It's funny, in a way.
Let's say it's, oh, 1973. A nice, clear Sunday afternoon, one of those
magical days that falls somewhere 'twixt winter and spring. You're out for the
first real warm-weather outing of the year, parked beside a roadside Café,
sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup as you stare up the pavement that skitters
away through the trees. From around a curve drifts the peculiar rhapsody of
Quick. Name that tune.
The first sound is a low, loud pounding, like a kettledrum roll. Easy.
British Big Twin. Then, a high-pitched popping. No sweat. Japanese two-stroke.
Next, an octave or two lower, there's a fast-revving whine. Japanese four-stroke
multi. Finally, the unmistakable rhythmic gallop of a 45° V-Twin. Harley.
Couldn't be anything else.
Those were simple times.
Okay. 1983 now, same kind of afternoon. The kettledrum roll and the popping
seem to be stranded somewhere on the shoulder of the highway of time. Most of
the noises that waft past the curve are whines. A sign, or sound, of the times.
Suddenly, there's a historic rumble, and a gallop echoes past the bend. The bike
heaves into view.
Yep. A Twin, cylinders in a 45° VEE. High handlebars, highway pegs, stepped
seat, radiator, even a winged emblem on the gas tank. Huh? Radiator"1.
This is a Honda, for crissake.
Ten years ago, had you announced to a collection of motorcyclists that an
inline, 45° V-Twin street bike was in Honda's future, your gray cell mixture
would've been thought a little lean. Even five years ago, after the introduction
of Honda's opposed, 80° V-Twin CX500, you still would have been judged not quite
After all, in the 1970s, we all knew what direction Honda was taking: More Is
Better, they might've labelled it. More cylinders. More valves. More electronic
wizardry. More styling alterations. More changes. It was the era of the doo-dad,
technological evolution at its fastest.
And Honda wasn't alone. The other Japanese manufacturers also scurried into
the doo-dad fray.
Not everyone did. Harley-Davidson, Triumph, BMW and Ducati come to mind. They
wouldn't, or in some cases couldn't, try to out-tech the Japanese. What they
had, they stuck to. No choice? Stubbornness? Maybe. Still, their bikes came to
represent something. Tradition, you might call it. Heritage. Romance, even.
And those bikes sold. Not in great numbers, to be sure, but they did.
Steadily. It turned out that, in an age of technological sophistication and
change, there was still a market for tradition. And the simple times it
Honda has realized that. Thus, the VT750C. The Shadow. Honda's first inline
V-Twin. A return to the tried and true.
Despite protests to the contrary, it's clear that Honda borrowed heavily from
Harley in drawing up the Shadow. Just a quick glance at the styling will tell
you that. Then, there's the engine: 750cc, with a bore and stroke of 79.5mm by
75.5 mm. Hell of a coincidence, there. Those dimensions are virtually the same
as those of Harley's 45°, V-Twin XR750 flat track engine. Honda, by the way,
will use a version of the Shadow 750 engine in its AMA racing this year.
What's news here really isn't that Honda's engineers might have, well,
borrowed the basic engine design. The news is what they did to refine it, update
it, make it their engine. They've added water-cooling, overhead cams,
automatic valve lash adjusters, an extra valve and an extra spark plug per
cylinder, and offset crankpins. They also gave the Shadow an anti-hop clutch,
six-speed transmission, shaft drive and a list of maintenance-free features.
The new engine has a vertically split crankcase, the first in recent years
for a Honda street bike. In it, the crankshaft and mainshaft turn in plain
bearings. To achieve perfect primary balance and smooth out the usual
narrow-angle V-Twin vibration, the Shadow 750's crank-pins are offset (see
accompanying article). The firing order is something of a cross between that of
Harley's 45° V-Twins and a 180° parallel Twin. In a Harley, the second cylinder
fires 315° after the first. Then, the first fires again at 405°. In the parallel
Twin, the second cylinder fires 180° after the first. The first fires again at
540°. The Shadow is somewhere in between; the second cylinder fires 225° after
the first, then the first fires again at 495°.
The combustion chamber used in the Shadow has a valve-included angle of 37°.
The angle permits a compact chamber that, helped by an extra intake valve and an
extra plug, provides quick burns. With the ignition fully advanced, spark timing
is 26° BTDC, compared to the 40° BTDC that was common before the design of
fast-burning engines. The advantage is that quick combustion times allow the use
of a high compression ratio (9.8:1 here) in this day of low-octane gas. The two
intake valves measure 31mm, the exhaust valve 40mm. The camshaft opens the
intake valves at 10° BTDC and closes them at 40° ATDC. The exhaust valve is
opened at 40° BTDC and closed at 10° ATDC. Intake and exhaust valve lift is 9mm,
with 20° of overlap, measured at 1mm lift.
The cylinder heads are identical, one of the nice things about 45° V-Twins as
opposed to a 90° V-Twin. Wide-angle V-Twins are more expensive to produce,
because the two cylinders and heads must be different castings to ensure that
the cooling fins match the direction of the cooling airflow. Not that Honda
really had to consider that with the Shadow. The cooling fins are pretty much
decorative; the radiator, electric cooling fan (thermostatically controlled) and
full cylinder water jackets take care of the cooling.
The two downdraft, constant-velocity carburetors nestle in the Vee, giving
the combustion mixture a straight shot through the intake tracts to the valves
and chamber. Both exhaust ports, though, take something of a strange jog, maybe
to place the exhaust pipes where the stylists wanted them or to shorten the
engine. Probably both.
This is one of several new Hondas this year with automatic valve lash
adjustments. The sohc valve actuating system has hydraulic lash adjusters that
push on eccentric spindles attached to individual rocker arms. The adjusters are
spring-loaded, taking up any clearance when the cam is on the base circle. When
the cam opening ramp presses against the rocker arm, the hydraulic adjuster
locks solid after movement of only a few thousandths of an inch. Honda found it
necessary to add a spring-loaded plunger to press on the eccentric opposite the
lifter, so it keeps the rocker against the cam instead of pushing it away.
As in the Honda Nighthawk 650 (Cycle World, January, 1983), the system
incorporates oil de-aeration chambers in the head to bleed off air that might
become trapped in the oil. Aerated oil would allow the adjusters to pump down
and increase clearance.
Primary drive is by straight-cut gears, off the left side of the crankshaft
directly on to the clutch. The clutch is driven by two gears, spring-loaded to
eliminate backlash and cut noise. Power is routed through the clutch to a
three-shaft transmission; it goes through the main shaft, to one of six gears
and then to the countershaft. There, a gearset drives a jackshaft, which turns
the right-angle gearset feeding power to the drive shaft. Honda's flat track
version of the Shadow engine adds a fourth shaft to the transmission, allowing a
chain sprocket to be substituted for the gearset, without changing engine
The oil pump is driven by a chain off the clutch gear. The oil pump shaft
also drives the water pump's plastic impeller. A gearset and sprag clutch
connect the electric starter to the crankshaft.
The Shadow's one-way anti-hop clutch traces its ancestry to Honda's NR500
road race bike. The clutch was designed to help cut down rear wheel chatter, hop
and lockup on bikes with strong engine braking. In the Shadow, the clutch inner
hub is split into two sections, with a sprag clutch linking the two. The sprag
clutch turns almost without friction in one direction, locking in the other.
What happens, is that only a couple of clutch plates, driven by the inner
section, transmit braking forces, while all of the plates transmit accelerating
forces. No braking forces can be transmitted beyond the slip limit of those
inner plates, which, since they're designed to slip, are faced with an
asbestos-based friction material permitting operation at high temperatures. The
one-way clutch makes it almost impossible to lock the rear wheel by
downshifting. Unlike the NR, which had the device mounted on the transmission
countershaft, engine braking for the Shadow is dependent on what gear is
engaged. The strongest engine braking is in first gear, with less in the higher
The powertrain rests in a double-cradle, tubular steel frame. Nothing unusual
here. Leading-axle, 39 mm telescopic front forks are air-adjustable, and allow
5.7 in. of travel. There's an integral fork brace. In the rear, the standard
adjustable hydraulic damping shocks allow 4.1 in. of swing arm movement. Wheels
are cast alloy; a 19-incher up front, a 15-incher in the back. That gives the
Shadow the widest (3.5 in.) and smallest diameter production street rear wheel.
Front wheel braking is handled by dual piston calipers and 10.8 in. discs.
The rear wheel has a 6.3 in. drum brake.
The Shadow gets a 55/60-watt round headlight and self-cancelling turn
signals. Instrumentation is normal: speedometer, electric tachometer, odometer,
push-button resettable trip odometer, neutral indicator, turn, taillight and
high beam indicators. There's also a temperature gauge and a low-on-fuel warning
light. Pay attention to the fuel light; the Shadow doesn't have a reserve
petcock. When the light goes on, there's a half-gallon left in the 3.3-gal. gas
tank. No reserve. Oh, there's also a little light to let you know when the
Shadow's in sixth gear, which Honda persists in calling overdrive. Even though
In the round of Cycle World tests, the Shadow 750 posted a
13.17-sec. quarter-mile at 97.93 mph, making it a shade faster than Yamaha's 750
Virago, a 75° V-Twin. Top speed after a half-mile was 109 mph. Top-gear roll-ons
took 6.1 sec. from 40-60 mph, and 6.4 sec. from 60-80 mph. Braking was adequate,
although certainly not exceptional: 33 feet from 30 mph and 139 feet from 60
mph. On Cycle World's mileage loop, the Shadow got 61 mpg, respectable
for a 750 Twin. The test weight, with a half-tank of gas, was 495 lb.
The styling... there are two schools of thought here. You like it. Or you
don't like it. Simple. Honda says the Shadow was styled to compete against
Yamaha's Virago 750 V-Twin. Compete against Harley? Tight lips on that one.
Anyway, the folks at Honda are describing the Shadow 750 as "a styling
exercise." Okay. But it's obvious that whoever exercised on this had a strict
diet of custom/cruiser/choppers. If ever a bike had Saturday Night Fever, it is
A quick run down the styling checklist. Two-piece, royally stepped seat.
Sissy bar. Highway pegs. High-rise bars. Bobbed rear fender. Extra-wide diameter
exhaust pipes with a king-hell of a bend on the left side. Extended front forks
(32° rake). Speedo and tach right off a Certain American Bike. Ditto the
instrument cluster; it resides under a plastic, aluminum-colored cover that
resembles the headlight mount on (see above). The gas tank—well, what's supposed
to look like the gas tank; the real one's under the seat. Anyway, what
looks like the gas tank is styled along the lines of the peanut tank of (see
above, again). It's not an exact copy (too wide), but it's close. If that C.A.B.
has a peanut tank, the Shadow has a cashew.
The real problem with so-called styling exercises is that they usually
require a great deal of compromise, with function usually giving way to form.
That's what happened to the Shadow.
The strongest point the Shadow has is its engine. The motor has the broadest
spread of power this side of an 1100. Still, it's a subdued powerband, one that
nudges you instead of giving you a boot in the seat. At first, it seems a little
flat, balky, lacking in response, slow to rev. Then you realize that you've
become accustomed to bikes with rather peaky power curves, peaks that are
accentuated by the flat spots you have to persevere through to get to the power.
What you're doing is waiting for the Shadow to hit that peak and open up. Wrong.
The Shadow doesn't have that Mt. Everest of power. But then, it doesn't have
that Death Valley of a flat spot that usually accompanies the peak. What it has,
is a nice, steady, reliable, power range, torquey and useable: Honda says
horsepower is68bhp at7500;claimed torque is 49.4 lb.-ft. at 6000 rpm. That's
enough to make the Shadow pull from just under 1200 rpm in sixth. The best
concentration of power seems to be from 6000 8000 rpm, but even then there's no
mistaking the power for a real peak. It's more of a hill. A comfortable hill.
The engine is most comfortable at a highway lope. In top gear, 4000 rpm will
have you doing 70 mph.
Maintenance-free features are a plus. No drive chain to adjust. Electronic
ignition; no points. Automatic cam chain tensioner. Hydraulic clutch; no
adjustment there. No valve lash adjustments.
The anti-hop clutch is another of the Shadow's virtues. It works. It's
possible to make downshifts that are unthinkable on other bikes. Kick it down,
release the clutch. If you've miscalculated and there's too much engine braking,
too much drag, the clutch'll free-wheel a bit, then firmly tug down your speed.
Very forgiving; very nice.
Handling, especially for a cruiser, is more than adequate. The Shadow is
capable of doing more than it probably will ever be asked to do. Ground Clearance is good (5.9 in.). Where you might run into some problems is cornering
under hard braking, or leaning over on a choppy road. Unless you pressurize the
front forks (0-6 psi is the maximum recommended pressure), they're very easily
bottomed. Steering is surprisingly light.
Which brings us to the Shadow's weak points. As are many things designed for
a certain look (contemporary Danish furniture, for example), the Shadow is on
the uncomfortable side. Somehow, the bars, grips, seat and pegs just don't
coexist harmoniously. Our riders represent a number of different physiques and
riding styles, and no one found the bike comfortable. Lower the bars, said some,
and move them forward. Lower the pegs, said others. Eliminate the step in the
seat ..'. We don't know just what the problem is, but you can't settle into the
bike the way you should be able to do. There's one culprit that's easy to spot:
the fake gas tank. It's too wide. There's no reason for it, aside from styling.
It forces your knees and legs apart, rather defeating one of the most attractive
things about an inline Twin: its narrowness.
The Shadow buzzes, too. It's not that noticeable at the pegs and seat, but at
freeway speeds the pegs vibrate like killer bees. Rubber engine mounts would
alleviate this. Then, there's the left-hand exhaust pipe. Apparently, Honda's
stylists studied enough Harleys to know that at least one object on a big V-Twin
is supposed to interfere with the rider's leg. Since the airbox (Harley's
interference) is tucked away, it had to be the pipe. It bends forward where it
comes out of the head and meets the rider's calf. It's a real hummer, too.
Some minor things. The ride is a bit choppy. Not enough to deal you some real
jolts, but bumpy enough to make a less-than-comfortable ride even more so. And
the sixth gear indicator. When the blue light is on, it's next to impossible to
make out the little OD label. Very easy to mistake it for a warning light. A
couple of our riders spent more than a few freeway miles checking to see if the
coolant had leaked out, the sidestand was missing or the passenger had dropped
off. They were relieved when they figured out that the Shadow was just trying to
tell them they were riding in sixth. Relieved, yes. Impressed, no. After all,
it's easy enough to tell when a bike's in top; there are no gears left. The
battery: to fit in the space the stylists allocated, the battery is T-shaped.
One of a kind; a replacement is $70-plus.
So what is it that we have here? We think of the Shadow as an interesting
mix: an exciting engine in something of an overstated package. A strange blend,
like 20-year-old Scotch poured into one of those collector's edition bottles.
How well it goes down depends on your taste.