Three Shadow 750 Custom Motorcycles, Built by Honda

Metric or not, here we come: Three raduical Honda Shadow 750 customs built under the auspices of Honda Research and Development. From the April 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine. By Andy Cherney.

One-of-a-kind show bikes? Not meant for American eyes? An exclusive photo op? Of a Honda custom? You have to be kidding! Our jaded eyes have seen plenty of purpose-built custom cruisers showcased by other major OEMs, but alas, very few from Big Red. We'd only seen futuristic concept bikes from Honda lately, so when its Research and Development division dangled the opportunity for custom eye-candy in front of our ever-hungry retinas, we jumped at the chance to photograph the company's one-off production-based Shadows. It didn't hurt that the treasure trove was stashed in a top-secret design studio mere moments away from our editorial ivory tower, either.

Hey, Wake Up!

Dreamed up and commissioned by Honda Research and Development, North America (a separate entity from American Honda) as a showcase for the popular 750 Shadow platform, these bikes seem to represent Big Red's realization that, while the production machines it manufactures may be mechanical marvels to ride, their refined natures tend to place them on the stuffy side of the style fence. And cruiser riders love to customize. So, while Honda has slowly started addressing the availability of more aftermarket items for its bikes, full-on custom possibilities hadn't been explored thoroughly yet. With this eye-opening trio of bikes, however, the slumbering giant seems to have awakened to the endless possibilities of customizing metric cruisers.

Modern Primitive

The cream of this custom crop is a gorgeous orange-and-black 750 Shadow with a tribal motif. Hard to believe it's a middleweight, eh? This beefy iteration of Honda's R&D; vision is a non-running display bike with a 750 Shadow A.C.E. frame and engine as its foundation, built specifically for the 1999 Tokyo Motorcycle Show. Both the orange bike and the green 750 in twere unveiled to coincide with the Japanese introduction of the 2000 Honda 750 Slasher—which, in the name of political correctness, Honda deigned to call the Shadow Spirit when introduced in the States late last year. (See our full test on page 54.) The custom bikes served as production-based counterpoints to the naked Shadow being rolled out for the public. Our source at Honda tells us the crux of this styling exercise was to illustrate the limitless custom possibilities of Honda cruisers, specifically Shadows, and that metric owners can get radical with customizing processes.

The challenge for Honda's R&D; was to demonstrate how simple production streetbikes, ostensibly metric cruisers, can get a full-custom treatment without resorting to the one-of-a-kind luxury overkill of, say, a Confederate or Titan. The R&D; group handpicked outside fabricators Doran Benson and Willie Stryker (both from Northern California) to be the mediums of this corporate venture. The maverick customizers were given stock bikes and rudimentary sketches, and told only to build upon the stock foundation, without hiding the bikes' metric pedigrees. Understandably, R&D; wanted the finished product to be recognizable as a Honda, not just a bolt-on bonanza.

With those vague boundaries in mind, Benson wasn't afraid to paint his creation in broad strokes, readily straying outside of Honda's usual family of suppliers to enlist modifications of diverse ethnic makeup. And since Honda is not famous for an overabundance of aftermarket parts, Benson went after a strange assortment of American companies for those items, too. Add this to the fact that much of the assembling and fabricating was done in-house, and a method begins to emerge from the madness.

Drop and Roll

Lowering a stock frame while changing and extending the rake of the fork is the universal first step of any savvy customizer—it's Customizing 101. Naturally, Benson and Stryker passed that course with honors, installing a chrome-plated Storz Ceriani inverted 45mm fork kit with two-inch extensions, then modifying the forks to stretch the Shadow's rake an additional 4 degrees. An Avon 100/90-19 tire embraces the polished RC Components front rim (the tire is 19 inches of rubber and a mere two inches wide). A shaped front fender from Jesse James carries the tribal design forward, and dual, six-piston discs from Jaybrake handle stopping duties. Hypothetically, that is. Koni shocks were rigged aft, with shock mounts positioned at a lower angle than stock to drop the rear of the bike. A custom Jesse James fender hugs the top of the rear tire, an 18-inch Avon 180 on polished RC Components rims. The single rear disc came from Jaybrake.

The Shadow's cylinders were painted orange to match the bodywork, with the stock heads and valves receiving a larger breath of fresh air from the addition of tandem Edelbrock Qwicksilver carbs, replete with a matching chrome oval Qwicksilver air cleaner containing a K&N; Engineering element. It's an impressive setup that almost looks turbocharged, with an intake manifold crafted by Stryker to fit to the Honda. Throttle cables, designed by Benson, were added, resulting in upgraded performance with a mean look. The chunky 2-into-1 straight pipe was shaped by Benson, underscoring the lowered horizontal line of the bike. The swingarm, chain guard and axle assembly were sent out to be bathed in chromium—making the unusual shimmery chain final drive look positively high-tech. The engine cases, heads and fins were polished to add a refined contrast to the sea of orange.

Make It Run

A custom paint job goes a long way in defining a bike's personality, and it's really what gave this tribal Shadow a visual knockout punch. KC Customs, a local paint shop, decided on a rich orange paint from House of Kolor, which was applied to Benson's stretched and shaped custom gas tank before being adorned with the fluid tribal graphics. A curved Flanders drag-style bar, similar to the stock Shadow's, was mounted on top of four-inch Custom Chrome risers, with chrome handgrips from Arlen Ness serving as punctuation marks.

Perched atop the bar, a tachometer from Auto Meter forms the highest point on the bike's profile. The stock white-faced speedometer remains on the gas tank, but it's almost invisible, adrift in the orange of the painted tank. A Headwinds headlight is suspended between the fat fork legs, and taillights are frenched into the rear fender by Stryker, their lenses blending in subtly with the bike's paintwork. The svelte solo leather seat comes from Corbin, and chrome footpegs from Jaybrake.

And Then There Were Three

The orange tribal beast wasn't the only machine destined for the Tokyo Show. Since Honda had two 750 A.C.E. frames shipped to Benson and Stryker, they came through with vastly different interpretations of the directive.

The preceding tribal-themed orange conglomeration was a wild, decidedly darker exploration of the Shadow's possibilities, so a starker version was dressed up to highlight less involved custom processes. The cleaner, greener version is striking in its own manner, radiating an almost minimalist elegance.

While the bike was lowered slightly by moving the shock mounts and installing Koni shocks, the forks remained stock; only a bit of chrome was applied to freshen them up. Most people will do a double take when they see the S&S; air cleaner residing over the engine bay. In a fit of inspiration, Doran Benson modified the incompatible bracketry to fit the Honda. Stock tires and rims serve this more subtle Shadow well. John Rossi of Capital Auto Body applied House of Kolor candy-green paint. The drag-style bar from Flanders was mounted on Drag Specialties risers. The seat came from Corbin, headlight from Headwinds and footrests from Jaybrake. The custom fuel tank was Benson's design.

As a final punctuation mark to their crash course in metric customizing, Benson and Stryker also cooked up a clean, starker, redder manifestation of a Honda Shadow 1100. Storz forks are linked to RC Components wheels, and the unexpected appearance of Edelbrock dual carbs on this metric cruiser jazzes up the engine bay appreciably.

A unique 2-into-2 upswept exhaust system emphasizes the bike's horizontal design and further cleans up the lines. An application of House of Kolor bright red paint provides a stunning focal point and contrasts nicely with the lighter chrome bits.

The lesson brought to us by Honda R&D;? You don't have to be black and orange to turn heads. Sometimes cool green or spicy red will do the trick.

Although you can't fire up these show bikes' engines, and much of the accessories and bodywork were born of superhuman muscle and imagination, we're impressed by the creative possibilities exemplified by these Honda Shadows. Now, if only we could get one of these bad boys to run...


Arlen Ness
(510) 276-3395

Auto Meter
(801) 785-0051

(800) 538-7035

Drag Specialties
(800) 222-3400

Edelbrock Performance Parts
(310) 781-2222

(800) 423-4438

Headwinds Cycle Products
(626) 359-8044

House Of Kolor
(800) 328-5139

Jaybrake Enterprises
(716) 754-9092

(800) 994-KONI

RC Components
(270) 842-6000

Storz Performance
(805) 641-9540

For more articles on custom bikes and articles about how to customize and modify your motorcycle, see the Custom section of