2004 Honda Shadow Aero 750

An All-New Middleweight V-Twin With Shaft Drive

Cruisers may represent the more traditional end of the motorcycle design spectrum, but even relatively low-key V-twins need facelifts and tummy tucks every so often to catch the eye of the elusive consumer. The 750cc cruiser segment is a prime example of reliable designs built to a price point, and a market niche that has been particularly lucrative for Honda. So lucrative, in fact, that it's been the company's best-selling streetbike category for three years straight. Regardless, the 750cc Shadow line has been looking a bit long in the tooth lately. In an aggressive move, Honda cleaned out the stable, throwing the venerable 750cc A.C.E. and 750 Spirit models into the scrapheap. The Aero is the only kid on the old middleweight V-twin block this year.

A Honda rep told us consumers were asked what elements were most essential when considering new bikes in this category. Price, styling and maintenance concerns consistently came up as significantly important to potential buyers. It's no surrequirements, in addition to bringing enhanced style and power to the 750 class.

The heart of the beast hasn't changed much from that of its forebears. Honda's new 2004 Aero inherits an updated version of the six-valve 745cc V-twin that powered the two retired 750s. That design brings a single overhead camshaft, two spark plugs per cylinder and three valves per cylinder. Instead of the two carbs the A.C.E. and Spirit housed, however, the Aero utilizes a single 34mm constant-velocity Keihin unit for easy adjustability and what Honda calls an enhanced V-twin vibe.

At the other end of the combustion process is a sleek 2-into-1 exhaust system that features a livelier bark than the mufflers of previous Shadows. The system encloses two fully independent pipe and silencer sets in a single long, large-diameter case, and an air-injection system reduces emissions by injecting air into the exhaust ports to ensure complete combustion. Combustion chambers also get a bump in compression from 9.0:1 to 9.6:1, and the airbox sports a new shape to improve intake efficiency. The Aero comes equipped with a wide-ratio five-speed transmission and an aluminum radiator mounted between the frame rails to maintain consistent engine temperature.

Honda took styling cues into account on this machine as well, and a long and low look complements the spacious ergonomics and sweeping bar. A new steel-tube frame design with lower frame rails places the seat height at a subterranean 25.9 inches, lower than either of the 750s the Aero replaces and half an inch lower than Honda's own 250cc Rebel. Honda wants the '04 Aero to evoke the '50s and '60s, with deep, valanced fenders and a stylish tank cover, but you'd have to squint pretty hard to get that feeling. It's more a suggestion of an era. Naturally, chrome highlights abound, from the cylinder-head cover to the instrument housing.

But the real news here is the change in the powertrain. The A.C.E. and Spirit's bargain-basement chain drive was tossed out and replaced with an efficient, low-maintenance shaft drive for the Aero. But surely Honda had one eye on the competition, too. Kawasaki's Vulcan 750, Suzuki's 800s and Yamaha's 650 V-Stars all use shaft final drive. It was an obvious direction for Honda.

The bike's 52-degree V-twin mill starts fairly easily, though occasional deployment of the left-side choke knob speeds things up on cold mornings. Throw a leg over and settle onto the roomy saddle, which places you a mere two feet off the ground-giving plenty of confidence for beginning or shorter riders. The broad pilot's perch provides plenty of room for butt placement and puts you at a perfect level with the wide, rubber-mounted handlebar curved to fall close to the rider's hands. Passengers won't be as happy out back, however; the pillion, though detachable, is narrow, and the pegs are too high to allow much comfort. A pair of forward-set aluminum footpegs provides additional room for pilots to stretch out, though these are tilted too far to feel natural, and your heel can touch down on sharp turns.

The initial getaway is smooth thanks to an easily accessible clutch lever and silky engagement. Shifting is positive, with the requisite clunk in first gear. Once underway, the Shadow Aero pulses like a V-twin, but one with flawless carburetion and an agreeable exhaust note to boot. The engine does radiate some vibration, felt mostly through the pegs, but this never develops into anything more than an annoyance. Throttle response is fairly crisp for a bike of this class, and the torque pull off the light is surprisingly forceful.

At low speeds, the 577-pound Aero comports itself admirably, with light steering and terrific leverage in turns thanks to the wide bar. At 64.5 inches, the wheelbase is somewhere between the A.C.E. (63.6) and Spirit's (64.8) dimensions, which results in a steady, predictable ride. Ground clearance is better than expected considering the low seat height, but we were less than impressed with the ride quality along sharply irregular roads. Although the dual rear shocks have five-position preload adjustability, there are only 3.5 inches of travel to play with out back, resulting in a somewhat underdamped feel. The 41mm fork offers more neutral handling up front, however, with 4.6 inches of wheel travel for the fat 120/90-17 front tire and a 4mm fork brace to enhance rigidity.

A single 296mm drilled rotor gripped by a twin-piston caliper provides controllable stopping power, though substantial effort is necessary at the brake lever, and you should be prepared to employ the 180mm rear drum unit, too. The levers themselves are easy to access even for small hands, and readily engaged.

The Aero's retro styling flows into details such as spoked wheels (with tube-type tires, unfortunately), wide chrome rims and a large 3.7-gallon fuel tank. On most rides in the city, we were able to milk more than 135 miles from a single tank of gas. The Aero shines on urban runs. The rear shocks feature eye-catching chrome covers, and the fork is also encased in large-diameter chromed steel shrouds.

The speedometer peeks out of an attractive chrome instrument housing set into the front of the fuel tank in classic retro style. Instrumentation is what you'd expect from a bike at this level-a speedo and an LCD tripmeter/odometer combination. A handsome, classically styled headlight brings up the front, providing better-than-average lighting with a 60/55-watt halogen bulb. We also liked the steering head and helmet lock features for the added convenience and security they allow riders.

There are a few unsightly details on the Aero, like the front wiring, chintzy turn signals and tank seam, but overall, this newest Shadow is a good deal. Perhaps the best aspect is its affordability-a competitive sticker price of $6199 puts it on the same playing field as Yamaha's popular V-Star 650 and Kawasaki's Vulcan 800, which both offer shaft drive and a sub-$6200 price. The Aero is available in solid black or solid dark red as well as three two-tone color options: black/silver, black/red and black/blue. Honda also says it will provide a raft of accessories to support the Aero, including windshield, saddlebag brackets, a backrest and a light bar.

For the thousands of loyal A.C.E. customers, an Aero-only 750 class may seem a rash move, but we think it's about time Honda cleaned house. With modern features, sweet ergonomics and an agreeable tariff, this new entry is headed for success and worthy of the same kind of following the Shadow line became famous for.

2004 Honda Shadow Aero 750
Designation: VT750
Suggested base price: $6199
Standard colors: Red, black
Extra-cost colors: Black/silver, black/red, black/blue, add $300
Recommended service interval:
12 months, unlimited miles

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: liquid-cooled, 52-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two intake, one exhaust
Displacement, bore x stroke: 745cc, 79 x 76mm
Compression ratio: 9.6:1
Carburetion: 1, 34mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump
Minimum fuel grade: 87-octane
Transmission: 5 speeds; wet multiplate clutch
Final drive: Shaft

Chassis
Wheels: Wire-spoked, 17 x 3.0-in. front, 15 x 3.5-in. rear
Front tire: 120/90-17 Bridgestone tube-type
Rear tire: 160/80-15 Bridgestone tube-type
Front brake: 1, twin-piston caliper, 296mm disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, adjustable for preload, 3.5 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal., 0.9-gal reserve
Handlebar width: 32 in.

Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 300 watts
Battery: 12v, 11AH
Forward lighting: 7.5 in. 60/55-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single-bulb taillight, license light
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low fuel

Performance
Fuel mileage: 31-34 mpg
Average range: 135 miles
0-60 mph time: 7.24 sec.
60-80 top gear acceleration: 8.48 sec.
Quarter-mile acceleration: 15.49 @ 83.28 mph

Riding Positions
Honda has given its popular middleweight shaft drive, a welcome improvement, about the same time that buyers seem to have moved on to belt drive as their preferred form of final drive. Belt might have been a better choice here too, since it is equally quiet, clean and maintenance-free but eliminates the jacking of a shaft and-more to the point on a 750-is lighter and cheaper. But either drive system is better than the messy chain, which riders generally fail to lube frequently enough.

The Aero is a nice motorcycle, though my 220 pounds overwhelm the suspension on a bumpy road. Lighter riders shopping for a machine in this range should take note, however. The Suzuki Volusia and Yamaha V-Star have new competition.-Art Friedman

Share your favorite drive system with Art at art.friedman@primedia.com

It's hard to believe the 750 class is now considered "entry-level," but that's what we're looking at here. Even newbies appreciate upgrades, however, and the Aero's shaft drive brings Honda up to par with other manufacturers in the class. The new Shadow 750's a welcome improvement over Honda's plain-jane Spirit 750 in terms of style and value, but A.C.E. fans may not be exactly thrilled with the abrupt way their bike was dropped from the lineup this year. Another caveat: the Aero's rock-bottom seat height might appeal hugely to beginners, but pilots taller than six feet should definitely look elsewhere.-Andy Cherney

Add to Cherney's caveat collection at: andy.cherney@primedia.com