(D)ROU Things Other Than Smart at 120 Miles

Honda Rebel 500

I bought a Honda Rebel 500 this weekend and put 120 miles on it between bringing it down from Washington, riding my route to work to see if I needed to think about anything I didn’t have to on a scooter, and taking it out a few miles past Sandy on a Sunday ride.

The first 20 miles were spent riding around Vancouver, where I bought it. I took a few cautious laps around the dealer parking lot to get a feel for the friction zone, then rolled out onto the streets. Though I know how to handle a manual transmission, I wasn’t eager to get out on 205 without a little refresher time and a chance to smooth out some of my clutchless muscle memory. So I just swanned around the edge of town until my nose led me onto a limited access highway that pushed me up to 55 mph, and then found my way onto 205 after filling up (which you can do for yourself in Washington, without even waiting for the ceremonial handing over of the nozzle that they insist on for motorcyclists in Oregon).

I’m glad I’ve been riding a scooter around since September. Though it’s a much smaller vehicle (well under half the displacement, smaller wheels, about 200 pounds lighter), it got me ready for being out in traffic at speed. Though the Hooligan maxes out at somewhere around 60 mph that’s been just about enough to deal with morning traffic along McLoughlin Blvd. As a result, rolling onto 205 with the Rebel on a Saturday afternoon felt less like “holy shit” and more like a small step up from something I’ve done almost every work day for the past five months.

That said, it felt like a pretty big deal merging with highway traffic. Without a windshield (that arrives Tuesday) I took a buffeting once I got over 50.

I was issued a Suzuki TU-250 for the motorcycle safety course, and I find the Rebel similar in terms of riding posture and feel. One thing I prefer in the Rebel is much stronger audible and tactile feedback when passing through neutral on the way to a stop. There’s a satisfying “ca-chunk” you can hear over the noise and feel through your boot that tells you you’ve made it back to first. The TU-250 I learned on was probably too well used to do much of anything crisply, and I frequently found myself hunting around in the lower gears.

I took it out for a Sunday drive this afternoon, heading east on Foster Road until I hit Damascus, then turning toward Sandy. I kept going past Sandy until I could find a turnaround, and explored a backroad for a bit before getting back onto 26. By the time that excursion was over, I was feeling even better about shifting, and I was a lot more comfortable at highway speeds, and I’d put on about 60 miles. I definitely missed having a windshield, though. I got blown around a lot, and I was pretty cold by the time the trip was over. I wore my jacket and armored jeans instead of my Aerostich, which probably contributed to that.

The highlight of the trip might have been at the very end, when I took 172nd from Powell down to Foster after coming down off Powell Butte. That area’s got some mildly twisty curves that scared the hell out of me the first time I rode them on the scooter, but they felt easy on the Rebel, less because it handles better and more because the 1,600 miles I’ve put on the scooter since September have made me a better rider.

So, a few observations:

  • The bike feels very manageable. The weight is such that I can easily balance it between my knees, and the seat is so low it’s very easy to flat-foot at stops.
  • The clutch is very forgiving. It’s a hard bike to stall.
  • The seat isn’t bad, but I’m glad I ordered a pad for it. If trips out to the coast or around Mt. Hood are in the cards, I can tell I’ll want it.
  • I love the sound it makes. Sort of throaty and growly vs. buzzy or blatty.
  • There’s plenty of speed and acceleration — more than enough to hang with highway traffic — but it’s very contained and controlled. There if you need it, but it isn’t a strain to control the bike.

That’s about it for now.

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