Thirteen years. If Honda were still making the Shadow 1100, 1997 would be its 13th year of production, and the 11th in essentially the same configuration. But instead of continuing to cast the same Shadow, Honda decided it was time to move beyond the venerable 1100, bringing an era to an end.

However, we don’t mourn the passing of the Shadow 1100 too much. Change can be good, particularly when the change is not simply for the sake of change. Change brought us the stylish Shadow American Classic Edition in 1994. Now, ’97 brings us the new Shadow Spirit 1100 and, by comparison, the old bike is, well, a mere shadow. While keeping everything that made the Shadow great and moving on into promising new directions, Honda has found the way to help us forget the Shadows of the past and make the present better.

Shadow 1100
The Shadow 1100 is still with us in Spirit.Fran Kuhn

Ask anyone who owned or has ridden a Shadow 1100 what they thought the bike’s biggest strength was, and they will most likely tell you it’s the engine. The Honda engineers knew a good thing when they built it and chose to make the already good engine better. The Spirit retains the Shadow’s 1099cc displacement and 45-degree cylinder V angle as well as the 87.5 x 91.4mm bore and stroke. Also unchanged are the offset dual crankpins which give the engine its characteristic smoothness. Two 36mm Keihin constant-velocity carbs feed the combustion chambers with new jetting. A single cam atop each head prods rockers and self-adjusting hydraulic tappets into action, while two intake and one exhaust valve usher gases into and out of the cylinders. The internal light show comes courtesy of two spark plugs per chamber. Liquid- cooling controls the temperature and keeps the noise level down.

Although the engine internals are essentially unchanged, the Spirit brings two major changes to the engine bay. First, a new five-speed transmission has taken up residence. Over one-quarter of the respondents to our Shadow 1100 “Used-Bike Report” included the four-speed as one of their Shadow’s worst points. Our seasoned testers concurred, preferring the A.C.E.’s or pre-’87 Shadow’s five-speed, and felt that the gaps in the ratios of the Shadow’s four-cog box significantly hampered its performance. But no more. The Spirit moves power from the offset dual crankpins through the new, nine-plate, cable-operated clutch and five well-spaced transmission ratios to the rear wheel via a low-maintenance shaft drive. The Spirit’s 13.9-second quarter-mile times support our impression.

Brake drum
The Spirit's chrome-dipped brake drum shines from behind the pipes.Fran Kuhn

The new zip doesn’t change the engine’s character completely. The old Shadow was already the smoothest 1100 V-twin around, but the Spirit seems even smoother. People who have grown accustomed to the current trend of shuddering engines owe it to themselves to experience vibration-free, around-town manners where shifting points are determined more by the rider’s preferred exhaust cadence and tone than by vibration. The transmission also keeps the bike calm at highway speeds, making the 125-mile ride to reserve a pleasure. Riders might find themselves wanting to continue on to drain the 0.6-gallon reserve portion of the Spirit’s 4.2-gallon tank since neither the handgrips nor the pegs vibrate noticeably until speeds well beyond cruising are attained. Only at speeds of 75 mph or higher do the pegs begin to tingle. The rubber-mounted handlebar remains pleasantly vibration-free.

Yet another victim of the Great Cruiser Tachometer Shortage, the Spirit's instrumentation consists of a speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, and the usual line-up of warning lights, including coolant temperature.Fran Kuhn

The second major revision to the Shadow’s engine was a makeover with styling cues taken from its sibling, the A.C.E. Most oil and cooling lines were moved inside the engine. The Shadow’s engine cases gave up their sharp edges for the A.C.E.’s more rounded contours and the Spirit’s satiny polished-aluminum finish. The cylinders and heads received a new fin treatment which coexists nicely with the redesigned head covers. The exhaust system also displays an A.C.E.-like family resemblance. The Spirit’s forward header now drops down just behind the right peg to parallel the lower frame rail instead of slicing across the engine above the cases. Ugly horns no longer clutter both sides of the engine’s V but reside as a single unit beside the right peg. The Spirit’s engine exhibits what could be called classic clean.

The engine isn’t the only place the Spirit impersonates the American Classic Edition. The seat design was derived from the A.C.E, and the gas tank also displays the A.C.E.’s beefy look and capacity. At 4.2 gallons, the Spirit carries 0.8 gallons more than the old Shadow. The 5.5-inch headlight received a larger chrome case similar to the A.C.E.

The silver-painted drive housing glowers out in the open.Fran Kuhn

Spiritual Guidance
Although Honda made dramatic changes in the transition from the Shadow to the Spirit, stylistic miscues remain. The tank's paint has a slight but noticeable orange peel to it, and some of the welds were not cleaned up prior to painting or chroming, the biggest offenders being the exhaust system's crossover tube and canisters. The dimples in the rear fender on either side of the fender rails aren't cute either. The gap between the tank and the seat seems excessive. Similarly, the gap between the bottom of the rubber-mounted handlebar risers and the top of the triple clamp stands out. Although none of these problems would keep us from considering the purchase of a Spirit, they do take some of the shine off an otherwise desirable motorcycle. We hope that Honda, after contemplating the worthwhile investment of time and effort that made the Spirit's engine so nice looking, will see the light and finish the job on the rest of the bike.

The lean, clean left side of the engine flaunts the Spirit's new look. The key conveniently rides in the front lower corner of the pseudo-oil tank.Fran Kuhn

Riding the Spirit reveals Honda’s less visible but noteworthy upgrades. The pegs are mounted 1.6 inches farther rearward than the Shadow’s, resulting in a riding position much more rational than last year’s BarcaLounger peg location. Thanks to the new handlebar shape, riders no longer need to use their arms to hold themselves in place as much as before, but the bar was still slightly high for a couple testers; we prefer the lower A.C.E. and Yamaha Virago bars. A windshield would certainly help matters. Although improved, we feel the Spirit’s riding position is still not as roomy or flexible as the Virago’s. However, the Spirit is easy to maneuver at low speeds and feels much lighter than its 592 pounds.

While taking advantage of the new riding position, riders will certainly notice the Spirit’s comfortable saddle. Located only 28.5 inches from the tarmac, the roomier, softly padded seat is a nice feature since the feet-forward seating requires the rider to take the brunt of any large bumps in the rear end. Fortunately, the suspension does a better-than-average job of minimizing the impact of most road irregularities.

The Spirit's engine bay stands out. The metal side panel unlocks allowing access to the tool kit. The King of Chrome? Not much on the Spirit begs for chrome except for possible the saddlebag guides, the shaft drive housing and the brake hose banjo bolts.Fran Kuhn

Around town, the Spirit performs admirably. The steering feels relatively light as the front suspension tracks through rough road surfaces—even potholes—without dealing major blows through the bars. The 41mm fork walks the fine line between suppleness and firmness in its 6.3 inches of travel. The fork’s initial travel feels very soft but stiffens progressively. Firm application of the front brake causes the fork to compress significantly, and the rapid rebound comes quickly thereafter. The fork compression never affected our control of the bike, but in the commuter rush from one light to the next, we felt we were bobbing too much at each stop. Hammering the front brake to just shy of the point of lock up (like in maximum braking) intensified the fork’s behavior but, again, never compromised steering. We never bottomed the fork. The rear suspenders worked well, only delivering harsh blows on large square-edge bumps.

Among the styling improvements lifted from the A.C.E., the 5.5-inch headlight is a bright idea.Fran Kuhn

Country Spirit
Cruising with the straight roads of the city well behind, the Spirit's suspension retains its well-sorted character. With just the right amount of firmness from the chromed dual rear shocks' 3.9 inches of travel, we didn't mind that they were adjustable for preload only. If the rider brakes to set the corner-entry speed early, allowing the fork to settle prior to entering the corner, the front end manages most of the variations in road surface encountered when leaned over. In fact, we found stability from the underlying firmness of the suspension an asset since the 32-degree rake conspires with the 19-inch front wheel and long 65-inch wheelbase to make the Spirit steer slowly. A well-planned line through a corner and a firm hand are necessary to keep from running wide at the exit. Predictably, mid-corner adjustments also require decisive input. The Spirit's generous ground clearance and minimal shaft drive effect assure plenty of back-road fun.

No matter where the Spirit is ridden, the engine proves to be a willing companion. Starting quickly and smoothing out to an idle without any throttle even on cold mornings, the engine can be taken off choke after only the amount of time it takes to pull on a helmet and gloves. Off the line or away from a stoplight, the Spirit pulls cleanly with power building smoothly until it drops off just before the rev limiter intercedes. Low-speed power, just off idle, isn’t as strong as the A.C.E. or even the Virago 1100, but you have plenty of acceleration on hand before it reaches 3000 rpm (or, at least, that’s our guess, since there isn’t a tachometer). When riding around town, don’t get lazy with downshifts. Second gear can be a little high for some city corners. The Spirit still pulls but clearly isn’t happy. On the highway, either fourth or fifth work just fine, depending on whether a laid-back lope or more instant response are desired. Shifting can be a bit balky at a stop.

The saddlebag guides, which hold throw-over saddlebags out of the rear wheel, are great when you want them and easy to remove when you don't. The pockmarks in the fender are from unfilled weld points for the fender brackets.Fran Kuhn

The only blemish on the engine’s performance is an intermittent backfiring problem. Initially, we thought we bought some bad gas, but even after draining the tank and carburetors and purchasing some quality gas from a reliable source, the Spirit occasionally responded to deceleration and a fully closed throttle with a resounding “blam!” While only occurring approximately three times for every 50 miles of urban riding, we don’t like receiving the attention the outbursts attract. Some minor jetting work will ensure that the looks the Spirit elicits are approving.

The Spirit's saddle is one of the best seats on any pure cruiser. The pillion pad and backrest also received positive reviews from passengers but can be easily removed for a leaner solo look.Fran Kuhn

Spirited Stops
The Spirit's brakes work well and follow the current standard of a relatively firm pull on the non-adjustable front brake lever. Two-finger braking will suffice for most stops, but some riders may find the effort too high and want to use four, particularly in panic stops. The twin-piston caliper and the single 13.2-inch front disc perform effectively, bringing the front tire to the point of howling when necessary, and stand up to heavy handed grabbing before locking up. The rear drum works well without locking, even when wet.

Even with the black paint, the crossover tube's welds are prominent and none too pretty. Welds on the underside of the canisters could also use some more clean-up.Fred Kuhn

The Dunlop tires also offer good grip in both wet and dry riding conditions. The five-spoke cast wheels allow the Spirit to run tubeless tires, unlike the wire-spoke wheels on the A.C.E. The 110/90-19 front and the 170/80-15 rear tires give the Spirit a custom look that accentuates the length of the bike.

Overall, the folks at Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, plant are producing a motorcycle with three main strengths. First, the Spirit’s looks have taken great strides to move in line with the quality of the bike’s engine. Non-believers should compare a picture of the old Shadow with the Spirit. The gawky kid has blossomed into an attractive adult. Second, the five-speed transmission has made an already good engine great. Finally, all of the Spirit’s strong points have been rolled into an easy-to-maintain package. With perks like a one-year transferable warranty, shaft drive, hydraulic valve-lash adjusters and even automatic cam chain tensioners, the Spirit will find a happy home in many garages. Before too long, we expect to see lots of Spirit-ed riders out on their Hondas.

This article was originally published in the April 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

1997 Honda Shadow Spirit 1100Fran Kuhn
Designation: VT1100C
Suggested base price: $8599
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Pearl yellow/black, red/pearl white, metallic gray/pearl white, black/pearl ivory, add $300
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: 45 degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two intake, one exhaust valve; operated by rockers, maintenance-free hydraulic valve lash adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1099cc, 87.5 x 91.4mm
Compression ratio: 8.0:1
Carburetion: Keihin constant velocity, 36mm
Lubrication: Wet sump, spin-on filter, 3.3 qt.
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 Speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 3.091:1
Wheels: Cast, 2.15 x 19 front, 3.5 x 15 rear
Front tire: 110/90-19 Dunlop F24
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop K555
Front brake: 2-piston caliper, 13.2-in. disc
Rear brake: Rod-operated drum
Front suspension: 6.3 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.9 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal (0.8 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 32 in.
Inseam equivalent: 33.7 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 329 watts
Battery: 12v, 16 AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt headlight
Taillight: 2 bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter and indicator lights for oil pressure, side stand, temperature, neutral, turn signals and high beam
Fuel mileage: 37 to 45 mpg, 39 mpg average
Average range: 163 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3150 rpm
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 70.7 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.86 sec., 94.1 mph
High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Smooth engine Several finish miscues The welded-up rear fender arrangement
Well-sorted suspension Big seat-tank gap Jetting
Real Honda engineering (as opposed to A.C.E. Harley-replicas) in a good-looking package Occasional backfires