Honda Shadow Phantom

A Honda Shadow cruiser has been in Big Red’s American lineup, in some form or another, since 1983. Having gone through a number of revisions to displacement over the years, the current Shadow lineup retains its original 750cc Twin and shaft drive roots. The Honda Shadow Phantom is the latest iteration of the long-running model line and the new-for-2010 model impressed us during our first ride report earlier this year. So much so, it actually inspired this current shootout idea, as we wondered how it would hold up to the middleweight cruiser competition?

A 745cc V-Twin powers the Phantom, one of two liquid-cooled designs in our comparo. Internal dimensions of the now fuel-injected mill are 79mm bore by 76mm stroke. As the smallest engine in our shootout, by a substantial 138cc gap, we weren’t surprised the Honda filled the bottom positions on our dyno charts. That said, its sub-40 hp and lb-ft torque readings were impossible to overlook (35.6 hp @ 5600rpm, 39.8 lb-ft @ 4400rpm).

Honda Shadow Phantom Dyno:

  • 35.6 hp @ 5600 rpm (lowest)
  • 39.8 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm (lowest)

Underwhelming in raw numbers, for its cruiser application the little 52-degree Twin does get the job done. Quite easy to ride, the seamless fueling and smooth throttle response commend themselves to entry-level power application. While it doesn’t accelerate near as fast as its competitors, the Honda’s no a slug either and more than capable of winding out on the interstate with enough oomph to make quick passes at 75-mph.

The saving grace of the Honda’s engine is its surprisingly stout exhaust sound. Deep and rich without being obnoxious. It’s like buying a Coldplay album but then pressing play to hear Johnny Cash singing lead vocals – it’s completely unexpected, but in a wonderful way.

“Honda’s engine and exhaust note sounded awesome – definitely on a comparable level of the Harley,” says Adam, “but it just didn’t feel quite as quick.”

Divvying out the Shadow’s modest power, a super smooth transmission slides through the five-speed gearbox without issue. The transmission/clutch of each shootout participant performs well, but the Honda distinguishes itself with the lightest lever pull.

Braking is another area where the bikes are all close, but the Shadow stands out as the weakest binders of the lot. The Shadow, notably, is the sole bike to utilize a drum rear, but the lack of strong bite on the front twin-piston Nissin caliper on the lone 296mm rotor is more disappointing.

“The bikes offered comparable stopping power except the Honda,” agrees Adam. “That bike felt like it had the weakest brakes.”

A 41mm fork (non-adjustable) and preload-adjustable dual rear shocks make up the suspension components. The Shadow shields riders from bumps well, sucking up minor undulations without trouble. We were riding on the rumble strips at first just for kicks, it was that nice. Unfortunately the soft suspension can’t keep up at higher speeds, with a wallowing feel the result.

“The Honda handles well, turns really nice and absorbs bumps the best, but as soon as you go a bit fast the rear end bounces around,” says Adam. “It felt like the rear shock absorbers don’t have enough rebound damping even for a slightly elevated pace.”

On the plus side, the Honda delivers the best ground clearance, along with the Kawasaki. It’s also deceptively easy to turn, with a relatively wide 120 front tire. Riders benefit from leverage offered by the well-positioned drag-style handlebar.

As for the overall riding position, it’s comfortable, but like the Sportster it doesn’t mesh with taller riders. Our knees couldn’t grip under the curve of the fuel tank, because they reached above it. That said the plush seat rates second only to the Kawasaki in comfort. Also noteworthy, the Shadow’s seat is actually lower than the Sportster at 25.7 inches.

While not as skinny as the H-D, the Honda makes the Kawi and Star feel bulky and it easily handles parking lot maneuvering. A 545-lb curb weight is lightest of the test group, a 27-lb advantage over the Sportster. Its 3.9-gallon tank and 49 mpg fuel efficiency also beat the H-D, with the Shadow capable of an extra 45 miles with its 190-mile range. One more literal bright spot for the Shadow, its headlamp shined brightest when viewed from the front, lighting up the road ahead much better than the other three bikes.

The burly look of the Phantom gives it a quite different attitude than some it its Shadow kin – like the Spirit and Aero. The muscular front end, with thick fork and aforementioned tire, complement the blacked-out bodywork and frame. Honda deserves credit for incorporating the radiator into the design too, it actually aids in the blacked out feel. While the rear drum brake and shaft drive may not help in the performance department, they give the rear end a clean look. Wire-spoked wheels, the only ones in our test, round out styling that found near uniform praise from our testers – rating it on par with the spectacular-looking Star.

“My favorite looking bike, love the murdered-out look,” says Ray Gauger, MotoUSA video guru. Agustin shares the opinion, though found only one change would have got the Honda his top rating in appearance. “If this sucker was a Matte Black instead of glossy it would have won my decision.”

The instrument console features an easy-to-read analog speedo, though we still had to crane our neck down to take a glance. Most found the controls not as polished or sturdy feeling as the rest, with our Road Test Editor registering the most dire complaint, saying: “The Honda didn’t look like a Japanese-made machine. The parts looked cheap.”

The overall package, however, makes the Phantom’s $7999 MSRP quite attractive. Coming with a 12-month warranty, the Honda name alone implies long-term reliability. Factor in the maintenance-free shaft drive, and purchase of a Phantom should yield years of satisfied trouble-free riding.

It may be the least powerful, with small ergos, but the Phantom’s blacked-out look and surprising bark make for an enjoyable ride. We know at least some riders will find it ideal.