2002 Honda Shadow Aero 1100 Motorcycle - Road Test

Honda's classy retro V-twin made a smooth move by additing a second crankpin for 2002. From the October 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Remember the old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it? Apparently Honda was only half-listening, because the manufacturer went and fixed the 1100cc Shadow Aero. Sort of.

See, the repairs in question weren't so much fixes as they were refinements. For example, Honda modified the Aero's single-pin crankshaft into an offset dual-pin design. A smooth move.

Not Enough Os in Smooooth

The Aero has only been in existence since 1998, but it has managed to blend seamlessly into Honda's stable of cruisers, quietly becoming one of our favorite middleweights. So even small refinements are a good excuse to revisit an old favorite -- plus it had been more than a year since we last straddled this strapping 1100.

Luckily, the sweeping elegance that impressed us the first time around still turns heads in 2002. The latest model Aero retains nostalgic styling cues harkening back to the luxurious 1930s -- like the wheelbarrow handlebar, those full fenders wrapped deeply around fat, wire-spoked wheels and that elongated chrome headlight. The impossibly long wheelbase is amplified by a fishtail muffler the size of a telephone pole.

The Aero remains a distinguished performer in the 1100 class, too -- it always was the spunkiest member of the Shadow family, thanks to shorter gearing and extra horsepower from the exhaust system. But last year's buzzy, single-pin-crankshaft motor, groomed to emulate the "traditional V-twins' visceral feel," is no more. The Aero is instilling subdued engine vibes and chassis smoothness as by-products of an updated, offset dual-pin crankshaft -- a design that fools the 1099cc powerplant into believing it's a 90-degree V-twin with perfect primary balance. Thankfully, this refinement signals the end of Honda's attempt at all-American shakiness -- the Aero was also the last bearer of the single crankpin banner for the manufacturer.

This smoother engine complements preexisting, high-tech features of the Shadow line too -- three overhead cam-operated valves (two intake, one exhaust) and a 36mm carb feed each cylinder, with two spark plugs igniting the mixture for efficient combustion and nice power at all rpm. The Aero's motor is tuned to deliver more torque than its Shadow stablemates the Spirit and Sabre however, and its clutch engages smoothly and without much effort, allowing you to access the bike's impressive low-rpm grunt handily. A slick-shifting five-speed gearbox is manipulated via toe and heel, transmitting gear selections to a shaft final drive. Unfortunately there's a bit of a lag between the throttle and drivetrain, especially at low speeds; whack the gas forcefully enough though, and you'll hardly notice.

Suspending Disbelief

We have always been happy with the suspension rates on the Aero, and found the firm ride rarely harsh, unless cresting especially sharp-edged bumps. The Aero's long wheelbase makes handling steady and deliberate, although the rubber-mounted handlebar can produce decidedly mushy feedback in the steering during turns. The turned-back design of that wide bar also effectively forces the grips on a collision course with your knees during tight, low-speed maneuvers. Cornering clearance is respectable for a boulevard bike, however, and the floorboards don't drag excessively.

The richly chromed 2-into-1 exhaust system hasn't changed much from its last incarnation either, and its deep-throated crackle carries the authority of a much bigger bike. This is probably our favorite stock V-twin exhaust note, especially since it doesn't come at the expense of any horsepower. The low-slung look and stylish fishtail tip of the muffler is one of the Aero's most universally praised features.

Fit and finish on the Aero was stellar from the start, and the Honda's details don't disappoint in 2002. Typically excellent paint playing off chrome-covered forks and shocks gives the entire package a polished, well-heeled look. The seat is roomy and comfortable, and the alloy floorboards sport a tapered design which blends nicely with the lines of the frame. The handsome ivory-faced speedometer residing in the headlight nacelle is positioned where your eye can readily catch it, but we do wish the numbers on the face were a bit thicker; in harsh sunlight, they're almost impossible to read.

Almost There

And so we come to the inevitable complaints. The first few days you're reunited with an old friend, all the annoying habits you'd conveniently forgotten over the years come flooding back to the surface. Despite the twin-piston caliper setup, the wimpy, fade-prone front single-disc brake requires a firm pull before you feel any decrease in velocity. And while the single disc rear brake is adequate, your best bet for a firm, hard stop is to employ both controls simultaneously. The stubbornly cold-blooded motor was a jerky nuisance most mornings, and we still wish the fuel tank held a bit more liquid than just 4.2 gallons. In Honda's defense, we should mention we received our test unit with less than 150 miles on the odometer -- well before optimum break-in had occurred. We do plan to keep this motorcycle around for a few months though, and we'll keep you abreast of any performance issues.

Those fearing radical progress need not worry -- the elegant Aero hasn't metamorphosed into an intimidating techno-bike. As with any well-designed vehicle, the only changes apparent in this retro-cruiser are subtle. After all, why would Honda need to fix something that ain't broke?

IN BRIEF
High Points: ** Sleek styling, best power of any Shadow, sweet exhaust note
**Low Points:
Wimpy front brake, smallish gas tank volume, only one tripmeter
**First Changes: **Less obtrusive rear signals, teardrop mirrors to match styling

The View from Back Here

This classy cruiser's pillion is no slouch in the passenger-comfort department. Although our passenger would have liked a backrest for extra security (Honda offers aftermarket units), she was quite pleased with the firmness, dimensions and contours of the luxurious passenger pad. The rear pegs are well-positioned to offer adequate support without folding your legs into a squat.

SPECIFICATIONS

Designation: Honda Shadow Aero
Suggested base price: $8999
Standard colors: Black

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 45 degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC; 2 intake valves, one exhaust valve per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1099cc, 87.5 x 91.4mm
Compression ratio: 8.0:1
Carburetion: 2, 36mm CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.4 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 86 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 3.091:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 666 lb., 54% rear wheel
GVWR: 1034 lb.
Wheelbase 66.1 in.
Overall length: 100.8 in.
Rake/trail: 32.25 degrees/ 5.71 in
Front tire: 140/80-17 Bridgestone Excedra
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Bridgestone Excedra
Front brake: Single-action, 2-piston caliper, 12.4 in. disc
Rear brake: Single-action, single-piston caliper, 10.1 in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.7 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal.
Handlebar width: 33.2 in.
Seat height: 28.5 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 329 watts
Battery: 12v, 16 AH
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure and coolant temperature

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 29 to 40 mpg, 34.6 mpg average
Average range: 140 miles
Rpm at 60 mph, top-gear: 3300
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 73.8 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.61 sec., 89.2

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparisons are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Nothing on the outside tells you that Honda added a crankpin to smooth out the Aero's V-twin. The downside is that it no longer than that classic single-crankpin cadence.
We think the Aero's fishy-tailed muffler is one of the prettiest original-equipment pieces out there.
The suspension on the Aero continues to please us.
The braking performance is a bit oo, er, authentic, evoking the period the styling evokes too closely.