Most riders look for the same thing in a potential cruiser buy: a big V-twin, a kicked-out fork, and a kick-ass look. The VT1100C2 Shadow Sabre has all of that and more, with punchy acceleration, maintenance-free hydraulic valve adjusters, and a massive front wheel. It was in Honda’s Shadow lineup for eight years and still makes some cruiser riders’ 10-best used-bike lists today.
The Sabre built from 2000–2007 bears no relation except familial to the current 1,300cc model with the same name. Its 1,100cc engine traces its ancestry back to the original Shadow 1100 that debuted in 1985. The first Sabre hit the streets in 2000 and quickly assumed the role of the street rod of the Shadow line.
With a 45-degree cylinder spread the engine should shake like a belly dancer’s belt buckle but didn’t, thanks to a dual-pin crankshaft that resulted in perfect primary balance, and rubber engine mounts that absorbed whatever vibration got past the gaskets. A pair of 36mm carbs nestled between the valve covers did the job fuel injection does today and by all accounts did it well, feeding each cylinder through two intake valves opposite a single exhaust valve. Two spark plugs per head lit the fire that moved the 573-pound (dry) Sabre down the road.
With about 50 hp on tap, the VT1100C2 fell far short of giving dyno operators night sweats. But thanks to short gearing along the way from the five-speed transmission to the shaft final drive, the Sabre held its own in stoplight shootouts, and top gear was good for a tick over 100 mph. The 4.2-gallon gas tank, combined with mileage in the mid-40s, gave decent range for what was designed to be a short-haul sled.
By the time the low-fuel light came on, many riders were ready for a break. The stock seat sat just under 28 inches off the pavement and no doubt owed some of that to a lack of padding. The firm accommodations, along with typically cruiser-ish short-travel suspension, made life hard—bordering on jarring for heavier riders—and suffered rough roads not at all gladly. Passengers made do with a postage-stamp perch that was adequate for short rides but tested both their strength of character and the strength of their relationship with the pilot.
Contemporary road tests mentioned the Sabre’s vague front-end feel and heavy steering; how much of either was attributable to the massive 18-inch alloy front wheel isn’t clear. The front brake was deemed no better than adequate, the rear touchy and sometimes downright grabby. The short gearing that made the Sabre an arm-stretcher around town worked against it on the highway, where elevated speeds made the engine feel busier than a laid-back big twin should, but the dual-pin crank and rubber engine mounting kept it from becoming annoying.
The Shadow Sabre is as close to bulletproof as you could want; neither dealers nor Internet forums turn up any specific issues to watch for. Keep gas, oil, and air in it, don’t set it on fire or ride it off a cliff, and it should reward you with years of reliable cruising.
The right look, a smooth engine, stoplight-to-stoplight stomp, all in a low-maintenance package. Gas it, ride it, love it.
A bit bland for some purists. Handling, brakes, and ride quality could be better.
Dirty engine oil that can clog hydraulic lifters, damaged radiator fins, and corroded aluminum wheels.
A good all-arounder; smooth, tough, fun. The cruiser for riders who don’t think they’d like a cruiser.
2000 / $2755
2001 / $2850
2002 / $2975
2003 / $3235
2004 / $3400
2005 / $3685
2006 / $3970
2007 / $4225
Chrome and polished aluminum abound on cruisers, and both surfaces require regular care and cleaning. In most climates, bikes that live outdoors accumulate rust and corrosion on parts that were bright and shiny when new. Getting them back to that state isn’t always easy, so if you’re looking at a used cruiser with cosmetic issues, figure on spending time and money bringing its luster back. If the chrome is pitted or the clear coat on aluminum has corroded away, odds of an elbow-grease fix are against you.