Is a Honda Shadow 1100 a Good Starter Bike?

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When deciding which motorcycle to choose for your first bike, the Honda Shadow 1100 is a tempting option. But is it the best choice?

Hondas are known to be dependable, well put together, smooth, and have precise handling in most conditions. In the Honda 1100 family, the Aero, Spirit, and Sabre are great-looking, classic bikes that make for an incredible riding experience. But are they a good first bike? When researching this iconic motorcycle, it’s going to be important to look at what a novice needs in order to have a good first experience of a possible lifelong passion.

I always tend to lean towards safety when making motorcycle-related choices. After all, traveling at high speeds over the pavement with no real protection around you, means that you should decide very carefully if the Honda Shadow 1100 is the right bike for you.

Good choices come down to realistic expectations. When you watch bikers on television or in the movies, you get the impression that it’s easy. Just jump on, squeeze the clutch, turn the key, stomp the gear, twist that throttle, and go. It’s only when you’re passing your first 18-wheeler at 75 MPH around a bend with the wind whipping you sideways and the whole world is a blur that you realize, this is not as easy as it looks. Perhaps a more careful approach to this life-altering decision is in order. Let’s dig into the Shadow 1100 and find out.

I’ve already had my first bike experience. Every biker has. I’m glad it wasn’t on a Honda Shadow 1100 because I ended up on my neighbor’s front lawn narrowly missing a tree on my little Honda CBR450. My own experience aside, I have researched the Honda Shadow forums, have read the reviews, and have spoken extensively to long-time bikers that have all had their own first bike experience. While this is somewhat of an opinion piece, here is some solid evidence against owning an 1100 Honda Shadow as a first bike.

In this article...


The Honda Shadow 1100 Is Too Powerful For A First Bike

Anything over 600ccs of power for a first-time bike is a lot. The torque of the 1100 engine can get you into trouble without proper experience. The VT1100C engine has a displacement of 1099 cm3 / 66.9 cui with a horsepower net of 58.4 kW / 79.4 PS / 78.4 hp (SAE net) at 6000 RPMs. The torque net is 99 Nm / 73 ft-lb at 4500 RPMs. Packing 3 valves per cylinder the Shadow 1100 can peak at 120 MPH. Without the necessary experience, lifting the front wheel, exploding out of a full stop, over-steering from excessive speed, and shooting through traffic can all be very dangerous.

The power is excessive for two reasons. First, the learning curve for a first bike will be slow. Mistakes will be made. You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to make a mistake at 20 MPH or 120 MPH?” With more power comes more risk, and the risk of life or limb on a 1100cc engine is not worth it. If you’re an athletically dexterous rider that can pick it up easily on the first try: you are the exception that proves the rule.

Secondly, excessive power is enticing. No matter what your skill level, the temptation to use your equipment as designed is overwhelming. When starting out, it’s always better to work your way up the cc ladder one step at a time. Building the fundamentals of proper riding technique on a lighter, less powerful bike is vital to learning better early habits,

Many riders attest to enjoying “unrestrained joy” when riding their 600cc bikes because you can really open them up. But they often complain about the mental and emotional restraint it takes to ride a 1000cc bike that demands constant cautious constraint to keep the unbridled power in check. The limitations of traffic, speed limits, and everyday riding conditions are not suited for machines that are made for the professional track.

The Honda Shadow 1100 Is Too Heavy For A First Bike

At over 600 pounds with a full tank of gas, this motorcycle is going to be a beast to lift off the ground. Maybe you can be a first-time bike owner and never spill your ride, but some do. And when that happens, a lot can go wrong. At this bone-crushing weight, you can get burned, broken, and seriously injured … never mind trying to lift it back upright. A heavier bike by the nature of physics will be more difficult to deal with, and everyone makes first-time mistakes. If that mistake results in a tip over, you’ll wish you’d started with something lighter.

The true test of riding skill is not at faster speeds when the bike rides with solid lines, but at slower speeds where steering and mobility are more difficult to control. During your motorcycle test for a license, you are tested on slowly working your way through pylons, and a heavyweight bike makes it far more complex of a task.

If you’re sold on buying a 1100cc engine as a first bike, the Honda Rebel is about a hundred pounds lighter with the same power. This might be a better option especially since it has several driving modes that can help beginner slowly progress their skills when starting out. Weight affects mobility, especially at slower speeds.

The Honda Shadow 1100 Is Too Stressful For A First Bike

Enjoying a stress-free bike experience is one of the most important reasons for owning a motorcycle. It’s about the road, the wind, and the sound of power as you practically fly through space and time. Describing the freedom that comes with open-air riding is difficult. But the point is that it should be exciting and stress relieving not stress inducing. Pushing the limits of your skill set too early ruins the experience.

Incremental Enjoyment

The first time you went to an amusement park, you didn’t head for the massive, iron behemoth in the middle of the park. You rode the Winne-The-Pooh ride and worked your way up to the Snoopy Coaster, and then the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. By the end of the night, you would finally approach the twisting, high-speed monster coasters. The same is true for riding. Work your way up to the larger engines, and enjoy the process. Step up little by little, and the thrills will be incrementally better each time. It is the spoiled rotten bratty child that demands everything now. Save something for later, and get the lower cc engine for your first bike.

Confidence Is Key

When you feel good you’ll enjoy the experience better. The positive energy will reflect in your cycle skills. When your confidence is compromised your skills will be as well. You’ll enjoy it less, ride your bike less, and maybe even give up altogether. It’s discouraging to be stressed out when you’re starting a new hobby. Your mode of transportation should transport you to another world, but this takes skill built from confidence.

Learning a new skill set on a lighter, more agile, less powerful bike will build the confidence to get you to that other world. Stepping up in ccs with a new more powerful bike is a fun next phase in your new hobby. Moving too quickly in the world of motorcycles is not only dangerous but less thrilling. Starting with a 250cc or 450cc keeps the fun in learning the fundamentals of riding; therefore, I do not recommend starting with a Honda Shadow 1100.