COAL: Cycle Of A Lifetime Part Eight — Honda Shadow 1100 — The Beginning Of The End

Not too bad for a first effort. But still very Japanese looking. All photos from web.


The best Harley that wasn’t, and the beginning of the end.

After I sold my long term Harley XLCR, I was without a bike of any kind for several years. As I approached my first retirement in 2006, I started thinking that I might want to get another motorcycle.

I had been a Harley fan for a long time, but I had seen how the Japanese manufacturers had really gotten serious about building their own V Twin powered cruisers. Their early efforts were kind of amateurish; while the bikes were V Twin powered, they definitely wouldn’t be mistaken for something that came from Milwaukee!

Honda had an early entry in their initial Shadow models. By the re-design of the second series it looked an awful lot like a Harley Wide Glide. This was also a big bike with a “Fat Bob” like fuel tank, an extended wheelbase, and forward foot controls. It also had an impressive set of  “shotgun” pipes on the right side. This was a nod to an old school chopper tradition.

Love the pipes, this is a big motorcycle.


Shadows are quite a bit cheaper than any HD, and it would be a lot easier for me to afford one.

It sports lots of fins, but it is water cooled. Note the driveshaft.


I was seriously curious about how good these bikes could be. This was a water cooled, shaft driven bike that required a minimum of maintenance.

Flames baby! For lots of enthusiasts, it’s the only real thing.


Could I do something with this bike that would make it look even more like an HD? I decided to find out.

I found my bike out in Stockton.

This angle really captures the feeling of the bike.


I was impressed by the design. It was long, low, and comfortable. It came with forward pegs that were much better than those on my earlier FLH. The tank was nicely shaped and held four gallons of fuel. I will go on record saying that the 1100 was the best styled cruiser that Honda had ever built.

Mine had been repainted a nice orange color without any tank emblems. I added a set of “ape hanger” handlebars. Then I attached a set of HD black leather saddlebags to the fender struts and removed the sissy bar. At the same time I added HD turn signals that I moved forward to behind the rear shock absorber mounts. I decided to run it with only the solo seat. I have always wanted a flame style paint job and found a very convincing set of decals that I could apply to the gas tank sides.

I thought that the bike looked pretty legit. It was a very comfortable and powerful road machine. Unfortunately, I never took any photos of the final product.

Was I uncomfortable or embarrassed because I was riding a “fake” Harley? No, I had been riding HDs for over twenty five years and didn’t care what anybody might think. I rode the bike for general use, like errands and work.

I only took one long ride with it. I called up my buddy Rick and we made the traditional run up to Mendocino. This had been a yearly ritual for so long. It had always been a reaffirmation of my love for motorcycling. I used to look forward to the beginning of the riding season. However…

Something had changed. It just didn’t feel the same. I had gotten away from these types of day long rides. It had been years since I had done this regularly. During my long ownership of my Sportster, I had continued to ride the bike around town, but I stopped going on long rides.

One day I took the Shadow out for a ride, and I asked myself, why? I just didn’t enjoy it, so what was the point?

I put the Shadow up for sale without any regrets. I had been riding motorcycles since I was fifteen and a half years old. Ever since I was old enough to get my permit. Motorcycling had given me a lot of freedom and enjoyment over the years, but I guess that like many things, it had run its course. It had been a 35-year run.

Health concerns had become a real consideration. I had experienced a couple of serious episodes of back injuries and it took longer and longer to recover after a relapse. I could imagine that being knocked off my bike by a car might land me in a wheelchair. I wasn’t going to take that chance. I want to stress that my back injuries were work-related, and had nothing to do with my motorcycle riding.

When I sold my Sportster, my older brother told me it was like Fonzi had sold his motorcycle! My folks and family found it hard to believe that I would ever quit riding. I did quit, but I still found it hard to completely cut the tie.

So, I considered a compromise, maybe I could build and own a bike, even if I wasn’t planning to ride it very much. That’s what the guys that are involved with antique motorcycles usually do.

Again I turn my consideration to a Japanese model. I had been impressed by the Yamaha/Star 1100 V Twin. Star’s latest V Twin bikes were really impressive, not so much Harley imitators, but Harley contemporaries. Just like back in the old days of Indian, Excelsiors, Cyclones, and Flying Merkels.

I found a Yamaha Virago forum and followed what other Yamaha fans were doing. I wanted something affordable, so I settled for an old Virago 750.

My plan was to do something similar to what I’d done with my Shadow. My first effort was to simplify the bike. I wanted to replace the stock headlamp, but I found there were a lot of electrical components and connections housed inside. I removed the seat to shorten the seat and fender mounts, then attaching the fender to the triangular swing arm. This would give it the appearance of having a rigid frame. Wow! Was there a lot of electrical stuff under the seat! Obviously the wiring harness would have to be pared back.

There were some revised wiring diagrams posted on the forum, but there was a bigger problem. The starter system had a bad relay and ring gear on the flywheel and wouldn’t reliably engage and start the engine. Replacing these parts was inordinately expensive, and the bike didn’t have a kick starter as an alternative. It wasn’t going to be worth fixing. So I quit, and sold the bike for parts.

I often feel tempted to start over again with another bike, most likely an old Iron Head Sportster. I am very familiar with them. They are simple and can run with few electrical components, and those that are necessary can be hidden pretty easily. But I wonder if I would have any enthusiasm for the project. Especially with the consideration that I wouldn’t be riding it much, if at all. Probably not.

But I’m not ready to write off that possibility!

As a consolation, I could always immerse myself completely in my hobby car milieu. Sounds like a plan!