Honda Shadow Aero 1100 - An Aero Escape: California to Tennesse and Back

Behaving more bullet than Aero, Honda's nostalgic Shadow embarks on a 6000-mile motorcycling quest. From the October 1998 issue of _Motorcycle Cruiser _ magazine **Story and photos by Jamie Elvidge

It was an odd motorcycle choice for a cross-country ride, especially when you consider that my options included both Valkyrie and Ace Tourers. So what made me sling bags on this motorcycle built for the boulevard and set out on a cross-country journey? Simple. It hadn't been done. And my editor told me to. So by God, I was going boldly where no rider had gone before... whether I liked it or not.

The Aero's a beauty, there is no dispute. But partnering successfully with a bike day in and day out for two weeks is about more than a great set of whitewalls or a long, shiny pipe. I hadn't been left with a favorable impression of the Aero's designated seating position during a three-day test earlier in the year. And I'd given it low marks for excessive vibration as well.

More Than Paint Deep

So I had my concerns about comfort as I headed east, and just a lick and a promise about the bike's performance abilities. Three hundred miles into the first day though, with the popsicle-perfect orange and cream Aero already covered in insects, I began to relax. No hint of aches or pains at this point was a good indicator the trip was doable without investing in an economy-sized bottle of Advil. And the bike's well-tuned exhaust seemed to blend perfectly with my lust for the adventure. Its subtle roar is ever present at low speeds but barely discernable on the highway where it could become tiresome.

My planned escape route was pretty much a straight shot across Interstate 40, but toward the end of my second day of droning I was already desperate to get off the slab. I also knew it was in my best interest. No one rides well when they're bored and my concentration level had dropped to a trickle. I found myself more intent on dialing in my audio system than dodging the tire treads that litter the truck routes. I decided to break away from the stream of vehicles moving mindlessly across the country like so many ants on the linoleum. From Flagstaff I traveled north into the mythical Monument Valley.

The Aero is a whopping 101-inches long from the front tire to the rear chrome fender extension. This is great for the long, low visual impact, but the stretched wheel base generates a hinge effect evident at high speeds and in sweeping corners. Couple that with the Aero's firm suspension and hitting any pavement irregularity mid-corner creates an unsettling sway. This wallow was definitely exaggerated by the weighty load strapped to the bike's rear end. (Damn those hot rollers!) Balancing and redistributing the load to place the greatest weight low and center affected the gyration to greater or lesser degree, but never eliminated the problem. Shifting my own weight forward however, usually settled the bike back into a smooth, steady line.

Eventually, what I came to think of as "Aerobic affect" ceased to annoy me. I learned when to expect it and the motion proved both benign and correctable. I was also sure if I lost the luggage and kept my feet on the floorboards, and off the rear pegs, the Aero would seldom misbehave.

Why You Need to Inspect Your Bike

However, somewhere along the way a mounting bracket holding the Aero's chrome exhaust shield suffered a stress fracture. Thinking it was a loose baffle, I rode on for several days. Eventually, I spotted the broken clamp, hanging somewhat-dangerously close to the swingarm's path of travel. Though unlikely, it could have upset the if it stopped the swingarm abruptly, especially if it happened when the bike was already unsettled. It was a good reminder that even when you're on your machine constantly, it's wise to inspect it thoroughly each day.

You cannot travel through Monument Valley without feeling a sense of awe. The great monoliths speak loudly to the soul. For the ancestral Native Americans this was a magical place and a link to their gods. Today, the magic is tempered by a people who's gods seem to have forgotten them. There's a thick feeling of despair and anger among the ancient valley's descendants who live on a reservation plagued with teen pregnancy, disdain for schooling and drug and alcohol abuse. A couple years back my husband and I were riding just east of The Valley when a young Native American man literally threw himself in front of our bikes. He seemed disoriented, so we turned around to see if he was in trouble. When we got close enough he pelted us with rocks.

Dodging Beer Cans

On this trip, what was thrown at my bike were empty beer cans from the back of a pickup. I had found myself on a lonely stretch of road when I passed the truck packed with high-school-age kids drinking beer. Those crammed into the camper shell held up their cans in a grinning salute as I rode by. I waved and went on my way. A couple of miles later the pickup was bearing down on me at 80-plus mph. With 20 miles until the next cross road and unresolved questions about how the Aero would handle a sweeper at triple digits, I decided not to outrun them. Instead, after letting them get within feet of my fender, I whipped the Aero into the left-hand lane and bore down on the brakes, holding them at threshold.

The Aero performed this difficult and abrupt maneuver perfectly. The brakes, when used aggressively in tandem, are quite powerful. In normal braking situations, however, I found the lone dual-caliper front disc a bit wimpy and subject to fade. Use of the rear disc was essential for quick, settled stops aboard the Aero and I found myself using it alone as a way to reload the suspension, when needed, in corners.

The pickup shot passed me just as I'd expected. I wanted to interpret this troublesome lot from behind rather than allow them to chase me cat and mouse. It was a long, slow match. I cringed as I watched them crest hills and round corners in the oncoming lane, forcing hapless tourists into a game of chicken. The beer cans were easy enough to dodge but I was glad to be returning to the Interstate and its methodical movement. Enough excitement for the time being. After four days on the road I was anything but bent and broken and was gathering expectations that I'd complete the trip with nothing more serious than a sore butt. The expansive ergonomics proved to offer a multitude of seating options. The flat, forward-set floorboards alone offered a great degree of lower-body adjustment and if it weren't for the car-sized brake pedal, they could have doubled as freeway pegs. My favored posture employed the rear pegs which allowed me to angle my upper body against the wind and more comfortably handle the wide bar.

Geared Up

Honda had installed its petite, clear windshield on this Aero before I left town. It looks terrific because it doesn't detract from the bike's clean lines or take away from the classic chrome headlight assembly by using thick cross straps and mounting hardware. Only two thin vertically-mounted brackets support it. I really thought it too small to be of benefit and feared it was so far forward the wake of turbulence it created would hit me right in the chest. The turbulence did create some buffeting up around my helmet but the little shield did a fine job blocking the wind from my torso. And best of all, I could see cleanly over the top.

The Aero is substantial by every measurement, but I didn't appreciate the weightiness of the machine until I pitted it against fierce cross winds in the Southwest. It was rock steady, even when the gusts felt like they were going to tear me right from the seat.

Don't Cross Me

In the Texas panhandle I passed the biggest cross in America. You can't miss it... it's a huge thing sticking up out of a huge piece of nowhere in Groom. It appears to be about 30 stories high and made of corrugated sheet metal. There was a crowd gathered at its dusty base. I said a prayer for all the poor souls in the world with too much time on their hands.

It turned out I should have said a prayer for myself instead, as later that day I was struck limp by a nasty case of the flu that lasted for four days and four nights. Evidently, God didn't think the cross was as absurd as I did. And when my fever and the ambient temperature swelled well above the 100-degree mark, I did indeed feel like I was being punished.

Still two days away from Asheville and my Honda Hoot destination, I stubbornly rode on. It was pathetic and I don't recommend it. What I do recommend however, sick or not, is carrying water on or near your person when riding in intense heat. I had the perfect setup. The Wolfman "Rambler" sissybar pack I'd procured for the ride had many advantages , the most ingenious being a long side pocket perfect for a medium-sized Camelbak water bladder. I rode the last 800 miles to Asheville with the tube draped over my shoulder and nozzle in my mouth. I drank constantly and chewed the plastic to stay alert.

Give Me More

Thanks to the Aero's underwhelming 4.2-gallon fuel capacity, and poor mileage due to consistent winds and high speed, I got to stop for potty breaks every 90 to 100 miles. When you're riding long days, stops at this interval are usually appreciated, at least by your rear end, and they're even recommended for clearing your head. What I didn't like about the limited fuel economy was having to constantly monitor the distance I'd be able to travel. For example, having to stop at 40 miles in case there wasn't another station for 50 miles. This happened many times on the trip and left me disgruntled. Why doesn't this bike have a five-gallon tank?

While I'm on my soapbox I have another question. Why doesn't the electronic odometer offer more than one trip meter? It would be nice -- and seems simple -- for it to supply a bank of meters so riders could measure tank, daily and overall miles on a trip.

When I finally rose from my half-dead state and emerged from my hotel room in Asheville, I was able to flash the Aero around town for the admiring Hoot attendees. All across the country, in fact, people were smitten by the bike's looks. Many, unsurprisingly, thought it was a Harley. A couple wouldn't believe it wasn't, even though it said Honda right on the tank. I felt proud riding it, and that's a pretty big statement coming from me.

Pretty Pretty

I generally don't acknowledge a bike for its outward appearance, and really don't give a hoot if people like looking at it. If it feels good and works well I'm happy riding it. However, my view does matter somewhat -- what I see when I'm looking out over the cockpit for hours on end. The Aero's got that pageant in the bag too. I just groove on the white-faced headlight-mounted speedo (although the internally lighting failed somewhere along the way). The indicator light panel on the handlebar was aesthetically pleasing as well, but I couldn't see the lights at all mid-day. If it were angled or had some kind of hood it would be more useful.

Before blasting out of Asheville and what I hoped would be a cooler ride home via I-70, I stopped into MR Motorcycle and Marine for a quick oil and filter change for my Aero, which I had now grown quite fond of. MR is a wonderful multi-brand dealer with lots of goodies and a friendly, abundant staff. They didn't know me from Eve -- really -- yet treated me as if I were some motojournalist about to give them a plug in a national magazine.

Back on the road pointed west I no longer had the luxury of lollygagging. I had five days to get back to California. Period. Even after consecutive 500- and 600-mile days all body parts except for my butt remained content -- although I'm sure I was a spectacle in some of the unlikely positions I came up with casting myself about the deck of the Aero. I'd started on this journey expecting two things to be major comfort issues: engine heat and vibration. Surprisingly neither became a real issue. For one thing the weather was so darn stifling I couldn't tell what direction the heat was coming from. And when things did heat up between the knees, I'd simply let them swing wide. Vibration was certainly present and accounted for, especially through the floorboards at cruising revs and the tank at higher rpm. But it was never more than a petty annoyance.

Questions?

During the long days on the plains dodging thunderstorms, my mind burned with questions. Why is Kansas City in Missouri? What do people do with all the great big spools of hay? How many highway workers have died from heat stroke? And how fast will this bike go, anyway? Since we don't break the law at Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine, I can't say I know the answer to that last question, but you might be impressed if I did.

The Aero's 1099cc 45-degree V-twin delivers a goodish supply of power for most applications. Power is delivered readily and very steadily at every rpm until it hits its limit and flattens out entirely. I felt let down by the lack of available power a couple of times. One was during an intense headwind and the other on a high-spirited romp on a back road over the 8000-foot summit of Strawberry Daniel Pass in Utah. I'd picked up a couple of riders in a construction zone and was playfully leading them through the roller coaster-like sweepers. At a gas stop they said it was like following a truck; faster than heck down the hills and slower than @#*& going up. Geez. And I was downshifting.

I did my highest mileage on the last two days. By now I was so well conditioned to riding that it felt normal to sit on the bike for 12 hours a day. What felt weird was getting off. Finally I had my sea legs. I enjoyed those last days immensely.

Remember

There are many common sights on the trans-continental highway, and I'm not talking traffic cones and tire treads. Has anyone else noticed how many small white crosses line our highways these days? They're not just on the reservations or along the southern border anymore. I saw them everywhere. And although they saddened me, they were also a constant reminder of something very important: Life is a journey...so let's enjoy the trip.

_For more information on the Honda Aero, read our road test.

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

If you'd like to share your favorite ride that is 100 to 500 miles long and includes at least one interesting stop, send details of the route and your contact information to Motorcycle Cruiser, 6420 Wilshire Blvd. Floor 17, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515; or e-mail_ Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.