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MD Ride Review: 2000 Honda Shadow Sabre

A long time ago, I rode the 2000 Honda Shadow Sabre at the Honda press introduction and promised a more extensive ride review. Well, better late than never. Here’s my ride review of the bike (published roughly six months late).

Cruisers are largely about style. The 2000 Honda Shadow Sabre promises much more than style. This bike is one of the first machines introduced by Honda as part of their pledge of “industry dominance” — introduced just prior to the announcement of Honda’s “performance first” theme for the new millenium.

I have already praised the style of the Shadow Sabre in my first article (December 13, 1999). I won’t repeat those comments, except to say that the design is very pleasing to my eye — largely because of its simple elegance. The bike has virtually no unnecessary frills. The design is simple and straight forward, emphasizing functional parts of the machine rather than mere decoration. Please read MD’s earlier article for more comments on the design of this machine.

But what about the performance. Honda’s literature claims the Sabre is intended to provide “broad-band performance” providing “the full scope of the motorcycling experience”. Both engine performance and handling were addressed in Honda’s design of this machine. Has Honda delivered?

To answer that question, you first have to look at the context in which this machine comes to market. It is a cruiser (not a sportbike) displacing 1099cc (currently, the biggest v-twin cruiser engine available from Honda). Within this context, the bike performs extremely well. In fact, Honda’s intention to position the Sabre as not only a good-looking custom, but a real alternative for someone looking for a standard, do-it-all motorcycle has largely been met.

Weighing just 573 pounds dry (quite light for a big-bore, v-twin cruiser), the Sabre handles confidently and smoothly, and accelerates quickly.

With three valves per cylinder, two spark plugs per cylinder, rubber mounting and off-set dual-pin crankshaft, combined with the light weight of the machine and a lower final-drive gear ratio, the Sabre is surprisingly smooth and quick. This bike likes to rev more than any other v-twin cruiser I have ridden. You’ll be hitting the rev-limiter — feeling that the machine wants to keep pulling on top.

Honda claims the Sabre will “walk away” from at least some of its competitors larger v-twins. I didn’t test this claim, but I don’t doubt it. I’ve ridden big-bore machines that run out of steam fairly quickly on top. The Sabre keeps pulling and pulling — taking you quickly beyond an indicated 100 miles per hour.

Cornering is a pleasure, as well. Like most Honda products I have sampled, the Shadow Sabre does exactly what you expect it to do. Low-speed handling is good for a motorcycle of this class, and higher speed cornering is quite good with good ground clearance.

You will feel confident bending this bike through turns. It holds a line extremely well, and, like many cruisers (with their long wheelbases), exhibits excellent straight-line stability.

The suspension provides a comfortable ride if you avoid potholes, dips and other obstacles that will bottom the suspension (particularly the rear shock). I weigh in close to 200 pounds, however, and I did not find this to be a significant problem. As a cruiser, the suspension travel is understandably fairly short in the back, and Honda’s settings are actually a good compromise.

The ergonomics (again a Honda hallmark) are comfortable. Everything seems to be located where it should be. The 27.2 inch seat height allowed my 5’3″ wife, Kim, to ride the Sabre with confidence, despite her inseam-challenged body type.

I was very impressed by the braking system, as well. Cruisers have a well-deserved reputation for poor brakes, but the Sabre defies this. I have been riding all the cutting-edge sport bikes lately, so my braking expectations are quite high. For the cruiser class, the Sabre brakes are truly excellent.

The front brake is strong and easily modulated, while the rear brake contributes its fair share to the stopping duties — again, while being easily controlled and modulated. Outstanding.

My schedule these past couple of weeks have prevented me from taking a real long ride on the Sabre (my longest trip was probably 35 miles — about 45 minutes in the saddle). My comments about the comfort of this bike are limited to that experience. The shape of the seat and its general comfort is good. The deep saddle design contributes significantly to the look of this bike, and I was pleased to find out that the seat (at least for the rider) was functional as well. Some seat comfort has been sacrificed for the passenger, however, to achieve that custom look.

The transmission, although occasionally emitting a “clunk” (particularly on downshifts) never failed to engage the gear I intended, and did nothing to detract from the quality of the riding experience. I rode the bike quite aggressively at times (probably, more aggressively than most cruiser owners would), and the transmission always responded well, as did the handling and brakes (as discussed above).

Honda has spent a great deal of time and effort observing the cruiser crowd and their custom bikes. The Sabre reflects this. From its engine performance to its good looks, the Sabre really presents quite a bargain at an MSRP of $8,199.00. This is particularly true when you consider the custom look of the bike that comes stock. I received several comments about the bike’s style while riding it, including the Harley owner in the parking lot who loved the look of the wheels and the truck driver at the stop light who simply commented “Nice looking bike”. You should also know that Honda has a line of parts (saddle bags, windshield, etc.) to customize the Sabre after purchase.

If you are looking for a cruiser in this price range, you won’t be disappointed with the Shadow Sabre. Far from it, I think you’ll be extremely pleased with this motorcycle.