Pros: Looks great, fit & finish is top-notch, great rear braking power, typical Honda reliability.
Cons: 1100 twin vibrates quite a bit, handling is on the sluggish side.
----- Overview ----- .
Honda has been a strong name in motorcycling for decades, with both performance and reliability as results of its years of research. This research has given Honda many technological breakthroughs, and this has given Honda many championship victories over the years. Honda has also made a name for itself in the standard or commuter motorcycle genre. The classic CB500 and CB750 bikes were both quick and reliable, and were sold for many years with high customer satisfaction.
One area that Honda has always lagged behind in is V-twin cruisers. Harley Davidson has been the leader in cruiser styling and sales for decades, and has set the image we all envision a cruiser should be. Honda entered the cruiser market in 1983, with the Shadow VT 500C and 750C. While they looked rather good in a quasi-cruiser sort of way, they didnt sound anywhere near the way a V-twin should sound. They had a very quiet sound stock, and when piped with an aftermarket exhaust they sounded rather like an inline four missing on two cylinders. In 1984 Honda dropped the 750 to 700cc due to import tariffs.
In 1985 Honda introduced the Shadow 1100C, which improved horsepower and torque over the 750/700 bike, but still didnt have that distinctive V-twin rumble. Finally, in 1995 Honda introduced the Shadow ACE 1100. The ACE stood for American Classic Edition, and it featured more retro styling than the old 1100C with a full rear fender and induced vibrations from a single crank pin engine. The model also lost about 10 horse power, much to the dismay of some owners.
At last Honda had a nice sounding twin with enough torque to satisfy buyers that didnt want to wander to the folks in Milwaukee for their V-twin needs.
In 1998 Honda released a new bike, the Shadow Aero 1100. The lighting, bodywork, exhaust, seats, and many other small details were all new. The Aero is based on the ACE engine with the single crank, but a larger two into one exhaust and more retro styling. This model was designed to look like the Indian and Police bikes from the 50s and 60s. With a beautifully crafted 2 into 1 pipe and large, sweeping fenders, the Aero looks ready to cruise in comfort. The single pin crank gives it that H.D. rumble and sound, but also gives it a major case of the shakes. Vibration is quite evident in the 1998 2000 Aeros, and then Honda decided to endow the Aero with a dual pin crank for its last two model years. ('01 - '02) This change created a much smoother running scoot, with less vibration at all RPMs. It also changed the way the bike sounds and performs, and these changes mean different things to different people. In the transition the Aero lost its baritone whump-whump and it sounds more like a deep purring. The Aero was discontinued in 2002 to make room for the new VTX 1300 Retro.
----- My Comments -----
The first bike I owned was a 1983 Shadow 500, which is great for learning to ride and becoming familiar with motorcycle handling. The Shadow 500 was never intended as a long-range bike, so comfort wasnt high on the list of the designers. When I stumbled onto a 1998 Shadow Aero 1100 for sale, I purchased it the following week.
The Aero is a beautiful bike to look at, with lots of chrome and polished bodywork. Its the only Honda cruiser to come stock with floorboards and heel-toe shifter. This offers more variable feet positions, and a relaxed approach to shifting. With a standard motorcycle shifter 1st gear is down and the rest of the shifts require an upshift with your toe. A heel-toe shifter allows you to push down with your toe for 1st gear and down with your heel for the other gears. Floorboards are usually an accessory the owner must add later, and since using them I dont want to go back to pegs. The rubber area is isolated from the base, and floats a little from side to side. This dampens the vibration for your feet and gives you more comfortable ride.
Powerwise, this bike is all most riders will ever want or need for cruising and highway driving. The 1100 twin has a deep well of torque that never seem to end, no doubt helped by the 5-speed gearbox. Gear ratios are well chosen for everything from 25 mph cruising to 75 mph interstate running. The engine just lopes along at 60 mph in 5 th, with no need to downshift to get a quick surge of passing power. With two riders on my bike for a total weight of 440 lbs I noticed only a slight loss in upper end power near the top of each gear. If you short shift a bit to keep the bike in the torque band youll not even notice the extra weight.
For a 700 lb bike the Aero feels very balanced in almost every situation. Normal turning and maneuvering arent too difficult, although you will know your piloting a big bike. The Aero handles very well for a large bike, much better than a Suzuki Intruder and very similar to a Vstar or Vulcan. Its not a sportbike, but it will carve a nice corner once you have the confidence to lean in enough.
Braking is the only weak spot, with the single front disc feeling overwhelmed by the mass of metal behind it. I also find the lever feels a bit mushy, even after fresh brake fluid. The rear disc is another story, with a rapid engagement and firm pedal feel, it will slow you down very smoothly. In panic stop situations, the Aero takes more room to stop than some large bikes, especially with 2 riders on board.
Controls are well placed, with wide sweeping handlebars that place the grips exactly where you hands expect them to be. High beam, low oil, turn indicator, high beam, and water temp. lights are all located in the center of the handlebars. The speedometer rests in rear of the headlight housing located quite far forward of the rider, but in an excellent position to keep your eyes on the road and on your speed. Nestled at the bottom of the speedo is the digital odometer and trip meter. They are both lit by a red glow when darkness falls, and the odometer has a yellowish LCD background that works very well for keeping an eye on your trip distance.
The second biggest factor in cruisers after looks is their sound. Do you really want a beautiful songbird that cant sing? I didnt think so! The Aero has a beautiful exhaust note even in stock form, and sounds even better with an aftermarket set of pipes.
----- Final Comments -----
My dream bike quite some time has been a Honda VTX Retro, preferably a 1300. Regrettably, my budget wasnt padded quite enough to purchase one. I had decided to settle for the excellent Suzuki Volusia 800 instead, which is a very capable and good looking cruiser. I expected to pay around $6100 for a Volusia, and was very surprised to find my Aero for $5700 this spring ('03). For the money, the Aero is superior in every way, and I now prefer it to the VTX. The VTX is a more modern rendition of a classic cruiser where the Aero is straightforward classic bike with no trace of modern design.
I have added a Memphis Shades 19 windshield for more wind protection. I highly recommend this shield for both the driver and passenger, it really makes those longer distance road trips more bearable. Future modifications include a Hondaline backrest, freeway bars, side-by-side pipes, and highway pegs.
As you can see, the Aero is a great platform for customization. Do yourself a favor, and take an Aero for a test drive if you're in the market for a new bike. You'll be glad you did!
If you want to see my bike, follow this link to my Cruiser Customizing page.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment!