By Ted Laturnus
If you want to see just how atomized the cruiser market has become, consider the new Honda Aero. With the introduction of this retro-cycle, Honda now has six large displacement tourer/cruisers on the market...and four of them are V-twins.
The Aero - technically called the Shadow 1100 Aero - is very similar in feel and execution to the Shadow ACE. Both have a 45-degree, 1099 cc, liquid-cooled V-twin engine for power, both have essentially the same drivetrain with shaft final drive, both are styled in the cruiser mold, both are built in Marysville, Ohio, and both retail for under $15,000. Parked side by side, the family resemblances are inescapable.
But there are some big differences between the two. Yes, the frame, engine, and many of the components of the Aero are the same as those on the ACE, but the engine has 10 per cent more power. Both feature a single-pin crankshaft bottom end to provide the Harley-esque rumble so many cruiser owners crave, but Honda has tweaked the Aero's powerplant to deliver an estimated 55 horsepower at 4700 rpm at the crankshaft....five more than the ACE. This results in more usable power. At 288 kilograms (635 lb.) dry, it does outweigh its slower stablemate by 50 pounds, but the Aero will run away from it in every gear. Fuel mix is provided by twin 36 mm constant velocity carburetors, ignition is fully electronic, and there are three valves per cylinder. Power is far from overwhelming, but the Aero will do "the ton" and then some. The five-speed transmission is easy to get at, but I found the gap between fourth and fifth to be very tight, and caught myself re-shifting in fifth over and over again. This was a brand-new bike, however, and the tightness could just be a matter of breaking it in.
But, anyway, what this bike is really about is visual appearance. The Aero is a spectacularly styled motorcycle. Easily as attention getting as a Harley Heritage Springer, which is saying something. Fully valanced fenders, laced wheels, whitewall tires, huge fuel tank, tastefully-applied paint, long long long fishtail exhaust, and the most attractive headlight nacelle in the business. Apparently, the Aero was conceived as a kind of contemporary interpretation of the streamlined appliances and machinery that were briefly popular in the late 1930s, the chief proponent of which was Raymond Loewy, who also designed the Studebaker Avanti and several ultra-fast train locomotives, among other things. I don't know about any of that, but the Aero sure does get your attention. This is a look-at-me cruising motorcycle, and is very comfortable putting down city boulevards and main drags.
But not particularly comfortable on the freeway. Because of its huge backswept longhorn style handlebars, pancake-flat seat, and laid-back riding position, the Aero is not well suited to extended highway riding. ...it may look streamlined, but on the freeway, it ain't. Basically, your body becomes a sail, and instead of cheating the wind, the Aero catches it. No doubt a windshield would help things enormously here, but it would probably detract from the overall beauty of the bike's front end. Still, if I owned this bike and wanted to do a coast-to-coaster, I would definitely install an appropriate windscreen.
Nor will the Aero thrill you through the twisties. It is simply not built for corner strafing. With a wheelbase an inch or so longer than the ACE, it'll keep up to the likes of the Harley Heritage, Suzuki Intruder LC, Yamaha Royal Star, and so on, but don't plan on dragging your knees through the corners with this one. For one thing the footboards are mounted very low, as is the exhaust, and they'll hit bottom long before you're anywhere near the bike's limits. Honda has also fitted a heel-and-toe shift lever on the Aero, which is just for show. During my time with this bike, I did not use the heel portion at all. Couldn't reach it, in fact.
A few other gripes, while I'm at it. There are no self-cancelling signals, and there should be, there is no gas gauge, and there could be, and the fuel petcock may be the chintziest I've ever seen. Considering the overall beauty of the bike, Honda should put in a chrome petcock at the very least. On the other hand, the twin-piston front disc brakes and single disc rear did an excellent job of bringing the Aero to a stop. Harley could take a tip here.
I enjoyed my time on the Aero much more than I did on its stablemate, the ACE. Mainly because of the extra power. But I couldn't help wonder why Honda hasn't fitted the twin-pin crank engine of the ACE Tourer and Shadow Spirit on both of these motorcycles. It's the same size, delivers much more power, and is much smoother to boot.
Just one of life's little mysteries, I guess.