Dain Gingerelli was lurking in the shadows when Honda introduced its new Shadow RS. He shines the light on the bike for this report.
While Harley-Davidson Motor Company remains mired in slow sales and sagging profits, what does Honda do? They introduce a new model that looks for all the world like a Sportster. You know, Harley’s old standby model that’s been on the sales menu since 1957. Go figure.
What Honda’s figuring on, however, is to point at least a portion of today’s still-enthusiastic motorcycling community down a road that leads back to basics. Which explains the sales slogan—“Back 2 Basics”—that accompanies the Shadow RS. Honda wants to rekindle the simpler, happier times when riding motorcycles was about fun as much as anything else. Anybody recall Honda’s first sales slogan that helped them move hordes of Super Cubs off the loading docks back when John F. Kennedy was president of the United States? I do. It was “You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda.” Keep that line in mind when you look at a Shadow RS.
The Shadow RS is basic in many ways, too. The 507-pound bike has no fairing, windshield or saddlebags, and its mechanicals are about as rudimentary as you’ll find for a liquid-cooled bike; the single-crankpin, 52-degree V-twin engine transfers power through a five-speed transmission to a sealed O-ring chain that spins the 16-inch rear tire.
Power from the 745cc engine is nothing to write home about, but the Shadow RS manages to keep pace with its own shadow under all conditions. Power delivery, thanks to electronic fuel injection that feeds the cylinders through a 34mm throttle body, is smooth and linear, but there’s no tachometer to help you navigate the power curve. Again, you do like the old-timers to determine shift points—you listen to engine rpm. And if you’re tone deaf, the ignition cutout will let you know when it’s time to call on the next set of cogs.
Ergonomics are nothing out of the ordinary, either. After perching yourself on the Sportster-like-seat that positions your fanny 29 inches above the deck, you’ll grab a set of handgrips placed about where traditionalist bikers (that is, guys who learned to ride before the term “sportbike” was coined) expect them to be, and your feet will find the footpegs without having to stretch your legs or fold your knees like two oversize pretzels.
Thumb the electric starter button, snick the tranny into gear, release the clutch lever (the cable-operated clutch requires minimal pull) and you’re off. No, not to the races, but you will find yourself zipping in and out of traffic like a seasoned pro because this bike is easy to maneuver. Bump compliance from the suspension is about what you’d expect from a $7799 motorcycle, and the single front disc brake and mechanical drum rear brake should keep you from planting the Shadow into objects you have no business accidentally bumping into.
What else should you know about the RS? Well, Honda claims 56 mpg (based on EPA exhaust emission measurement test procedures), so fuel costs should be easy on your budget. The staggered mufflers emit a pleasing baritone note that you expect from a V-twin engine, and Honda offers about 20 accessories to help you begin customizing your bike to suit your tastes. If you opt not to equip your RS with Honda’s accessory rack, there’s a pair of handy hooks under the rear fender braces to secure bungee cords for toting miscellaneous gear. The RS is available in either Metallic Gray or Pearl White paint, and there’s ample chrome—even on some of the plastic parts—to give the Shadow a rich look.
So (and to paraphrase another Honda ad slogan, this time from their automotive sector), is this what the world is coming to? Probably not, but our guess is that the Shadow RS will help steer new buyers into the sport, and for experienced riders looking for a retro-styled bike with an affordable price, they need look no farther than their own Shadow.—Dain Gingerelli
Specifications (as supplied by manufacturer)
Honda Shadow RS
Engine Type: 745cc, liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin
Bore and Stroke: 79mm x 76mm
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Valve Train: SOHC; three valves per cylinder
Induction: PGM-FI with automatic enrichment circuit, one 34mm throttle body
Ignition: Digital transistorized with electronic advance
Transmission: Wide-ratio five-speed
Final Drive: O-ring–sealed chain
Front: 41mm fork; 4.6 in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks with 5-position spring preload adjustability; 3.5 in. travel
Front Brake: Single 296mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear Brake: Mechanical drum
Front Tire: 100/90-19
Rear Tire: 150/80-16
Wheelbase: 61.5 in.
Rake: 32.5 degrees
Trail: 134.0mm (5.3 in.)
Seat Height: 29.4 in.
Fuel Capacity: 2.8 gallons, including 0.7-gallon reserve
Claimed Fuel Economy: 56 mpg
Colors: Metallic Gray, Pearl White
Curb Weight: 507 pounds