The Honda Shadow boasts typical Honda refinement. Its engine makes torque in the right areas make it competitive on the street despite the smallest displacement in the middleweight class.
If not for its dated styling, the Vulcan has the potential to dominate its middleweight competition. The 805cc machine responds with vigor when pushed hard on twisty roads, and the smooth transmission and clutch gives us every reason to want to scroll through the gears. The Vulcan carves corners reasonably well and we enjoyed scraping its pegs in tight corners. In fact we had so much fun that we likely pushed the Kawasaki beyond any of its design limitations. Basically we hauled ass on the Vulcan and had a good time doing it.
The brakes are not exactly top-notch on any of the machines, and the Kawasaki falls right in line with the rest of the pack, sheepishly announcing its intent to stop with the help of a hydraulic disc in the front and a rear drum brake. Its controls and gauges perform reasonably well, but the plastic housings feel and look a little cheap, even for a middleweight value cruiser.
Where Kawasaki fails, Honda wins in a big way. The winged logo is renowned for refinement and attention to detail, and on the Shadow Spirit, Honda comes up golden. Pulling the clutch is effortless and combines with a buttery transmission, which made several of our riders gush about the Honda’s refinement.
“The Shadow is the winner for me, hands-down,” says Chamberlain, a former road racer. “None of the bikes really possesses the power to blow me away and at that point it boils down to looks and refinement, and the Honda is way ahead of the rest of the bikes.”
The Shadow Spirit’s bluish-purple flame job is a crowd pleaser as well. More than one casual observer complimented us on the bikes, but even long-time cruiser owners had a difficult time believing the bike’s flame job was straight from the factory.
- Ultra-refined for a middleweight
- Competitive torque numbers
- Lowest seat height of the four
- Thimble-sized gas tank
- Cramped riding position for bigger riders
- Down on horsepower
The Shadow, however, comes up a bit short on the dyno. Its 745cc motor is outgunned by at least 60cc in this group, so it’s no surprise that its 36.4 horsepower is the least here. It makes up for a lack of ponies by its in-the-hunt 40 ft.-lbs. of torque coming at just 3250 rpm, the lowest revs in this category.
But even though Honda fails to compete in the horsepower war, the Shadow at least fools our senses into thinking we have a mini powerhouse between our legs (keep the comments to yourselves). Being nearly three dozen pounds lighter than the Kawasaki helps the power-to-weight ratio.
2003 $6000 Cruiser Shootout
2003 HD Sportster 883 Comparison
2003 Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Comparison
2003 Honda Shadow Spirit Comparison
2003 Suzuki Marauder Comparison