MOTOR MATTERS AUTO REVIEW: Honda’s `Harley-like’ Cruiser: Shadow Phantom
In the early 1980s, Honda motorcycles wanted space in the cruiser market. At the time, cruisers were defined by Harley-Davidson’s ubiquitous silhouette and distinctive sound, so early attempts by Big Red in 1983 were lukewarm at best. Honda stayed with the program through many iterations and displacements, rode out the market fluctuations and the Shadow earned a loyal foothold.
The Shadow line is a continuing series of V-twin, water-cooled, shaft-drive bikes with displacements ranging from a diminutive 125cc up to 1100.
Honda has always tailored the bikes as “Harley-ish” as possible considering the varying displacements and physical size. And the new Shadow VT750C2B doesn’t stray far from the proven path. Wire wheels with black rims, bobbed fenders, matte-black highlights play up the new look; there’s a minimum of fanciness with chrome only being lavished on the gas cap, wheel spokes, a few bolts, and the gorgeous 2-into-2 Sportster style exhaust.
The look may be classic but the motor is Honda efficient. The SOHC cylinder heads are three-valve, dual plug designs that breathe well enough for adequate cruiser torque and power, making the midsize, 52-degree V-twin 750cc motor a good fit for its intended market. The exhaust is a classic design that looks and sounds the part.
The five-speed wide-ratio gearbox fit my urban environment perfectly. The motor is a “square” bore/stroke design coupled up to a heavy alternator that provides a large reciprocating mass, this design enhances the seat-of-the-pants torque feel. The torque works well in the slow bits and in the twisty two-lanes. It’s fun to stand the bike up with the throttle rolling out of corners. Top gear pulls the freeway fine up to cruiser velocity.
Horsepower peaks at 5,500 rpm and torque peaks at 3,500 rpm so there’s less need to use higher revs. There’s no tachometer to judge the numbers, but urgent acceleration drops off at upper freeway speed. Keep it real and the Phantom is fun. Wanna blast across the desert slab at nearly triple digits? Well, the Phantom may not be your ride.
The shaft drive is clean and carefree. The headlight is excellent, wide and bright with a high beam that projects out further than most. The mirrors are excellent, one of the few bikes that gives a blur-free image without having to twist shoulders and arms like a gymnast. Well done, Honda.
The Gunfighter-style seat fit well — I rode 180-mile days without significant butt burn. Electronic mannerisms? None. There’s also no fuel gauge, no slipper clutch, no ABS, no gear indicator. However, there are dual trip meters and a low fuel light.
The rear suspension is a budget setup with no tuning for compression or rebound. Pre-load is controlled by a five-position cam ring/rear spring. Short sharp thumps were best avoided. On a standard frame design, a portion of rider weight can be taken with the legs which keeps the weight transferred to the frame, like standing in the stirrups.
With the Shadow’s foot-forward design and 25-inch seat height, I had to pull myself up with the bars; this allowed the now-unweighted frame to slap me with the seat. I learned to compensate for hard dips. However, cornering on smooth asphalt was great fun. The foot-forward design allowed me to drag my boot heels at will on corners.
A single 34mm throttle-body meters fuel efficiently and gave the 549-pound wet-weight Phantom an honest 50 mpg over 400 miles. Honda gave the bike an old-school drum rear brake and a single 296mm front disc with a twin-pot caliper. Use both brakes if you’re traveling briskly or riding two-up. Passenger accommodation looks spartan and I did not test it.
The price is $7,699 and dealer costs, markup, tax, plus license will add to the mix. Genuine Honda accessories abound including bags, windshield, leather front bag, tank belt, backrest; there are enough cruiser add-ons to make the ride your own.