Shaft Drive Returns for the Shadow Spirit 750

Motoring down the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, the perfect San Diego weather accompanies a serene view of ocean waves rolling onto the shore. Taking the occasional glance at the breaking surf allowed a momentary lapse from making mental notes on my test bike and instead I just enjoyed cruising on one of the most scenic pieces of real estate in the country atop a true workhorse of the mid-size cruiser market – the Honda Shadow Spirit 750.

Debuting back in 1983, the Shadow 750 was the beginning of a quarter-century of Honda V-Twin designs which bear the Shadow moniker to this day. The shaft-driven 750 took a 10-year hiatus when Honda upped displacement to 800cc in 1988, with the 750 returning a decade later as the Shadow ACE (American Classic Edition). In 2001 the current Spirit name was slapped onto a chain-driven design utilizing the ACE’s 750cc mill, with the current 2007 Shadow Spirit 750 a direct descendant. Like its sport-touring cousin, the Goldwing, the Shadow is an example of Honda's willingness to refine a model through piecemeal fine-tuning, and the manufacturer’s efforts have been rewarded with 243,000 750 units sold since its inception.

For 2007, Honda engineers returned the Shadow Spirit 750 back to its shaft-driven roots, while the design team took a crack at giving the machine a facelift with some styling upgrades. All of these changes add up to a practical, well-balanced machine that Honda expects to be the top-seller in its class and keep clicking that sales counter up past the quarter-million mark.

As far as cosmetic changes go, Honda designers were torn on which direction to take when it came to restyling the new Spirit. To that end Honda asked its own customers at rallies and focus groups for some feedback. The current touch-up is meant to retain the traditional look of the original design, while also managing to incorporate some contemporary custom styling cues. Clean forks showcase one of the biggest changes, the jump up from a 19-inch to 21-inch front wheel. A 25.7-inch high seat contributes to a low-slung look, with a tear-drop air cleaner cover and “bullet-style” mufflers providing a more stretched out vertical appearance. Mirrors change out from circular to square shape, with the control panel sporting a very traditional look. The rear wheel is cleaned up by the return to a shaft drive, with the entire back end benefiting from a redesigned rear fender that extends further down and integrates the taillight and turn signals underneath.

Our initial riding impressions of the latest Spirit were made during the San Diego press launch this October. Intending to simulate a typical Saturday ride, our route began with a brief jaunt up I-5, followed by a series of meandering backroads, which would wind around before merging onto the scenic PCH, the iconic highway later shooting us back onto the interstate and our San Diego starting point. As we got our journey underway, the first thought which sprang to mind was just how easy the new Spirit is to ride, with its user-friendly controls, easy to manage power and smooth transmission.

The Spirit generates ample, torquey power throughout the powerband from its liquid-cooled V-Twin, with an aluminum radiator hidden between the front frame rails (similar to the new Vulcan 900 and V-Star 1300). Displacing 745cc via its 79mm bore and 76mm stroke, the 52-degree Twin motoring the Shadow Spirit is the mid-sized option between its Shadow siblings, the 1099cc Sabre and 583cc VLX. The most notable change to the ’07 engine comes from the lone 34mm constant-velocity carburetor replacing the previous dual-carb system to divvy up the air-fuel mixture, while a three-valve twin-plug head maximizes intake volume for each cylinder – the three-valve twin-plug design having remained a constant on the Shadow since its 1983 debut.

The biggest piece of news for the ’07 Spirit’s drivetrain is the aforementioned return of the shaft drive, which was utilized in the original 1983 forebear. Although the shaft drive has increased the bike’s claimed dry weight by 7.5 pounds, causing the latest Spirit to tip the scales at a claimed 504 pounds, Honda is betting the increased weight gain will be offset by the popularity of the shaft drive’s cleaner look and low-maintenance benefits.

Clutch lever pull on the Spirit is simple and provides responsive feel when shuffling up and down through the gears. Shifting up into second there is an audible clunk, but the transmission makes super smooth transitions from gear to gear. There is one quirk about the Shadow’s five-speed gearbox, however, as when in first there is still a considerable amount of downward play in the shifter. This condition can leave the rider wondering if they are indeed in first, unless they stamp down a couple times at a complete stop to make sure. On one occasion during our test ride this meant a cold third-gear start on a left-hand turn, but this rider gaffe, by moi, allowed for the “forgiving” moniker to earn its way onto the transmission. All told, the Spirit’s tolerant but reliable power delivery makes it a complimentary fit for a new rider or an older one making a return to two-wheeled transport.

Eliminating the waste from the Spirit’s powerplant is the EPA-compliant two-into-two exhaust. Honda reps were proud of the exhaust’s sweet sound in particular, to the point of saying they felt no one would find a reasonable decision to ditch the stock pipes for an aftermarket alternative. Reasonable cruiser exhaust? Syntax error. Does not compute.

At first thought, something tells me the do-rag/loud-pipes-save-lives crowd will manage to find a “reason” for more obnoxious decibels, but, then again, those folks don’t figure to be the target market for the 750cc Shadow either. On the freeway portion of our test ride, I took an opportunity to take in the notes rumbling out of the dual side cans on the Honda. Taking away my attention, I heard a thunderous bike approaching on my left. “Wow, this Shadow really does sound great,” I thought in disbelief. Then I noticed that instead of being a rider from our testing entourage, it was a beanie-toting hoodlum (or was it a lawyer playing hoodlum) riding a Wide Glide, who gave a curt nod as he motored on past. Paying more attention to the road than the H-D, I couldn’t tell if it was an aftermarket pipe or not, but the point was made. It’s not that the sound emanating from the Spirit’s cans is bad, I liked it, but it does lack the snarl of aftermarket thunder or even, in my estimation, the stock sound produced by the latest batch from The Motor Company, including the Spirit’s main competitor the 883 Sportster. Hmm, perhaps a back-to-back ride would settle those differences.

One area I felt the Spirit did score a direct hit was in rider ergonomics, due in large part to the comfortable seat. Granted I was only in the saddle for a couple of hours, but there just weren’t any problems at all with the “gunfighter-type” seat, which is plush and also provides some support to the small of the back. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Spirit’s seat is that it rests just 25.7 inches off the ground, which ensures that almost everyone will be able to touch down with both feet. The Spirit’s remarkable perch is lower than the 27-inch seat on the puny feeling Yamaha Virago 250 we tested in our Newbie Bike Comparo and is even lower than the seat on Honda’s own entry-level 250cc cruiser the 26.6-inch high Rebel! Although the low seat had me worried it might feel like my pre-kindergarten Big Wheel, the Spirit manages to not feel tiny like its smaller-displacement siblings, yet doesn’t feel bulky either. For stability the rider’s legs hug the wide 3.7-gallon fuel tank and the handlebar presents itself in a natural position. The foot controls are also placed in comfortable spots, making the rider not feel cramped by the low seat.

The comfort factor transferred over to the bike’s suspension, where you had to hit something awful to throw a curve at the confidence-inspiring 41mm front fork and five-position adjustable dual rear shocks and their respective 4.6 and 3.5 inches of wheel travel. Almost all of the divots and ripples in the road were sucked up without trouble, although there were a couple of larger potholes and lips on our route which created a jarring jolt, but nothing which caused the machine to waiver or wobble. The suspension and chassis, which features a new single-tube backbone frame developed on the Shadow Aero (the Spirit’s 750cc Shadow sibling), also provide steadiness through corners at speeds which would befit a cruiser and its footpeg-terminating lean angles.

The Spirit never felt skittish at regular speeds, despite pre-ride concerns that the larger 21-inch front wheel might impact steering feel negatively. Honda engineers tweaked the Spirit’s steering geometry with an increase in rake angle by half of one degree, which in turn yields 158mm of trail compared to the 152mm of the previous model. The only area I felt the Spirit’s handling was suspect was in low-speed parking-lot maneuvers, where it did feel a bit unwieldy. Yet I can’t point to the larger front wheel as the sole reason for low-speed handling, as saying a cruiser is unwieldy in a parking lot is about as shocking an observation as suggesting a sumo wrestler would make a horrible figure skater.

The biggest eyebrow-raising component on the Shadow at first glance is its 180mm rear drum and single 296mm front disc with twin-piston caliper braking configuration, with the lone front rotor swapped over to the right side to help compensate for the added weight of the shaft drive. Out on the open road and after a couple simulated emergency stops in a parking lot, the brakes got the job done. Going back to MSF 101 by tapping with the rear pedal and then applying progressive power to the front lever, the Spirit came to a rapid stop without trouble. For its purpose the rear drum is adequate. Where the Spirit could stand to improve is up front, but the current system is sufficient and gets a passing grade for a mid-sized cruiser.

When it came to aftermarket accessories for the Spirit, Honda was candid about how they have lagged behind their competitors, the unnamed giant of the Big Four who have nailed that aspect being Yamaha’s Star brand. Honda is working on reversing that trend with two types of accessories: the licensed aftermarket models created by outside sources, and the official Shadow accessories designed by Honda engineers themselves – the latter being covered under the same warranty as that of the new machine they adorn. One can assume that once Honda shifts its considerable might and moolah on amping up its accessory offerings, consumers can expect a wide array of choices to customize their mounts in the years to come. So far the ’07 Spirit sports 41 accessories available, with the piece de resistance being a new digital audio system. The Spirit also has the usual touring-oriented amenities available like a windshield and saddlebags.

Snatching one of the windshield-equipped Shadows for the first leg of our test ride northbound on the I-5, the windshield was unobtrusive and provided noticeable protection from the elements. At 6’1″ my line of site was well over the screen, but peering down below and thru the plastic there wasn’t any drastic distortion to my view. There was some buffeting to my helmet but not enough to cause any real grief. For the freeway section on the return portion of our trip I made sure to sample a bike sans windshield. At 65-plus mph my personal preference was for the non-windshield configuration, although the added wind protection did help reduce noise, where I could pick up a slight warbling sound from the engine at high speed.

When asked whether Honda would join the bandwagon and produce a special touring-oriented edition of their Shadow cruiser, with windshield and saddlebags already mounted, the answer was no, but expect it in future seasons as the manufacturer seems headed down that road with its VTX1800T, a prime example of the growing industry trend.

As we wrapped up our test ride, the Spirit passed the biggest, most basic test of any design in that I found myself wishing we could put on some more miles. The Shadow 750 is a practical mount and a good fit for a beginner or casual rider looking to return to the sport. But there’s one of those troublesome words again: practical. Like “reasonable,” “practical” doesn’t quite meld with the stereotypical notion of a cruiser rider. Isn’t part of the cruiser mystique that they are not the most practical transportation decision and make an unreasonable amount of noise and power? Well, that may be true to some degree, but as the sales figures indicate, there are plenty of folks who have found, and will continue to find, the Honda 750 a comfortable fit. Cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway with the harmonious ocean waves continuing their peaceful ebb and flow, I know that I did.