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2000 Honda Shadow Sabre: Turn-key Street Rod

One big trend in cruising is the customized street rod. Let’s see, you start with a $20,000 Harley (not list price — the actual price), add $2,000 worth of billet wheels, $1,500 for a custom paint job, $3,000 in miscellaneous parts (lowered saddle and chrome this-and-that), and $1,500 in performance parts (pipes, air filter and new cam). Voila! $29,000 later you have a worthy street rod — and a wife so angry she’s looking for a divorce lawyer.

Honda has watched the custom street rod look develop, and the 2000 Shadow Sabre is the result. For about $8,500, Honda wants to give you the looks and performance of a big buck custom (if it saves your marriage in the process, all the better). Has it succeeded?

I had the chance to take a brief, eight-mile ride on the Sabre near Honda’s headquarters in Southern California last week. Sharing just seven Sabres with twenty journalists led to my riding one only on the shortest leg of the trip. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough to form a thorough opinion of the bike (we’re expecting Honda to loan us a Sabre for a bit longer in January). What I did notice was a smooth (the engine is rubber mounted), easy-to-ride bike that felt remarkably light.

Since my normal ride is a Triumph Trophy, and I had just gotten off a Honda Valkyrie, perhaps this feeling of lightness isn’t so surprising. Nevertheless, the Sabre weighs in at 573 pounds, which is quite light for an 1100cc V-twin cruiser, and Honda placed its center of gravity very low, contributing to the sensation.

Riding lock-step with twenty journalists through relatively tight streets didn’t give me a chance to evaluate the power to any great extent, either. Also, the Valkyrie had undoubtedly desensitized me somewhat to torque and horsepower.

Later that day I rode a different Honda Shadow model (with lower horsepower and torque ratings than the pumped up Sabre), and was very impressed. I rode this particular bike for about 25 miles — much of it on the freeway. Nevertheless, my final opinion on the Sabre’s engine performance and handling must wait for the January test.

What I have formed is an opinion on the style of the Sabre. That opinion is very positive for a number of reasons.

First of all, when I look at a bike (any bike) I look for balance in the design. This applies to street bikes, dirt bikes and cruisers. The Sabre is very well balanced and integrated. Everything seems to work together well, and the total design takes the street rod look about as far as you could expect for an “off the shelf” production bike.

Let’s look at the front end of the bike. What Honda has done here echoes its designs elsewhere on the bike, which are clean, simple and effective. The classic, chrome, round headlight perched on top of the chromed, beefy, upside-down forks gripping an aluminum wheel (with a spun, machined look – the wheel is actually cast, not billet) is beautiful. Ditto the elegantly simple, chromed turn signals and speedometer. Take away the turn signals, and the front end is reminiscent of the Borile pictured in our October 5, 1999 article on singles — a design that set off a firestorm of praise from our readers.

The tear drop gas tank sits above a liquid-cooled V-twin motor with the finning of the old-style air cooled V-twins. The motor has lots of chrome for a stock bike, and hides the radiator well by integrating it with the black, front frame tubes.

Finally, although the seat is extremely low (just 27.2 inches off the street), it is well contoured and looks right. The dual, chromed shock absorbers and classic, dual exhaust pipes that exit on the right side of the bike complete the look.

The bike as a whole has a simple elegance — nothing is overdone and nothing looks awkward or out of place. Look at the three-quarter view from the front of the bike (highlighting the right side). Look at the area of the headlight, turn signals, speedometer and handlebar. Purposeful and simple — just the way I like it.

I’ll talk more about the performance enhancements built into the Sabre versus other Shadow models when we conduct our more thorough test. For now, the highlights include different cam timing, lower gearing, and an altered steering head rake. Honda claims that the Sabre defeated all comparable cruisers in roll-on acceleration tests, as well as several bigger bore V-twins.

The Sabre looks like a tremendous value. The styling is superb, and generally available on other cruisers only with the addition of expensive, aftermarket parts. Stayed tuned.