Shadow Spirit Design: Inside the Process

New motorcycles do not roll out of the designer's pen intact, like some magical three-dimensional extrusion. The design process is long, arduous and guided by many factors.

Nobody knows the process better or can speak more eloquently on the subtleties of motorcycle design than Martin Manchester, executive designer for Honda R&D Americas. So when we had questions about the new Shadow Spirit 750 C2, we went straight to Manchester-who was accompanied by Seiji Yamaguchi, motorcycle division manager for Honda R&D Americas-for a little insight.

Redesigning one of the best-selling cruisers in the line is a challenging task. Stray too far from the original concept, and you risk alienating current customers. Stay too close, and you won't spark the interest of new customers looking for something different. It is a fine balancing act, one that Manchester knows well.

"The Spirit 750 is a remarkably successful motorcycle," said Manchester. "But we needed to update it with a completely new chassis and new styling. The Spirit styling has been well received, so we wanted to stay close to that general concept of minimal bodywork in a compact, lightweight machine. We wanted to bring that forward, add more value and make it look more contemporary. One of the ways to do this was to create a big-bike image without really changing the dimensions radically. Physically, the dimensions have not changed dramatically in the Shadow Spirit 750 C2, but the appearance of it, the sense of scale, gives the style of a bigger bike.

"We wanted to try to get separation from the current machine and also maintain some styling cues. The 21-inch front wheel added some of the character we were looking for. It was a key element that gave some separation from the previous machine and contributed to a big-bike look and feel."

In comparing the new 750 C2 with the previous machine, the swingarm is three inches shorter, but the wheelbase is three inches longer. We asked Manchester what accounts for this.

"That's the benefit of the shaft drive because the swingarm pivot no longer has to be close to the countershaft as it does in a chain-drive system," said Manchester. "This created more space for us to work with, and it helps achieve the Shadow Spirit 750 C2's lower seat height."

There are some familiar components on the Shadow Spirit 750 that came from the Aero. Why weren't these components redesigned?

"One of the goals was to make sure the machine got to market with an attractive price," said Manchester. "But a major emphasis still had to be on styling elements, such as the 21-inch front wheel."

Students of Honda's cruiser line of motorcycles should note that the C2 is the first Honda custom sold in the U.S. that uses a 21-inch front wheel. Why did Honda go in this direction?

"We did customer research and showed them bikes with both a 19-inch front and a 21-inch front," said Manchester. "Overall, customers responded positively to the longer proportions and 21-inch wheel. We also introduced a lot more horizontal lines in the bike-in the exhaust system and other components-that added visually to the long and low look. The longer rear fender also contributes to the longer proportions. Also, things like the size of the headlight and taillight contribute to the look of a bigger image. Fenders stayed narrow and long, and we wanted to make sure we had a lot of air space around the engine so you can see through it, like a true custom. We had to create a balance between a bigger-bike image but not one that would be intimidating to people.

"Minimal bodywork is a characteristic with the bike, as are the relatively small fenders and small body parts. The side covers are relatively small, so they don't completely fill up space. The headlight is small compared to some retro approaches. Everywhere, parts are relatively small so we can achieve minimum body, maximum machine. The proportion of the body parts relative to the engine helps create the big image.

"From there we wanted to update the image. The previous Spirit 750 was a timeless design, not really dated one way or the other. We wanted something more contemporary, so the straight-cut rear fender is a little more of a backyard style, a designer characteristic. The integrated taillight is cleaner, and the grabrail section has a sharper, more sculpted shape. These little design elements give the bike more character. And the teardrop shape of the airbox cover and the gunfighter seat that fairs into the rear fender bring the design forward a bit.

"The triple-clamp offset adds to the long look as well. From a design point, you want to create additional clearance for the 21-inch wheel. But also from a styling standpoint, you can create a more raked-out image with offset."

While most of the styling changes that combine to create the C2's unique look are minor, it is the subtle interplay and juxtaposition of carefully scaled and sculpted pieces that give this particular model of motorcycle art its distinctive character. Just wait until you see and ride the newest Shadow.

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