The bike is sitting there in the parking lot, purring to itself in a quiet manner foreign to most big twins. Which is fair enough, because at 750cc the Honda Shadow Aero isn’t exactly a huge thumping, vibing mass of old iron, it’s something from an altogether different caste – an entry-level bang for the buck cruiser.
Pulling out of the parking lot was a revelation on the Aero, if this simple act allows for such things. The Aero at a standstill looks big, long, low, and lean in its chrome and deco-inspired glory, but sit on it and that perception changes. The first twist of the throttle reveals two things. First, this bike is small for my 6’2” frame, despite it’s long look, and offers remarkably little leg room – but for those under 6 feet this bike should fit like a glove. Second, the engine isn’t the lumpy, thumpy, and viby twin of the Aero’s American inspiration. It’s a smooth V-Twin march, vibe-free until you get the bike up to 120 kph.
Getting to speed is lazy twin style, with just a bit of a pulse through the bars to let you know what’s up – a pure Honda take on the twin, refined and smooth. The only time you get shake through the bars is up around 140kph, near where the bike tops out under my 200lbs heft, and heck even then we’ve been on lumpier Ducati’s. Mind you to get to such velocities you really have to flog the power plant. You’re not just poking it with a stick but beating it senseless. This engine has been re-tuned for lower end grunt over the previous generation of Shadow and it shows. Pulling away the power is smooth and available and for a cruiser you’re not left wanting. Getting up to a cruising speed of around 110 is just a lovely smooth event as you snick through the Aero’s gearbox. Your indication to shift is a bit of shake through the bars as the engine reaches it’s top end for that ratio. We’d love to tell you the RPM’s that all this takes place at, but the Aero isn’t sporting that particular gauge. This isn’t so much of a lack though as philosophical statement.
It’s really just the Aero’s way of saying, “I am a cruiser, and you shouldn’t need to be worrying about such things. It’s all taken care of so sit back and enjoy the scenery.” There are other touches that really speak to this point. The service schedule chart is almost vacant of major mechanical services; this is a gas and oil kind of bike. Try as we might we couldn’t find a reference to the valves in the owners manual. Then there’s the introduction of the shaft drive to the Shadow, the best way to avoid ongoing chain maintenance is to not have one. This really is a bike just to pull out of the garage and go for a cruise, no muss and no fuss. Honda has realized that many of the cruiser market may be beginner, weekend or even occasional riders; the lack of maintenance of the shaft drive speaks to this. Let it sit for a month, fire it up for a ride, get home, put it away and all is well.
Pulling in for a photo session it strikes me that the Aero from a styling perspective is all chrome and deco. It’s nice to look at, but should give the neat-freak brigade shrieking, screaming, nightmares. One look at those wire-spoke wheels and the anal-retentive are likely to go into paroxysms while muttering about toothbrushes and metal polish. The actual look of the design falls a little flat, there is nothing in the aesthetic that we haven’t seen before; in artier circles people would be bandying about words like “uninspired” and “derivative”. And the lettering for the “Shadow” label on this bike… pure fromage. Weighing in more positively, all of this is put together with Honda’s honest and solid build quality and the bike feels like a unified whole rather than a collection of bin parts. Also there are some very nice touches; the manual and toolbox are easily accessible behind a pull-away fairing panel, and the helmet lock smacks of thoughtful practicality. In complete contradiction are the, “Oh my Gawd! Did you fall off?” pillion perch (calling it a seat is an insult to cramped, uncomfortable movie theatres the world over) and a complete dearth of under-seat, or any other, storage. Simply put, the Aero is a mixed bag; it looks good, but it’s no stunner, and it lacks a design sense to help it stand out from the crowd.
Back on the road the bike is speaking to me in many ways. Performance-wise, it proves to be a cruiser; there is no loud blaring world of chaos and shrieking metal here, this is a much more relaxed sphere. Passing, I’m struck by the lack of top speed, but not concerned; this bike is better suited to drifting along country roads than burning freeway and blowing by loser-busses. Still, hitting 130kph on the occasional pass I’m noticing that the mirrors are attempting to be democratic and vibrate free from this party. Back at more moderate speeds they’re fine and relatively clear. The airflow is too, which shocks me; there is no windscreen to protect me from the onslaught of ocean breeze on the Sea-to-Sky run to Squamish, our preferred test run. I can only conclude that the clean air stream is a product of a seating position that finds you well back from the front of the bike. If dolphins were land-born they could likely surf the Aero’s bow wave. The ergos are speaking to me also, and not flowery, poetic pleasantries.
Over six feet tall and looking for a comfortable cruiser? Best continue the search; on the Aero you’ll be cramped, with legs folded and your tailbone bearing your full weight directly into the plush seat. All this leads to a creeping numb sensation in the buttocks that speaks well for the wallets of coffee shop owners along all but the shortest of routes. Snapper Kevin however had no such issues, at 5”10’ the bike fit him perfectly and without issue. A remedy for those taller among us may be available in the form of highway pegs; riding with my legs extended in a mock-up of such devices relieved the arse-numbing considerably. That or you can exercise a bit, by taking the Aero into the deepest darkest twisties…
What was that? No, that wasn’t a peg scraping, that was my heel. The forward leg position on the Areo found my heels periodically dragging well before the bike scrapes anything else. Keep in mind this is going into a series of 60kph marked corners at near the Aero’s top speed, which reveals that this bike has little in the way of performance aspirations. When really pushed, the frame flexes, the front wheel drifts, and the suspension becomes all Hawaiian-like and begins a gentle hoola. Slow off to 90 and the world becomes a much more sane and pleasant place and the bike has no issues carrying the speed through the twists.
Coming down from reasonable speeds the braking is a bit on the soft and spongy side. Honda seems to have cut some corners on the binders, and our snapper Kevin’s mid-80’s Magna had disconcertingly greater stopping power as revealed in photo-shoot maneuvers resulting in a hairsbreadth escape from a rear ender. My concern would be that in an emergency traffic situation the Aero’s brakes might not meet the challenge, especially in the hands of a new rider. There is something that all riders will rejoice in… the throttle, well actually the carburetion.
The Aero’s carbs show you just how refreshing and good analog technology can be in a digital world. Years of work have gone into making carburetion work; more man-hours have been put into smooth, glitch-free response than have gone into fuel injection and space travel combined. The result, even on entry-level bikes, can be shockingly good; smooth lunge-free take off and charming linear rolls of the throttle. It’s vacuum tubes in high-end audio, with warmer richer sound to the digital revolution’s hard-edged CDs. The exceptional analog response is almost a metaphor for the Aero, the deco touches and chrome give a classic analog sense and a feel of the old with all the dependability of the new. With the Aero you get the feeling will never burn out a hard to replace vacuum tube.
Riding down country back roads or cruising through wine country would be a defining experience on this bike. It’s the gentler and more poetic connectivity with the world around you that is the draw to cruisers such as this, and at 8699.00 CDN, the Shadow Aero offers a very reasonable price of admission to cruising. Value for the dollar once you factor in the maintenance schedule and hassle-free philosophy, we’d be hard-pressed to find a better entry-level cruiser or even second bike for the sportier set who want a break from the world of 14000 shrieking RPMs.
2004 Honda VT750 Shadow Aero: $8,699.00 MSRP
Test Bikes Provided By:
Carter Motorsports Coquitlam
#11-1300 Woolridge St.
Phone: (604) 519-0000