Traditional wisdom today says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step … and a very big motorcycle, factory-equipped with a windshield, saddlebags, adjustable suspension and a powerful class-leading engine. Then there’s Mitch Riabko, for whom the diminutive, oft-maligned and misunderstood Honda Rebel 250 is bike enough for the long haul.
I left Saskatchewan last July with 4,184 kilometres on the odometer of my 2007 Honda Rebel, a bike that almost no one would select as their first choice for touring duty. Modestly equipped with a 234cc air-cooled parallel Twin, a single 26mm CV carb and slender 33mm forks, the 150-kg Rebel is universally dismissed as a “good training bike” or an “entry-level ride” but never is it mentioned in the same breath with the more popular long-haulers in the touring classes of today’s motorcycles.
Yet, despite popular opinion, it would prove to be a faithful servant for the seven-day journey I made into the Canadian Rockies last summer.
The Rebel 250 was packed with a tent, sleeping bag and mat, a backpack full of personal items, rainsuit, tire repair and tool kits, two litres of 10-40 oil, maps, chain lube and a motorcycle cover. Including my weight (77 kg) and the gear, I estimated a total laded weight of 97.5 kilograms.
The morning was absolutely beautiful as I traveled south on Saskatchewan’s Highway Seven, between Rosetown and Kindersley. But it was on this stretch of road that I realized I had just traveled 112 kilometres. Usually I fill the Rebel every 160 km just to be on the safe side, but for some reason I had not filled up in Rosetown and there aren’t any towns between it and Kindersley. I had no choice but to go for it and rolled into Kindersley with 197 km reading on the gauge.
The little Rebel 250 had not run out of gas and even if it had, there was still a reserve in its 9.8-litre tank.
I filled the tank in Kindersley and then continued west on Hwy Seven until it turned into Hwy Nine at the Alberta border. My intent was to get as far as the badlands of Drumheller (the dinosaur city), camp for the night and then travel through to Calgary, and then on to Golden, British Columbia the next day. However, during lunch a couple advised me not to travel through Drumheller as there might be road construction for the Rebel and its modest tire fitment to deal with.
But the road conditions had been fine to that point, so I decided to push on. Soon though, black storm clouds formed and the winds began to pick up. I thought I might find a campsite further west near Airdrie, (just outside of Calgary), but after weaving through a number of well-maintained secondary highways, I came upon an unexpected 50-km stretch of muddy road construction. So much for a clean bike.
Pushing the Rebel’s dual shock setup and its 74mm of travel to the limit, I plowed through the mess and finally hit Hwy Two south and immediately cranked the Rebel up to 120 kmh to merge with the crazy traffic on the heavily traveled Alberta highway.
By the time I arrived in Airdrie, the wind was gusting to 60 kmh. There was no way I could even think about finding a campsite as the black clouds were quickly moving in.
Looking west to the mountains the clouds were not quite as dark, so I made the decision to keep traveling west to Canmore, which is just outside Banff’s main gate. The sidewind though was so strong the Rebel was being forced toward the centre line of the highway, and I was able to keep the bike on my side of the road only by reducing speed and leaning into the wind.
But, the Rebel 250 hung in there and now, nearly 700 km and 11 hours from the start of the ride, I was finally in the Rockies rolling down a curvy road that followed the Bow River.
WE ARRIVED IN REVELSTOKE, BC THE NEXT DAY, THE REBEL AND I having endured heavy rain and dense traffic to reach this point on the other side of the famous Roger’s Pass. We camped the night and then began the following morning badly.
Packing up camp, I bent down to fold my tent when my lower back suddenly gave out, dropping me nearly to my knees. This was not good considering I had a lot of trip left. For the first time I had to at least consider the Rebel and its relative comfort levels. Relaxed though its 675mm seat height may be, there’s no doubt that the plushness of dedicated luxury touring bikes have certain advantages for a man with a bad back.
But, after resting for a half hour and plenty of Ibuprofen, I was able to pack the Rebel and head out. Actually when I was on the bike, my back felt quite good. The sun was shining again, traffic was light and conditions on Hwy One were excellent.
I carried on down the highway from Revelstoke to Vernon, while the terrain changed as we entered the Okanagan Valley: more lakes, less climbing, fruit and wine orchards and a much faster highway. The Rebel and I paused from our mission to spend the day in Osoyoos, where my brother-in-law Randy Picton is the head winemaker at NK’MIP Cellars, an award winning winery in a desert-like setting that is wholly owned by the Osoyoos Indian Band.
I hit the road the next day to roam southern British Columbia, including the Salmo-Creston mountain pass, the highest highway-served pass in Canada. It features a grade that just keeps going and going to finally crest at 1,800 metres, and our trip through that pass was cold and windblown. I finally found a campsite on the east side of Creston. A nice, small, clean site with showers.
THE TIME HAD COME TO TURN TOWARD HOME. I CHOSE THE southern route, the Crows Nest Pass, for the return trip where we again encountered stern winds between Sparwood, BC and Bragg Creek, Alberta. As I had by now come to expect, the Rebel performed well. There were a few times that it lost power against the wind and uphill sections, but they slowed the bike down to only 88 kmh or so.
Finally, we found ourselves once again in the Drumheller area, badlands country and the site of many archaeological digs with dinosaur finds. The winding descent off the high prairies down into the Red Deer River Valley where Drumheller is set, is as steep as any I had experienced in the Rocky or Selkirk mountain ranges of BC. No problem at all for the little Honda though.
I fueled and washed the bike in Drumheller, ate lunch and hit the highway for the six-hour ride to Saskatoon. Extreme winds found us yet again for what was probably the most physically taxing part of the entire trip.
Finally arriving home on the supper hour, I sat down to make my road calculations. In total I had ridden 3,011 km on the Rebel 250, burned 97.272 litres of fuel and 500 ml of oil. Not once did I have a problem with the Rebel, and that may be something for other riders to keep in mind during these very strange and recessionary times.
by Mitch Riabko Canadian Biker #251