But cruising along California’s Pacific Coast Highway on a sunny day aboard Honda’s easy-to-ride new Shadow RS, we were reminded of the elemental experience of simply piloting a motorized two-wheeler that brings a smile to the face of all riders.
The new Shadow RS is an honest engine-and-two-wheels motorcycle, without some of the pretense of its new cruiser brother, the Shadow Phantom that shares the RS’s 745cc V-Twin. Rather than the Phantom’s stretched-and-blacked persona, the Shadow RS apes the appearance of the seminal Harley-Davidson 883, complete with a Honda version of Harley’s famous peanut tank.
The Shadowster also take a cue from the original Sportster by the placement of its handlebars and footpegs, which are located as close to a “standard” riding position as is possible with a cruiser. Honda engineers wanted the handlebars placed where a rider’s hands would naturally fall, and their goal was accomplished by a comfortably neutral reach.
Footpegs are set much more rearward than almost any cruiser, which is actually a more intuitive and controllable position for a rider. Adequate legroom is provided by a much taller seat height than is typical of modern cruisers. At 29.4 inches, the RS’s seat is 3.7 inches higher than the Phantom, but it’s still easily scalable for most. The shifted riding position allows for greater ground clearance than many other cruisers.
Stylewise, the Shadow RS looks tidy and svelte. A chrome air cleaner and shotgun exhaust pipes are set off against blacked-out engine cases and cylinder barrels. An unsightly tank seam gives away the Shadow’s budget origins, as do the plastic fenders.
The RS rolls on spoked wheels with chrome rims and nice alloy hubs for an authentic vintage appearance. Also vintage-esque are the brakes: a 298mm single disc and twin-piston caliper up front, and a low-tech drum brake for the rear. Despite their old-school looks, they do a decent job of slowing the Shadow within its humble performance limits.
As with the Phantom, the Shadow RS also receives a Keihin fuel-injection system new to Honda’s 745cc V-Twin. Although no gain is power is claimed, the injected mill is efficient enough to earn an EPA rating of 56 mpg. So, despite the modestly sized 2.8-gallon fuel tank, the RS should be able to easily stretch more than 130 miles between fill-ups.
The EFI motor fires up easily, settling in to a loping cadence typical of narrow-angle V-Twins (52 degrees vs Harley’s iconic 45 degrees) with single-pin crankshafts. Cylinder fins and a small radiator nestled between the frame’s front downtubes help disguise the Shadow engine’s liquid cooling. Each cylinder is equipped with three valves and two spark plugs.
The effort required to pull the Shadow’s clutch lever is exceedingly light, which is a boon for running around town. Shift effort from the 5-speed gearbox is just as light, making this one of the crispest cruiser trannies in production.
Low-speed handling is also exemplary for a cruiser, undoubtedly aided by a fairly short 61.5-inch wheelbase, 3 inches tighter than the long and low Phantom. A 19-inch front wheel leads the way in front of a 16-inch rear, contributing to the steeper 32.5-degree rake of the RS compared to the Phantom’s 34.0 degrees and the significantly shorter trail (134mm vs 161mm, respectively).
When the RS’s sportier chassis geometry is combined with less weight to carry around than the Phantom, the Shadowster is a much more agile machine. Honda claims a fuelled-up curb weight of 507 pounds, lopping off 36 lbs from the Phantom due mostly to the adoption of chain drive instead of the Phantom’s shaft. Its 100/90-19 front tire responds relatively quickly to steering inputs, unhindered by a fashionable yet cumbersome wide rear tire. Instead, a narrowish 150/80-16 Dunlop provides all the grip the Shadow’s mild V-Twin requires.
Although the RS won’t win many bike-to-bike dragraces, its rider is rarely looking for more power. It excels when using its decent torque to easily outrun normal road traffic. The RS is very friendly when dialing on power, and together with its cooperative drivetrain, it’s a peach for newer riders and those not in a hurry.
Acceleration is reasonably quick but nowhere near arm-stretching, and the motor reveals some vibration and gets a bit thrashy when it is revved out at full throttle. Best to slow down and enjoy its pleasingly burly exhaust note, which is louder than expected from an unassuming little Honda.
Indeed, the Shadow RS was perfectly in its element cruising down PCH on a sunny day, its rider enjoying the fresh sea air derestricted by his rare use of a half helmet. No wheelies or rolling burnouts, just a man and machine unhurriedly slicing through the air.
The newest Shadow has a springy, lightly damped suspension that provides a reasonably plush ride via a 41mm fork and traditional dual shocks, the latter offering 5-position preload adjustability as the only means to tweak the suspension. A thickly padded seat makes up for what the suspension lacks in sophistication.
"The Shadow RS was perfectly in its element cruising down PCH on a sunny day."
A wide array of rider sizes were present on our ride, and the Shadow’s ergonomics seemed to please everyone. My 32-inch inseam legs are comfortably bent when at a stop, and the rear-set-for-a-cruiser footpegs allow a rider to take some weight through the legs for an active riding position. Even friend-of-MO Barry Winfield said his 6-foot-5 body fit without issues on the RS. A minor niggle is a pronounced lip for the pilot’s seat that prevents much repositioning and rubs the tailbone. A static test fit of the passenger seat revealed a rearward-sloping profile that would require a tight grip from your pillion to avoid being offloaded when accelerating.
As is typical of cruisers, instrumentation is sparse. A large analog speedometer sits in a rider’s line of sight above the handlebar, and the only display options are for the twin tripmeters and clock. Self-canceling signals would be appreciated on a bike like this – or any motorcycle. Mirrors offer an unobstructed view rearward, and metal hooks hanging from the rear fender under the passenger seat area provide a couple of tie-down locations.
Trivia tidbit: Despite the distinctly American theme of the Shadow RS, it was actually styled and developed in Japan for the domestic home market. When reps from American Honda saw it, they decided to import it to our shores. Europe wants it, too.
Still in production are the Shadow Aero and Shadow Spirit 750, both with a smaller MSRP of $6,999 but without the RS/Phantom’s fuel injection that vault their MSRPs to $7,799 and $7,999, respectively.
Of the four 745cc Shadows, this new RS holds the most appeal in our eyes. It’s a real “knees in the breeze” motorcycle, one that needs no apologies for what it is and what it isn’t. Its style ethos, although derivative, is classic and will endure longer than the cruiser flavor du jour.
"It’s a real “knees in the breeze” motorcycle, one that needs no apologies for what it is and what it isn’t."
We’re not the only ones smitten by this cruiser roadster. Honda dealer pre-orders were very strong, so the Shadow RS is set to add to the 250,000-plus Shadows sold since the original 750 debuted in 1983.
Prior to our ride, American Honda’s assistant manager of motorcycle press, Jon Seidel, said, “It just puts a grin on your face,” to which I remained skeptical. However, just a few miles into our ride, the smile I was wearing demonstrated my agreement with Seidel’s succinct assertion.