– 1985 Honda VT1100C
Manufacturer – Make – Model – Year: Honda VT 1100 C 1985
Motorcycle Style: Cruiser
Engine Type: 1099 cc, 4 Stroke – Liquid Cooled – V Twin
Engine Bore and Stroke: 87.5 mm x 91.4 mm
Valves 3 valves/cylinder
Claimed Horsepower: 78.4 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 73ft lbs @4,500rpm
Transmission type: 5 speed
Final Drive: Shaft
Tire – Front: 110/90-19
Tire – Rear: 170/80-15
Brakes – Front: single 336 mm disc with 2-piston calipers
Fuel Capacity: 15.1L (4 Gal)
Dry Weight (without fluids): 245 kg (540.1 pounds)
Americans have a long-standing passion for V-twin motorcycles, and for good reason. The V-twin engine offers a classic look and feel and an easily accessible power delivery that’s typically biased toward strong low-end and mid-range punch. In short, V-twins are fun to ride.
In 1983, Honda tapped into that passion in a way no other Japanese manufacturer had by designing purpose-built cruisers: first, the VT750C Shadow 750, followed by a Shadow 500 model. They were an instant hit, selling an amazing 37,000 units in their first year.
Two years later in 1985, Honda pumped up the volume with the largest-displacement V-twin custom cruiser offered by any Japanese manufacturer: The 1099cc VT1100C Shadow 1100, an impressive big-inch custom that relied on the tried and true formula established by its smaller stablemates. The big Shadow featured a then-conventional steel-tube frame with twin shocks, hydraulic front disc brake and rear drum brake and a relaxed riding position.
The new powerplant likewise employed many of the technical features that debuted on the 750 and 500. The 1100’s liquid-cooled 45-degree V-twin also utilized Honda’s innovative and unique solution to the vibration that had come to be accepted as part of a V-motor’s marching orders. The engineers came up with an offset dual-crankpin design that provided perfect primary balance. Likewise, the big Shadow featured three-valve cylinder heads with Honda’s exclusive Hydraulic Valve Clearance Adjusters, electronic ignition and shaft drive technology that promised custom V-twin performance and style, but with the low maintenance expected of a Honda.
Of course, a new engine offered opportunities for innovation as well, and Honda engineers blazed a few new trails with the 1100’s engine. A big-bore V-twin needs an especially stout clutch to handle its strong power pulses, but Honda wanted neither the sheer physical size of a heavy-duty clutch, nor the heavy-rate springs that would yield a stiff pull at the lever. Instead they came up with an innovative hydraulic clutch-spring-assist mechanism. Engineers also devised a clever camshaft-mounted sensor that killed the waste spark normally delivered by the ignition. This eliminated the backfiring often associated with big-inch V-twin engines during deceleration. A small clutch placed in the starter reduction gears also prevented kickback during starting.
The Shadow 1100 was a bold step forward, for Honda and the motorcycle industry and market. It’s also one that found favor with the enthusiast press.
“America, this is the motorcycle you have wanted. … The Shadow is the most important Japanese motorcycle of the year—in the United States. … By virtue of the VT’s many attractions as a full-blown cruiser, Honda didn’t need a crystal ball to predict the future success of the 1100 Shadow, and we don’t either.”—Cycle (June, 1985)
“… It’s easy to predict that Honda will have no difficulty selling the 1100 Shadows that roll off of the Marysville, Ohio, assembly lines each day.”—Cycle World (June, 1985)
“… Cruisers … have become increasingly specialized. … And—once again—a Honda Shadow sits at the forefront of this latest trend.”—Cycle Guide (June, 1985)
What’s more, the virtues that made the original Shadow 1100 such a runaway sales success are still present and accounted for in Honda’s 2001 Shadow Spirit. It’s a testimony to the fundamental rightness of Honda’s original design vision for the 1100. After almost two decades, the Shadow 1100 keeps finding new customers. Which just goes to show that while American riders love their V-twins, they reserve a special place in their heart for Honda’s big Shadow.