Honda casts a smaller Shadow

Last updated 13:15 14/05/2012
Honda 750 Shadow
Fairfax NZ

FAMILIAR DETAILS: Something about the staggered pipes and the polished air-filter cover hint at another motorcycle brand that starts with a capital 'H.'

Honda 750 Shadow
Fairfax NZ
ALL YOU NEED: Clean and nicely finished, like the rest of the machine.
Honda 750 Shadow
Fairfax NZ
SMOOTH UNIT: It doesn't look it, but the V-twin power unit is liquid-cooled despite the fins.

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Hmm, now where have I seen that miniature peanut-sized fuel tank and those staggered shotgun-styled exhaust pipes before?

Honda might like to think its restyle of the long-running Shadow 750 cruiser motorcycle displays elements of a European street-oriented image, but it appears to me the new VT750S draws a lot of its design inspiration from the even longer-running Harley-Davidson Sportster. This is no bad thing in my opinion: for the Sporty is my favourite Harley as I find its shorter length and lighter weight make it more suited than the motor company's bigger V-twins to our serpentine roadscape.

The more minimal approach of the new VT750S is welcome in a cruiser segment full of massive fat-bellied bikes that are sized XL for no good reason other than to impress the wider population. Going shorter and lighter adds a new dynamic, and Honda has managed to do this while retaining all the usual cruiser styling cues. The bike looks longer and bigger than it really is, protecting its car-park cachet. In helping achieve that effect, the downsized fuel tank now holds just 10.7 litres, however the Honda's easy-going liquid-cooled V-twin engine has always been a conservative user of fuel, and range anxiety will only become a concern for most riders when the bike passes the 180km mark after the last refill.

While some will wonder about the practicality of shrinking the VT750s fuel storage, others will question the bikes move from shaft drive to chain propulsion. To me, its the masterstroke the VT750 has long cried out for, as it reduces production costs, removes unwanted kilograms faster than any human diet, and allows more of the V-twins power to be transmitted to the rear tyre. A bonus is the twin rear shocks of the bike no longer have the task of controlling the torque reaction of a shaft, and can be tailored to providing better ride quality and increased traction when exiting bumpy corners.

The biggest advantage of the move to chain drive is it allows the VT750S to launch into the local market at a price that should ensure it sells in reasonable numbers. At $12,495, the Honda undercuts other budget V-twin cruisers like Suzuki's 800cc C50 Boulevard ($15,495) and the 700cc Hyosung ST7 tested a couple of weeks ago (then $12,990, now $13,295). Where those two competitors hide the name of their manufacturer away like its some marque of shame, the Honda displays it defiantly on the fuel tank, complete with retro graphics and winged embellishment. This show of pride is justified, for the build quality of this bike, especially its lustrous brightwork and thick, evenly-applied layers of paint are worthy of applause. While the price positioning might suggest that Honda outsourced the manufacture of the VT750S to a factory in China or Thailand, any inspection of the quality of the bike soon reveals its true state-of-origin Japan.

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Honda has opted to provide a diesel-like power delivery for the petrol-propelled VT750S, one that suits its cruising application admirably. The 749cc fuel-injected V-twin only generates 32kW (44bhp) at a low 5500rpm, however its the 62Nm of torque that arrives at an even-lower 3250rpm that the Honda's riders will tap into most. For you soon learn to operate the easy-going engine in the smoother bottom-half of the rev range, and short-shift early to let the torque surf the bike forward. The wave of twisting force this bike rides is never Banzai Pipeline-sized, however, and is more comparable to the swell you find in Lyall Bay with a gentle northerly breeze blowing. The best open-road cruising speed for the VT750S won't normally earn its rider a speeding ticket at 110kmh. Absolute top whack is evidently 160kmh for those who need to know such an irrelevance.

The shift to chain drive allowed Honda to reduce the wheelbase of the Shadow by shortening the rear swingarm. The more abbreviated wheelbase dimensions add enthusiasm to the bike's cornering, and although the raked-out steering geometry and 19in front wheel attempt to slow things down again, this is still a friskier handling bike than the cruiser norm. Decent suspension also increases rider confidence, although the Metzeler Marathon tyres are more tailored to providing long-distance durability rather than cornering grip.

The riding position of the Honda is more Sportster than cruiser in that the footpegs are placed only slightly ahead of the rider, rather than mounted on the front down-tubes of the frame. As a result the knees are gently bent, there's no need to stretch the legs uncomfortably into the oncoming breeze, and there is less body weight placed upon the bum. Although still not as comfortable as bikes of other genres over long distances, the VT750S is one of the more luxurious cruisers to ride.

The Honda is so Sportster-like in its looks, rider ergonomics, fuel capacity and its handling dynamics that its hard not to compare the two. Another two grand accesses the $14,495 Harley- Davidson XL883 in either its higher-riding (recommended) or Super Low form. With Harley's smallest 883cc V-twin offering similar-yet-rawer engine performance to the VT750S, badge slaves will find the decision between the two bikes a hard one. However the Honda's more affordable price and more appreciable build quality would be absolute deal-makers for me.

AT A GLANCE

Engine: 749cc liquid-cooled sohc six-valve 52-degree V-twin, stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 32kW (44bhp) at 5500rpm and 62Nm at 3250rpm

Transmission: Five-speed sequential gearbox, chain final drive

Frame: Steel-tube double-cradle frame and box-section steel rear swingarm; 41mm unadjustable front forks, twin rear shocks adjustable for spring preload.

Price: $12,495

Hot: Narrow-angle V-twin runs smoothly thanks to trick offset crankpins; polished drum rear brake looks that of the original 1969 CB750 four; beautifully made at a good price.

Not: Co-ordinated high effort required from the rider to get this bike to stop quickly; pillion seat shaped more for visual appeal than accommodation.

- The Press

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