I find the Honda Shadow VT600, also known as the Honda Shadow VLX, to be an anomaly of sorts. It’s a small’ish, lightweight (under 500 lbs. wet) cruiser that doesn’t look or feel as small as it is. It has big bike style and attitude, but is deceptively light, nimble, and fun.
It’s even kind of slow and lopey, like a larger, heavier cruiser. The 600cc v-twin is surprisingly torquey, and makes peak torque low in the rev-range, so it gets off the line reasonably quick, and you’re pretty much always in the sweet spot of the powerband. It signs off early, though, and starts running out of steam around 85mph. You’ll be WOT in top gear (of which there are only four) around an indicated 100mph (if you’re lucky). There’s no need to bust out the GPS or radar to get an accurate speed reading, as there’s no bragging rights to be had on this bike. Peak ponies and torque are only marginally lower than its big brother, the Shadow 750, and with a curb weight that is 100 lbs. lighter, the power to weight ratio is very similar. Tall gearing keeps the 4-speed transmission from being much of a hindrance, but at higher speeds, you’ll wish there was another gear or two in there. In the performance department it’ll be outdone all day by entry-level sport bikes, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s a good looking, stylish cruiser, with a smooth, comfortable, ride.
Since it doesn’t have soul-stirring performance and isn’t heavy, it can get away with having fairly lackluster handling, suspension, and brakes. It’s a long (63″ wheelbase, which is only 1″ shorter than the much larger Harley-Davidson Street Bob), low bike, which provides stability at speed and keeps the center of gravity low, but isn’t particularly responsive to steering inputs and doesn’t have much lean angle. A canyon carver this is not. Fortunately, the otherwise sluggish handling is saved by good frame geometry and the sheer lightness of the VLX. It’s capable of being more agile than you’d expect. Front forks are undersprung, and bottom out easily, but the rear “softail” style monoshock is excellent at soaking up bumps in the road. Brakes are adequate. A decent two-piston caliper on a single disc works well enough on the front, and the rear drum is certainly out there behind you, existing but not doing much else, like you’d expect from a rear drum brake.
The term “bulletproof” gets tossed around a lot, but the old VLX really fits that description. It’s reliable and refined Honda engineering at its finest. I never had so much as a hiccup with mine in the years I owned it, and have several friends with VLX’s, and the reliability is second-to-none across the board. It’s basically the Honda Civic DX of motorcycles. It won’t wow you, and it doesn’t have any real features or amenities beyond an engine and wheels, but it’ll never let you down, and will keep running well into the zombie apocalypse.
The VLX has garnered quite the cult following, and has its fanatical adherents, whether they ride it in stock form, or give it the bobber or chopper treatment. It’s not hard to see why.
Unmatched reliability and surprising big bike style and attitude in a smaller bike package. Performance is lackluster, though. The cult-following that has sprung up around the VLX speaks volumes about what a great little cruiser it is, and elevates it further.