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A low-angle left side 3/4 view of a black 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT

IMS Chicago 2021: Honda Rebel 1100 DCT Could Be a Beginner Bike Game-Changer

Riding the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT at the 2021 International Motorcycle Show in Chicago showed the beginner-friendly cruiser's strengths and how its new engine offers the performance more experienced riders have asked for. And it demonstrated what a shift the six-speed dual-clutch transmission could be for beginner bikes.

Even some of the best beginner bikes leave new riders with a major hurdle: mastering the clutch lever. Admittedly, that’s part of motorcycles’ appeal, but it can make getting into riding difficult. However, over the last few years, more manufacturers have started offering automatic motorcycles, with Honda giving several of its bikes dual-clutch transmissions. Among that number is the range-topping version of the Rebel cruiser, the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT. And after riding it at the 2021 International Motorcycle Show in Chicago, it’s clear that DCTs could be a beginner-bike breakthrough.

The 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT gives the starter cruiser more power and an automatic option

The front 3/4 view of a black 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT in a parking lot
2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT front 3/4 view | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit
Spec2021 Honda Rebel 1100
Engine1084cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin
Rear-wheel power81 hp (Cycle World)
Rear-wheel torque68 lb-ft (Cycle World)
TransmissionSix-speed manual with slipper-assist clutch
Six-speed dual-clutch
Front suspension and travelPreload-adjustable telescopic forks; 4.8”
Rear suspension and travelDual preload-adjustable Showa piggyback-reservoir shocks; 3.7”
Seat height27.5″
Curb weight487 lbs (manual)
509 lbs (DCT)
Starting price$9299 (manual)
$9999 (DCT)

With low seats and centers of gravity as well as modest power, it’s no surprise that Honda Rebels are popular beginner bikes. Especially the Rebel 500, with its 471cc parallel-twin. However, these qualities also mean they’re often seen as stepping stones to larger-capacity machines. So, to retain more experienced riders, Honda decided to put the Africa Twin’s engine into its cruiser. The result is the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100.

More power isn’t the only thing the 2021 Rebel 1100 gets from the Africa Twin, though, Cycle World says. The cruiser also comes with adjustable traction control and multiple riding modes that also adjust engine braking and power output. And like the Rebel 500 and 300, the Honda Rebel 1100 has LED lighting and a digital gauge. Unlike the other Rebel models, though, the Rebel 1100 has standard ABS and cruise control.

But arguably just as significant as getting the Africa Twin’s engine is the other transmission the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 offers. Instead of a manual, buyers can get Honda’s six-speed dual-clutch transmission, which is also available on the Gold Wing. While the DCT doesn’t get a slipper clutch, it is linked to the Rebel 1100’s riding modes, CW says. And it features both automatic and manual modes, along with ersatz shift paddles (which are more like buttons).

This is one “fun, easy to ride bike,” RevZilla says

Because a DCT on a motorcycle is still a novel concept, the demo ride at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021 also included a quick tech walkthrough. The Honda representative walked us through not just how to shift gears in manual mode, but also how to get the bike going. That last part was necessary because, unlike every other motorcycle I’ve ridden, the Honda Rebel 1100 DCT has an electronic parking brake. It’s mounted on the left handlebar and has to be disengaged before you set off.

Once our demo group set off into the sweeping Illinois countryside, several things became apparent. First, the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 rides on a solid cruiser platform. It never feels heavy or plodding, whether at a set of lights or speed. It’s great fun on sweeping roads, Motorcyclist says, and makes transitioning between turns easy. The mid-mounted controls can make the riding position feel slightly cramped for taller riders, Motorcyclist and RevZilla note. However, they didn’t present any ergonomic issues for my 5’8” frame; neither did the handlebars. And that low seat means you can easily put a stabilizing foot down.

The 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 also rides fairly well. While large-radius bumps use up most of the rear travel, damping is comfortably firm overall. And the disc brakes are more than adequate for the kind of riding you’ll do on this cruiser. Plus, the parallel-twin pulls strongly at low and high RPMs. In short, this cruiser is the complete package when it comes to wide-ranging appeal.

Riding the Rebel 1100 at IMS Outdoors Chicago 2021 showed how DCTs can make more bikes beginner-friendly

And that’s all without talking about what truly differentiates the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT from other cruisers. Road & Track fell in love with the Africa Twin’s DCT after riding the bike. After riding the Rebel 100 DCT, I’m left in equal awe.

In the standard Tour Mode, I literally didn’t feel some of the shifts, they were that smooth. And even without using the toggle shifters, the DCT shifts reasonably quickly, especially in Sport Mode. The shift timing is also very intuitive: it never felt like the transmission was bogging or over-revving the engine.

But while automatic shifting is a boon for commuting, the ability to shift gears yourself means you’re never robbed of a key motorcycling thrill. It just means you don’t have to deal with the headache of balancing your clutch or thinking about your RPMs dropping too low. Instead, you can concentrate on your riding line and take in your surroundings, R&T notes.

All of this makes the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT a bike with something to offer newbies and experts alike. It makes the motorcycle more approachable without robbing riding joy.

Is the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT a good beginner bike?

A low-angle left side 3/4 view of a black 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT
2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT left side 3/4 low-angle view | Matthew Skwarczek, MotorBiscuit

So, would I recommend the 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 DCT to a new rider? Motorcyclist says ‘sure,’ but with how strongly that 1084cc engine pulls, I’d be nervous giving to a complete beginner. However, Honda definitely nailed its goal of making a Rebel for experienced riders. For someone with a few months of riding experience, this is a solid, inexpensive cruiser. And it’s one of Motorcyclists best automatic motorcycles for 2021.

That being said, Honda needs to offer this DCT in more bikes than just the Gold Wing, Africa Twin, and Rebel 1100. A Rebel 500 with this transmission would make a phenomenal beginner bike. And if the Rebel 1100 DCT sells well enough to make that happen, it will truly be a game-changer.

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