Honda’s Shadow RS beats cruiser rap

Steve Bond
By Steve Bond
Posted on March 13th, 2010
0 Comments

SAVANNAH, GA.–”That’s a Honda? Looks like a Harley Sportster to me,” commented an interested passer-by as he examined my ride during a rest stop here. .

It’s pretty obvious that Honda’s Shadow 750RS (VT750RS) was designed to butt heads with Harley-Davidson’s entry level workhorse, the 883 Sportster. Both bikes are eerily similar in looks, specifications and (probably) price.

The Sportster Low in basic black with a single seat, starts at $8,299, while pricing for the Shadow RS hasn’t been finalized. But a Honda spokesperson confirms it should retail for under nine grand.

The “RS” stands for “retro standard” and that sums it up perfectly. It’s not really a standard, it’s certainly not a sportbike and it’s not really a cruiser either.

In recent years, many Japanese cruisers have degenerated into a similar formula: long and low with fat tires and big fenders. That look is both dated and wearing thin. With motorcycle sales flatter than a prairie highway, Honda is trying to stimulate the buying public with motorcycles that are a little different.

The Shadow RS will likely be considered an “entry level cruiser,” but that does the motorcycle a huge disservice. Yes, it’s “only” a 750 cc but it’s more than enough for whatever anyone wants to throw at it. Don’t forget that not long ago, a 650 cc twin was considered a big motorcycle, a 750 was huge and the 883 Sportster was a fire-breathing behemoth.

For starters, the three-valve, single-overhead cam V-twin is surprisingly smooth and the addition of fuel injection is merely icing on the cake with seamless throttle response and a flat torque curve. Chain drive (rather than power-sapping shaft drive as in other 750 Shadows) livens up the power delivery and continues the classic theme.

Styling is very Sportster-ish, right down to the staggered mufflers, the peanut fuel tank and large speedo perched up on the upper triple clamp (which is where speedometers belong, by the way). Even the casting around the steering head has a somewhat rough quality about it, similar to a Sportster. Usually, Honda Shadow castings are smoother than a frog’s bottom.

It was somewhat surprising to swing a leg over this motorcycle, hit the starter button and realize that somehow, Honda managed to sneak a few extra decibels past the noise cops. The exhaust note is definitely not offensive, just a nice mellow rumble.

Controls are light, the low 747 mm (29.4 inches) seat height and 230 kg (507 lbs.) wet weight will be easily managed by riders of any physical stature or strength.

Usually, cruisers are found woefully lacking in the suspension department and on paper, the RS isn’t much different. The non-adjustable, 41 mm front forks have 117 mm of travel while the preload-adjustable, dual rear shocks boast a paltry 89 mm of travel. In theory, the lack of travel would make for a real tooth-rattling ride, but in practice, it’s not bad.

Of course, the roads around Savannah aren’t exactly pock-marked and rife with frost heaves like ours, but I found enough bumps and craters to give the suspenders a workout and was pleasantly surprised that my molars weren’t pounded into submission.

The height and pullback of the bars, combined with the pegs that are more rearward than most cruisers make for a fairly comfortable riding position. On the highway, the total lack of wind protection is tolerable up to 110 km/h or so but on the Georgia Interstate at a legal 120, the wind beats you up significantly and you end up hanging on and tensing up. Keep it to Ontario-legal cruising speeds and you’ll be fine.

The seat is a bit lacking in padding but should be sufficient for day trips. Those over 6 feet will find it a bit cramped and I’d prefer the pegs to be even farther rearward to get more weight off the old tailbone.

I couldn’t measure exact fuel consumption but basing it on similar Shadows, the 10.2 litre fuel tank (including a 2.6 L reserve) means that the low-fuel light will be coming on at around the 150 to 175 km mark.

Gear changes are effortless with minimal clunking and the shifter has a precise, short throw. Acceleration won’t yank the arms from your sockets, but it’s more than enough to keep you safely ahead of guerrilla traffic conditions.

The single front disc brake has a soft initial bite, which won’t catch new riders unaware and, although feel is a bit lacking, it’s progressive with good feedback.

Honda’s 750 Shadow RS is a significant step away from the popular cruiser formula. Beginners won’t be intimidated by the RS and experienced riders will appreciate the torquey motor, light handling and classic good looks – it’s what motorcycling used to be in kinder, gentler times.

Simply put, it’s a motorcycle that’s a blast to ride and deserves a much better fate than to be pigeon-holed as “entry level.”

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