Honda Shadow RS | Review

Retro Honda

You may recall our test of Honda’s peculiar DN-01 motorcycle a year ago. The Honda was promoted as a sport/cruiser hybrid; unfortunately its seating position, cornering clearance, and motor left us unconvinced of its sporting credentials.

And, the futuristic appearance, while eye-popping, is a tough sell as a cruiser. Now, without fanfare, Honda has delivered a motorcycle that is unquestionably a true sport-cruiser, with a pinch of historical spice thrown into the mix.

Evocative of the 1980s factory Honda RS flat trackers that Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham rode to four consecutive AMA Grand National Championship titles on the big ovals-the engine even has almost the same bore and stroke-the new 2010-2011 Honda Shadow RS is a retro sport-cruiser that blurs genre lines in a pleasing manner.

Having tempted you with that introduction, don’t get any ideas about racing-level performance from the Shadow RS. Although it possesses the looks and the numbers, the RS is propelled by a cruiser-based Honda Shadow motor. Power is not the engine’s strong suit, though ease-of-use and civilization are. Thanks to liquid-cooling and single throttle-body EFI, the 745cc RS starts and runs flawlessly, and the Shadow line has an enviable reliability record.

The Honda RS is an ideal re-entry motorcycle-it is not the likely choice of an experienced motorcyclist looking to add another mount to his stable, but this is not quite a first-bike, either. Instead, it beckons the lapsed rider into returning to the fold, or someone moving up in the ranks.

To make certain the motorcycle rider will not be intimidated, the Shadow RS is soft at the bottom, revs into a moderate mid-range, then signs off with a flat top end-rpm unknown, as there is no tachometer. While the power is useable at the extremes, the RS is no tire shredder.

This might sound like a recipe for boredom, and I cannot blame you for thinking that. Honda’s decision to neuter the motor falls in line with its intended use-a hyphenated sport bike. However, the proof is in the riding, and when you make the most of the V-twin, you get to feel like a hero doing it.

With a relatively narrow powerband, you must rely on the flawless wide-ratio five-speed transmission to best extract what power the motor supplies. The combination of large gaps between the gears and a mostly mid-range power delivery means that proper gear selection is crucial for aggressive riding.

Shift too soon, and acceleration evaporates; delay your gear change until past the sweet spot, and you will quickly make friends with the soft rev-limiter. It is actually pretty fun to keep the RS on the boil, and the penalty for mistakes is nothing more than a bit of lost momentum.

The seating position is just on the cruiser side of old-school upright. The bars are a little wide and swept back, the footpegs a bit low and forward, and the seat sits less than 30 inches above ground, giving it a relaxed feel that still puts you in a position to ride the RS aggressively, even if you have to put the predictably intrusive air filter cover out of your mind.

Honda imbued the RS with an impressive amount of cornering clearance. The plain-wrap Dunlops deliver far more than you expect-there is no squeamishness from the 19-inch front tire in the corners and the rear 16-inch 150mm rear tire stays firmly and confidently planted.

Sure, the pegs scrape eventually, but you will feel as though you received your money’s worth of lean before that happens; the RS even leaves a bit in reserve for unanticipated decreasing radius turns. Transitions between corners are easy, and you would hardly guess the bike has over 32 degrees of rake, a 61-inch wheelbase, and a curb weight over 500 pounds. It is far more agile than the numbers indicate, and a traditional chain drive enhances the RS’s predictable behavior.

Likewise, in the canyons the suspension is superior to expectations. The RS settles nicely into turns and refuses to wallow. An unanticipated mid-turn bump will upset things slightly and cause some peg grinding, though not enough to be considered grounds for concern. On city streets the twin shock rear suspension can be a bit unresponsive, particularly when doing battle with potholes, though the well-behaved 41mm forks generously attempt to compensate with 4.6 inches of travel.

Braking is a mixed bag. The 296mm single front disc has an initially soft feel, but as you increase pressure, it eventually slows you down in an expected manner. In contrast, the brake pedal sits too high, never loses its mushy feel, and the rear drum quickly goes from ineffective to skidding. Downshifting into turns can be tricky due to the wide-ratio transmission, so mastering the front brake is the only viable option.

Riders thinking they would like to enjoy extended excursions on the highway will undoubtedly be dissuaded. An annoying high-frequency buzz comes through the bars, seat, and pegs, making freeway riding quickly unappealing. The tingling shows up when charging though canyons, but it comes and goes quickly as revs rise and drop, so this is not a serious drawback during sport-accented riding.

Around town, the docile Honda Shadow RS is a pleasurable motorcycle ride. The vibration and brakes are a non-issue and, with proper gearbox management, the power is sufficient for stoplight domination and squirting through traffic. First gear is low enough to give the illusion of strong low-rpm grunt.

The seat supports your posterior nicely, and the gently relaxed ergonomics invite all-day exploration. Available in either anonymous white or inconspicuous gray, the RS is not likely to turn a lot of heads, except to those who remember 1980s flat-track motorcycle racing. However, a quick trip to a painter to emulate the graphics on the bikes raced by Shobert and Graham will solve that problem.

One can accurately call the Honda Shadow RS a retro bike or a sport-cruiser; either way, the grin-factor it conveys is indisputable. Even though it is fairly pedestrian on paper, all you have to do is take the RS for a ride. Once on the road, the motorcycle reveals its attributes. This is an elemental motorcycle with historic roots that harbor the advantages of a modern design.

If you have a friend who is coming back to motorcycling, or you ride simply to put a wide smile on your face, the Honda Shadow RS awaits your discovery.

2011 Honda Shadow RS (in Blue/White/Red only)| Motorcycle Specs

Engine Type 745cc liquid-cooled 52 degrees V-twin
Bore And Stroke 79mm x 76mm
Induction PGM-FI with automatic enrichment circuit, one 34mm throttle body
Ignition CD with electronic advance, two spark plugs per cylinder
Compression Ratio 9.6:1
Valve Train SOHC; three valves per cylinder

Transmission Wide-ratio five-speed
Final Drive O-ring-sealed chain

Front Suspension 41mm fork; 4.6 inches travel
Rear Suspension Dual shocks with five-position spring-preload adjustability; 3.5 inches travel
Front Brake Single 296mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake 180mm Drum
Front Tire 100/90-19
Rear Tire 150/80-16

Rake (Caster Angle) 32.30 degrees
Trail 134mm (5.3 inches)
Wheelbase 61.5 inches
Seat Height 29.4 inches
Curb Weight 507 pounds (Includes all standard equipment, required fluids and a full tank of fuel ready to ride)
Fuel Capacity 2.8 gallons, including 0.7-gallon reserve

Model Id VT750RS
Emissions Meets current EPA standards. 50-state version meets current CARB standards and may differ slightly due to emissions equipment.
Available Colors Blue White Red

One Year Transferable one-year unlimited-mileage limited warranty; extended coverage available with a Honda Protection Plan.