2011 Honda Shadow RS: proud to be a Japanese Bonneville rival

Dailies -



Flipping through Honda’s latest new 2011 models press release, we nearly nodded off from boredom; it was just some new cruiser colors, new seats on a side-by-side and some mild upgrades to children’s dirt bikes. Then we saw this 2011 Honda Shadow RS and got excited. Yes, we did just put “excited” and “Honda Shadow” in the same sentence and no, we weren’t even being sarcastic!

For those of you not keeping track of such things (probably 99.9 percent of you), the Shadow RS is Honda’s old stand-by cheap cruiser, just now with mid-mount foot controls that actually make it rideable and standard-style handlebars. Admittedly tiny changes, but they’re enough to transform the Shadow from a worthy-but-forgotten cruiser into a legitimate competitor to the Triumph Bonneville. A retro standard that has ur-motorcycle styling and decent quality components.

Of course, we would still have forgotten that the Shadow exists if it weren’t for this new paint. Available from December, the tri-color paint scheme could have come straight off an RC30 and its even complimented by the classic Honda wing. Not only are we huge fans of both Honda wings and HRC colors, but they represent a shift in visual impetus for the bike, transforming it from Harley-clone into something that’s actually proud to be a Honda.

If you’re like me, you’re probably utterly ignorant of the Shadow’s specs, so let’s recap them: 745cc liquid-cooled v-twin; 45bhp; 48lb/ft; 56mpg; 507lbs. That compare’s slightly unfavorably to the 865cc parallel-twin Bonneville’s 66bhp; 50lb/ft; and 495 lbs, but neither of these bikes are about numbers, they’re about a fundamental retro riding experience and the Bonneville’s about as exciting to ride as a sewing machine thanks to its character-free engine (the Scrambler’s 270° firing order fixes that). We haven’t ridden a Shadow, but hopefully its v-twin makes riding a little more interesting, we’ve heard good things from our buddy Rex Roy.

So let’s add up what we have here. A standard-style, nice looking, affordable v-twin with mid-mount controls, low-ish bars, solid styling and great colors that gets 56mpg? A reliable, basic cruiser that’s not afraid to be Japanese? That sounds like a pretty solid bike to us. In fact, as hyper-critical aesthetes, we only have one minor criticism: the old yellow Honda wing, as seen on this RC30, would have been even better.

Oh and don’t worry, Honda assures me that there’s more 2011 models coming this fall and, knowing my outrageous anti-cruiser, exciting-bike bias, even says, “You’ll LIKE them!!!!”

  • tarun

    Seems like it would be a fun bike to make into a cafe racer.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

    The old yellow wing would be outstanding. It’s remarkable what a difference the paint makes. Maybe it’s just my affection for my first bike, a RWB VF500F. About time to lose some of the shame.

  • RandyS

    This bike so unashamedly copies the look of a Harley Sportster that Harley should sue Honda for stealing their “trade dress”. If you ride this bike everyone is going to make fun of you for having a fake Harley. (And they *should*.)

    45HP from 750cc? I had a Honda CB450 40 YEARS AGO that made this much power. It was probably a better bike too.

    Epic FAIL. Honda should be ashamed.

    • robotribe

      I have to agree. This is Sportster “inspired”, not Bonneville. The fork rake, forward pegs/controls and pipes scream “just-like-a-Harley!” to me. As for the so-called “retro appeal”, I fail to see the reference Honda is pointing to in their own history. The classic CB750 from the 70s this is NOT. This is a Sportster in Honda livery.

  • mluddyjr

    I’m a sucker for Hondas with RWB paint schemes and I love it when the Japanese return to their roots, but this bike does nothing for me.

    With standard paint it works fine as a budget cruiser, but this paint screams “retro Honda” without having any real history to it. The Shadow only dates back to the ’80s, and it’s always been an ‘imitation Harley’ style cruiser, never a standard let alone a performance bike deserving of these colors.

    If they really want to play the budget retro card they should use this paint scheme and some square bodywork on a rehashed ’91-’03 Nighthawk 750 and market it as a CB750SC.

  • DougD

    Entry-level motorcycle—nothing to piss the bed over, but they’re quite necessary.

  • HammSammich

    I like the color scheme, and I’m glad that Honda is embracing their own brand rather than continuing to try and hide the fact that it’s not a Harley. But the geometry still appears more cruiser than standard, and it’s hard to get excited by the milquetoast V-twin. I’m a Bonnie rider (who finds the 360 degree twin to be quite fun after a little modification – Thank you very much ;)) so perhaps I’m somewhat pre-disposed to liking retro-styled standard bikes, and this Honda doesn’t fit that bill. Now, if they bring a new 4cyl CB900 to market with styling straight from a 1969 CB750, with some decent power (75-85hp & 60-70lb/ft) and a really well balanced chassis, I might question my Triumph brand loyalty.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler
      • HammSammich

        I’d like it better if it looked like the Custom CB1100 Four you reported on a while back, but yeah, that’s the idea. I’ve yet to see one in person though. Are they actually going to sell them in the US, or is it JDM only like the 2007 CB750?

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          It’s JDM/AustralAsia only for now, as Honda believes that Americans only want superbikes or lame cruisers, nothing in between. There’s some internal pressure in its favor though.

          • s0crates82

            oh man, i want a cb1100 pretty bad.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    More than anything, I think this signals that Honda at least “gets it”. They know that their old 70s and 80s standards are just about the hippest thing for the under-35 crowd/first time riders to have; if you can get a similar look, with modern conveniences like fuel injection, brakes that work, and simply not being 30 yrs old, you can sell some bikes. This WILL sell bikes.

    Who knows, if its a big enough hit, it may convince Honda to ship over the CB1100. Maybe in HRC colors, too :)

    • robotribe

      I think you give Honda too much credit by saying they “get it”. This bike seems to target the “ladies in their forties crowd with Harley ambitions but feel safer with a Honda” demographic rather than the “skinny jeans-wearing ironic handlebar mustache post-emo” crowd. Other than the sportbike selections already out there, I don’t see anything that’s targeting “the kids” (unfortunately for me, that’s under 35 y.o.); especially NOT this Honda-Davidson.

      • DanHF

        I doubt they are targeting “ladies”. It’s got a 30 inch seat.

  • Chuluun

    I would have said it was a Sportster rip-off too, if Harley were still making a Sportster as standard as this. But they’re not. I like this Honda a lot, although the first thing I thought of when I saw it wasn’t Sportster or Bonneville but ‘V7 Classic’.

    On the subject of Japan/Australasia-only Hondas, the CB400 Super Fours come in a similar livery to this and knock spots off just about any ‘entry-level’ standard bike you can name. Gorgeous bikes. More powerful than the Shadow too.

  • parkwood60

    What you guys don’t remember when Honda built a bike specifically to take on the Sportster/XR750 on the dirt tracks of middle America? Here’s a link: http://motorcyclemuseum.org/classics/bike.asp?id=25

    To me the tank looks more like the XL600R from 1986. You are right though, it needs the yellow wing

  • Penectomy


    Dont see Bonneville rip off but I do see Sportster ripoff.

    Honda Shadow Phantom = Fake XL883N Iron
    Honda Shodow RS = Fake XL883L Superlow

    Too bad the lame Honda costs more and offers less – nice drum brake Honda.

  • http://thetrxproject.blogspot.com/ Marcos Armero

    I do my own cafe racer interpretation of this bike (http://thetrxproject.blogspot.com/2010/09/playing-with-gimphonda-vt750s-cafe.html)