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Making A Honda Rebel Cool

Before the new Honda Rebel is even readily available in dealer showrooms, Honda has rolled out custom versions.  It’s all about stirring up the youth market of course.

Honda’s promotional images leave little doubt as to the target market for the feisty new Rebel 300 and 500. It is the same group of people who reside in Ducati’s “Land of Joy” buzzing about Italy looking good, eating gelato at 3 AM and staying forever young. It is the mythical group every manufacturer salivates over – the new, young rider.

As Honda does not have the requisite scrambler in its lineup, the Rebel must, by default, fly the devil may care, “don’t trust anyone over 30” flag. This is nothing new. The same folks are supposedly riding the new Bonnevilles, while Yamaha successfully hit the audience with its SCR950 and Harley certainly hopes they will flock to the Street 500.

With the exception of the Street 500 though, these machines land a little upstream of the entry level, lower priced Rebel but the target audience is essentially the same—the youth demographic.

The original Rebel 250 soldiered on for more than 30 years. That little air-cooled twin was also flagged for the youth market but its simplicity, frugality and easy nature saw the 20-somethings of the 1980s well into middle age and perhaps on to large displacement cruisers and big ADV bikes. It was a perfect starter bike appreciated by many but ultimately destined to be left behind. The Rebel 250 also had a short lived older sibling in the Rebel 450 which, like the smaller machine, was squarely aimed at the traditional cruiser segment albeit in pint-sized form.

This time round the Honda Rebel is a quirky take on basic bobber design but from the basics comes the custom. Before the Rebels are even available at dealers, Honda has served notice that the new bike is a platform that can be personalized.

The approach has been both aesthetically and celebrity driven. As Roland Sand’s time seems to be occupied with Indian, BMW and flat track, Honda teamed up with Aviator Nation to unveil a slightly modified Rebel. Aviator Nation is a clothing company  making 1970s apparel cool again hence the mixtures of reds, oranges and browns – rather than bell-bottoms, polyester and sans-a-belts pants. The bike was unveiled at the Austin, Texas überfest known as the South by Southwest Conference & Festival (SXSW), which is intended to “celebrate the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries.” The idea for being there came from Honda’s agency Marketing Factory, which specializes in connecting corporations to the youth segment.

To further stir up interest Honda has produced two concept/custom offerings of the platform. The P-40 imbues the more muscular Honda Rebel 500 with a cafe racer/bobber look while the Rebel X takes a more pared down approach by eliminating the rear fender and giving the little reprobate a set of buckhorn bars and sprung seat.  The more simplistic approach works better with the Rebel 300’s slightly lonely looking smaller mill filling the frame’s innards. Not a whole lot has been changed with either modification but both give the Rebel a unique and original presence although in our eyes the P-40 has to be given the nod of approval as it shows more attitude than several of Honda’s midsized naked offerings.

Feeling the customizing bug which may not have been this strong since the rollout of the Fury, Honda also collaborated with MAD to do a job on one of their other lower priced entry level machines, the CB500, which looks fantastic in a retro black and gold livery.

This collaborating is a tried and true method, while Honda has done two of these bikes through in-house initiatives, Harley-Davidson, Indian and Yamaha have all either challenged customizers or dealers to create one off machines with the Harley and Indian efforts being most significant in that there was the requirement to use both existing OEM pieces or stick within a limited budget.

Making a bike “your own” has always been a tacit part of building an emotional bond with your bike in making it just what “you” want. Both the Rebel and the CB500 customs are so intriguing it makes you wonder why something closer didn’t come to market alongside the “nice” version but as they didn’t you can be sure Honda will attempt to facilitate you building “your” version.

The official press launch for the new Rebel was happening in Los Angeles at the time of this writing. Because LA is the centre of the motorcycle universe (at least in North America) there was some talk about taking launch attendees into the underground hot spots favoured by Honda’s target market. It will be interesting to see the outcome because declaring something cool is a lot easier than it becoming accepted as cool by whatever governing body there is for that kind of thing.

by John Molony Canadian Biker Issue #330


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