1997 Honda VT-600 Shadow VLX
I purchased my first street bike in May of 1997, a brand new black/yellow VLX Deluxe. I had been infatuated with the VLX's stylishly symetrical lines for many years, and after passing up the sweet purple/white ones in 1995, I couldn't pass this one by...
The bike has a nice usable powerband. It handles and brakes well, in fact I enjoy "blasting" through the back road twisties on it, despite some radical frame geometry it's a real crispy handler that's fun to flick around through the curves. The four speed tranny has nice tall gearing, top gear roll-ons at 45mph are responsive and puttering down residential streets at 25mph in said top gear doesn't produce the lagging you would find in 5 or 6 speed trannies. That said, at 60mph the engine is revving at about 4200RPM in top gear, the Suzuki Volusia revs at 3800 RPM in the same conditions (and that's with a five speed gearbox/+200cc displacement). So the four speed versus five arguement becomes a moot point. Also factor in the ability to cheaply & easily alter the final drive ratio via different sized sprockets (which you can't do cheaply nor easily or even readily on a shaft driven bike) the arguement really takes a course change. The only downfall here is the 500 mile interval for tension checks and chain lubes, but if five minutes of your life is too much to invest in then you need to consider that an oil change takes 15-20 minutes...if such upkeep becomes that much of an issue one really shouldn't consider owning any motor vehicle. In fact with one less gear to stir around town, and the general consensus that cruisers are designed for a lazier ride, the four speed tranny makes the VLX even better.
As for city commuting, I get 60-62 MPG regularly, tapping the reserve switch between 125-130 miles(leaving another 0.9 gallons of go-go juice left to get home and find a gas station the next day). I have also taken the bike out of state on quite a few occasions, it handles the freeways well enough at 65-70mph. Now this is the issue where most VLX owners start to complain: The bike does feel a bit "buzzy" at 75+mph on the long haul (re: 4200RPM @ 60mph). Two-up riding on an uphill grade is another downfall, calling for a downshift anytime the speed drops below 55mph on said grades.
Okay, so here's where a larger displacement motor has the advantage. Let's face the facts here, folks: the VT-600 was never intended as a touring machine, it's a boulevard cruiser. And a fifth gear wouldn't solve anything, it would only require more shifting. 600cc sport bikes have 6 speed trannies on them and their owners gripe about the same "buzzy" thing on the long haul. One more thing, this design stems from an era when the national freeway speed limit was 55mph, at which speeds this bike really shines. But it can still handle 90mph all day riding as long as the rider can. But in the end, if you want a bike that revs at under 4000RPM at 90mph a middle weight isn't the answer. But then again an 800 pound touring rig doesn't always make for the best commuter either so this is a give and take scenario.
My initial complaint on the bike was an apparent lacking aftermarket support. It seemed the dealership's catalogs carried very little in terms of accessories. But a year later, as I started researching via magazines and the wonderful worldwide web, many doors were opened. It turns out that the VLX is MEGA-popular over in Europe, as demanded by the higher gas prices ($4-$5/gallon) and insurance based upon engine size (big jump after 600cc). There are many European companies offering great products, and the American suppliers are beginning to throw their hats in the ring as well.
My somewhat biased opinion? I liked the bike so much, I ended up buying TWO MORE! It turns out that the custom world left me with too many choices and too many directions to take, I couldn't possibly make all the mods I wanted to on one bike. I took a used 95 VLX deluxe and made a full on custom chopper, 10" over forks/50 degree rake and 10" ape hanger handlebars. Then I grabbed a used 92 VLX and made it into a hardtail featuring 25pounds of weight reduction (if only the rider could lose the weight so easily...), a Hypercharger and performance jet kit/exhaust system, and a drag bar. And of course I accessorized the original stocker, chrome plating as much of the stock OEM aluminum as possible, adding a Hondaline backrest and a set of saddlebags. I like riding the customs, they're definitely head turners.
But for everyday commuting, I stick to my first love, the 97 stock VLX. it's still the most comfortable. It's endured the test of time, 21,000 miles with nothing replaced except for the consumable items(fuel, oil, filters, plugs, brake pads, etc...). Even the battery and tires (with at least another 8000 miles of life left) are still original, the bike has been well cared for and has certainly returned the favor one hundred fold. So needless to say, I give the VLX a 5 out of 5 star rating based on what Honda's engineers designed it for: good looks, charm, and grace for an everyday transportation motorcycle.
As far as a beginner bike role, the only downfall here is the excessive chopper-esque frame geometry. This will make the bike feel heavier than it really is during the slow speed maneuvers, which can be awkward for beginners. Once you get used to the low speed handling issue it becomes second nature, but since most of the learning process is conducted at such speeds this can hamper one's learning curve.