Group testing the Kawasaki Eliminator 500 vs Honda's CMX500 Rebel SE vs Royal Enfield's Shotgun 650 | Cruising for a mild bruising

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Whenever cruiser motorcycles are discussed, thoughts naturally turn towards the established and often pricey offerings from America. Harley-Davidson and Indian dominate this segment and for good reason; they have both been at it for more than a century. But that’s not to say they have the entire cruiser market sewn up – far from it.

While it is true Harley’s Nightster and 107-engined models can be made A2-legal, prices of over £13,000 make them a fairly unrealistic option for many newer riders. And the same is true of the Indian Scout models, which can also be made A2-legal but likewise costs more than £13,000. Happily, for those on a restricted licence, a few non-American brands are ready to step in. And they are doing so with some very decent offerings.

Fresh this year are two new middleweight cruisers – the Kawasaki Eliminator 500 and the Royal Enfield Shotgun 650 – which join the segment’s established leader, Honda’s (slightly updated for 2024 with new paint options) CMX500 Rebel – and they all cost less than £7000.

The Rebel has been Europe’s best-selling custom-style bike for the last two years running. But can the two new cruisers on the block threaten the Rebel’s superiority? When it comes to style, you have to say Honda must be getting a bit nervous.

Fast Facts:

Honda CMX500 Rebel SE (2023 model)


  • Engine 471cc liquid-cooled parallel twin DOHC 8v
  • Power 45.6 bhp
  • Torque 32 lb.ft
  • Fuel Capacity 11.2 litres
  • Frame Steel diamond
  • Suspension 41mm conventional forks, non-adjustable. Rear monoshock, adjustable preload
  • Front brake 1x264mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS
  • Rear Brake 1x240mm disc with one-piston caliper. ABS
  • Seat Height 690mm
  • Kerb Weight 190kg (kerb)

Kawasaki Eliminator 500 SE


  • Engine 451cc liquid -cooled parallel twin DOHC 8v
  • Power 44.8 bhp
  • Torque 31.4 lb.ft
  • Fuel Capacity 13 litres
  • Frame Steel trellis
  • Suspension 41mm conventional forks, non-adjustable. Rear twin shocks, adjustable preload
  • Front brake 1x310mm disc with two-piston radial caliper. ABS
  • Rear Brake 1x240mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS
  • Seat Height 735mm
  • Kerb Weight 177kg (kerb)

Royal Enfield Shotgun 650


  • Engine 648cc air-cooled parallel twin SOHC 8v
  • Power 46.4 bhp
  • Torque 38.6 lb.ft
  • Fuel Capacity 13.8 litres
  • Frame Tubular steel
  • Suspension Inverted Showa forks, non-adjustable. Rear Showa twin shocks adjustable preload
  • Front brake 1 x 310mm disc with two-piston calipers. ABS
  • Rear Brake 1x300mm disc with two-piston caliper. ABS
  • Seat Height 795mm
  • Kerb Weight 240kg (kerb)

Yes, the Rebel has gained a few new paint schemes for 2024 (the bike we are testing is a 2023 model SE) but on looks, both the Kawasaki and Enfield certainly run it close. Despite being more old-school in its appearance (Enfield call it ‘retro-futuristic’, a term which makes no sense at all) the Shotgun is classy and it is nice to see an air-cooled engine on display in a cruiser.

There are certainly areas you could pick fault with and corners have undeniably been cut here and there when you look closely but overall it turns heads, especially when you remove the pillion seat to give it a more stripped-back cruiser style.

And the same is true of the new Eliminator, whose blacked-out components (paint options are black or dark grey) give it an aggressive image in keeping with its performance cruiser billing – even more so in the SE variant we tested, which adds a headlight cowl and fork gaiters to the stock model for an extra £400.

But again, small details detract from its appeal with the USB outlet a visual abomination and the ignition barrel assembly irritatingly wobbly when you insert the key.

So where does that leave the Rebel? For my money the Honda is the classiest of these three cruisers with its balloon tyres and jacked-up tank giving it real street presence and its level of finish is noticeably higher than the other two. It may miss a trick or two with the Shotgun packing a Tripper navigation system and the Eliminator’s dash allowing connectivity but overall, it is the one more likely to attract an admiring second glance.

But this appeal comes at a cost and not a monetary one. Cruisers are unique in the bike world because often their ability to create a visual impact takes precedence over how they actually ride.

How else could you explain why Honda decided to fit enormous 16in ‘balloon’ tyres to the Rebel with its front only marginally narrower than its rear in width? Add to this its oddly tall front end and it all adds up to a, shall we say, ‘quirky’ ride. And one that can be a bit unpleasant at times.

“It’s so different from any other bike,” comments MCN Road Tester, Carl Stevens. “The seat and pegs are really low and yet the bars high and narrow, meaning you are sitting crunched-up into a strange riding position. When you get rolling it’s beautifully light but the front-end feel is so strange – not bad, just not conventional.”

There is certainly no denying the Rebel’s handling takes some getting used to. When you initially tip into a bend it flops like it has a steep head angle, then once leant over is actually quite secure. At slow speeds this makes it impressively agile, merrily zipping around roundabouts or through traffic, but get it away from a city and it all turns a bit unnerving.

“It’s skittish,” says fellow tester Bruce Dunn after a spirited B-road blast, “hit a bump mid-bend at speed and it shimmies and the shocks are terrible.” Decidedly lacking in travel, they are the weakest link in the Rebel’s chassis and deliver a harsh ride that the odd riding position only exaggerates.

‘The Rebel has been a best-seller for two years running’

I certainly wouldn’t want to cover many uneven miles on a Rebel, effectively limiting its use to urban riding only. But is this harshness and quirky handling just a trait of mini cruisers? No, as the Eliminator proves.

“I’m genuinely surprised by the Eliminator,” comments Bruce, “everything on it works together as a package, it’s way better than I thought it would be. You can ride the Kawasaki briskly or at a sedate pace and it’s more composed than the Honda and its shocks deal with jolts much better.”

Swapping from the Honda to the Kawasaki is quite an eye-opener as while the Eliminator also boasts quite fat tyres (its front is an 18in with the rear 16in), they don’t detract from its agility. It may look like a cruiser but it doesn’t ride like one, which is a good thing and true to its 1985 GPZ900R-based name-sake. But what of the Shotgun?

“The Enfield just feels old where the Rebel and Eliminator are fresh and more exciting to both ride and look at,” says Carl. “Royal Enfield are on such a roll at the moment that I expected more from them and even the Shotgun’s price can’t help it, as it’s no cheaper than its rivals.” So why doesn’t this new bike excite? It’s down to two key factors: weight and performance.

A huge 63kg heavier than the Kawasaki (and 50kg more than the Honda), the Enfield is a big old beast of a bike and that, combined with a long and low stance, makes it feel harder work to ride. “It’s neutral-handling but the others are far more agile and fun,” says Carl.

“I’m disappointed by its engine,” adds Bruce. “The parallel twin feels much less impressive than it does in the Interceptor, probably down to having to lug around an extra 23kg over the naked bike.” When you have restricted performance to meet A2, the Shotgun’s weight seriously hampers it. As you can tell when you ride its lighter rivals.

‘The Enfield feels old next to its fresh rivals’

The two water-cooled parallel twins feel more sprightly than the air-cooled Royal Enfield, picking up speed faster and doing so with quicker-revving natures as well as slicker gearboxes and lighter clutch actions – all things that urban users will appreciate.

Given the choice of the two engines we all agreed we’d pick the Honda over the Kawasaki as it both sounds and feels a bit more lumpy and in character for a cruiser where the Eliminator’s (which is also used in the new Z500 and Ninja 500) is a bit whirry and sounds disappointingly quiet.

“If the Eliminator’s engine had a bit more meat in its mid-range an a little thump to give it some character, I’d struggle to fault it,” sums up Carl. “The engine doesn’t need the naked bike’s top end, it needs some low-down cruiser drama like the Rebel’s twin.”

Is this slight lack of character enough for us to pick the Rebel over the Eliminator as the winner of the test – no, if you want an easy-going yet stylish cruiser, the new Kawasaki Eliminator is the pick of the mini cruisers. If you want something a little ‘out there’, the Rebel is a classy option – just one that is more an acquired taste than the Kawasaki.

Verdict: ‘Eliminate the opposition’

I completely understand why the Rebel has been such a hit for Honda as it is so wild, so out-there and unique that it can’t help but make you smile – and this gives it bags of charm and character. As an urban machine it hits all the right notes and its light weight and nimble chassis make it far better handling (once you get used to its quirks) than you would ever expect.

But take it out of town and its weak front brake, terrible shocks and skittish feel quickly let the side down. Stay below 60mph and it’s fine, push on a bit and it can become a bit unnerving.

Thanks to its weight the Enfield is far more planted in bends than the Honda, but this bulk also makes it feel slow and a little cumbersome in comparison. It’s certainly a more substantial bike but lacks that spark of fun you get on the lighter Rebel or Eliminator and that, alongside its low stance and slower-revving engine, gives off an old-school (arguably even dated) vibe that isn’t entirely welcome. Which leaves the Kawasaki Eliminator.

While I’d like to feel a dash of character injected into its parallel twin and see a bit more thought go into its design here and there, overall the Kawasaki ticks all the right boxes for a cruiser at this end of the market. Fun to ride, easy-going and also stylish, it’s an A2-legal mini custom that makes you smile with a price that also appeals compared to US rivals.


  • Eliminator’s handling
  • The Rebel’s quirky looks
  • Shotgun’s big bike feel


  • Honda’s harsh shocks
  • The Shotgun’s weight
  • All three can be skittish

Other Options: what about the US and Europe?

If you are willing to splash the cash, Harley-Davidson’s Softail Standard (£14,695) and Sport Glide (£17,494) can be made A2-legal and so can the Nightster (£13,295). Indian can restrict down any of the Scout range (prices start at £12,995 for the stock bike, £13,695 for the Bobber, £14,495 for the Bobber Twenty and £13,995 for the Rogue). Dropping down the price bracket, the Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber (£9600 or £10,540 for the Special Edition) can be made to conform, as can Kawasaki’s Vulcan S (£7229 with paint schemes and model variants costing more).

Already compliant are the Benelli 502 Cruiser (£5499) and the Royal Enfield Super Meteor 650 (£7299) and Meteor 350 (£4219). The Honda Rebel comes in standard (£6399) or SE (£6799) forms and so does the Kawasaki Eliminator 500 (£6106 for base, £6506 for SE). If you are prepared to dip into the used market, some of the best A2-legal cruisers are Harley’s 883 model range, which can generally be restricted down to the required maximum power output of 46.6bhp. Or you could search out one of the
older Triumph 865cc air-cooled Triumph Bonneville models such as the Speedmaster or America, although you will need to check if restriction kits are still available.

While you’re here: How MCN tests bikes

Our highly experienced team of road testers grind out hundreds of miles, come rain or snow, on the UK’s pothole-ridden roads to decide which bike is best in a particular category.

Using years of riding and racing experience (on and off-road), our expert journalists are able to assess the capabilities of a machine and translate that into understandable language to help MCN’s readers make an informed buying decision. Pitching bikes against their main rivals, we aim to give a conclusive verdict on which bike is best for your needs and your budget.

Using their considerable knowledge of the motorcycling market and audience, they can put a motorcycle into context and deliver a verdict that means something to anyone considering buying a particular machine, whether it be a cutting-edge, 200bhp sportsbike, a tall adventure weapon or a low-capacity 125cc machine.

When we ride the bikes in the UK we tend to do at least one full day of riding on various different types of road and in varying conditions. Our testers will then spend another day riding the bike – with rivals – to get images and video footage for our print and online reviews.

We will also, often, weigh the bikes, speed and dyno test them to see just how accurately the manufacturer claims are in these areas to give a more empirical assessment.

Find out more about how we test bikes right here.