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Honda VT 1100C Shadow
It's funny how different countries are identified by their motorized creations. Italy is known for its blood-red Ferraris whooshed along by elegant V-12 motors, and for any number of exotic-sounding motorcycle engines, all close-pitch finned and double-overhead cammed. England has its feisty four-cylinder sports cars and, of course, the timeless Triumph vertical Twins. Germany is the home of air-cooled, opposed-cylinder designs, four and six cylinders for its automobiles, two for its motorcycles. And in America, the V-motor is King of the Road. Everyone knows that a V-8 is the American car engine: and when it comes to our motorcycles, give us a good, rumbling V-Twin.
Of course, some people have known this a lot longer than others. Just ask any old-time Harley or Indian rider. And in recent years, even the Japanese—previously the purveyors of an abundance of cylinders, a multiplicity of valves and a never-ending increase in sophistication-have come to realize that America wants big V-Twins in its motorcycles. To be sure, there will always be a market for more exotic and more complicated engine designs, but for now, V-Twins are in.
Honda knows this only too well. Last year the best-selling motorcycle in America was Honda's 700 Shadow, a V-Twin. cruiser-styled machine. And now, for folks who want a really big Japanese V-Twin. comes the 1100 Shadow, the largest-displacement V-Twin ever from Japan. The 1100 Shadow is just 241cc shy of the Harley-Davidson Big Twin, America's archetypal V-type motorcycle engine.
And make no mistake: The 1100 Shadow—and every other Japanese V-Twin cruiser, for that matter—borrows heavily from the Harley-Davidson image, if not from the Milwaukee motorcycles themselves. This is not a condemnation of the marketing practices employed by the Japanese, but merely an acknowledgement of their good business sense. They saw that Harley had a product that was selling well to a specific audience, and they merely took cues from that product and modified it suit to their market. In the days before the ITC tariff, you could get people to talk about this only in hushed tones. Now things are more in the open. "We're going after the buyer who's always wanted a big V-Twin, but who also wants Japanese reliability and Japanese pricing," is how Honda spokesmen explain the VT1100 Shadow.
These days, any indictment of the reliability of the vastly improved Harley-Davidsons is a bum rap; but there's no denying that the Shadow has it all over the Big Twin Harleys when it comes to price. At $4198, the new, assembled-in-America VT1100 is between $2800 and $4200 less costly than various FX-model H-Ds.
But the 1100 Shadow is not merely a less-expensive Harley-Davidson. Honda's designers and engineers are much too clever and have too much pride for that. Instead, Honda has put its own stamp on the Shadow, and nowhere is that more evident than in the 45-degree, 1099cc engine.
Certainly, Honda's version of the V-Twin has a much more compact, integrated look than does the Harley powerplant. Yet it still manages to give off that intrinsic, elemental motorcycle feel that only V-Twins seem capable of radiating. Take a closer look, though, and you'll see that while this engine may have a traditional V-Twin look, its inner workings are state-of-the-art. The first clue is the downtube-mounted radiator. Despite heavy finning on the cylinders, the 1100, like the smaller Shadows, is liquid-cooled. Also carried over are the three-valve (two intake, one exhaust) cylinder heads, which, in conjunction with twin sparkplugs, make for very efficient combustion chambers. And putting in a repeat performance are Honda's hydraulic valve-lash adjusters, which automatically assure that Shadow owners will never have to spend a Sunday afternoon getting intimate with feeler gauges and valve-adjusting tools.
Another carryover from the smaller Shadows is the engine's staggered crankpins, a neat engineering trick that spaces the two rod-bearing journals 90 degrees apart. This yields what Honda claims is perfect primary balance in an engine with a 45-degree V-spread. As was noted in our 750 Shadow test in March of 1983, however, perfect primary balance and perfect smoothness are not one and the same. This is due in part to the uneveness of the V-motor's firing impulses, but mostly because staggering the crankpins means that both rods cannot share the same journal. Instead, two separate journals are required, and a massive center web is needed in the crankshaft to provide adequate strength between the journals. That web forces the crankpins to have quite a bit of side-to-side offset, which results in a "rocking couple" that is perceived by the rider as vibration. Still, enough vibration is eliminated by the staggered crankpins that Honda didn't have to go to the added complexity and cost of rubber-mounting the engine.
For the most part, the vibration that gets through to the rider only serves to remind him that the Shadow does indeed have a good, old-fashioned V-Twin shoe-horned between its frame tubes. From the moment the Shadow chuffs into life and settles into its chunky, rumpety-rump idle, you know this is a motorcycle that has its sights set on American riders. If we were in charge of such things at Honda, though, we'd have made sure a little more noise escaped from the short, balony-slice mufflers. As nice as the sound is, it doesn't have the same pleasing bass rumble of Yamaha's Virago 1000, and certainly the sound is nowhere near as virile as a Harley-Davidson's.
Still, out on the open road, where the muffled exhaust note wafts away into the wind, the Shadow can't help but make friends. In fifth gear (which Honda insists on calling Overdrive) at speeds up to 75 mph, the bike simply rumbles along, making just the right kind of vibration—the low-frequency variety that lets you know you're on a motorcycle and not just some two-wheeled conveyance. You could almost call it soothing. Go faster than 75 for any length of time, however, and you'll find that not even Honda's varied bag of technical tricks can stop a big V-Twin from vibrating annoyingly at those speeds.
Speaking of technical tricks, the 1100 has a few up its sleeve that it doesn't share with its smaller siblings. The first is a clutch that not only is hydraulically activated, but also uses engine oil to assist a conventional diaphram spring. The clutch's pressure plate has an oil cavity, which is fed engine oil through four grooves machined into the clutch hub. Once in the cavity, the oil applies pressure to the clutch plates, and, as the engine speeds up, centrifugal force acts on the oil, which in turn applies even more pressure to the plates. Honda figures the clutch engagement duties are split evenly: one-third for the spring, one-third for the oil and one-third for the centrifugal force. The advantage of this system is that the clutch pull is light, yet the clutch is strong enough with the engine at speed to handle the demands incurred by a big V-Twin's muscular power pulses.
Next on the technical innovation list is a device that Honda calls a torque-limiting starter drive. In simple terms, this is a miniature clutch built into the starter reduction gears. Its job is to work as a mechanical fuse should the engine decide to kick back while being cranked over. With an engine as large as the VT's, kickback on starting would likely damage the smaller starter gears. In fact, the problem concerned Honda so much that the Shadow's ignition will not even fire below 300 rpm, because at those speeds the possibility of the engine spinning backward is greatly increased.
Another difference between the 1100 and the other Shadows is the mounting of the transistorized ignition's pulsers on the camshaft rather than on the crankshaft. This eliminates the so-called "waste sparks" (the firing of the sparkplugs when the pistons are in the middle of their exhaust strokes) that occur every other revolution due to having the spark pulsers turning at crankshaft rather than camshaft speed. This change helps reduce the backfiring that big V-Twins are infamous for.
If we had to pick a performance trait that the Shadow will become famous for, it would be in-town riding. The bike's comfortable, upright seating position helps here, and so do the easy-to-use hand controls. Two clean-running 36mm Keihin down-draft carburetors do their part, too. And the five-speed transmission has a nice, clunky feel to it; you don't snick this gearbox through its paces, like a roadracer's, but missed shifts are a rarity anyway. As promised by the oil-assisted clutch, lever pull is light, although the Shadow does adhere to Honda's policy of having clutches with the narrowest possible engagement span. And if you like to speed-shift your way through the gears, be warned that the cleverly designed clutch takes a beat or two to catch up with the rest of the engine during full-throttle shifts, meaning the clutch will slip during that time.
Ride the Shadow at more sedate in-town speeds and you'll have a chance to appreciate the supple suspension. There is nothing special about the suspension units themselves; the front fork is air-adjustable, the twin rear shocks offer just over 4 inches of travel—but Honda has calibrated the suspension to soak up every pavement irregularity in sight. There is a limit to this plushness, though; load the bike with a passenger or luggage, and even with the shocks adjusted to their stiffest preload setting, bottoming occurs fairly regularly. And pushing the bike to its limits on a bumpy backroad will similarly bring out the drawbacks in the shock's limited travel and soft springing.
In its favor, though, the Shadow is quite impressive when ridden on smoother backroads at a saner rate, especially for a cruiser-style motorcycle that has a 63.8-inch wheelbase and a topped-off weight of 585 pounds. The steering, which feels sluggish during first-gear manuevers, becomes surprisingly light at speed, no doubt aided by the leverage of the wide, swept-back handlebar and the Hex-resistance provided by a built-in
fork brace. Cornering clearance, often compromised on a cruiser because the footpegs are mounted forward and downward to mate with the styling-mandated low seat, is actually quite good on the Shadow. Ridden aggressively, the bike will smack its footpegs and various undercarriage parts against the asphalt, but the speeds needed to do so will already have the Shadow ahead of a lot of riders on more-sporting machinery.
But there are complaints to be lodged against the 1 100 Shadow, mostly in the areas of engine performance and overall styling. Certainly, no V-Twin seems likely to be able to compete stopwatch-to-stopwatch with a Four of similar or even smaller displacement, but frankly, we were slightly disappointed by the Shadow's acceleration. With all that hightech hardware swimming around inside the 1100's engine cases, we expected the bike to have a performance edge over its two most obvious rivals, the FX-series Harleys and the Yamaha Virago. But it didn't. It's merely on even par with these bikes-no better, no worse.
Styling, on the other hand, admittedly is a judgement call, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that. And we don't mean to imply that the Shadow is ugly. Far from it; the Shadow is cleanly styled and its proportions are correct. It's just that the Shadow is, when compared to its competition, conservative—too much so for our tastes. And out on Main Street, being too conservative can translate into anonymity. Remember, the Shadow is going up against the likes of Harley's Gee-that's-what-a-motorcycle-should-look-like Softail and the almost irresistible Virago 1000. That's tough competition.
So the 1100 Shadow emerges as a likeable motorcyle that does everything well but nothing spectacularly. Despite that, it's easy to predict that Honda will have no difficulty selling the 110 Shadows that roll off of the Marysville, Ohio, assembly lines each day. The engine will have the most to do with this, proving once again that the V-Twin is America's favorite motor.
We can't help but squint at the profile of the 1100, though, and envision a slightly redone Shadow. One with more-spirited performance, a livelier exhaust note and flashier styling. One that expands the V-Twin cruiser's horizons instead of echoing past achievements. We can only hope that someone at Honda is doing a little squinting as well. S
Source Cycle World 1985