The first two Honda Shadow models were launched in 1983 and included the VT500 Honda Shadow and the VT750 Honda Shadow. As good as the bike may have been, it missed quintessential elements of cruiser motorcycles Harley-Davidson had established years earlier. The 500cc and 750cc Honda Shadows had V-Twin engines, but instead of 45 degrees separating the cylinders, Honda used a wider 52-degree format. The engine was also liquid-cooled which was in contrast to H-D’s air-cooled V-Twins. Cast-alloy wheels were used instead of spoke wheels. While both Honda Shadows had teardrop gas tanks and some chrome, the two bikes were lacking essential cruiser ingredients to lure customers away from traditional cruisers. Over the years Honda would address all these shortcomings.
Because of a tariff on imported motorcycles displacing 701cc or more, Honda reduced the size of the VT750 Shadow in 1984 from 750cc to 700cc. Honda also introduced the VT1100 Honda Shadow this year. Besides its larger displacement and five-speed transmission, the 1100 Shadow is similar to its smaller counterparts. Honda added chrome and made various other changes to the Shadow but otherwise the 1986 Honda Shadows were carryovers from the previous years.
1987 brought significant changes to the Honda Shadow line with an all new VT1100 Shadow. Completely changed styling with staggered mufflers both located on the right side of the motorcycle, a lower seat height, more chrome and a four-speed gearbox brought the Honda Shadow much more in line with the look and feel cruiser riders were accustomed to. The VT600 Honda Shadow launched in 1988 brought Honda even closer to cruiser perfection, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time because the 1990s were to experience a surge in cruiser motorcycles sales.
In 1995 Honda introduced the Shadow A.C.E. (American Classic Edition), the culmination of a decade’s worth of refining the Honda Shadow into what constituted an American cruiser motorcycle. The Honda Shadow A.C.E. featured very retro styling, and Honda even managed to imitate the Harley-Davidson sound and vibration by utilizing a single-pin-crank design.
Having finally captured the cruiser style with the Honda Shadow A.C.E., Honda would introduce a dizzying array of variations on the theme for years to come including the Honda Shadow Spirit in 1997, the Honda Shadow Aero in 1998 and the Honda Shadow Sabre in 2000. Variations on these models included Deluxes, Touring models and a multitude of customizing packages.
Cruiser sales began to fade in the new millennia and Honda slowly began eliminating the amount of Shadow models, while the introduction of the VTX1800 in 2002 and the VTX1300 in 2003 (both cruisers but not Shadows) took away some sales from Honda Shadow models.