Honda ACE Tourer Motorcycle Test

Honda returns to the root of the motorcycle verb "To Cruise." From the June 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser

cruise: 1. to sail about touching at a series of ports
2. to be on one's way
3. to travel for the sake of traveling
4. to go about the streets at random on the lookout for possible developments
5. to travel at a speed suitable for being maintained for a long distance, esp. aboard a motorcycle.

Since we're writers, words can sometimes have a dramatic effect on us. For example, at the press introduction of the Shadow A.C.E. Tourer, we heard Honda motorcycle representatives use a term that sent chills down our editorial spines. Market positioning, while an important term for people working in corporations to explain their decisions to bean counters, is not a phrase we want to hear when we're being presented with a new motorcycle. We couldn't help remembering recent detuned engines -- designed to shudder instead of perform -- foisted upon us because "studies showed that's what the public wants."

Our nightmare visions of accountants and statisticians determining the Tourer's personality were interrupted by Honda's next statement: The bike was designed with an emphasis on touring; cruising was secondary. "Heresy!" we wanted to shout. Instead, we decided to listen to what the folks at Honda had to say.

To help our pulse rates subside, we looked at the pictures of the Tourer in our press packet: A 45-degree V-twin. Lots of chrome. Paint scheme and colors that could only be called classic. Relaxed riding position. Lots of cruisers have windscreens and hard bags. What kept this bike from being a cruiser first and foremost? Now Honda had us intrigued.

As we listened, we realized why Honda thought the latest Shadow was primarily for touring. The Shadow A.C.E. Tourer was designed to be ridden all day, either at extended interstate speeds or on remote winding roads, but not at the expense of around-town fun. Imagine...a cruiser meant to be ridden long distance in comfort, meant to excite people to try riding beyond their local watering hole, to help them become enthusiasts who can't help but find new places on the map and say, "Let's go." Had Honda stumbled into the neighborhood of the Holy Grail? Were those of us who like to ride motorcycles -- and ride them for days at a time with the odometer counting the smiles - seeing the debut of a cruiser that catered to us? Was Honda giving us the style of bike we love with a level of performance that didn't make us feel like it was tough love? We were the first out the door to claim a bike.

Our fears evaporated when we first saw the bikes. For the intro ride, Honda had neatly arranged 1100 Shadows of all varieties on the tarmac. The Tourers were up front with Spirits and A.C.E.s behind. We loaded our gear in a jade green Tourer, locked the bags and pocketed the key. We had staked our claim.

Viewing the Tourer in the presence the rest of the 1100cc Shadow clan, all of which are built in Marysville, Ohio, reveals the family resemblance, but the Tourer definitely takes after the A.C.E. side of the family. The Tourer's frame comes almost directly from the A.C.E., but the swingarm spent some time at the gym with a personal trainer getting more torsional rigidity for the additional loads it is expected to carry. The fenders and seat look like A.C.E. pieces, but they underwent subtle changes for touring duty. The fenders received durable chrome lower covers to protect the paint from gravel likely to be encountered on all the long road trips the Tourer is designed for. The seat retains a reshaped A.C.E. look while pumping up with firmer foam to support the rider's weight for longer stints. The passenger accommodations are also roomier. From the Spirit side of the family tree, the Tourer receives the Spirit's engine-but styled like the A.C.E. motor. In the transition from Spirit to A.C.E., the engine's crankcase covers underwent some chrome cosmetic surgery. The cases and cylinder barrels now wear a satiny black finish, and the fins were buffed to complement the extra chrome.

What most obviously sets the Tourer apart from other 1100 Shadows are the windshield, color matched hard bags and cast wheels. The Tourer's windscreen hits new high notes. Almost all of the details, from the chrome-capped bolts to the Tourer nameplate above the headlight, are finished to perfection. Only the rough, stamped back side of the brackets and a slight distortion in the Lexan just above the headlight detract from the pilot's view. Removing four nuts easily frees the windshield from the triple clamp for those who want a little more breeze when they use their Tourers commuting or around-town trips. We suspect you'll see lots of unshielded A.C.E. Tourers on boulevards on warm summer nights.

The 37-quart ABS bags are same found on the new Valkyrie Tourer, but the lines more accurately match those of the A.C.E. Tourer's rear fender. In fact, the stylistic treatment of the entire rear end of the Tourer gives the motorcycle a sleek, integrated look, with the chrome bag guards, fender cover, clean billet-style taillight and extended mufflers providing a counterpoint to the paint. Finally, the cast aluminum 11-spoke wheels give added strength, allow the fitment of tubeless radial tires for better handling, ride and blow-out resistance, and complete the Tourer's purposeful look.

Starting the Tourer's engine produced the first of only two surprises we experienced on our maiden voyage. The exhaust note is so muted the distant reports seem almost embarrassed to be associated with it, and the sound and cadence are surprisingly flat and uninspiring. We suspect the combination of the cams, twin-pin crank and the two-into-one-into-two exhaust system conspire to give the Tourer its lackluster tone.

For those unfamiliar with the Shadow 1100 series, a quick introduction is in order. The original Shadow 1100, introduced over a decade ago, used a crankshaft with two crankpins, offset to quell the vibration that plagues other 45-degree V-twins. In 1995, responding to customer demand for a more traditional V-twin, Honda rolled out the Shadow A.C.E., a single-crankpin design, with a more traditional exhaust note and feel, but more vibration and less maximum power. The A.C.E. also brought styling closer to the cruiser mainstream (which some felt owed much to Harley). For 1997, the original Shadow 1100 was replaced by the Shadow Spirit, which retains the dual-offset-crankpin design combined with milder A.C.E. camshaft profiles for greater mid-range power. Foremost on the list of changes was a five-speed transmission, found in the A.C.E., but not the original Shadow 11. It also moved closer to the A.C.E. in terms of styling. For many, the Spirit represented the best of both worlds-a broad power range, little vibration, and the flexibility of five speeds.

Since the Tourer incorporates the Spirit's offset-dual-crankpin engine with only a few modifications, we expected the rubber-mounted Tourer engine to be one of our smooth favorites. The liquid-cooled, 1099cc, 45-degree V-twin didn't disappoint. With a 87.5mm bore and 91.4mm stroke inhaling through two 36mm Keihin constant-velocity carburetors and two intake and one exhaust valves, those who read our Spirit test might think they could skip over this information since it sounds so similar. While the bulk of the engine's specifications (such as two spark plugs per cylinder, maintenance-free hydraulic valve-lash adjusters, five-speed transmission and shaft final drive) are the same, Honda did throw in some subtle changes. The Tourer's first gear is slightly lower, providing the mechanical advantage necessary for smooth departures on a heavily loaded machine. Although the final drive ratio is the same, the Tourer's secondary reduction ratio (the gear between the transmission's output shaft and the actual final drive) is slightly lower giving an additional torque multiplication factor, which translates into more usable power. The clutch works smoothly, and except for a rare false neutral between third and fourth, caused in part by shift lever position, the transmission shifted well.

Honda chose A.C.E. cams for all 1100 Shadows to consolidate the parts list and gain some mid-range in the process. According to Honda, and verified in our extended riding, the extra juice in the middle didn't cost either the Tourer or Spirit up top. Honda says that it lost about two horsepower at peak power while gaining a good bit more power in the middle when compared to the 1996 version of the original four-speed Shadow 1100. Our experience collaborates this.

The Tourer's engine performed well, started easily, and never exhibited the backfire problems we experienced with the Spirit. The improved jetting makes low-speed second-gear corners, a situation where we found the Spirit needed to downshift, a much more pleasant experience for people with lazy left feet. Around town, the Tourer easily pulls away from traffic. Whip the carburetors' butterflies wide open and the Tourer bounds forward, like the Spirit. Also like the Spirit, the Tourer remains vibration free at all cruising speeds. Once the engine speed crosses over into the top end, such as at interstate speeds well above the new, higher limits, a minor amount of vibration finds its way to the pegs but, with the exception of one rpm (which can be avoided by accelerating or decelerating slightly), rarely becomes annoying. The hand grips never vibrate, thanks to the rubber-mounted handlebar risers.

Rubber-mounting the handlebar not only prevents engine vibration from reaching the rider but also soaks up feedback, reducing information about what the 41mm fork is up to. While not noticeable around town, the vague feel can be disconcerting on winding roads, causing riders accustomed to more direct response from the front end to feel that they don't have exact control of where the bike is going. Snap a steering input into the bar, like swerving to avoid an obstacle, and, although the bike responses instantly, it feels as if little is happening until the rubber mount compresses fully and begins to send the rider feedback through the grips. Since the Spirit also has a rubber-mounted handlebar but didn't suffer from same the vague feeling front end, we conclude the Spirit's softer suspension masked the sensation while the Tourer's overall firmer feel brings this issue to the fore.

However, we think most riders will rapidly adapt to the sponginess in steering inputs. Everyone who rode our test bike complained about it after the first ride and later softened their comments. The Tourer never does anything evil; quite the contrary, the Dunlop D206 radials and the reasonably taut suspension contribute to the Tourer's wonderful cornering manners. Interstate expansion joints neither upset the bike nor bother the rider, thanks to the suspension's supple initial travel. Mid-corner bumps don't unsettle the chassis. Square-edged bumps jolt more from the rear than the front. On big bumps, we did wish for a bit more rebound damping to slow spring-back after the suspension is deeply compressed. The bike was stable in cross winds and truck wakes.

Plenty of ground clearance helps keep non-rubber parts off the ground, even two-up with fully loaded bags. When metal does contact the pavement, the feelers on the folding pegs touch down first, offering warning before you lever a tire off the ground. The Tourer exhibits minimal shaft effect and maintains its line through a corner under braking. Unlike the Spirit, where the rider needed to let the suspension settle before turning, Tourer riders can release the brakes and immediately bend the bike in to the turn. Turning under braking requires little extra effort. Experienced riders will like how the A.C.E. Tourer lets them boogie, when they get the itch, while novice riders will be pleased by how the Tourer's back-road performance helps them advance their riding skills.

The single 12.4-inch front disc slows the Tourer admirably if given a firm pull. Panic stops benefit from all four fingers bearing on the twin-piston caliper. The single-piston rear caliper and 10.9-inch disc deliver plenty of stopping power with good feedback to warn of impending lock-up. Even in the most aggressive stops, the Tourer's chassis remains stable and doesn't dive excessively.

Honda says this bike is primarily for touring, and the Tourer plays the role of traveling man's Shadow commendably. The Tourer's 31-inch-tall, 22-inch-wide windscreen provides a relatively wind-free cockpit for racking up the miles. Although the windshield is neither as tall nor as wide as those on larger touring cruisers, like the Valkyrie Tourer, A.C.E. Tourer riders will probably like having more of their arms and legs in the breeze when the heat of summer descends upon them. Cold rainy weather will have the reverse effect. Minimal buffeting reaches the rider's head at lower speeds, but taller riders can be rattled by the turbulent air passing above their heads once the speedo climbs to the high side of 75 mph. We attribute the buffeting to the windshield's 27.5-inch height above the seat, a height which allows those of average stature the pleasure of viewing the road from above the Lexan, a significant advantage in the rain. Whether looking over or through it, the windscreen provides an undistorted view of the road.

You don't need an iron butt to spend days in the Tourer's saddle. Shaped like the A.C.E.'s seat (so the rider sits on the bike rather than in it as with the Spirit) the seat's firmer foam ranks among the most comfy perches around. The seat-to-handlebar distance places the rider in an upright riding position with a relaxed yet straight spine. The pegs, located 4.5 inches rearward when compared with the Spirit, keep the rider's feet from being so far forward that they aren't effective shock absorbers, but they still allow a traditional cruiser riding position. Passengers had no complaints about their seat's softness or width; however, the Official Motorcycle Cruiser Pillion Tester, who recently had her saddle sensors re-calibrated by the super-roomy Valkyrie Tourer accommodations, said she found the front to back space a little cramped. Although the A.C.E. Tourer's removable backrest was partially responsible for the crowding, she liked the option of leaning back and relaxing on long interstate rides. Neither the rider nor the passenger had any problem sitting for the 125-mile trip to reserve.

Riding two-up on mountain roads points out the engine's limitations. The passenger's additional weight taxes the 1100 Tourer at times, particularly at higher altitudes. Need to pass an RV? You may need to take a couple trips to the heel-toe shifter. Once prodded the bike responds, but if you planning on toting a lot of weight, take a look at Valkyrie Tourer before you sign up for the A.C.E. Tourer. Riding solo or around town helped us forget this limitation. Daily use of the Tourer only made us like it more, giving it the distinction of being one of the few bikes to never spend a night in the Petersen garage (That is, until the rear tire picked up a nail on the way to work.). Commuting pointed out the Tourer's easy-to-maneuver manners, feeling light even when fully loaded. Just like a trip to the scale after the Christmas holidays, we double checked to make sure the scale was zeroed correctly after we found the Tourer weighed in at a portly 663 pounds wet. At 41 pounds more than the A.C.E. and 71 pounds more than the Spirit, the Tourer carries its weight well.

Living with the Tourer was a pleasant experience, but we think that Honda has defined it too narrowly. The bike excels at much more than just touring. For our $11,499 (or $10,999 in basic black), the Tourer is the best Shadow yet, combining the best of the original, the A.C.E. and the Spirit with attractions all its own. True to the dictionary's definition of cruising, we found ourselves riding just for the heck of it. And it performed well no matter what the mission-commuting, cruising, bending down windy country roads, or eating up the interstate.

Everywhere we stopped, people commented on the bike's style and good looks. While we loved to listen to people say nice things about our ride, we didn't stand around talking for long. We wanted to get back on the road.

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