bikes like the original Honda Rebel 250, the 38 year old Shadow and the latest Rebel 1100, they offer cruising fans an affordable option whether beginner or seasoned rider.

Let’s take a walk through the Honda cruiser motorcycle line up with a deeper look at some of their best offerings.

History of Honda Cruiser Motorcycles

one of the most popular Honda cruiser bikes has been the Shadow 750
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In order to break into the lucrative US market, Honda Motorcycles and other manufacturers knew they had to recreate what was successful in the States and what the American public wanted. 

This led to them going back to the drawing board and taking inspiration from the staple American cruiser bikes and putting a spin on them. 

As well as Honda, other brands trying to break into the American market with a motorcycle cruiser were the likes of Norton, Triumph, Kawasaki and Yamaha.

Honda were determined to attract traditional American motorcyclists and weren’t prepared to back down, the US was going to accept them whether they wanted them or not.

There were two Honda cruiser models in particular that made a huge impact and that have lasted the test of time, they were the Honda Rebel and the Honda Shadow. Let’s take a look at them. 

The Honda Rebel

The original Honda Rebel 250 (CMX250 or Peronist) was released in 1985 and has been involved in Honda’s lineup on and off ever since. 

It remains one of the most fuel efficient motorcycles to date with figures between 62mpg to 75mpg. In the US the rebel motorcycle was quite often used by training schools as they were affordable, easy to ride, had low seat heights and are cheap for parts. 

The 234cc V-twin has proven itself through the years to be an incredible power plant, solid, reliable and ready for any distance you dare to undertake. 

Sure the Honda cruiser won’t set the world on fire but that isn’t the bike’s purpose; it is quick off the mark and will chug along at 60-70mph all day long. The only time you might struggle and need to downshift to keep moving is up steep hills. 

If there was a picture in the dictionary next to the word ‘cruiser’ the original Honda Rebel would slide right in there, as traditionally styled as any big v-twin that you can get. 

Looking back on it Honda set the bar for small capacity cruiser styling that is still followed today and replicated.

It might be outdated for some, but for others it has that timeless design that has a sweet charm about it. 

Taller riders may find the bike a little cramped so while the engine will still pull you along the layout might not suit everyone.

However, at just 329lbs and a low seat height of 27 inches the bike is perfect for new riders. 

It is light, easy to maneuver around at slow speeds, and you can flat foot both sides of the bike which increases confidence when moving around the driveway or in a car park etc. 

Highways are totally doable but you need to be conscious you are on a very lightweight motorcycle so taking things slow and easy is the way to do it. Highways should be avoided by newer riders due to the lack of power for overtaking and getting out of the way. 

Overall the Honda Rebel is a classic cruiser that has cemented itself into motorcycle history.

The Honda Shadow

Honda released the Shadow 2 years prior to the original Rebel, in 1983. The Shadow name has been attached to bikes of all capacities from a 125c to an 1100cc. 

The most consistent of them all as been the Honda Shadow 750, thanks mainly to its popularity which is largely down to its engine size being great for experienced riders and also accessible for newer riders as their first big motorcycle. 

However, the VT750c was very nearly made extinct by US import restrictions, which meant bikes over 700cc were restricted so they couldn’t compete with US manufactured bikes. 

This was turned around pretty quickly and by 1985 the Honda Shadow 750 was back before being replaced by an 800cc.

With around 38 years in production there are few motorcycles that have had such longevity, which makes you beg the question, why are they so great?

Well the fact is they have evolved with the times, they have remained to have a classically designed cruiser style while being modernized so as to not be outdated. 

The Honda Shadow looks a bigger motorcycle than it actually is, giving a mean presence on the road whether it is dotted with chrome or blacked out on the modern versions. The engine has always been smooth and the vibration minimal (unusual for v-twin cruisers but typical for a Honda).

The ride position is friendly, has been thought out for rider and passenger comfort and the handling is predictable, light and precise which makes for a winning combination. 

Of course there is the well known Honda reliability factor and the Shadow has always been competitively priced every time a generation was released. 

Buying a used classic Honda cruiser

When it comes to buying used Honda cruiser motorcycles there are a few things you need to think about to make sure you are buying a solid motorcycle instead of an old bike that will give you more problems than it is worth. 

Here is what to look out for:

  • Rust is a devil. Surface rust can be resolved with little to no issues, but look for areas where it may have caused more damage, the forks, under the tank, inside the tank, the exhaust, important bolts, wheel spokes etc. 
  • Check for oil leaks from the engine.
  • If you want an original model then be sure to look out for any aftermarket parts previous owners have fitted, as you may want to replace them with the originals and this can add up.
  • In terms of wear and tear, buying parts and accessories for a Shadow won’t set you back a fortune so things like mirrors, grips, seats, bars are easily and cheaply replaced which will allow you to build a bike to suit you as an individual.
  • Early Shadows were chain driven whereas later and current models are shaft driven. The latter are easier to maintain. 
  • Don’t worry too much about the engines and mileage on an older Honda cruiser as they are certifiably bulletproof. Just check them over, make sure they run, work through all the gears and you should be good to go for many hundreds more miles.

How much is a used Honda cruiser motorcycle?


Whether you are looking for a Rebel 125cc motorbike as an EU or UK learner or a Shadow 1100cc for long distance riding, there should be no hesitation about whether the older Honda cruisers are up to the task because they are solid, well-built motorcycles, cheap to buy and cheap to maintain. 

Prices for a CMX250 Rebel in the UK start from around £1,400 and go all the way to around £4,000 depending on condition, age and mileage.

There is a current shortage of modern 250cc motorcycles in manufacturers line-ups with many opting for 300cc engine sizes instead as they are easier to meet the latest emissions regulations. 

So, if a 250cc is what you are after, the Rebel is certainly a good buy, but bear in mind that prices are widely a little higher than they were a few years ago, although this should settle down shortly. 

In the US an original Rebel will cost around $3,000. 

Older Honda Shadows are easily picked up from £2,500 in the UK and $3,000 in the US, given they are big 750cc bikes this makes them quite the bargain when compared to the prices of a new Shadow Aero which sits at around the $8,000 price point. 

Todays Honda Cruisers

There are several cruisers in the Honda current line up with the all new Honda Rebel 1100 being the latest, biggest and baddest to join the group. 

In the US there are 6 cruisers to choose from:

  • Shadow Phantom – Blacked out and moody.
  • Shadow Aero – Classically styled, traditional cruiser, ready for riding two-up with plenty of chrome
  • Fury – Custom styled, aggressive, borderline Chopper cruiser
  • Rebel 1100
  • Rebel 500
  • Rebel 300


Whereas in the UK only the Honda Rebel 1100 and 500 make the cut for the cruiser section, so we shall concentrate on them, especially given how successful the reinvention of the Rebel name has been. 

Honda CMX 500 Rebel

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Honda CMX 500 Rebel

In 2017 Honda revived the Rebel name and introduced the CMX 500, an all new cruiser/bobber with a fresh design for a new audience. 

Just putting the ‘Honda’ and ‘Rebel’ together has been the butt of many jokes ever since the very first Rebel, however, it has stood the test of time and the all new Rebel has more of an edge to it than any of the preceding models. 

However, the Honda CMX 500’s intention isn’t to intimidate, perhaps its rebellious nature is down to the fact it is so much fun to ride, one that brings a smile and as a result is rebelling against the very nature of what a moody factory bobber is supposed to do. 

The power plant comes from the CBR500 but everything else is new including a bespoke steel tube frame and Showa suspension front and back.

The bike is super light with a kerb weight of just 190kg, it has a seat height of 27 inches, produces 45 horsepower and 43Nm of torque. 

As a result the CMX 500 is incredibly easy to ride, it has a confidence inducing riding position with the rider in complete control, and it can be flicked around with ease. 

It is a bike that would suit new riders as it is so non-threatening, but it also has enough oomph to entice more experienced riders who want to slow things down a little. 

The marketing behind the CMX 500 was very cleverly aimed at young riders to entice them into the world of two wheels, 5 years on it is safe to say this plot worked. 

Noting that there was significant interest in a custom bobber, Honda went back to the drawing board and built a bigger version for those who need more of everything and in 2021 the CMX 1100 was released. 

Honda Rebel 1100

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Honda Rebel 1100

While CMX500’s purpose is to bring joy as a little bobber much like the original Rebel, the Honda CMX 1100 hasn’t come to play, it is big, bad, mean and as aggressive as it gets. 

Sort of. 

It looks the business, it has the power but it is as refined as a good naked street bike which is quite the opposite of a traditional cruiser which by nature are heavy, rugged and lumpy.  It is as stripped back as the little brother with just the basics needed for it to be classed as a modern bike.

The best feature of the CMX 1100 is the way it rides. 

Cruising with 86 horsepower and 97 Nm of torque will have you holding on to the bars with white knuckles and using every muscle in your legs to hold on. The CMX1100 though is calm, confident, stable and holds you in place, aside from a sore backside there is no strain even when hitting the 3 digits on the speedo. 

Honda uses the Africa Twin engine in the big Rebel with a few modifications. It is a tried and tested engine that is known for being a solid reliable workhorse.  The Honda CMX 1100 would suit someone who wants a cruiser style motorcycle but wants it to go like a fast street bike, the Rebel is very much a naked bike in bobber bike clothing. 

Summary

As well as Honda, other motorcycle manufacturers in Japan (and all over the world) have produced cruiser bikes that are well worth checking out.

What’s more, due to the sheer number of sales over the years cruisers like the Honda Rebel are readily available second hand at great prices. This makes them affordable for beginners as well as popular donor bikes for those taking on a custom Bobber or Cruiser project.

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Frederick Fernley

Sunday 31st of July 2022

I had a Honda Shadow VT750c which was a lovely motorcycle. The only downside and a big disappointment was the finish on the swing arm. Just one coat of paint and no under coat and despite best efforts to keep it clean and keep the rust away it rotted through so not a good advertisment for a huge company!!