2012 Honda Shadow Spirit Comparison

Jan Plessner | May 21, 2012

Honda’s Shadow cruiser hasn’t been around for quite as long as the Sportster, but a version of the 750 V-Twin has been in Big Red’s lineup since 1983. Like its metric counterpart, the Honda is water-cooled, but the Shadow stands out from this testing crowd with its shaft drive.

My first session on the Honda came on the freeway. It feels underpowered and its bottom scores in four objective performance categories (quarter-mile, 0-60 mph, dyno horsepower and dyno torque), seem to back up my “seat of the pants” first impression. The engine performance category is not to be the Honda Shadow Spirit’s brightest star.

While it trumps in many other categories, most of us feel the Shadow is underpowered at freeway speeds, but totally acceptable on the backroads. Sarah doesn’t quite agree. In regard to engine performance she says, “this was the smallest displacement engine in the group, but I think the throttle felt tight and the response was good, outperforming the Kawasaki and the Harley.”

The perfect bike to take on a curvy backroad.
With the smallest displacement in the group  the Shadow Spirit came up short in engine power for many of our testers.
With the smallest engine in the group, the Shadow Spirit came up short on horsepower for many of our testers – though riders found the character and sound from the Twin pleasing.

The Honda nearly shuts out the others in the engine character and sound category with a near-perfect score. “I thought the Honda sounded deep and throaty, the way a sexy cruiser should sound. It had no vibration, and brings a smooth ride at any speed,” Jody explains.

Almost everyone agrees that the Honda has a distinct and pleasurable engine sound in all gears and throughout the entire powerband. With my extensive ear for all things metric, I didn’t notice anything distinct about the engine noise.

The Honda takes the top spot in the drivetrain category, too. The consensus? Everything was totally smooth and easy and a pleasure to operate at any speed in any environment. For many of us, the predictability of a perfectly sorted drivetrain is a top factor when looking for characteristics that fill our confidence bucket.

“The essence of a standout drivetrain is that I don’t have to think about it – it does what I expect it to do, when I expect it to do it, which is exactly the way the Honda performed,” explains Vickie.

The Honda clearly dominates the handling and suspension category as well. It is a first- or second-place finisher here according to every test rider. The top score is backed up with statements like “best of the group, steering response is immediate yet smooth, stable, easy in tight turns, very balanced, soft, great for the rough road and bumps, nothing shook or bounced, comfortable on the S turns and on the freeway.”

When it comes to test rider opinion about the brakes, the Honda and Triumph tie for the top spot. When the binders are actually put to the test by a professional in the 60-0 braking evaluation, the Honda stops more than two feet earlier than the Triumph.

The 2012 Honda Shadow Spirits brakes performed well for our testers  even if they looked a bit old fasioned.
Our testers agreed that the instruments on the Shadow Spirit were easy to read and use while riding.
Our testers agreed that the instruments on the Shadow Spirit were easy to read and use while riding.

Vickie did a great job explaining how the brakes feel to her: “Overall, I felt the Honda had the best combination of braking power, predictability of response and balance between the front and rear tires. Quite simply, I got what I asked for every time I used the brakes, in any combination of front and rear and at any initial application speed.”

In rider interface once again the Honda takes the cake. Some riders feel as if the bike had been designed to fit their individual body size, shape and configuration.

All agree that the dash on the Honda is easy to read, clean to look at and does not present a challenge to riders of any skill level. Everything just seems to be in the right spot.

Jody likes how the Honda looks balanced and sleek. She says the orange color started to grow on her later in the day, but she’d prefer a smoother and more rounded gas tank. Sarah says she doesn’t usually like the brighter colors, “but the orange with the subtle flames were a nice change from all the black and chrome.”

Not everyone likes the spoke-wheel look and I am not a huge fan of how the rear drum brake looks. Nobody else mentioned it and by the numbers on the braking test, this bike has no trouble slowing down. The rear drum works fine, but at first glance looks old-fashioned.

I do love the orange colorway, and the paint job is spectacular. I’ve always liked colors that stand out because so many cruisers are black, and I consider myself more a leader than a follower.

Vickie admits, “That orange is not my favorite color, but it is a sweet paint job. The bike looked hot and I’d be proud to own it.”

One look at the scoresheet and it’s clear that the Honda doesn’t get its Shootout winning edge in the raw performance data. Instead, the Shadow excels in its performance on the road, where our testers found it the most comfortable and easy-to-handle bike of the comparison. Add in its class-leading MSRP at $8240 and the Shadow delivers a shootout victory for Big Red in Motorcycle USA’s 2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout.

Jan Plessner

Contributing Editor| Articles | A former PR/marketing maven for Kawasaki, Jan has long been an advocate for women riders and now turns freelance writer. With more than 20 years in the motorcycle industry Jan serves as editor of LadyMoto.com.