First Impression: 1997 Honda Shadow VLX Deluxe

'Lil Six


Look and Feel. Face it, that's all that counts with cruisers. Other features like handling or mileage might as well not exist because you and I buy cruisers for the sole purpose of styling on the boulevards in that age-old tradition of getting out there to see and be seen.

Elements of The Look could be custom paint, unique styling or generous helpings of chrome, while elements contributing to The Feel are performance related, as in the satisfying torque of a Harley or pavement-ripping power of a V-Max.

But what happens when you take away one of these key ingredients?

Can a cruiser still have The Right Stuff if it lacks the muscle to back up the image made by its boulevard-tough looks?

Honda is betting it can with the Shadow VLX Deluxe. Honda has taken bold steps in trying to design a motorcycle with the styling of a full size cruiser, but sized for those smaller in stature and priced for riders who don't want to spend an entire year's salary on a motorcycle. In that role, the Shadow Deluxe offers riders an attractive, dependable and very capable bike.

The VLX is a little beaut of a motorcycle. Miles of chrome, thick paint, and a staggered dual exhaust system give the Shadow the look of a mega-bucks cruiser wrapped in a small package. An adjustable shock hidden under the seat provides the hard-tail look of a custom chopper. Another take-off from Milwaukee is the wide, fat one-inch handlebars. Although these add to the aesthetic appeal, the wider grips may be a mistake in the 'little people' department to whom this bike is targeted.

If there is an area where Honda's Shadow Deluxe comes up short in the styling department it would lie in its rear fender and sidecovers. While some may not mind a little plastic on their cruiser, we found these items to be a bit cheap. Paint quality was good, but just knowing it was plastic bothered us. Bottom line, however, is that this bike is just $5999 as opposed to a $12,499 Valkyrie or a $13,500 Royal Star.

The Feel Riding a cruiser with no torque is strange, as it's just one of those things that one takes for granted. On the boulevard we really missed being able to leave stoplights with the satisfying thrust of a torquey, large-displacement engine. We found the best way to get a decent launch with the 583cc mill was to rev it (we're not sure to what -- it doesn't have a tach) then dump the clutch.

"Wide handlebars make it one of the lightest feeling bikes around - great for the small or beginning rider."

This would be instant disaster on a CBR900RR or a Harley for that matter, but on the Shadow it merely means you leave the light at a good clip. However, respectable midrange gearing doesn't make up for the VLX's lack of low-end grunt, and its rather anemic top end of about 85 mph left us disappointed. The inability to lug around town is a definite impediment to getting in the "cruiser mood."

But in a strange turn of events the Shadow shows great aptitude at hustling through the canyons. Spring and damping rates were adequate to the task, and the engine's ability to be wound out enabled it to be very twisty friendly. Ground clearance was good and only one of our staffers dragged parts other than footpegs. More than anything else it was the smooth, lash-free power delivery that made it so much fun.

Although the seat feels strange at first, you could spend a long day in the saddle without pain. Ergonomics were a bit cramped for two of our six-foot staffers, but downright roomy for a guest tester who, at four feet eleven inches, immediately asked, "How much is it? I'm buying one," adding that a bike had never fit her so well. Handling is easy for big or small riders as a result of the bike's low 27-inch seat height and accompanying low center of gravity.

Wide handlebars make it one of the lightest feeling bikes around -- great for the small or beginning rider -- but takes away from the 'beefy cruiser' feel that you would get with a Harley, Royal Star or Valkyrie. Most of the Shadow's other equipment was normal rock-solid Honda. A bullet-proof transmission that refused to miss a shift is an appreciated feature. The touring skins were standard cruiser fare, but as usual, we would like to see stickier treads. Mileage was very respectable as our Shadow managed more than 40 mpg around town, providing a decent cruising range from the 2.9 gallon tank.

If you're a starving student with a will to cruise, a beginning rider looking for a friendly first motorcycle or somebody's grandma trying to recapture lost youth, this could be the bike for you. The tall or hard-core need not apply.

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Honda
Model: 1997 VT600CD Shadow VLX Deluxe
Price: $5999
Engine: SOHC 3-valve Liquid-cooled V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 75mm x 66mm
Displacement: 583cc
Carburetion: Twin 34mm CV
Transmission: 4-speed
Wheelbase: 63.2 in.
Seat height: 27.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 2.9 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 445 lbs.

Get Motorcycle.com in your Inbox