Adding Sprockets & Adjusting Gear Ratio for Optimum Honda Shadow Performance

on June 10, 2019

Today on the TJ Brutal Customs Blog, we’re talking Honda Shadow sprockets, gear ratio, reducing RPMs and the pros/cons of adding a theoretical 5th gear to a Honda Shadow VT600. Let's get to it!

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A customer asks, “What sprockets do you recommend? My motor is screaming at 75mph. Would adding teeth calm that down?”

The short answer is NO. Adding teeth isn’t going to calm down your gear ratio. On a Honda Shadow VT600, the forward sprocket has 16 teeth and the rear has 44. That’s your stock setup which gives you really good all-around performance across the board—from quick take offs, to comfortable highway speeds. Now some people might find highway riding a little more “buzzy” than they’re used to if they ride a bigger bike with a different gearing or shaft drive. The Honda Shadow VLX600 only has four gears which some people think was a bad choice on Honda’s part, but they had to do it in order for it to fit into the VT600 class. What most people don’t realize is that by putting a 5th gear in there, all it would do is split the third gear in half.


So it’s not like you’re going to get all this crazy reduced vibration or lower your RPMS at high speed changes in riding – all it would do is take the 3rd gear—which is a really wide gear—and split it in half. If you’ve ever ridden a Honda Shadow VLX600, you’ve got a really wide gear with 3rd: it handles really slow speeds all the way up to nearly wide open throttle. So, bottom line, adding a 5th gear to a Honda Shadow VT600 is a waste of time.


4-speed transmission – why it works

Here’s the thing with 4 speed transmission design: it works. Even though other models may have 5 speeds, the Honda Shadow VLX600 is only a few hundred RPMs lower than a stock Honda Shadow VT750.


If you’ve ever ridden a Honda Rebel 250 (they have 5 gears), you’d think “oh cool, I’ll have all this room to work with!” but you really won’t. You could have gone with a 4 gear model and found the same exact performance.


If a theoretical 5th gear were added to VT600 all you’d have is a split 3rd gear. You wouldn’t have any serious improvement over RPMs or with reducing RPMS at highway speeds. You’d just be slamming through your third gear faster. For example, on a Honda Rebel, the space between 2nd and 5th gears causes you to run out of room so fast… you’ve got to shift quick or you’re just going to slam through them. Unless you’re keeping exact speed (within 2 mph) within that gear, it’s just a waste of time (not to mention the wasted effort and work of actually adding a 5th gear).


The SECRET to reducing RPMs

To reduce RPMs, you’ve got to go down on the teeth on your rear sprocket. A rear sprocket with fewer teeth is definitely going to require a little more clutch and throttle work to compensate for the reduced take off since you’re not going to get as much power in your takeoff as you may be used to. For example, if you’re like me and like a real zippy response in your Honda Shadow VT600—where you take off a line fast and furious, you’ll still spank souped up Harleys, but only for about 300-400 feet, then they take over because they have different gearing. But you will get great takeoffs and a zippy response.


If you want to reduce vibrations at high speeds and you do a lot of highway riding, then this could be your answer. But if you want to experiment then go down a tooth or two. 41 teeth is a very mild change; 42 is even more mild. If you ride highway miles a lot (for example, 70-100 miles a day round trip on your commute), you’ll want to go down further than 42. We recommend 41 because it’s a pretty mild change in terms of RPM reduction. With this setting, you’re not going to see too much of a loss in your takeoff, but you’ll definitely feel that reduced vibration at high speeds.


SIDE NOTE: if you have a 1988 Honda Shadow VT600, the forward sprocket is not the same as VT600s made between 89-07. It’s a different sprocket with a different shape that won’t bolt on the same way. The splines are different and its countershaft comes out of your transmission – it’s just different, so newer sprockets aren’t going to fit. When ordering new sprockets, make sure you’re selecting the right sprockets for your bike and model. (And make sure the new ones fit BEFORE you throw away your stock sprockets!!)


Finding your gear ratio

To find out your gear ratio, divide your rear sprocket size by your front sprocket size. For example, if your rear is 44 and your front is 16, that’s a stock gear ratio of 2.75. You can go down as far as 2.5 but at that points it’s a 40 tooth (that’s about the lowest you can go on a Honda Shadow VT600). If you go any lower, you’re going to have a bike that won’t respond well in 2nd or 3rd gear.


Another option: If you do go to 41 tooth on the rear – you can also go to 15 teeth on the front. I’ve heard of people trying to put on higher count gears in the front of a Honda Shadow VT600 but the problem is there isn’t a lot of room—you’re getting real close to the case and the chain will be rubbing at that point; it’s not fun. So, if you go to a 41-40 gear in the rear, you’ll need to get tighter clutch springs—something heavier that will grab a bit more and not release so quickly. Those will help compensate for a sluggish bottom end. You’re really going have to work that clutch to not kill the bike. Clutch and throttle will need a lot more attention there so you don’t kill the bike on takeoffs.  


For more info on ALL of the above, WATCH THIS VIDEO!!!



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Friendly Reminder: if you have questions for us, we're happy to answer them! But first check to see if we’ve answered them over on our TJ Brutal Customs Knowledge Base. If we haven’t, then send us a DM via Instagram or comment on our YouTube channel… TJ takes all your questions and answers them via live videos like the one above. Now get out of here and DO FUN SHIT!!!