Honda Shadow Phantom

Who knew what evil lurked in the heart of Honda?

By Ari Henning, Photography by Joe Neric

The Phantom takes the 27-year-old Shadow line in a new direction. With a couple of key changes, Honda has successfully altered the identity of the docile Spirit into something sinister. A fat front tire, bobbed fenders, beefy fork shrouds and an all-inclusive matte-black paint scheme hearken back to a simpler time, when bikes were basic-and undeniably cool.

The Phantom's scooped saddle sits just 25.7 inches off the boulevard, and it's a relaxed reach to the shoulder-height handlebar. The footpegs are forward-set in the traditional style, though not too much so, and the ledge of the passenger seat gives the rider just enough lumbar support to delay the inevitable lower back ache. The view from the saddle is all black, save for the tank-top speedo, silver triple clamp and small array of indicator lights.

Turn the ignition switch behind your left knee and a faint hum clues you in to the Phantom's only mechanical update. Honda's PGM-FI (Programmed Fuel Injection) system replaces the carburetor between the cylinders for more precise and consistent fueling. Other pre-existing amenities include single overhead cams that act on three valves per cylinder (two intake, one exhaust), dual-spark heads and shaft final drive. Fire it up and the 52-degree V-twin throbs and blubbers with the sound and feel of the real McCoy. The single-pin crank and dual bullet-tip mufflers were engineered to imitate.

The 745cc displacement (45.8 c.i. in American) is small potatoes for a cruiser, but so is the $7999 price tag. Modern engineering lets the Phantom squeeze the most out of its modest motor, which is surprisingly punchy. Throttle response is smooth, as is the gearbox, with first and second low enough to get the bike off the line with impressive quickness. Around town the recumbent seating position and loping power pulses are cooler than ice cubes, but higher velocities and bumpy pavement can ruin the experience. On the freeway a firm grasp on the oversized grips is required to brace your torso against the windblast, and 3.5 inches of rear-wheel travel is definitely not enough to smooth over what Caltrans has yet to fix.

Whether crawling or hauling, the Phantom travels with ocean-liner stability thanks to a 64.5-inch wheelbase and laid-back steering geometry. With more than a half-foot of trail acting on the front tire's massive contact patch, direction changes come slowly and require firm pressure on the bars. The front wheel's single disc and two-piston caliper provide good feel but inadequate stopping power. Diverting half (or more) of the braking duties to the rear end's powerful and progressive drum is the best way to slow this 550-lb. (wet) package.

With a price tag and seat height designed to attract those short on cash, inseam and experience, the Shadow Phantom still has the style and performance to keep veteran, budget-conscious weekend profilers content. And with EFI, shaft final drive and Honda engineering, you know this cruiser will be ready to roll whenever you are.

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