Honda Motorcycles

Why is the Honda Shadow an Underrated Cruiser Series?

Why is the Honda Shadow an Underrated Cruiser Series?

Honda entered the American cruiser market by launching its Shadow series in 1983. Even after 25 years, the production of Shadow motorcycles continues today. Each year, Honda fans eagerly wait for announcements of the newest Honda models. However, the Honda Shadow series is often overlooked due to being overshadowed by the larger and flashier bikes. This article discusses why the Honda Shadow series is underrated despite its specifications, features, and performances. 

1. Honda Shadow Cruiser Series - Introduction

Honda Shadow motorcycles were designed for novice riders looking for reliable and affordable 500 cc or 750 cc cruisers outside of Harley Davidson. Initially, the 1984 Honda Shadow models were reduced to 700 cc due to America’s tariff restrictions on the import of Japanese motorcycles.

After the tariff restrictions were removed in 1985, Honda upgraded the lineup to 1100 cc. In 1988, the 750 cc models were replaced by 800 cc bikes. During the same year, a 600 cc entry-level motorcycle lineup was launched as part of the Shadow series. Until 1996, the engineering, technology, and styling of all the Shadow motorcycles remained essentially the same.

In 1997, Honda launched its coolest cruiser, the Honda Shadow Ace. This 750 cc motorcycle featured a newer version of the RC44E engine, full fenders, and a retro look. After the success of the Honda Shadow Ace, the company launched the 1100 cc Honda Shadow Sabre in 2000. This model was eventually discontinued in 2007 to make way for the VTX1300 series.

From 2010-2011, Honda limited the Shadow series to a 750 cc motorcycle available in four variants: Honda Shadow Spirit, Honda Shadow Phantom, Honda Shadow Aero, and Honda Shadow RS. Standard motorcycles, tourers, and lightweight cruisers were made part of the Honda Rebel and VTX series. The Honda Shadow RS 750 was discontinued in 2013, while the Honda Shadow Spirit was discontinued after 2015.

The Honda Shadow Aero 750 and Shadow Phantom 750 are still in production, except for one gap year in 2021. The Honda Powersports website also lists an upcoming 2024 Honda Shadow Aero and Shadow Phantom model.

1.1 Honda Shadow Cruisers - Specifications

Besides styling, ergonomics, seats, and color schemes, there is little difference between the Honda Shadow Phantom 750 and Shadow Aero 750. Below is a table comparing the features and specifications of the Honda Shadow Aero and Shadow Phantom motorcycles:

  2023 Honda Shadow Phantom 2023 Honda Shadow Aero
Engine, Fuel System, & Performance
Engine Type  52° Four Stroke, Liquid Cooled V-Twin Engine 52° Four Stroke, Liquid Cooled V-Twin Engine
Fuel Induction  PGM-FI; 34mm Throttle Bodies PGM-FI; 34mm Throttle Bodies
Valve Train  Three Valves per Cylinder
SOHC Configuration
Three Valves per Cylinder
SOHC Configuration
Displacement 745 cc 745 cc
Torque  64 Nm 64 Nm
Horsepower 45 hp 45 hp
Top Speed  95 mph 95 mph
Chassis & Drive Train
Suspension  41 mm Front Fork
Dual Rear Shocks
41 mm Front Fork
Dual Rear Shocks
Brakes  Single 296 mm Front Disc
Single 276 mm Rear Disc
Single 296 mm Front Disc
Single 276 mm Rear Disc
Tires 120/90-17 Front
160/80-15 Rear
120/90-17 Front
160/80-15 Rear
Transmission  Five-Speed Five-Speed
Final Drive  Shaft Shaft
Mileage 56 mpg 56 mpg
Fuel Capacity  3.9 gal 3.7 gals
Wheelbase 64.6 in 64.5 in
Seat Height  25.6 in 26 in
Rake Angle  34° 34°
Trail  6.3 in 6.3 in
Weight  543 lbs 560 lbs
Paint Scheme
Colors  Matte Black Metallic
Adventure  Green
Ultra Blue Metallic

1.2 Honda Shadow Cruisers - Features

Honda Shadows are beginner-friendly cruisers that offer a complete package of performance and looks. Smooth rides providing adequate power for highway rides, urban cruising, and short-distance trips, these motorcycles ensure a safe and enjoyable riding experience for novice and experienced riders alike. The low-slung seat, forward-mounted foot-pegs, and stylish pulled-back handlebars provide comfortable ergonomic configurations for all heights. Here is a quick overview of all the features Honda Shadow Phantom and Shadow Aero motorcycles possess:

  • Engine Performance: The fuel injected V-Twin engine is designed to handle commutes, urban roads, and weekend getaways. 
  • Three-Valve Combustion Chamber: The big-bore V-twin motor features a dual intake and single exhaust to improve air flow and optimize engine efficiency. This in turn boosts horsepower and torque. 
  • Low Seat Height: Comfortable, low-slung saddle helps keep a low center of gravity, makes flat-footing easier when stopped, and offers a comfortable cruising experience.
  • Exhaust System: The two-into-two exhaust system features stylish muffler heads and slim pipes that create an aggressive look while also bringing out the classic cruiser styling.
  • Instruments: The blacked-out tank-mounted instrument assembly features an odometer, speedometer, fuel range, trip meter, and indicator lights.
  •  Stripped-Down Look: Honda Shadow motorbikes have a blacked-out look, striking paint jobs, and a few chrome accents in the case of the Shadow Aero. No extra accessories are installed on the bike. This clean stripped-down look highlights the sleek silhouette, elegant lines, and small tear-drop shaped fuel tank. Furthermore, the final shaft drive adds to the charm of the clean look.
  • Five-Speed Transmission: Featuring wide gear ratios, the five-speed transmission allows you to transition smoothly between slow street travel to fast highway speeds without straining the engine.

Honda Shadow Features
Comfort & Styling Honda Shadow Phantom Honda Shadow Aero
Wide Pull-Back Handlebars 
Comfortable Seat 
Upright Riding Position 
Chrome Accents  X
Blacked-out Look
Bobber Styling  X
Short Fenders  X
Full Fenders  X
Tank-Mounted Instruments 
Spoke Wheels 
Luggage Bags  X X
Windshield  X X
ABS Optional 

2. Reasons Why Honda Shadow Cruisers Are Underrated

From the specifications and features, one can conclude that Honda Shadow cruisers are reliable and comfortable rides. With adequate legroom, minimal knee space, upright riding positions, wide handlebars, fuel injected V-Twin engines, low-maintenance shaft drives, five-speed transmissions, and traditional cruiser styling, there is nothing to dislike. Moreover, the continued production of Honda Shadow motorcycles and high sales further cement that these bikes are still in demand. But given the chance, the average Honda Shadow buyer would love to get a sportier, aggressive, and modern-looking bike. The reasons people are less inclined to buy a Honda Shadow model and the reason they are underrated include the following:

2.1 Lack of Wow Factor

Honda Shadow motorcycles have remained unchanged for over a decade, resulting in them receiving little to no attention. Due to how similarly Honda Shadow models are built, it would be difficult to distinguish one bike from another if it weren’t for their emblems.

The Shadow cruisers can have full or short fenders, chrome accents or blacked-out parts, spoke wheels, low-slung saddles, traditional paint jobs, liquid-cooled V-twin motors, wide handlebars, single-disc brakes, etc. None of these features are considered unique or eye-catching. Even the metallic paint jobs and optional ABS does little to attract riders.

Compared to the Kawasaki Vulcan, Yamaha Bolt, Indian Scout, and Harley Davidson 880 Iron Sportster, Honda Shadow models are less stylish than them.

2.2 Same Old Chassis & Technology

Since 2010-2011, Honda made the following upgrades to the Shadow cruisers:

  • Two-into-one exhaust system was upgraded to the two-into-two exhaust system 
  • Rear drum brakes were replaced with disc brakes 
  • CV carburetor was replaced with PGM-FI fuel-injection system 
  • SOHC cylinders were modified to increase the engine’s compression ratios
  • The older frame was replaced with a new steel-tube chassis with a lower frame and an even lower seat height 
  • The chain drive was replaced with a shaft drive 
  • Anti-lock brake options were first added to the front wheel first then the rear brakes later on.

Riders admit that Honda Shadow engines are extremely low maintenance and last longer than expected. The engines produce manageable speed, horsepower, and torque. Similarly, the low frame makes it easier to handle and maneuver the bike regardless of your level of experience. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially in the suspension, braking, and lighting.

2.3 Reputation as a Beginner-Friendly Bike

Whether you search online, ask a friend, or ask a motorcycle trainer, almost everyone will call the Honda Shadow series entry-level bikes. If you are a Honda fan asking for recommendations, your fellow riders will tell you to either get a Rebel or a Shadow Phantom/Aero as your first motorcycle.

Due to most Honda Shadow bikes having a minimalistic look, manageable power output, lightweight chassis, and easy handling, it is appealing to novice riders who have just acquired their licenses and need to practice their riding skills. If you are looking to upgrade to a bigger, heavier, and more aggressive bike, Honda Shadow models will not suit your needs.

2.4 Availability

Honda Shadows are readily available on the market. Even if Honda suddenly stops production, you can easily find most Shadow bikes in the second-hand market. Many riders want to get more glamorous, sportier bikes in exchange for their older bikes. While availability is a plus, it can also take away from the charm of Shadow motorcycles since most riders hate seeing their bikes being ridden by others. That’s often why many riders avoid bikes that look the same year after year like the Honda Shadow models.

2.5 Customizability

The Honda Shadow series includes easily customizable bikes with many OEM and aftermarket parts available on the market. Whether you want to convert your Shadow into a sports bike, a tourer, or a custom motorcycle, you can add a fairing, saddlebags, sissy bars windshield, luggage rack, passenger seat, LED lights, and more to transform it. Many riders go as far as to repaint their motorbikes’ frames to help them stand out.

But the time, money, and work required to transform a Honda Shadow model into a custom motorcycle is often seen as too troublesome for riders, resulting in them looking for other motorcycles.

2.6 Touring Capability

Even with the addition of saddlebags, a windshield, and a luggage rack, Honda Shadow cruisers have limited touring capability. It is possible to travel 200+ miles on Honda Shadow bikes; however, the suspension leaves much to be desired. Though Honda Shadow cruisers have an average front suspension travel of 4.6 inches and a rear suspension travel of 3.5 inches, the suspension becomes less effective on bumpy roads.

To ensure a smoother ride, you may have to upgrade the suspension system by installing aftermarket set-ups. One option is the Honda Shadow EZ Rider Motorcycle Air Suspension kit which can help improve riding comfort. However, it is an expensive upgrade that can range between $600-$1,200.

Many riders also feel less confident riding with a single disc brake system, especially when traveling on highways. The fear of getting into an accident can prevent riders from enjoying the overall touring experience. Many riders feel the weight of the Honda Shadow bikes causes them to turn slowly and make turning difficult.

2.7 Competition

The American motorcycle market is highly competitive, especially when competing with Harley Davidson motorcycles. In the U.S., many riders prefer Harley Davidson bikes due to being American cruisers, while the Honda Shadow lineup are Japanese builds.

Though Honda designed the Shadow cruiser series to compete with Harley motorcycles, it has failed to keep up with Harley’s constantly improving technology, styling, mechanics, comfort, and features. Instead, Honda is still relying on its 10-12-year-old technology due to being strong, reliable, and having a secure place in the market as beginner-friendly cruisers.

2.8 Marketing

Most riders often overlook the incredible performance of Honda Shadow models. Unfortunately, Honda does not market the Shadow series as aggressively as other companies do with their respective models. Only true Honda fans keep track of the announcements of new models. Honda mostly capitalizes on the age of the Shadow series. Since these bikes were introduced in 1983 and the 750 cc Shadow Phantom and Shadow Aero have been around for over a decade now, Honda focuses more on marketing its newer additions to other lineups rather than focus on the Shadow series.

2.9 Affordability

Honda Shadow models are some of the cheapest bikes available in the 750 cc range. Both the 2023 Honda Shadow Aero and Honda Shadow Phantom have a base price of $7,999.

Unfortunately, a low base price is often associated with low-quality. Newer riders or those with little knowledge about motorcycles often consider Honda Shadow models as average-performance two-wheelers that might break down frequently.

But contrary to popular belief, Honda Shadow models have low prices due to supply and demand. Since there is a surplus in the supply of Honda Shadow motorbikes, Honda often lowers the price to try and get rid of excess inventory. Also, Honda delivered on its promise to provide an affordable yet performance-oriented cruisers. Unfortunately, the Shadow series did not receive the appreciation it deserves.

3. Takeaway

Just because the Honda Shadow series is not as popular as Harley Davidson cruisers, this does not mean they are not worth riding. In fact, their high resale values, demand in the second-hand market, customizability, and longevity make them worthwhile investments.

If you are looking for a trendy bike, then Honda Shadow cruisers are not for you. But if you want to buy a reliable bike for daily commutes, weekend getaways, short-distance camping trips, and urban cruising, then a Honda Shadow model would best suit you. The bike delivers in performance what it lacks in looks and wow factor. Though it is not as technologically advanced as most Kawasaki, Harley, Suzuki, or Yamaha models, it offers a sense of familiarity and comfort. Before you make a decision, it is recommended that you visit a dealership that sells Honda Shadow models, go on a test ride, and determine which bike best suits your needs. If there is no local dealership nearby, consider renting a Honda Shadow model on Riders Share or Twisted Roads instead.

Reading next

How to Avoid and Control a Motorcycle Skid
First Look at Harley Davidson’s 2023 Fast Johnnie Enthusiast Collection

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.