By Pamela Collins
Skeletons in the closet, bats in the belfry, and now ghosts in the garage. Honda’s Shadow family of motorcycles has moved to a spookier level for 2010 with the introduction of the new Shadow Phantom, a darkened interpretation of its popular 750cc cruiser.
This most shadowy of the Shadows forgoes the frivolous folly of chrome and flash so popular in cruiserdom, instead opting to drape itself in a darkness befitting its name. With matte textures, blackened components, and parts wearing a muted sheen rather than obvious sparkle, the Phantom presents a stealthy, secretive persona. But in addition to its new dark and brooding appearance, this latest Shadow boasts Honda’s programmed fuel-injection, offering dependable performance and a fun-loving personality that’s decidedly nonspooky.
Though it bears a ghostly name, the Phantom doesn’t disappear into the background like your run-of-the-mill apparition. It stands out because of what you don’t see: no shiny paint or chrome bling here. The Phantom wears the bad boy dress of early motorcycle bobbers, such as minimal metal and a sleek, curvy one-piece gunfighter seat, and its low-riding, blacked-out drag handlebars angle sharply toward the rider.
Nothing shines on this bike except the exhaust pipes and mirrors. Everywhere else, the eye enjoys a bevy of low-luster finishes. The front fork wears a matte-finished gray cover that contrasts with the black-encased headlight and black lightbar. The satin-silver, polished engine heads glow eerily against the darkness of the engine’s black air cleaner, jugs, and transmission covers. Atop the glossy black tank sits a gray tank-mounted speedometer. Hands grip black levers, feet reach to black controls, black coils wrap the rear shocks, and the spoked black wheels and hubs blend into the tires (17" front, 15" rear). If any motorcycle could hope to be the two-wheeled ride of the underworld, the Phantom sure fills the bill.
However, riding the Phantom is about as scary as Casper the Ghost. Honda’s Shadow has a long-standing reputation for its affable riding personality, and the Phantom is no exception.
First, it offers a seating position that looks cool for around- town cruising, but feels comfortable for long-haul riding. The forward controls aren’t so far forward that it makes for an uncomfortable reach, and the bars nicely land in your hands. The seat should comfortably accommodate many derriere varieties. The clutch and brake levers are nonadjustable but only require a light pull to activate. Viewing the tank-mounted speedo requires taking your eyes off the road, but the indicator lights reside in plain sight on the triple tree. Though smaller riders will appreciate the Phantom’s overall ergonomics (including its ultra-low 25.6" seat height), its dimensions are not small-scale, so all but the largest riders should feel comfortable on this bike.
Thumbing the starter switch immediately brings to life (raises from the dead?) the Phantom’s newly fuel-injected 52-degree V-twin. Honda claims the injection increases fuel efficiency while providing good throttle response, and the crankshaft features a long-stroke design to give the Phantom a V-twin feel and low rpm torque peak. Step down into first gear, twist the throttle, and prepare to glide away from the curb propelled by this surprisingly torquey power plant. Though at 749cc some would consider this a smaller-displacement ride, the Phantom provides big-time thrills as you run through its wide ratio, fivespeed gearing. A black-finished, low-maintenance shaft drive propels the bike, which can cruise at highway speeds of 70 mph-plus with no undue vibration or nasty shaking rattling your bones. Its 549-pound curb weight fades into thin air.
One particular ghost-like feature is the way the Phantom’s suspension seems to make road aberrations disappear. It wears 41mm forks and has dual-shock rear suspension with five-position preload adjustability. The setup worked so well I had to look twice to ensure the roads I was riding weren’t newly paved. The suspension ably performed during spirited jaunts on curvy roads, too; when running through twisties, the Phantom provided predictable, neutral handling, offering no surprises. It’s not a ghost that will sneak up on you and rudely shout “boo.”
Stopping power comes from a single 296mm front disc brake gripped by twin-piston calipers and a low-tech, rear drum brake, providing adequate (but certainly not supernatural) performance. Its 3.7- gallon gas tank with 0.9-gallon reserve should provide plenty of seat time between gas stops.
I can say after covering hundreds of miles on previous Shadows that I found the Phantom the most engaging and fun to ride of them all. It’s a great companion on rides both short and long. Some might call it a beginner motorcycle, but I say not necessarily. With comfortable ergonomics, it’s a good-looking motorcycle that handles well; displacement size is simply a personal matter. At $7,999, this blackness doesn’t come cheap compared to similar offerings in the motorcycle marketplace. However, the Phantom hails from a long line of legendary Honda Shadow motorcycles known and beloved for their reliability. Its dark garb echoes one of the latest styles prevalent in motorcycle fashion, and it plays the role of a bobbed and brooding custom bike relatively well. So for riders wanting a bike that combines of-the-moment trends with a fuss-free lineage, the Phantom will fill their requirements.
Next time you go ghost hunting, forget attics and cemeteries. Garages, it seems, are the best places for Phantoms.
Originally Published in the November 2010 issue of Roadbike ®