Test Ride: Honda VTX1800

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Words: Rob Harris   Photos: Rob Harris

There were three Honda highway billboards in the Daytona Beach area:

“Its displacement per cylinder is bigger than a Hemi”.
“The exhaust valves are larger than a P-51 Mustang”.
“A crank weighing in at over 40lbs”.

Apparently size matters and Honda reckon that their new VTX 1800 will make everyone else feel like they’re riding Mr. Tiddles. If you believe the hype then I had the biggest in all of Daytona.

This was the Honda Canada test ride that replaced the Savannah debacle of last January, and being given the only ridden VTX in Daytona for a few days was quite the coop.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ll most likely already know a bit about the new VTX1800. It’s the second largest production motored motorcycle ever (only surpassed by Honda’s own new Goldwing 1800), with a total capacity of 1795cc, split evenly via two massive cylinders at a 52 degree v-twin arrangement.

It’s also the latest machine in Hondas new direction for their cruiser line – the performance cruiser.

When Honda launched the Sabre last year, they stated that they believed that the current evolution of the cruiser was towards performance (and there’s no complaints here with that philosophy).The Sabre was definitely a step in the right direction, seeing a reintroduction of the twin crank pin VT1100 motor (that proved more performance oriented than the lacklustre single pin model that the majority of the ACE series were given).

The VTX takes that philosophy a big leap forward, boasting a very usable 106 bhp (at 5000 rpm) at the crank and an enjoyable 120 ft-lbs of torque (at 3,500rpm). Borrowing more cues from the Valkyrie than the ACE series, the front forks are sporty usd types and there’s two big discs up front, clamped by a pair of 3 piston calipers. Apparently, the VTX will even out do a Valk in roll ons.

The specs are definitely performance orientated, but do cruiser and performance make for good bedfellows?

I arrived in Daytona at the start of Bike Week with fellow journo, Mark Richardson and promptly headed up to the Honda Canada camp to pick up a Gold Wing and an expected 750 Spirit. Mr Richardson had arranged to grab the Wing for a week’s tour, so I was left with the VT until given the go ahead to grab the VTX on the Sunday night.

Tucked in with the Harleys on Main Street.

It seems that Lady Luck was also present in Daytona as the Honda rep bypassed the VT in favour of giving us the VTX a day early. Mr. Richardson began to pout at the prospect of riding back through Daytona on the Wing when he could be the centre of attention on the VTX instead. Not one to enjoy the sight of a grown man crying, I relented and Winged it back downtown.

Oddly a weekend of riding up and down Main Street didn’t get as much attention as either of us had expected. I guess the crowd of American Iron riders didn’t really give a toss that Honda were making big advances into the cruiser market and either didn’t recognise the beast or were happy to dismiss it as just another piece of Jap crap.

Oh well, as one statement on the back of a ratty KZ1300 put it “$15,000 and 15 Miles don’t make a biker”, which we were guilty of on at least one point.

Linked braking system.

Posing aside, the VTX was proving to be a lot of fun. As expected from such a massive capacity, off-idle torque is impressive and addictive. I found myself drag racing off every stop light, never tiring of the instant pull from the motor. Thankfully, Honda have done a good job with the fuel injection, with no on/off effect when accelerating from idle and no noticeable glitches, even from cold (and there’s no fast idle used during warm up either).

When the next red light appeared, the brakes did a pretty good job at hauling the 320 Kgs (dry) to a halt. A couple of points here: Firstly, the brakes are linked. The front brake lever operates the two outer pistons of the front calipers, whilst the foot lever activates the two pistons of the rear caliper and the centre pistons of the front calipers. This means that using the front lever alone works okay, but because it’s only using four pistons, it’s not spectacular. However, using the foot pedal has a much bigger effect than expected, and because of the linking, has the added bonus of making it very difficult to lock up the back.

Mmmhhhh …

Secondly, once you’re used to this layout, you soon realise that it’s best to use the front and rear levers evenly for maximum braking efficiency. It also means that since the front lever does nothing with the rear brake, burnouts are possible (although I was a good boy … unlike some other journalists who shall not be mentioned here).

With the advent of Monday morning we decided to split from the overly expensive and somewhat crowded streets of Daytona and headed south in search of the open road. This proved relatively easy to find, but if you’ve ever ridden in Florida you’ll know that it’s about as flat as a flat thing having a very flat day. The roads are also straight, the scenery boring and the food deep fried …everywhere.

However, this did give me an opportunity to test the VTX on the highway, and at full throttle to boot. On a long stretch of I95 I decided to see just how fast this thing would go.

With feet placed on the passenger pegs and chin as close to the tank ads the wide bars would allow I gunned it past a pack of throbbing Harley Davidsons. The VTX responding with a fast and steady acceleration, pulling hard to about 190 Km/h and then ever so slowly to a maximum indicated 200.

Thanks to being unable to move my arms any lower than the high bars allowed I held on for dear life as the head wind pushed hard against my chest and threatened to pull me off at any moment. Unfortunately the pack on my back did nothing to help my aerodynamics either. Honda US claim a top indicated speed of about 220, but that sounds like a scary proposition indeed.

Comfortable cruising turned out to be more around the 125km/h mark. Lack of a screen and forward placed footpegs making anything faster into a better work out than the Abmaster, with the additional uncomfortable feeling that any time now your fingers will finally pop out from their sockets. Overall, however, the VTX is a comfortable bike. Although the seat height is quite low, being 6’4″ I found that I could ride all day without losing feeling in any body part – helped by the pack I had strapped on the passenger seat, which provided to be a much welcomed lower back support. Also, the sensible option of footpegs over boards allows the rider space to rotate their feet and ankles.

Engine cutaway show that the lower half of the cylinders are air cooled only.

They’re also the first things to touch down on a corner (the pegs not the ankles). Of course, in Florida this only happens on an on-ramp, but results in a long scraping of hero blob, the peg folding slightly in relation to lean angle. Thankfully, although the suspension tends to be on the soft side, this nor any other manoeuvre caused the VTX to waiver from its line.

Comfort is further aided by the excellent vibration control of the motor .It not only utilises a separate balancer shaft, but it is also rubber mounted. The net effect is to isolate all but the pleasurable vibes from the rider. This is especially noticeable when you whack open the throttle, which causes the whole bike to switch from a smooth pulse mode to a heavy shudder, combined with an aggressive bark/growl from the exhaust pipe, to give the full effect of powering forth. It’s fun, although it means that little of your time is ever spent at constant throttle.

If you do find yourself in more speed limited situations, then the close to 20Kg’s of crank mass works to provide a smooth chug-chug effect – the crank’s inertia translating to being able to carry top gear from as low as 60Km/h without causing the bike to shudder and jerk in protest.

Sensible speedo location still allows for clean front end.

Ergonomically the VTX manages to avoid most of the pitfalls that many from-over-function cruisers tend to fall into. For starters the speedo is mounted on the bars, enabling the rider to see it within their peripheral vision (as opposed to a tank mounted jobbie). Everything else finds itself onto the tank, which is okay, except for the signal and fuel warning lights. This means that it’s easy to carry on like a plonker with your signal blinking away merrily and then finally glance down only to realise that you’re also low on gas, but now don’t know just how long it’s been trying to tell you.

Talking of gas, the best consumption rate (general cruising) was 14.1 Km/l, and the worst came out at 10.7Km/l (fast highway). The average (over the 600Km that I had the bike for) turned out at 12.9Km/l. Give a toss? Not really, apart from it shows that the thing will guzzle somewhat if you spend a lot of time with your chin on the tank.

Style wise, it fits within the mould of the cruiser. There’s lots of chrome, a clean raked out front end, low seat height, the obligatory v-twin motor, cast wheels and big fat tires fore and aft. One thing that I didn’t much go for was the canon like exhaust pipe. Honda seem to have a penchant for big and long mufflers on their cruisers. Granted it has a remarkably pleasing bark from a stock pipe, but in my opinion it doesn’t work with the lines of the bike, especially with the gorgeous curvy downpipes. Aftermarket muffler anybody?

Overall I think Honda may just have a winner here. With most cruisers, I usually find myself trying to compensate for their lack of power and handling by placing the bike within that “cruiser” category. After all, all cruisers do that, don’t they? As such I’ve never been a big fan of the things. However, I like, nay, really liked the VTX. I had fun with it and didn’t need to visit a chiropractor at the end of a full day on it. In fact I actually felt in pretty good shape.

Apparently Honda are also working on a drag and tourer version of the VTX. Since all that was missing was a screen, maybe some pulled back pegs and, what the hell, a couple of hard bags, it seems that the cruiser may have finally embraced both form and function.

Jolly good, make it so.

Rob Harris

 

Bike

VTX 1800

MSL

$TBA

Displacement

1795 cc

Engine type

52 degree V-Twin, sohc, liquid cooled

Carburetion

PGM Fuel Injection

Final drive

5 speed, Shaft drive

Tires, front

130/70 R-18

Tires, rear

180/70 R16

Brakes, front

Dual 296 mm discs with 3-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 316 mm disc with 2 piston caliper

Seat height

693 mm (27.3″)

Wheelbase

1702 mm (67.5″)

Dry weight

320 Kg (705lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Illusion Red or Blue, Metallic Silver, Black (To be confirmed)

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