Two months in the saddle of Honda’s automatic cruiser

There’s an old adage that states, “necessity is the mother of invention“. History has proven that true, time and again over humanity’s long story. And it certainly holds true for Honda, a company that has never been afraid to innovate and take chances.

2023 Honda Rebel 1100T Bagger.

Two years ago we were afforded the opportunity to sample Honda’s all new Rebel 1100 DCT, with its groundbreaking dual clutch tranny. However odd it felt riding a petrol-powered motorcycle without clutch and shift levers, we had to admit, that DCT transmission was pretty trick. Honda has had success with it in their venerable Goldwing and more recently the Africa Twin, so setting it in a midsize cruiser just seemed like the logical next step. And we were impressed.

The 2021 Honda Rebel 1100 we reviewed.

Now we’ve ridden this new Rebel 1100T Bagger for about two months, and in a three-bike middleweight shootout, the auto Honda shines once again. We’ve ridden the motorbike on long stretches of state and interstate highway, throttled it through the famed Tail of the Dragon and other similar roads in the Southeast, and commuted locally on the Rebel. In all circumstances and occasions, that DCT transmission just performs. Make no mistake, we all still love the full hands and feet interaction of a manually-clutched bike. But this auto tranny is a pleasure to ride. For our initial writeup on its specs and deets, click here.

Pointing it in the right direction- an open road.

In our three-bike comparison last month, Ted, Dave and I swapped the bikes around between us for several days, and each of us found ourselves loving the DCT on the Honda. I had the pleasure of riding it through The Dragon, and I clicked the DCT into Manual shifting so I could paddle shift my way through the challenging curvy road. In Drive (automatic), set in Standard rider mode, the Honda shifts too early in each gear, getting the bike in 6th by 40 mph. Sport mode makes the throttle response sharper and the shift points higher in the rev range of each gear, but on that stretch of Hwy. 129, I wanted control, and the left grip paddles were perfect for clicking up/down through the gears on this twisty strip of asphalt.

Throttling the Rebel 1100T on the Tail of the Dragon. Photo by

Diving through The Dragon, I’d thumb-tap back a gear into 2nd or 3rd, sometimes 1st on 15 mph hairpins, then finger-tap up through the gears while accelerating out of each tight curve. No clutch, no toe shifting, no throttle opening and closing to synch. Just tapping up and down with the small left grip paddles, hitting perfect shift points while staying on the gas. I could get spoiled by this. The Honda DCT tranny shifted in my mind from convenient to downright fun.

A day at the races. Putting around historic Road Atlanta during the opening round of the MotoAmerica series.

Yet I found the rider triangle somewhat uncomfortable over long hauls, with the handlebars pulling me forward a bit, and the high footpegs raising my legs up to the point where the angle put pressure on my butt bones at the seat. Gets painful after an hour of riding for me. For a touring cruiser, I would suggest lower footpegs or slightly more forward, and a more pullback handlebar behind the batwing fairing. The bars and footpeg setup Honda is using for this bagger version is the same as their standard Rebel 1100, a kind of “hooligan cruiser” stance, but for this touring version, a more relaxed rider triangle would make this bike even better. Every one of us testers, from me to Ted, Dave, Phil, even our friend Neale Bayly who came in later to ride a weekend with us, all agreed in the rider triangle.

A more relaxed ride would suit this Rebel.

Another element that would make this bike bike even more appealing would be slightly larger capacity hard bags. Understandably, the right side bag is a bit limited due to the exhaust pipe, but we’re thinking Honda could definitely find a way to add a tad more capacity. Also, the bags are hard to latch at times, so maybe a different latch and lock system?

Neale cruising the Deep South.

Neale drove in from Charlotte, NC to hang out with us for a weekend in May, and jumped on the Rebel for his duration. We spent hours and miles riding old antebellum Georgia, through towns like Statham and Watkinsville, down around Greensboro, into historic Madison for lunch and sightseeing, on through Rutledge and into Monroe before back to our home base in Dacula. An ADV and naked sportbike guy by preference, Neale nonetheless found the DCT “intriguing”, stating, “I’m so used to manual shifting after 40 years of riding, it’s difficult to not keep reaching for a clutch. The fueling is spot-on, great power delivery, but often while riding I didn’t like the auto shift points. I found myself trying to override the shifts, to get up or back in a gear I preferred rather than where the DCT kept placing me. Takes some getting used to.”

Any day on a motorcycle is a good day.

In the nearly two months that we’ve had the Honda, whenever I’m riding around town commuting or running errands, I leave the DCT in Drive mode, allowing the shifting to do its thing in stop-go traffic. When I take the bike for rides on country curvy roads, requiring a lot of up and down shifting, I engage Manual mode like I did on the Dragon, and enjoy paddle shifting. Neale’s right, the DCT takes some getting used to, and with as long as Honda entrusted the Rebel to us, I can honestly say I got used to it. Mentally, when I throw a leg over the 1100T, I’m immediately in its frame of mind, no longer thinking about its lack of a clutch lever and foot shifter. I just ride it either way I’ve come to enjoy/employ it. Then when I hop back on a standard shifting motorcycle, I seamlessly “switch gears” mentally back into clutch levers and foot controls.

Just another reason why we prefer long-term test bikes to one day in the saddle. You can really settle into a bike, learn all its nuances.

Gear up, go ride.

The 2023 Honda Rebel 1100T Bagger is a fine motorcycle, well-sorted and engineered, and that DCT tranny is a potential game-changer. It widens the path to motorcycling for those who didn’t grow up learning how to manually clutch and shift. It’s a bike with lots of customizability for a variety of riding styles and environments. And for those who are aging and getting weary of endless clutch yanking, well, maybe it’s the bike and system to extend their riding years a few more. I really see no downside to the technology. Those who gripe and whine, “It’s not a real motorcycle if you’re not clutching and shifting” probably also own and drive an automatic car or truck.

A fine machine.

I personally still enjoy a manual motorcycle, with the full and constant hands and feet articulation of the bike. I feel more connected to a motorbike when I’m fully interacting with it. But the last time I owned a manual tranny automobile was in the 1990s, so if motorcycling goes automatic one day as well, I’m okay with that. I’ll keep riding, and I’m sure you will too.


For more on the Honda Rebel 1100T Bagger, go check it out here:

Honda Rebel 1100T

*Rob’s gear: REV’IT! Restless jacketREV’IT! Davis TF pants and Safeway 2 beltBell Eliminator helmetSA1NT leather gloves.


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