Saturday, March 28, 2009

Aquarium of the Pacific

Honda Shadow vs. Harley Davidson Sportster

So a couple weeks back I decided to rent a Honda Shadow to see how it stacked up against the Harley Davidson Sportster. First, I looked at the specs. The Shadow is 30 lbs lighter than the Sportster, so I thought it might feel a little bit more nimble. However, the Sportster has some advantages; its engine is 17% bigger and it has electronic fuel injection and dual disc brakes (the Shadow uses a single carb and has a rear drum brake). Features aside, the ride is what really matters.

I took the surface streets from LAX through Hollywood and Glendale then on to the Angeles Crest Highway. As I wound up the curves the air got colder and colder. By the time I hit the Red Box station there was snow on the ground and the road was covered in sand and rock, but the view from the Mt. Wilson Observatory was incredible.

After a long day of riding, I have to say the Sportster outperformed the Shadow hands down. The Sportster’s low, narrow frame gives a solid, responsive feel where the wider Shadow felt loose in the corners. The shifts on the Shadow were sloppy and it was an endless ordeal to find neutral. Lastly, the controls on the Sportster were much more refined than the Shadow’s, especially the Sportster's auto-cancelling turn signals. Both bikes start at around $7k, but the Sportster is definitely the better value.


After writing this article, I went on to buy a Harley-Davidson Sportster; the Iron 883. At 883cc's, this is Harley's smallest engine, but it's still 134cc's bigger than the Honda Shadow and has a base price that's $250 less. Honda has stepped up their game and added fuel injection, but they still use drum brakes in the back. After putting about 3,000 miles on my Harley, I'm quite pleased with my decision. The Harley has held up well and performs great, even when riding with my wife on the back. Neither bike is really designed for long-haul touring (for that, consider a bigger and heavier bike), but for tearing up the mountain roads of Southern California, I couldn't be happier.