2011 Honda Shadow RS Review: Cruising Made Easy

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2011 Honda Shadow RS
The Honda Shadow RS, seen here in the red/white/blue scheme that's only available for the 2011 model year. Photo © Basem Wasef

The 2011 Honda Shadow RS falls into the Japanese manufacturer's lineup of Shadow cruisers, along with the blacked-out Shadow Phantom, the big-fendered Shadow Aero, and the street-rod inspired Shadow Spirit 750 C2.

Priced at $7,999 (or $8,240 for a 2012 model), the Honda Shadow RS is positioned as a back-to-basics alternative to bikes like the iconic Harley-Davidson 883 Iron Sportster, or its more beginner-friendly stablemate, the Sportster SuperLow.

Let's take a ride and see how Honda performs.

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The Goods: Liquid-Cooled for Your Comfort

2011 Honda Shadow RS
The Honda's liquid-cooled, 745cc v-twin engine. Photo © Basem Wasef
Unlike its more traditionally cruiser-oriented stablemates, Honda Shadow RS is a "roadster"-style ride that ditches ornate custom features for a more trimmed-down look.

Power comes from a 745cc v-twin, with the usual modern amenities including fuel injection and liquid cooling which help it achieve an EPA average of 56 miles per gallon. A five-speed transmission drives the rear wheel through a chain, and a 2.8 gallon tank offers a theoretical cruising range of 156 miles.

Up front, a single 296mm disc provides stopping power via a two-piston caliper; the rear brake is a 180mm drum unit, a surprising find on a Honda product, especially since Harley uses a rear disc on their Sportster models. The front fork is a non-adjustable 41mm unit with 4.6 inches of travel, while rear suspension features dual shocks with five spring-preload settings and 3.5 inches of travel.

Ready to ride, the Shadow RS weighs in at 507 pounds, with a seat height of 29.4 inches.

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Swing a Leg Over: Upright Seating, Compact Triangle

2011 Honda Shadow RS
A view from the Shadow RS's saddle. Photo © Basem Wasef
Swinging a leg over the Shadow RS's 29.4 inch seat is a bit more of a hurdle than the Harley Iron 883's 26.9 inch saddle, but the Honda is still quite an easy bike to mount.

Once seated, the RS offers a clean view over the handlebar (despite those unsightly warning stickers on the tank), with a large speedometer flanked by big rectangular mirrors; they're not the most style-savvy things, but they get the job done.

The RS's seating posture is relatively upright for a cruiser, with rearward pegs that enable a chair-like leg position. Everything is within reach on the Shadow, to the point that its compact proportions might make it feel a bit tight for larger riders; but as you'll see in the next section, the proximity of controls makes it a rather effortless bike on the road.

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On the Road: What's Japanese for Potato-Potato?

2011 Honda Shadow RS
The Shadow RS in action. Photo © Basem Wasef

If the Japanese are good for one thing with motorcycle design, it's a user-friendly interface and bulletproof operation. So it's no surprise that the Honda Shadow RS spins like a top and runs like a charm, with accommodating ergonomics whose only limitations are a saddle that can sometimes be taxing on longer rides due to its close quarters with the fuel tank, a firm-ish ride, and an engine buzz that becomes apparent at higher speeds.

The 745cc twin transmits a slight pulse to the rider's tailbone as it runs through the revs (exactly how quickly you'll never know, since this bike doesn't offer a tachometer.) There's ample power for around town scooting, though passing on the freeway demands a bit more patience. Brakes are adequate but not outstanding, requiring some lever effort for the single-disc front and a bit of pedal travel before the rear unit kicks in, which feels a bit wooden due to its drum setup. As you'd expect from the wide ratio transmission, shift action is clean and crisp, with easy to find gears and super simple engagement of neutral-- a big plus for beginner riders.

And speaking of beginners, the Shadow RS proves itself quite worthy for new motorcyclists, though its heft and engine power puts it a cut above our selection of 10 Great Beginner Bikes and more in line with our list of 10 Great Intermediate Beginner Motorcycles, even though its nimble handling belies its 507 pound curb weight.

But that doesn't mean more advanced riders won't enjoy Shadow RS ownership. With its surprisingly husky sounding v-twin, decent road clearance and distinctive styling, this Honda casts a wide net with approachable road manners that can be enjoyed by a large subset of riders-- save, of course, those who still have a soft spot for Milwaukee iron.

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Bottom Line: An Imperfect Yet Affable Ride

2011 Honda Shadow RS
The 2011 Honda Shadow RS. Photo © Basem Wasef

The Honda Shadow RS is a bike whose middle-of-the-road demeanor and welcoming riding dynamics make it hard to dislike; functionally speaking, this stylish ride offers more hits than misses, though its deficiencies (including its high-speed buzziness and wooden rear brake) are notable.

Nonetheless, it's almost impossible not to consider the Honda Shadow RS without cross-shopping against its nemesis, the $7,999 Harley-Davidson 883 Iron (which climbs in price when colors other than black are ordered.) The choice between the two depends on your right brain/left brain bias; on one hand, the Honda's engine note is growlier than you'd think, with enough usable torque to make urban jaunts enjoyable and a slick finish that's inherently Japanese-- love it, or leave it. On the other hand, the Harley offers gruntier torque, a bit more engine character, and arguably more style, along with a rear disc brake as opposed to the Honda's drum.

There are quibbles with each bike-- you didn't think you'd find motorcycle perfection for eight grand, did you?-- but for the money, both the Shadow RS and the Iron 883 offer compelling reasons to choose their particular brand of approachable cruiser. At the end of the day, your choice will likely boil down more to style than anything else, with your allegiance to either Honda or Harley coming through.

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Specifications, Who Should Buy the 2011 Honda Shadow RS?

2011 Honda Shadow RS
The Shadow RS's handlebar sits relatively upright. Photo © Basem Wasef
  • Price: $7,999 ($8,240 for 2012 model)
  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 745cc v-twin
  • Fuel Capacity: 2.6 gallons (with .7 gallon reserve)
  • Fuel Economy: 53 mpg (EPA rating)
  • Transmission: Five-speed
  • Final Drive: Chain
  • Front Suspension: 41mm fork, 4.6 inches of travel
  • Rake/Trail: 32.3º/5.3 inches
  • Rear Suspension: Dual shocks, preload adjustable with 5 settings; 3.5 inches of travel
  • Front Brake: Single 296mm disc, 2-piston caliper
  • Rear Brake: Single drum
  • Seat Height: 29.4 inches
  • Curb Weight: 503 pounds
Who Should Buy the Honda Shadow RS?
Riders seeking a maneuverable cruiser with an upright seating posture, accessible ergonomics, and approachable dynamics.