Photos by Kevin Wing unless otherwise specified
In more than a dozen years of attending press launches, I don’t remember any motorcycle that stirred as much debate during the technical presentation as did the 2014 Honda CTX1300.
There were only three journos present at the bike’s media launch in San Diego, myself included, though our collective motorcycling experience added up to nearly a century. We couldn’t decide whether it is a cruiser, a touring bike or a sport tourer.
Why there’s so much confusion about how to classify the bike is easy to understand: its styling features elements of all of the above. Each of us put up a valid argument supporting our perception of the machine. It has a low seat height, mid-mounted footpegs and a long wheelbase of a cruiser; its V4 engine and tire sizes hint at its ST1300 sport-touring pedigree, and its saddlebags, Gold Wing-like fairing and sound system are clearly touring bike items.
Let’s just say we agreed to disagree.
Many will be familiar with the CTX1300’s 1,261 cc, 90-degree V4, though it has been detuned for the CTX by way of different cams, a lowered compression ratio (10.0:1 vs. 10.8:1) and 2-mm smaller throttle bodies at 34 mm. That detuning has lowered output (according to European specs) to 83 hp from 124, and peak torque to 78 lb-ft from 92.
This is a significant decrease but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Peak output now arrives 2,000 rpm sooner than on the ST1300, so the drop in power doesn’t feel as drastic as the numbers would suggest. The CTX also has an unusually low redline; at an indicated 6,500 rpm it is 2,000 lower than the ST. Like the ST, the CTX has five speeds and shaft final drive.
Beneath the bodywork is a double-cradle steel frame that sets the wheels 1,645 mm (64.7 in.) apart. Rake angle is 28 degrees and trail is set at 118 mm, conservative numbers perhaps, but ultimately contributing to rock-solid stability.
The frame-mounted fairing features styling cues from the Honda F6B, which itself was inspired by the Gold Wing (understand our confusion?). At the front of the fairing are LED headlights, the CTX being among the first bikes on the market to offer them as standard items.
Inside the fairing you’ll find a sound system that features Bluetooth connectivity as well as a USB port hidden inside one of the two small fairing compartments. The sound system allows you to pair with your smart phone, as well as with a helmet-mounted communication system, something I had criticized the latest Harley touring bikes for lacking.
In Canada we will only get the Deluxe version (there’s also a standard version available in the U.S.), which includes useful features like traction control, linked ABS, self-cancelling turn signals, heated grips and even a centre stand.
Contributing to the CTX1300’s ambiguity is its styling. It has an unusually long and low profile from the side, it looks quite attractive — even sporty — from other angles, and is completely inconspicuous from the rear. But one thing that surprised me was the looks it was getting on the road. Whether it was bystanders on the sidewalk or other riders passing by, many took notice; some even gave it a thumbs-up.
There’s no disputing Honda’s claim that rider comfort was among the top priorities when designing the bike. One of my biggest criticisms with the smaller CTX700 was its foot-forward, chopper-like riding position. Thankfully the CTX1300 has mid-mounted footpegs and a swept-back handlebar that puts you in a very relaxed, upright position.
Unlike the 700, you can relax your legs, not having to constantly pull your knees in as wind tries to pull your legs apart at speed. The mid-mounted footpegs also help reduce the strain on your lower back, which isn’t the case on the 700.
The seat is very wide and its raised bolster is far enough behind to allow you to move around and stretch your legs a bit. It’s a very supportive seat that provides touring-bike, daylong comfort. The riding position proved itself quite worthy after a day of riding and there was no soreness or fatigue to report.
Its shorty windscreen, however, did little to provide touring-bike wind protection. Your belly is kept out of the wind stream but everything above it gets the full, noisy blast, though at least it’s free of buffeting. The cure for this is a taller accessory windscreen, which I sampled and which works very well. It has two small cutouts near the bottom that reduce buffeting to an entirely tolerable level.
After my ride I was quite surprised to discover the bike’s claimed wet weight, which I would have never guessed at 332 kg because it feels much lighter (or 338 kg depending on where you look, the former from Honda.ca for the U.S.-spec standard model which we don’t get here, the latter for the Euro-spec ABS model which we do). It feels planted and is very stable, even when being blasted by wind coming off passing trucks.
The CTX has relatively light and neutral steering though you do feel its long wheelbase and fat rear tire (200 mm) in tight turning transitions, where it takes a leisurely trip to vertical before leaning back down again. It does, however, handle better and has more cornering clearance than almost any cruiser I’ve ridden, and it doesn’t push wide like some fat-tired bikes tend to do. Footpegs will touch down eventually, though a quick look at the rear tire after a particularly enthusiastic blitz revealed only very thin chicken strips.
The engine is almost electric smooth, with very little vibration making its way to the rider. It doesn’t lack pulling power, either, especially in the lower rev range. I haven’t ridden an ST1300 in a couple of years, but my memory recalls it had a much stronger top end. This isn’t a deficit on the CTX because the powerband feels broad and prairie-flat, and there’s still plenty of top-gear passing power available at highway speeds.
The bottom end is so strong that the bike will pull top gear smoothly and forcefully from speeds as low as 40 km/h, which my lazy ass did often. And although it’s unnecessary to spin the engine into the upper rev range, it sure sounds sweet when you do.
Although the suspension, which includes a stout 43 mm inverted fork and twin shocks, isn’t sophisticated in specs (the only available adjustment is rear preload), it is sophisticated in feel and control. It keeps the bike planted through high-speed sweepers and does a good job of damping road irregularities, at least those you’d encounter in southern California. Maybe a bit more rebound damping would be needed for a very aggressive pace, but I don’t think a CTX buyer would be interested in knee-scraping jaunts anyway.
One oversight is the lack of a handily available knob to adjust the rear preload; it looks almost impossible to get some swing on the shock spanner wrench with the saddlebags in the way.
The only glitch in the bike’s smoothness is an occasional bump-induced jolt that makes its way up the handlebar and rattles your fingertips. It’s not the suspension that causes this; it’s the rigid mounting of the handlebar, which is long and resonates when you hit sharp bumps. Rubber mounting would have cured this.
The saddlebags are easy to open and each boast a 35-litre capacity but they are bolted onto the bike and cannot be easily removed. There are two small covers on the tailpiece, just above the saddlebags, that conceal mounting points for a stylised accessory luggage rack. A passenger backrest and top case are also available, though, disappointingly, the top case looks like a standard add-on box; a streamlined, low-profile box would have better accentuated the bike’s sleek profile.
I didn’t have a chance to measure fuel consumption, but it is claimed to average 5.8L/100 km using the European measuring system. This would give it a theoretical range of more than 325 km from its 19.5-litre fuel tank. Alternator output is rated at 600 watts, which is enough to power a few additional accessories like heated riding gear.
The sound system is standard, so you’ll probably end up using it, and it works fine around town, but wind at high speed defeats the speakers’ output, so pairing to a communication system like a Scala Rider is the way to go. It could also use handlebar-mounted controls, though the centre-mounted switches are easy enough to use.
Those small storage spaces in the fairing, although somewhat useful, are difficult to access since their doors open to only about 30 degrees so as not to come into contact with the pullback handlebar. The right one is deeper and is meant to store your media device.
Honda claims to have created a new category with the introduction of the CTX1300, though the company hasn’t said what that category is. Truth is, the bike wears many hats, and it can commute or carve winding roads as easily as it can tour the country (with the help of a taller screen).
Touted as a premium motorcycle, as evidenced by its $18,999 price, there are several premium features, like the aforementioned sound system, saddlebags, traction control, linked ABS, heated grips and a centre stand. The centre stand is somewhat redundant, as the CTX will never need a chain adjustment or lubing. If I were Honda I’d nix the stand in favour of cruise control, or maybe even quick-detach saddlebags, since we were told the CTX looks quite nice without them.
Some might balk at the price, but when compared to some of its possible competition, the CTX has lots to offer. A Kawasaki Vaquero ABS costs $20,299 and is nowhere near as nimble; a Harley Street Glide costs $4,000 more than that and suffers from the same, non-sporting attitude, but at the other end of the spectrum is the Yamaha FJR1300, which costs $19,200 if you add the bags, has cruise but lacks the sound system. It also has more power and a sportier ride.
Despite our discussions about where the CTX1300 fits in the grand scheme of things, one U.S. journalist who attended an earlier wave of the launch called it a modern interpretation of the bagger. I think fitting it into any single category is too narrow a view to describe the CTX.
What I’d call it is the modern interpretation of the UJM (universal Japanese motorcycle). It handles great, is very comfortable, and with the addition of the tall screen it offers decent all-weather protection.
Whatever you might call it, Honda seems to have reintroduced the everyday bike.
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|2014 Honda CTX1300
|Liquid-cooled V4, DOHC
|84 hp @ 6,000 rpm
|106Nm @ 4,500rpm
|Dual 310 mm discs, combined ABS
|Single 316 mm disc, combined ABS
|Three year, unlimited mileage