Once upon a time a 750cc bike was considered the big leagues, and almost every oem made one. in 1988 there were five cruiser models between 675 cc and 825 cc and only 24 that were larger. in 2008 there are seven bikes in the smaller category and 92 larger than 825 cc. But don’t be fooled-the last of the 750s are only small on the scale. representing the traditional side of the cruiser aesthetic is the Honda shadow Aero. similar in appearance to a Harley-Davidson softail Deluxe, the shadow boldly proclaims its status as a classic cruiser, starting with the ubiquitous V-twin engine, big swoopy fenders, wire-spoke wheels and tank-top instrument cluster, and finishing with a separate pillion pad, stacked twin exhausts (new for 2008) and a generous helping of chrome. the Aero even has its own heritage stretching back through more than 20 years of shadow models, starting with the original ’83 shadow Vt750c. And it’s still one of Honda’s best-selling streetbikes.
At the other end of the styling spectrum lives moto Guzzi’s Nevada classic 750, easily identi- fied by its distinctive transverse 90-degree V-twin engine. that engine is a direct descendant of the ’69 703cc Guzzi V7, but the Nevada classic itself only dates back to 2005. the styling is decidedly italian cruiser: wide standard-style handlebars, extreme teardrop tank, tachometer, V-max-like chrome faux air intakes and an upswept exhaust canister on each side. this is not your neighbor’s V-twin.
And when it comes time to go, these bikes will both delight new riders and surprise experienced ones. the Honda fires up right away-with the choke on, as it has what’s now an old-school single 34mm carburetor. even though the Aero is considered to be an entrylevel machine by most, the engine is relatively high-tech with liquid cooling (the radiator is nicely hidden between the front frame tubes), three valves and two plugs per cylinder. the rest of the engine is typical V-twin fare: 745cc, with a 52-degree angle between cylinders, bore and stroke of 79 x 76 mm and a 9.6:1 compression ratio. what does it all add up to? surprisingly stout bottomend torque, low vibration up to 70 mph (where it gets buzzy) and good, fast-revving acceleration.
The Guzzi’s powerplant is likewise a winner. Though air-cooled, the Nevada classic keeps up with the times via a weber-marelli eFi, and it meets euro iii emissions regulations. The 744cc engine is slightly oversquare, with an 80mm bore and 74mm stroke and a 9.6:1 compression ratio that matches the Honda’s. with a 90-degree angle between the jugs the Guzzi’s engine has perfect primary balance yielding little vibration except at the upper end of the powerband. when the stoplight turns green, the Guzzi winds up a touch before giving its all, though it is very fast-revving for a V-twin. Full throttle plus a couple of gear changes will have you at postlegal speeds before you can say, sorry, officer.
Both bikes’ engines are mated to wellspaced five-speed transmissions that will smoothly deliver you to 100 mph. the Guzzi is somewhat quicker than the Honda, but you’ll need a kung fu grip to hold on. these bikes have amazingly smooth shaft-drive systems that are virtually free of any drive lash or chassis jacking on acceleration or deceleration, a problem we have experienced to some degree with most every other shaftie we’ve ridden. Although both bikes shifted easily, we did experience a minor problem with the Guzzi: sometimes in going from neutral to first, the shift pedal would move and the neutral light would go off, but the engine would stay in neutral. we can only speculate that this will clear up as the Nevada classic gets further broken in.
The Honda handles almost predictably: solid going straight, holding its line through the turns, but steering slowly. However, the steering is better than on larger cruisers-the shadow weighs in at 561 pounds with the tank full. Start pushing harder along a twisty road and the Honda will drag its pegs hard and reveal a hidden hinge in the frame. on the brakes, the story is all too familiar.
Even with the Aero’s lighter weight th single 296mm front disc and two-piston caliper provides only adequate stopping power with a mushy feel-the lever comes all the way back to the bar on harder stops. out back the budget-bike drum brake is no better; you’ll need flexible ankles for the amount of pedal travel you’ll need to go through to stop.
The Guzzi couldn’t be more different. the fork rake is a sporting 27 degrees compared with the Honda’s more relaxed 34 degrees, making steering much quicker. what’s more, the Guzzi weighs a mere 445 pounds soaking wet but carries the same 3.7 gallons of fuel as the shadow. only suzuki’s Boulevard s40 and 250s weigh less than the Nevada classic. Putting an exclamation point on the handling is a giant 320mm rotor in front squeezed by a four-piston Brembo brake caliper and a 260mm disc out back; this bike stops better than any cruiser we’ve recently tested. On that winding road to nowhere the Guzzi pulls away from the Honda, utilizing its tighter turning radius, greater ground clearance, better brakes and more rigid frame.
While going down the road, the noneFi Aero trumps the Guzzi in the mileage game, 44.6 mpg versus 36.6 mpg. That adds up to an extra 30 miles between fill-ups.
Suspension was a mixed bag between the two motorcycles. the shadow had the typically flaccid front forks of a cruiser paired with sharply angled shocks. this resulted in a generally plush ride in all situations, but the shocks would bind up on sharper pavement irregularities, sending a hard jolt straight up the rider’s spine. with the Nevada classic the suspension was firm at both ends, which meant it would easily carve up a twisty road, but was somewhat harsh at both ends over bumpy urban terrain.
Just as the styling differs between the two, the riding positions are equally different. the Honda has a very low 25.9-inch seat height, and those short of inseam will have no problem getting both feet down at a stoplight. conversely, the Guzzi’s seat is a relative stretch at 30.2 inches but is reasonably narrow at the front so you can get at least one foot well planted when stopped. Combine the Honda’s low seat with moderately forward-set footpegs, and you sit in the Aero. conversely, you sit on the Guzzi with its high seat and footpegs positioned somewhere between rearsets and midmounts. the Honda’s pegs are close enough that short riders will feel comfortable, but riders over 5 feet 10 inches may be somewhat cramped. the Guzzi’s pegs are simply too high and close to the seat-even with my 29-inch inseam, it’s a tight squeeze.
Saddlewise they’re both a bit odd. the Honda’s seat is quite firm and tends to position the rider in the scoop at the back, causing pressure on the lower spine. on the Guzzi it feels like the seat foam angles down toward the back, the shape putting the rider uncomfortably against the rise up to the passenger portion. As for passengers, neither bike offers generous legroom, with the Guzzi’s rear seat more comfortable than the Honda’s.
In the end you’re faced with two very capable motorcycles that address the cruiser concept from different angles. Both bikes offer more than enough power for two-up riding. Both bikes have quick, smooth engines and smootherthan- smooth shaft drives. Both are lightweight and offer good gas mileage.
Both are less expensive to insure than 1500cc-plus megacruisers. Your only question is whether you want to blend in with the masses or spend the nearly $2200 extra for a different kind of cruiser. will it be boulevards and bright lights or canyons and country?
’08 Honda Shadow Aero
Suggested Base Price: $6799
Engine Type: 745cc, Liquid-Cooled, 52-Degree V-Twin
Bore X Stroke: 79 X 76 Mm
Valvetrain: Sohc, 3 Valves PerCylinder
Compression Ratio: 9.6:1
’08 Moto Guzzi Nevada Classic 750
Engine Type: 744cc, Air-Cooled, 90-Degree Transverse V-Twin
Bore X Stroke: 80 X 74 Mm
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