We're torn. We can't decide if we're merely content with Honda's new Shadow Spirit 750, or pleasantly surprised by it. It's one of those instances where our usual senses have failed us and we're forced to rely on visceral cues to develop a semi-coherent conclusion. By any other measuring stick, this Spirit is a competent, aesthetically satisfying piece of machinery_--_like most Hondas. But, like its dubious name, Honda's new 750 is tough to label. Is it a reflected image of an existing entity or just the ghost of one? Unanimous judgements about the personality of Honda's latest middleweight won't be readily forthcoming.
For example, today we fawned over the way the Spirit schussed through sweeping curves and undulating esses during a day of canyon-carving around Death Valley, the deepest hole in the U.S. Yesterday, on a longer, more relaxed jaunt over the same valley floor, we grimaced at the way the bike boxed in our butts with its steep, unforgiving saddle. Or was that because of the crate of chocolate croissants we inhaled over the holidays? Shadow or spirit? We scratched our heads. Confusion reigned.
Casting a Shadow
We're not completely befuddled, though; it's not like this is Florida. It's as clear as a pregnant chad that the Spirit's positioned as an answering salvo to Yamaha's popular 650 V-Star. The Honda is styled more menacingly, however_--_it's a chopperesque street rod to Yammy's more portly, full-fendered boulevardier. And from an engine and value standpoint, Yamaha should have cause to worry_--_the Spirit has a bigger mill, yet is priced the same as the 650 V-Star.
While the Spirit's basic engine design shadows the same VLX-derived V-twin Honda 750s have carried for years, its new bodywork and wide-ratio gearing distinguishes it from the A.C.E. 750 and A.C.E. 750 Deluxe. The Spirit also has more stylishly minimalist appeal than the staid A.C.E. With its skinny, larger 19-inch spoked front tire and glowering attitude, the Spirit comes across as an almost friendly bad boy bike.
Don't Break Out the Geritol Yet...
Officially, the Shadow Spirit is a new model for 2001, thus expanding Honda's stable of middleweight cruisers to three. This 750 gets a new frame, steering head and a more radical rake_--_along with traditional spoked wheels on a slimmer front tire. Out back, it receives chromed shocks with preload adjustability, and a bobbed rear fender to underscore its streetwise attitude.
Based on Honda's venerable liquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin engine, the Spirit's alert motor usurps previous anemic iterations of this 750 powerplant. The bike has impressive torque in the lower rpm ranges, with lower gearing. And, as with Honda's other Shadows_--_from the 600 VLX to the popular 1100s to the impending 1800 VTX_--_this engine sports twin-plug, three-valve cylinder heads, with two intakes and one exhaust valve. Quiet, maintenance-free cam chain adjusters combine to keep the mechanical workings eerily smooth.
The powerplant is no recycled has-been, however; the 745cc mill offers nimble acceleration, with considerably faster throttle response than its predecessors. Power delivery is predictable and smooth right from idle, and the 36mm Keihin diaphragm carburetors now contain a new electric heater system to improve ridability and ensure easy start-ups in colder weather. An aluminum radiator with a cooling fan keeps engine temperature consistent. A 296mm single front rotor offers a big bite for the twin-piston caliper to slow things down if you find yourself straying over the speed limit, which is a good thing_--_the 180mm drum rear brake barely makes itself heard over the hubbub.
We found the clutch to be light and reliable, but took issue with its awkward engagement point near the end of its travel. Luckily, this is easily remedied with a simple adjustment to the lever. The five-speed tranny yielded smooth and progressive gear shifts with each prod, and the O-ring sealed chain final drive, while potentially messy, didn't contribute any significant lash hiccups. If you're fully loaded though, passing tractor-trailers up steep inclines can be an adventurous undertaking.
Yin and Yang
On newly-laid asphalt, the Spirit's suspension was almost dreamy, yielding a ride smooth enough to perform circumcisions on. On older, wrinkled highways, however, the thing was jacking expansion joint bumps into our kidneys like Mike Tyson. While the sharp bumps we encountered in the city were too taut and jarring for our boney butts, the dual shocks in back provide a comfortable three-and-a-half inches of travel, with five-position spring preload adjustability and an advanced internal valve system that allows you to dial-in your preferences. We recommend you take the time to fool with these settings right away_--_as it could make the difference between ear-to-ear grins and ear-splitting shrieks. The Spirit is also a claimed 10 pounds lighter than the A.C.E., probably because there's less bodywork to junk up the proceedings. The front 41mm fork still offers a comfortable five inches of travel, and the rectangular section steel tube backbone frame features forged pivot plate castings with rigid engine mounts and a rugged, cast steering head.
All that rigidity comes in handy_--_when we took it out for a high-speed flog, we found the Spirit stayed firmly planted in sweeping corners, surprising us with solid, confident handling characteristics. Cornering clearance is likewise grin-generating, with the peg rarely encountering asphalt, even when fully heeled over.
The long and low custom-styled gas tank may look diminutive, but it holds an adequate 3.6 gallons. One hundred and eight miles will go by before one starts groping madly for the questionably positioned petcock. We did find the 1.3-gallon reserve a generous ally, offering far more mileage leeway than most bikes. It got us out of a tight spot on one fateful Death Valley outing_--_we squeezed more than 30 miles out of the reserve looking for the next gas station. Don't try this at home, though. Or in Death Valley.... The ends of the tank, however, tended to dig into our thighs; we felt it should have been tapered at the saddle junction for a more comfortable ride. And we can't think of a worse position for the petcock_--_it's sequestered near the saddle, way under the gas tank.
But Leave the Wife at Home
If you're heading up the coast on the Spirit for an overnighter, do yourself a favor and limit your carry-on luggage to a backpack_--_you won't find much surface area to strap hooks to, or fender rails to use as anchor points. And the narrow, sloped dragster seat will likely have you squirming after an hour or so. The saddle height is a Lilliputian 26.6 inches_--_claimed to be the lowest in its class. That's fine for smaller and/or beginning riders, but some of our larger testers attested to wedgie concerns. We suspect that's just their poorly designed undergarments, though, because we found short trips around town to be relatively chafe-free.
Ergonomically, this isn't a big bike anyway; the pulled back bar and small, low seat might conspire to squeeze those over six feet in height, forcing them to sit more forward than they'd like. The pegs locate your feet up and in front, which works well for highway duty, but proves to be a pain in city traffic when you need to extract your feet quickly to the controls.
The narrow, semi-swept handlebar is mounted on rubber-cushioned risers which reduce vibration and makes traipsing around town pleasant. Its positioning also minimizes wind pressure at highway speeds so you're not spread out wide like a big sail, but the same narrow bar can feel floppy during low-speed, parking lot-style maneuvers due to the bike's aggressive rake.
As for rear seating, well, we can't endorse the Spirit as a great passenger vehicle. The pillion is miniscule and nearly eliminates the possibility of hauling around any companion taller than Dr. Ruth. Passenger pegs force your fare into a near squat, and we can't imagine anyone tolerant enough to agree to that sort of abuse willingly. Except perhaps Dr. Ruth.
It's Better to Look Good
Styling-wise, we love the look of this bike. The profile is mean and clean, and many of our staffers were caught giving the Spirit sideways glances. One observer noted the Spirit could pass for a Harley-Davidson Sportster_--_from a few paces back, in the dark with one eye closed, of course. Nevertheless, that crack probably was due to the Spirit's oval air cleaner. It's when you get closer that you notice the material, alas, no matter how oval, is made of plastic. And that's one of our big beefs with this bike_--_myriad styling accents and details are constructed of the unsavory stuff, which only serves to cheapen the product's appeal. And, in another unintentional salute to Harley, the Spirit's large, round mirrors are similarly unstable at higher speeds_--_making most images seen therein unnervingly hallucinatory. The 2-into-2 staggered bullet exhausts, however, score big styling points and release a pleasing high-pitched rumble. The cylinder fins are attractively polished, and the rear fender is a chopper-style, bobbed affair, further enhancing the street-rod style of this bike.
In a change from previous U.S. Honda 750s, the instrument cluster (an analog speedo and LCD odometer) is placed in a handsome chrome housing on the gas tank, which gives the bike more visual weight, but drops the gauges out of the rider's immediate line of sight. There's a steering head lock for added security, and the sidestand is easily accessed and deployed. The controls are placed within a relaxed reach and engagement is a snap. The color choices for 2001 are simple, with only two available: pearl white and black. Our test unit was black, which all testers agreed was the most visually appealing choice for this model.
Honda is also offering admirable aftermarket support for this Spirit, with a solid selection of accessories, including a nifty headlight cowl, leather saddlebags, a backrest, solo seat and numerous billet items.
The Shadow Spirit will likely appeal to serious riders looking for solid transportation and the occasional blast on weekends, as well as confident beginners looking to get their hands around a peppy ride. Low saddle height, manageable power characteristics and friendly handling make this bike a breeze to ride, and its enthusiastic engine provides good grins. While we may wrestle with the semantics of this bike's name, we'd probably rather ride it than debate it.
High Points: ** Great style; good suspension; the Nice Price.
**Low Points: ** Too many cheapie plastic bits; iffy seat comfort; no luggage capacity.
**First Changes: ** Replace the saddle; swap out chintzy parts for metal ones.
Honda 750 Shadow Spirit
Suggested base price: $5999
Standard colors: Black, pearl white
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC; 3 valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 745cc, 79 x 76 mm
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Carburetion: 2, 36mm Keihin
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.1 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 86 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Chain
Wet weight: 524 lb.
GVWR: 884 lb.
Wheelbase: 64.8 in.
Overall length: 91.9 in.
Rake/trail: 34 degrees / 5.98 in.
Front tire: 110 80/18 Dunlop K425F
Rear tire: 160 80/15 Dunlop K425
Front brake: Single, 2-piston caliper, 296mm disc
Rear brake: Single-action, 2-piston caliper, 180mm drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, 3.2 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 3.6 gal. (1.3 gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 30.0 in.
Inseam equivalent: 32.5 in.
Seat height: 26.6 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 300 watts Battery: 12v, 28 AH
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure and low fuel
Fuel mileage: 36 to 41 mpg, 38.9 mpg avg.
Average range: 133 miles
Rpm at 60 mph, top-gear: 3400
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 69.97 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.28 sec., 83.9 mph
**Elvidge: ** I'm a big fan of street-rod styling, so the new middle child in the Shadow family won big points at first glance. I'm also a sucker for drag bars, and the view from the saddle is immediately sexy. Good sound, decent thrust from the throttle, adequate suspension, brakes and sufficient ground clearance...what more could you want for six grand? Personally, I'm not bothered by plastic imitating chrome on these budget bikes, either. Heck, my $35,000 Dodge Ram has a gigantic plastic grill and no one snickers at that. It's all in how you look at it. The new Shadow is a great package for a budget-minded rider who's not running thin on ego. And I've a hunch this new entry will be a dominant force in the middleweight class when we round up the herd again in the spring. A 750 to outclass the mob of 800s? Very possible.
If you're a fan of plastic fantastic relate at: _Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.
**Cherney: **Initially, I didn't plan on flogging Honda's Shadow Spirit through the parched outback of Death Valley, but after the dust cleared, the choppery 750 had very nearly won me over. The seat won't gain many comfort points and forget about lugging any real cargo up steep hills, but an otherwise peppy motor and snappy good looks offer great value for the price. Honda's also rolled out a diverse line of accessories for this model, so you can easily upgrade some of the bike's shortcomings. A passenger seat probably would be a good first choice.
E-mail your heavy mettle picks to Cherney at: _Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.
**Friedman: **This could be a great choice. It has good looks, great power, well-sorted suspension and a great price. Unfortunately, the price brings more plastic than I like in a cruiser. But the biggest problem is this bike simply doesn't fit me. I have to slide way back and up the seat's step. I like the Spirit's style and power better than Yamaha's V-Star 650 Classic, but the V-Star fits me comfortably. That is still where I'd spend my $6000.