Photos by Rex Roy / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
All of us remember our "first" vehicle with special clarity. My entrance into the bike world involved a 1983 Honda Shadow 500, more formally known as the VT500C. The Shadow 500 was an all-new bike in '83, sporting a water-cooled three-valve-per-cylinder 490cc V-twin, six-speed shaft drive, quilted stepped saddle and a terribly awkward rectangular headlight. Honda didn't quite have the whole cruiser-look nailed at that point.
Like thousands of other riders, I picked the Shadow over a traditional Harley-Davidson
because I couldn't afford the real thing, and even if I could have, I wanted to ride my bike, not get stranded by it. H-Ds of that vintage weren't exactly known for reliability. Plus, being a scrawny lad, the smaller Shadow was more manageable. Aside from the driveline lash and the front end that was tuned like a Wham-O pogo stick, it was a fine starter bike.
It was with this pretext that I approached the new 2010 Honda Shadow RS. Was it a fake Harley? Was it designed for poseurs? Would it hold the interest for riders who genuinely like to ride? What advances would 27 years of development yield?
Looking at the new Shadow VT750RS from a distance the bike exudes a cool, 1960s British aura. The wire wheels, roadster tank (2.8 gallon), proper round headlight and other stylistic elements make a cohesive statement. There's chrome, but not too much of it. The single gauge riding just ahead of the short bars works. The front end rake is 32-degrees, and if you heat-gunned off the RS decals, it'd be easy to mistake the bike as a well-executed but conservative custom.
The front rim is a 19-inch unit wearing a 100/90 tire. Stopping power comes from a single, drilled disc. Out back, the 16-inch rim orbits around a traditional drum brake and a chain sprocket. The rear tire measures out at 150/80-16, and in between the wheels, the 52-degree 745cc V-twin looks like it belongs.
The relatively low seat – though, at just under 30 inches it's not as fashionably low as some other cruisers, such as Honda's own Shadow Spirit 750's 25.7-inch seat – invites you to swing a leg over. The difference in posture between the Shadow RS and other cruisers is immediately recognizable. The former's posture is more upright than on a chopper, but not exactly sit-up-and-beg like a dirt bike or the crazy Ducati Hypermotard 1100 EVO SP
Firing the liquid-cooled V-twin is as easy as keying the ignition and hitting the starter button. Because there's no carburetor, there's no choke or the resulting cold-bloodedness they're often afflicted by. An electronic fuel injection system takes care of start-up enrichment, with fuel-delivery duties handled through a single 34mm throttle body. The charge moves to the cylinders where it's delivered to the combustion chamber via twin intake valves to achieve better combustion. The charge exits through a single, larger valve that empties into individual exhaust pipes, but for those who truly want to leave a deafening rumble in their wakes, aftermarket pipes are a must.
The midsize V-twin vibrates at idle but smooths out as revs build. As for when the smoothness arrives, we're not sure because there's no tach. We drove using the rule, "Shift when you feel like it or when you hit the rev limiter, whichever comes first." We only hit the rev limiter once. As for the RS' performance, Honda doesn't publish 0-60 times and we didn't have the opportunity for instrumented testing, but our calibrated butts would put the run in the five-second range.
The gearbox is a wide-ratio five-speed. In the manner characteristic of Hondas, the shift action was smooth and consistent. Clutch take up was Goldilocks perfect... not too easy, not too stiff, not to shallow and not too deep.
Honda doesn't publish horsepower figures for their engines, but we have it on good report that the Shadow RS gets shoved around by around 60 ponies. However, Honda does release fuel economy specifications, and claims 56 mpg based on the EPA's exhaust emission measurement test protocols. In other words, your mileage may vary and won't likely match the number achieved on a dyno with a sniffer up the tailpipe.
Armed with this knowledge, we headed out from Honda's American HQ in Torrance, California in search of some fun roads. The hills of Malibu were our destination, requiring an interminable stint on California's I-405. Much traffic was present. Just 15 minutes into the 60-minute interstate run the seat's sleep-inducing qualities made themselves known and our posterior felt as if it was stuck with a horse syringe of Novocain.
The relief of surface streets couldn't come quickly enough. We hoped hitting the Pacific Coast Highway running north from Santa Monica would prove to be an effective antidote. While recognized for being one of the country's all-time great roads, the PCH doesn't provide much visceral fun in this part of the state. There's simply too much traffic moving much too slowly, so we found riding refuge in the lightly traveled canyons off the PCH north of Malibu. Here, the 2010 Shadow RS would prove whether it was more than a poseur.
Snapping the throttle open to run up a long, winding hill heading away from the Pacific, the Shadow was a ready, willing and able partner. The power is dolled out with zero hesitation in a well-controlled manner. Thanks to the EFI, there's no lag or flat spots. After a few corners, we found that it was also easy to tip in just a little power when you need it, adjusting your line through a long corner.
Riding higher and deeper into the mountains, the RS felt significantly lighter than its 507-pound dry weight due to the fact that it carries most of its mass down low. Appreciation for the RS's raised foot pegs (compared to other Shadow models) came at about corner number seven as confidence in the bike was building. The guys back at the Honda garage already know this, but we ground the pegs properly just once.
It requires little explanation that the RS would be no match for a genuine sport bike through the canyons. Regardless, the new Shadow proved to be thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the chassis' smooth, transient responses. The brakes were progressive and effective, even though the rear drum seems archaic. The stout front fork's damping helped the bike take a solid set in bends. The Wham-O pogo stick act seems to have been left back in the 1980s.
Following hours of entertainment, we slogged it back south to Torrance. While not a small bike, the 2010 Shadow RS is narrow enough for lane splitting, which likely cut the travel time back to Honda HQ by half. This part of the ride, however, proved that the brake pedal could be mounted a little lower to reduce the ankle fatigue that comes with being poised for an emergency stop.
To my surprise, the 2010 Shadow RS isn't a fake Harley-Davidson designed for poseurs. While the styling isn't unique, it is well done. The engine and chassis deliver the goods well enough to hold the interest of moderately serious riders. As for major advancements in technology, here the new RS doesn't appear to have evolved as one might have expected. Familiarity with Honda's other bikes and the cutting edge hardware in the company's parts bins, it was obviously a corporate choice to give this the RS the equipment it has, technology be damned.
But if you can live with that reality, then you can live with the Shadow RS. And with a base price of $7,799, it's a bike I'd consider parking in my own garage. Again.