Test Ride: Honda VTX1300S, VTX1800S

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Words: Andrew Boss   Photos: Richard Seck

VTX1300S

1300S takes its looks from big brother 1800S

Got a big brother complex? I do. Mine is successful, hard working, honest, albeit going bald and he’s uncircumcised. Traits I do not share, but we still compete. Just like me, Honda’s all-new VTX1300S has a formidable big brother too, in the shape of the 1800. However, the similarity stops there, because it’s cutting its own path to success.

Badged as a 2003, the VTX1300S just went on sale in Canada, filling the void left by the discontinuation of the VT1100C3 Aero. The S designation translates to retro-spoked, with lavish fenders and spoked wheels front and back. The rear fender is particularly appealing with a pointy bottom and a coffin shaped taillight, although the valenced front took a little while longer to grow on me.

At a quick glance it looks almost exactly like the big VTX1800S (see below), but the differences between the two are profound.

DON’T CALL ME SMALL

Oh yes, very schnazy.

In order to generate a characterful motor with a bit of vibration and a classic twin sound, Honda has mounted the 1300’s cylinders with a 13.5mm offset and a single-pin crank, yet smoothed it all out with two counter balancers. It works. The motor has a sensual sound and feel. Not quite sensuous enough to give you a pup tent, but you know what I mean. The powerband is fat. Broad at low RPM and continues to the rev limiter without falling on its face.

Unlike its fuel injected big bro’, the 1312cc, liquid-cooled, 52-degree twin is fed by a single 38mm carb (sorry, I can’t spell carburettor and neither can spell-check.). A tug on the choke when cold and the twin starts easily – but just remember to close it after a few miles and everything is peachy. Yup, I said peachy.

Overall, gearing was suited nicely for in-town and highway. I did occasionally find myself riding blissfully on the highway at 120km/h, while still in fourth. Upping it to fifth when I remembered to select it provided a relaxed highway pace at a few more mpg to boot! We averaged 36.5 mpg with cool spring weather … and the occasional fifth gear.

This brings us to the gearbox. No glitches, false neutrals or unusual sounds, but I still don’t get the ‘heel-toe’ shifter. Maybe it looks ‘old timey’ but I often brushed the heel part accidentally and found myself unwillingly in neutral. Does anybody use these things, and if so, are they effective for you? Give us a reply in the Soapbox.

THE CRUISER SYNDROME

Bird’s eye view (just before it craps on yer noggin).

So now we’re going and shifting so we’d better stop. Although there’s only one disc up front, I could brake with one finger under most circumstances with some rear support at higher speeds. In stop-and-go traffic, I was mostly using the rear. Both ends had good feedback and I wasn’t afraid of accidental lock-ups. The huge rear pedal appears to have been borrowed from a Honda Minivan, but as a result I didn’t miss it once!

A conventional 41mm fork and dual rear shocks (with five positions of spring preload) handle the boinging (made that up me-self) responsibilities. Although the rear proved a little harsh, it didn’t hurt my back as most cruisers do, just kind of taking my breath on sharp edged bumps at speed. Since I couldn’t adjust them by hand and since I’m technically challenged, I never found out if I could lessen the effect.

Floorboards are another style consideration. Although they were comfortable, they touched the ground way early and often. Since this is now quite common on cruisers, I thought of a compromise: titanium skid plates under the boards? Then, when you touch down, BAM! A blaze of sparks – like an F-1 car with a full load of fuel bottoming out. Dogs would bark. Children would run. Policemen would … just a thought. Will I get royalties Mr. Honda?

Rear end is definitely distinctive!

The mirrors worked at all speeds and with the width of the bars, the view wasn’t impeded by my broad shoulders (Eh? Are we talking about Mr Boss here? – Editor ‘arris). The seat is wide and well padded with enough back support, and although the passenger portion looks a little bulbous from the rear, it provided good comfort to Miss Mary (that’s my old lady, in cruiser- ease).

Aesthetically, the bike was clean – Free of blobby welds, sharp wire harness ti-wraps and the like, although a bit too much chrome for my liking.

With a suggested retail of $13,999, and a host of accessories available from Honda, this well-balanced bike might be the start of a new chapter for many, maybe even the start of a new cruiser family for Honda.

Just make mine with a big clear windshield, bags and those titanium skid plates!


VTX1800S

Bigger is better?

What pulls harder and longer then a 14-year-old Editor ‘arris stumbling upon his dad’s secret collection of Blue Boy and Knave magazines? (I think that’s when I first saw you Mr. Boss … or should I say’ Mr. Floppy’ – ‘arris). Well, the Honda VTX1800, that’s what. I’m sure you’ve all read the press launch review ‘arris wrote on the original C model but here’s the scoop on the new retro styled version of Honda’s earth shaker.

Actually, Honda have made two retro variations of the VTX1800, the S and R. Both machines are retro styled – the S getting spokes and the R cast wheels, along with minor variations in tire size. Thankfully, powertrain wise, they are identical to the original C version.

SIZE IS IMPORTANT

Enough torque to twist the frame and make up for lack of manhood.

I once dated a girl who grabbed my forearm firmly, looked me square in the eye and said “size IS important”. We broke up shortly after that, but the fact remains – if you want big power (and impress the ladies), there is no substitute for cubic inches. And the 1800 motor delivers.

Based on 1795cc of liquid cooled twin, power seemingly starts at about 500 rpm and continues unabated until the rev limiter kicks in. When you’re on the gas, each upshift causes the bike to lurch hard and you can actually feel the bike twist in efforts to get that power to the ground. Torque is so plentiful (max claimed of 120 lb-ft at 3500 rpm) that you could start from a standstill in third with little prodding and the bike would chug along happily or, at a twist of the throttle, take you to 140km/h before the rev limiter finally brings you back to reality. Slapping it up to fifth gear and the bike lopes along at a very relaxed pace but then hit the throttle at 120km/h and off you go again.

Even two-up, the effect is very pleasurable. It’s the first bike I rode where I could upshift to pass on the highway. Hammering it in first and on occasion, hard one-two shifts, and the giant bias ply rear tire would spin and squeal. Although the long wheelbase keeps it all in check, getting hard on the gas around slow corners can cause the rear to break loose.

The fuel injection performs flawlessly cold, hot, fast, slow and under abrupt throttle closing. Even vibration is non-existent due to a dual-pin crank, two counterbalancers and rubber mounting of the motor.

IN THE WIND

Haven’t we seen this before?

So if you read between the lines, you can see I really like the motor. The only downside is that it made me realise just how un-aerodynamic I have become. I hung on valiantly till 190km/h (at CMG’s secret test facility) before visions of those stuntmen that walk on airplane wings (with little goggles and jowls blowing freely in the wind) made me come to my senses.

The 1800S is muffled by two stylish pipes, a welcomed styling departure from the larger single can found on the C version, and the system remains stealthly quiet from idle to stupid speed.

The S is also 35lbs heavier then the already lardy C model and there is a price to pay. While handling was praised on the C model, the increased front tire size and a switch to bias ply, forced me to have a greater awareness of the entry speed that I approached corners with. I also found it hard to cut a graceful arc in corners, often causing me to adjust my line mid corner, especially during big, fast sweepers. It’s a bit of a handful, even just to park in the garage. Despite that, a 27.3″ seat height allows all but those who have wrecked their knees from years of ballet and exhausting modern dance to feel comfortable.

On the road, this thing has substance. It’s long, with a 67.5″ wheelbase. That ties it with Harley’s V-Rod for the coveted ‘Biggest Wheelbase’ award, and translates to is profound straight line stability. Couple that to the heft of a claimed weight of 739 lbs, and I swear semi-trailers were being buffeted by me..

Fat is beautiful (if you’re fat).

Stopping is provided by twin discs with three piston calipers up front and a single disc at the rear, which is linked to the front to provide partial braking of the front as well. After a while, I just used the rear at speed as it settled the bike down with a natural feeling, even under hard braking. In fact, it wouldn’t bother me if all cruisers came with this set-up. The clutch is hydraulic and a much easier pull then the cable type found on the 1300.

Floorboards take the place of the footpegs of the original C, and although they would touch down on occasion, nothing was imparted to the bike or rider to cause concern. Interestingly, grounding of the boards occurred with much less frequency then the 1300S.

Beefy 45mm inverted forks and dual adjustable shocks keep things in place. In fact, this is the most comfortable cruiser I have ridden. Hitting holes with the rear never popped you from your seat or translated into a sore back, despite the upright posture. Some of the credit can be given to the excellent seat. Its dishing helped keep your arse on the bike under adverse conditions ( i.e. nailing it). Even Miss Mary rode the entire 195km of the local B.A.D. Ride as a passenger without her doing the classic gunslinger walk afterwards.

Our tester was bright orange, which attracted a lot of favourable attention on the road or when parked. I was surprised how many people knew it was a VTX1800 considering the badging is quite subtle and the styling new. Aesthetically, I much prefer the look of the S compared to the original C, but the extra weight and lessened handling prowess seem to be an unfortunate result of the retro shift in styling.


BROTHERLY LOVE

Time for a pint of … err, apple cider?

So how does the ‘smaller’ the 1300 compare to its bigger brother? To my surprise, I found the little brother quite able to keep up the pace under normal circumstances. Things change under hard acceleration upshifts, where the 1300 doesn’t torque twist like the 1800, nor provide that outright rush.

At a claimed 661lbs, the 1300 is 78 lbs lighter then the 1800, and the difference is noticeable. The 1300S feels almost light in comparison, despite the claimed weight still being firmly in big bore cruiser territory. As a result, it has good straight-line stability and a much better feel while cornering then its big brother, especially on the high speed sweeping corners. It also kept being referred to as the ‘small bike’ – Only in the presence of the 1800S could you wrap your head around that concept.

Although I think the VTX1300S is a better all around bike (maybe even one of the best cruisers out there), that 1800 motor is intoxicating! The only analogy I could come up with is having a wife who might not be a very good cook but has the best breasts you have ever seen. Either way, people are gonna be jealous of you.

I guess the old girlfriend was right, size does matter!

EDITOR ‘ARRIS’ VIEW

Although I’m supposed to be the Big Cheese, I didn’t really get much of an opportunity to ride either bike, save for an hour or two. However, having ridden the C model 1800, it’s interesting to see where Honda have decided to take the VTX family.

The C model was one of my all time favourite cruisers. I’ll freely admit that I simply don’t get the classic cruiser aethetics (uncomfortable) and their tendency to detune the crap out of large capacity motors. So for me, the VTX1800C was an astonishing break from that tradition – encompassing real brakes, a capable chassis, comfortable riding position and most importantly, a motor that simply kicks ass.

However, it appears that Honda have succumbed to tradition, by re-cruiserising the VTX in the new S form and introducing a new 1300 in that form only. Fair enough, if that’s where the market is, but what’s the appeal of cutting your turning radius in half because the wrap around bars keep hitting your knees? Then there’s an extra 16 kg on an already lardy bike and goodbye footpegs. I guess the only change I do like are the twin slash-cut pipes. Sigh.

As for the new VTX1300S, well since there’s no C model predecessor, I can’t really gripe about it being dumbed down, although the same cruiser style cues apply. However, I must admit that taking the highway ramps at a modicum of speed leaves an entertaining groove and spark trail, thanks to those cumbersome boards.

On a more positive note, it doesn’t seem to be that much down on power from the 1800. And that’s the weird thing – it’s 500cc down in capacity, so I keep thinking it’s small, yet it’s a 1300! Ah, life used to be so much simpler when 1500 was as big as they came (mumble, grumble).

But then ironically that might be the problem for Honda and the VTX1300. Because the 1800 hit the market first, the 1300 somehow seems inferior, yet it’s supposed to be a competitor for all the other manufacturer’s big-bores.

All a bit of a shame really.

 

Bike

VTX 1300S VTX 1800S

MSL

$13,999.00 $19,399.00

Displacement

1312 cc 1795 cc

Engine type

52 degree V-Twin, sohc, liquid cooled 52 degree V-Twin, sohc, liquid cooled

Carburetion

38mm CV Carburettor PGM Fuel Injection

Final drive

5 speed, Shaft drive 5 speed, Shaft drive

Tires, front

140/80-17 150/80-17

Tires, rear

170/80-15 170/80-15

Brakes, front

Single 336 mm disc with twin-piston caliper Dual 296 mm discs with three-piston calipers

Brakes, rear

Single 296 mm disc with single-piston caliper Single 316 mm disc with twin-piston caliper

Seat height

686 mm (27.0″) 698 mm (27.5″)

Wheelbase

1669 mm (65.7″) 1715 mm (67.5″)

Dry weight

295 Kg (661 lbs) (claimed) 336 Kg (741lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Black
Pearl Orange
Candy Red
Illusion Blue
Black
Candy Red
Candy Orange
Illusion Blue

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