Taking the High Road on a Honda Shadow ACE Tourer

A retro review of the '98 Shadow ACE Tourer

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. —Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary

In 1998 Honda brought out the Honda Shadow A.C.E. that went to the root of the verb “cruise.”Fran Kuhn

Since we’re writers, words have a dramatic effect on us. For example, at the press introduction of the Shadow A.C.E. Tourer, we heard Honda 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 show 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.

The Tourer proved that it is definitely one of the Shadow clan, but it definitely takes after the A.C.E. side of the family.Fran Kuhn

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 rabid 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—finally witnessing the debut of a cruiser that put function on the same level as form? 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 for the day’s ride.

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 of the entire 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 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 long road trips. 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 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.

The Tourer incorporates the Spirit’s offset-dual-crankpin engine with only a few modifications that of which didn’t disappoint.Fran Kuhn

What most 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 backside 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 around town. We suspect you’ll see lots of unshielded A.C.E. Tourers on boulevards on warm summer nights.

The 37-quart ABS bags are the 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.

The Tourer’s engine performed well, started easily, and never exhibited the backfire problems we experienced with the Spirit.Fran Kuhn

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 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 midrange power. Foremost on the list of changes was a five-speed transmission, found in the A.C.E., but not the original Shadow 1100. 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.

The solid disc looks nice but doesn’t offer a place to secure a disc lock.Fran Kuhn

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 an 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.

If the windscreen weren’t in the picture, the Tourer’s instrumentation could easily be confused with the Spirit’s.Fran Kuhn

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 midrange 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 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 speeds well above the new, higher interstate 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 responds instantly, it feels as if little is happening until the rubber mount compresses fully and sends 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.

saddlebag cover
The saddlebag guards look sturdier than the Valyrie Tourer’s and should provide ample protection. The helmet locks location keeps helmets from contacting the hot pipe but invites some chrome.Fran Kuhn

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. Midcorner 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 crosswinds and truck wakes.

Plenty of ground clearance helps keep nonrubber 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, which required the rider to let the suspension settle before turning, Tourer riders can release the brakes and immediately bend the bike into 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 lockup. 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 in the heat of summer. 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.

Although the 35-liter bags are the same as on the beefy Valkyrie Tourer, the back of the smaller Shadow Tourer looks properly proportioned as if each part were designed solely for this bike.Fran Kuhn

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 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 recalibrated 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 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 your planning to tote a lot of weight, take a look at the 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, making it 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.

The heel-toe shifter adds little stylistically or functionally to the Tourer. In fact, once the height is adjusted for optimum use with your toe only, the heel portion gets in the way.Fran Kuhn

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., the Spirit, and 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 listening to people say nice things about our ride, we didn’t stand around talking for long. We wanted to get back on the road.

High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Great Engine Spongy Steering Feel Braided-Steel Clutch Cable
Impressive Handling Bars Hit Knees on Full-Lock Turns Solid-Mount Handelbar Risers
Good Weather Protection Ugly Helmet Lock
Great Bags
Fabulous Seat
The windshield offers good weather protection without being overly tall.Fran Kuhn

Riding Positions
The steering is a bit rubbery and it sounds a little odd, but that's just about my entire list of complaints about this bike. Oh, yeah, and the name: Honda Shadow American Classic Edition Tourer. What a mouthful. I'm not sure why the exhaust note sounds so uninspiring—something in the combination of Shadow rhythm, A.C.E. cams, and that two-into-one-and-also-the-other-one-sort-of exhaust system.

But don't let the petty complaints over-Shadow all the good stuff on this bike. It's pretty, whether you're looking at the lines and color choices or delving into the details. It performs admirably everywhere—in town, on the road and winding briskly through the mountains. How good is it? Consider this: If we'd had it along for last issue's comparison of the bigger touring cruisers, it might have finished second.
Rating: 4 –Art Friedman

Last issue, after sampling the Spirit’s new five-speed, I knew what engine my favorite 1100 would have if I were calling the shots. However, the Spirit’s feet-way-forward riding position (even in it’s kinder, gentler incarnation) just wasn’t for me. Styling wise, I’d choose the A.C.E. Well, what do you know, Honda’s given me an 1100 with the style and the engine I like and threw in hard bags and a windshield, to boot. Like corners? Me too! While not a sport bike, the Tourer has terrific ground clearance and a competent suspension. Once I got used to the vague front end, the Tourer was a hoot—much to the chagrin of a couple of sport riders I encountered on an afternoon blast through the canyons. (What’s that behind me? A cruiser?!)

Although the exhaust note lacks oomph, I figure I could live with it—for a while. Those of you who aren't interested in a Shadow with hard bags shouldn't worry. I've been talking with Honda about the possibility of producing a naked version of the Tourer. When they asked me what they should name this windshieldless, bagless, classically styled bike with a good suspension and a powerful, smooth engine, I suggested they consider calling it the Honda Shadow American Classic Edition. Sounds nice, huh?
Rating: 4.5 –Evans Brasfield

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

1998 Honda Shadow A.C.E. TourerFran Kuhn
Seat height: 28.8 in.
Wheelbase: 65.2 in.
Wet weight: 663 lb.
GVWR: 1044 lb.
Overall length: 97.8 in.
Rake: 32.25˚
Trail: 5.9 in.
Designation: VT1100T
Suggested base price: $10,999
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Pearl jade green/pearivory, black/pearl ivory, pearl dark red/black
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, 3.5 x 18 front, 4.5 x 16 rear
Front tire: 130/80-R18 Dunlop D206F
Rear tire: 170/70-R16 Dunlop D206R
Front brake: 2-piston caliper, 12.4-in. disc
Rear brake: Single piston caliper, 10.9-in. disc
Front suspension: 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.9 in travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (0.6 gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.5 in.
Inseam Equivalent: 33 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 high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, side stand and temperature
Fuel mileage: 35 to 41 mpg, 36.9 mpg average
Average range: 155 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3250
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.5 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.91 sec., 92.17 mph