Yamaha Drag Star / Honda Shadow test comparison
If you want to be tough, you have to have soft parts: Long after the Honda VT 600 Shadow, a Yamaha chopper now also got a »Softail« with the XVS 650 – the spring-loaded, rigid-frame-like rear that characterizes the great models from Harley-Davidson.
That’s how Harley-Davidson started. Clever minds sit in conferences for years to solve a problem that moves the world: How do you make the rear frame of a chopper look like the rear wheel is unsprung even though it is sprung? Because the whole world knows that since 1957 no motorcycle without rear suspension has been registered. But the typical Harley customer wants his motorcycle with a rigid frame – a "hardtail". In the best of colloquial American, that means something like hard ass. So he gets it too. Today it’s called Softail, soft butt, and has law-abiding suspension, but it looks like a hard butt, drives almost like that – and actually costs what Harley wants for it.
Which of course is considerably more than many normal bikers can afford. Honda recognized this almost a decade ago and with the VT 600 C Shadow created an inexpensive remedy against the insatiable Harley dream: a chopper for hard butts at half the price of a Harley, with a V2 engine, long fork and everything that goes with it . But because it’s a Honda, the Honda engineers couldn’t resist giving the elaborate VT 600 C two chain-driven, overhead camshafts, three valves per cylinder, water cooling and a double ignition.
That in turn brought the Yamaha technicians on the scene. Although their XV 535 Virago sold almost twice as often as Honda’s Shadow during the same period in Germany, after 40,000 XV 535 with boring struts on the rear swing arm, there was an urgent need for action. AT chopper that really looks like one with a Softail swingarm was needed. A real challenge, because the task was twice as tricky: constructing a quasi-rigid frame and also enabling the cardan shaft to be used as a final drive. The engine and propulsion unit of the XV 535 should continue to be used without major revisions.
Test passed: The V-Twin installed in the new double-loop tubular steel frame does not show that it has remained the old one except for the smaller carburettors, a few millimeters more bore and stroke and a longer primary transmission. And the Yamaha technicians can even be proud of their swingarm: Such a cleverly made, open-running cardan shaft is what you would want on other motorcycles. On the other hand, it is displeasing at first glance that this Yamaha has to show off again with a myriad of chrome-plated covers and panels.
But now for the first fitting. The Yamaha Drag Star amazes because – compared to the petite Honda Shadow – it looks like a really big chunk. The one centimeter more wheelbase doesn’t do it. But everything that includes the rider in the motorcycle – the dimensions of the handlebars, footrests and seat as well as their position to each other, plus the tank barrel almost twice as wide at the knee – puts the Yamaha in a class above the Honda in size. The Honda, however, does not show the age advantage of almost a decade. Their narrower arrangement is better for the driver’s hands and feet. In addition, the Honda footrests, which have been moved further forward, give the desired armchair effect, which does not really want to set in behind the spread-out spreader bar handlebars and the annoyingly wide tank of the Yamaha.
It shows how you can even capitalize on strict legal requirements – if you do it right. Between 1994 and 1996, the permitted driving noise levels for motorcycles in the EU were drastically reduced from 86 to 8 dB (A). Since the noise doubles with every increase of three decibels, the reduction by four decibels meant in reverse: the motorcycles were only allowed to sound a quarter as loud at one stroke. The Honda Shadow really had to give up. Six horsepower less than before, less torque and a longer final ratio, which had a positive effect on the noise, but had a negative effect on the temperament despite an additional fifth gear.
The modified XV 535 drive of the Drag Star also has six horsepower less than before; more a longer final translation. However, due to the 115 cubic centimeter larger displacement and the reduced carburettor, the 70-degree V-engine now pushes so much more torque via the cardan shaft to the rear wheel at so much lower speed that the Drag Star for the pull-through sprint from 60 to 120 km / h is almost four seconds less than the Shadow. This is the livelier one at higher speeds, where the Yamaha twin loses its revving power. The Drag Star also vibrates more powerfully at medium speeds than the Shadow, which massages the driver evenly with soft vibrations over the entire speed tidy.
Maybe it’s due to the more rustic design of the engine, maybe also to the more lush shapes of the Yamaha or the 16 kilograms higher weight: The Drag Star consumes on average half a liter more regular gasoline than the Shadow with the same driving style. The basic consumption advantage is more than outweighed by the Drag Star in the range due to the 15 liter petrol tank. On average, there are 327 kilometers of country roads in the Yamaha tank, while the eleven-liter Honda bladder is fully exhausted after 256 kilometers.
The Yamaha clutch is more difficult to dose. You also have to be clearer when shifting than with the Honda. But you can struggle with the chain maintenance on the Honda. Of course there is no main stand. So put it on the side stand, crouch, spray, push something forward, put it down, crouch, spray – and so on. And that every 500 kilometers. Don’t forget to tension the chain now and then. And of course not to change the expensive, greasy chain and sprocket set every 20,000 kilometers. This is where you get to know your true friends. Because removing the rear wheel is almost impossible without outside help.
On the other hand, the handlebar-mounted speedometer of the VT 600 C with the indicator lights located in it is user-friendly – right in the driver’s field of vision. The Yamaha instrument embedded in the tank, on the other hand, is below this field of vision and can only be seen with a nod, which means that the road is always out of sight. On the other hand, the performance of both machines is not so great, depending on the type, that just a constant look at the speedometer could save the driver’s license. Anyone who really gets involved in a chopper is driving more slowly than the police allow in 99 out of 100 cases.
The driving behavior corresponds to the slimmer impression of the Honda. On the more sedate side of the handling scale in other comparison tests, the VT 600 C mutates into a cornering star in comparison with the XVS 650. The slender knee joint, a much more precise turn-in and the considerably greater freedom of lean angle clearly stand out against the massive Yamaha that sparks in large arches. That’s the price of the size. Despite its mass, the Yamaha reacts more nervously to longitudinal grooves and road markings. You also have to get used to the urge of the front wheel to tip over to the inside of the curve in tight radii.
At low speeds, the suspension comfort of both motorcycles is quite acceptable. The forks respond well, only the fork springs of the Yamaha are a bit too soft, so that the forehand blocks during a strong braking maneuver. The reserves of the Shadow fork are significantly greater. Even the heavy triangular swingarms do not pose unsolvable tasks due to the short suspension travel of the solo shock absorbers at low speeds. In the case of rough bumps or only slightly increased speed, however, the long, heavy tubular steel swings hit the intervertebral discs violently, which the driver’s cross, leaning back, has to hold out defenselessly. Softail? Are you kidding me? Are you serious when you say that. A rigid-frame Harley from the 50s can’t hand out much harder. And at least it had a sprung saddle to cushion the hardest kicks. The tightly padded seats of the two Japanese are sufficiently wide, but still torment the buttocks quickly. The deep seat hollows fix the posture so much that you can hardly even shift your weight.
And there is no talk of pillion comfort anyway. On the tall, narrow seat tiles with the corresponding pegs, a passenger literally makes himself a monkey. Despite the nominally sufficient permissible total weight of the motorcycles, the suspension struts are so overwhelmed with two people that more than a short happiness for two is actually forbidden.
In this way, the cost advantage of a Honda VT 600 C Shadow and a Yamaha is put into perspective XVS 650 Drag Star compared to the great Harley-Davidson Softail model have, of course, again: To be able to transport two people appropriately, you actually need both motorcycles. On the other hand: Two Softail swingarm motorcycles for the price of one is ultimately also an offer.
1st place – Yamaha XVS 650 Drag Star
On points, the new Yamaha Drag Star is the winner. But not because she could do everything better. The engine rating decides the Drag Star for itself except for the higher consumption. The chassis, however, has not improved compared to the stable sister XV 535 Virago. On the contrary. But that’s not the point of the drag star either. It shouldn’t be better, it should be different from the Virago. And as a chopper, her skills are sufficient to win the test.
2nd place – Honda VT 600 C Shadow
The Honda Shadow has done well despite its proud age. Chassis and trimmings still look great. It’s just a shame that the small and – relatively – low-torque 583 cm³ engine of the VT 600 C will sooner or later put an end to it. Only more displacement could help to regain territory that was lost to the drag star. But for a possible exchange in the small chopper class, the plump VT 750 C2, derived from the 1100 C2, is in the starting blocks.
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