There’s always been an argument between motorcycle riders that seems impossible to win: America makes better cruisers. Die-hards of the Stars and Stripes will likely never come around to the notion that the rest of the world has chops in the cruiser market, and on the surface, it seems fair enough if Harley’s sales success in Australia is anything to go by.
America has championed the cruiser for generations. Long freeway jaunts on a rumbling pushrod V-twin cruiser are almost a birthright in America. Much of this is due to the cult following of Harley-Davidson, which is now more than just a motorcycle brand in every corner of the world. Australia is no different. We’ve got similarly expansive tarmac plains perfectly suited to cruising, which partially goes to explain why companies like Harley-Davidson and Indian hold us in such high regard.
Japan has never really put all its chips on the cruiser table, preferring (sensibly, I might add), to hedge its bets with a variety of motorcycle style and tastes. This is despite the fact that the cruisers emanating from the Land of The Rising Sun are in many ways fundamentally better than those from the United States—at least until very recently.
Honda’s dabbled in the cruiser segment with bikes like the Shadow, the much lauded six-cylinder Valkyrie, and the garish Fury, but recent times have seen a shift in the way Honda and indeed the general public view the cruiser segment. Honda has a great little cruiser in the CMX 500, but once those riders decided more size and power were on the cards, unless you wanted to look like you’d just ridden off the set of Orange County Choppers, you had nowhere to go—but potentially into the arms of the Stars and Stripes.
Honda raids the parts bin
As such, Honda looked to its own catalogue of hits to create the brand new Rebel 1100. Here in Australia the model will simply be dubbed CMX1100 as calling it ‘Rebel’ would be a bit too rebellious for Honda Australia’s corporate thinking. You know, bikies and all that…
The now king daddy of the CMX line-up is basically a Honda Africa Twin 1100 that’s gone to the costume shop, and it’s got one important addition that gives it a head start against every cruiser in the market today, no matter where it comes from.
The Dual Clutch Transmission, of DCT, is Honda’s fabled semi-automatic gearbox and has, for the first time, been fitted on a cruiser. First seen on the unappreciated VFR1200F at the end of the previous decade, Honda has been slowly introducing the gearbox to a select few of its machines ever since, including the popular Africa Twin and the touring supremo that is the Gold Wing.
The CMX1100 does indeed come with a conventional manual gearbox and clutch option, but Honda desperately wants acceptance of the DCT system from dyed-in-the-wool riders. That might be harder to come by than the other option, which is to convince non-motorcyclists to get out there and have a go at what we all know is the world’s greatest pastime. Hey, you don’t even need a clutch anymore!
Approachable as the CMX1100 is for less experienced riders, you’re still dealing with a rather large motorcycle that will keep experienced riders thoroughly engaged. The beating heart is the Africa Twin’s 1084cc, single overhead cam parallel-twin, although Honda’s given it a couple of additions. The cam profiles and ignition timing is slightly altered for each cylinder, with cylinder one producing more power below 4000 rpm and cylinder two creating more power from 4000 rpm to redline. The flywheel mass is 20 percent heavier, increasing the moment of inertia and creating what Honda says is “enhanced cylinder pulsing” low rpm—although to my ears it still feels like a traditional Africa Twin motor that doesn’t rev as quickly.
That may be so, but it doesn’t hide the fact this is probably the polished engine currently available in the cruiser segment. The ride-by-wire throttle is silky smooth and there’s very little vibrations with the dual-axis primary balancer taking care of most of the annoying pulses that reach your hands and feet, and with a droning exhaust note that has ever so slight tones of Honda’s V4 heritage, the ride is rather serene when you’re rolling in Level One of the three-stage DCT.
The CMX1100 redlines at 8000 rpm, but all the meaningful drive is done by about 7000 rpm and it greatly prefers to be lugged from corner to corner in higher gears, keeping the revs nice and low. This is a cruiser, after all.
There are three preset power modes of Standard, Sport and Rain, each of which has its own level of traction control/wheelie control (they are part of the same algorithm) engine brake control and DCT, and you get a programmable “User” mode that lets you individually set all those aforementioned parameters.
As an added bonus, you get LED lighting and cruise control as standard, not a penny-pinching aftermarket accessory. And Honda has used the under seat area to create three litres of storage capacity with a separate USB-C charging port for your phone, which is super-handy, until you realise you need to flip open the seat each time you want to stop and take a photo.
Gearbox—Automatic for the people
As mentioned, the DCT comes in three levels, each with its own personality. Level One allows for simple, low-rev riding. The DCT will not allow the rider to hold gears, its primary responsibility in life is to get to sixth gear as fast as possible and keep the revs down, minimising fuel consumption and turning the CMX1100 from a cruiser with attitude into a large, black scooter. This is for me my favourite level of DCT, but it’s only good for highway riding or sedate zipping around town. You’ll go from a standing start to sixth gear before you know it—the shifts are as smooth as most automatic cars, and you soon forget about the fact you have no clutch lever until you actually reach for it. Believe me, you will at least once.
Level two is where it gets interesting. As you might have guessed, this is the semi-sport mode, where it holds gears longer to help maximise drive, but the system felt a bit like it was in no man’s land, holding gears for too long when accelerating hard but not shifting fast enough when I wanted a higher ratio.
Level three is all action. And by action, I mean revs. The DCT held gears like hostages in level three, and when you consider this is a cruiser and not a bike designed for your local TT, it made next to zero sense as most of the usable power was gone by the time you wanted to shift. Luckily, Honda’s put a safety net on the CMX1100 in the form of the left bar-mounted paddle shifter, so you can override the system at any point and shift gears when you like in the rev range. Shifting gears by your left index finger is in itself quite a fun experience, and being the old manual gearbox dog I am, this is what I spent the majority of my time doing on the CMX1100.
This shows to me at least that Honda hasn’t quite yet perfected the DCT. It’s close, but the system’s performance still needs a bit of fine-tuning. It’s a hard thing because Honda’s trying to give you every available option with the DCT. If you want sporty performance, you can have it. Likewise, you can go the opposite direction and cruise with minimal revs if you desire. The issue is when we change our minds and expect the computer to read our thoughts, something of which Honda is no doubt working on…
From the seat
Rolling with a 698.5mm seat height and a claimed 220 kg of weight with a full 13.6 litres of fuel, the CMX1100 should appeal to a massive range of riders. It carries its weight beautifully, the chassis suspended by conventional 43 mm forks that are preload adjustable, the same level of adjustability offered to the dual Showa shocks out the back.
Honda has created nicely balanced suspension settings to give an 86 kg weight like mine a beautifully smooth ride, although considering you’re sitting so low, don’t go searching for square-edged pot holes, lest you wish for the force to go right up your arse.
With mid-mounted controls you get a ride position that doesn’t overly curl your lower back and put you in the dreaded cruiser slouch, so long days in the saddle are certainly on the cards.
Despite its ethos, the CMX1100 can get after it in the twisties with gusto. Honda claims 35-degrees of lean angle with the CMX1100, which is more than most equivalent cruisers from the United States. You’ll still go scraping pegs if you’re looking for it, but the CMX1100 will hustle along your favourite back roads with the kind of zeal not usually afforded to the cruiser category.
Honda wants you to customize your CMX1100 and have thus created a bunch of accessories for you to choose from, including cowls, bags, seats, backrests, short fenders and tank pads, heated grips, and alarms, so you’ll doubtless be able to make this machine your own. The company isn’t being too precious about the CMX1100 and neither should you. What’s the fun in just keeping your Honda standard? Unless, of course, you have a beautiful 1995 Tiger ’Blade like Trev…
Honda’s CMX1100 is an excellent machine that I have little doubt will find its way into many an Aussie garage. Considering the standard features like traction control, cruise control, and USB charging, not to mention the DCT, the Big H is giving you a bike with plenty of bang for the buck.
The CMX1100 performs its job excellently, and is a real alternative to the cruisers coming from America.
2021 Honda CMX1100 Specifications
1084cc, SOHC liquid-cooled 4-stroke 8-valve parallel twin with 270° crank and Uni-cam, EURO5 compliant
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