Honda VT1300 Interstate, Stateline & Sabre | First Ride

Road rage

By Brian Catterson, Photography by Kevin Wing

Pardon me while I eat crow. Back in our March issue, I wrote, "Choppers are dead. Ask Honda about the Fury." Granted, nothing has been selling in great quantities lately due to the recession. But contrary to what I wrote-which was based on what a few dealers told me-the Fury was actually the best-selling metric cruiser of 2009. That's kind of like racing for second, given Harley-Davidson's continued domination of the cruiser ranks, but Big Red has reason to be proud, and I stand corrected.

The question now is: Will the Fury continue to sell as well in 2010? Or has that initial, pent-up demand for an affordable, mass-produced chopper been met? Honda isn't sitting around waiting to find out, instead launching no fewer than three new versions. The VT1300CT Interstate is a fully equipped touring bagger; the VT1300CR Stateline is a traditional fat-fendered cruiser; and the VT1300CS Sabre is a Pro Street dragster. The first two names make perfect sense, but back in the '80s there was a V-4 standard called the Sabre while the cruiser version was called the Magna; maybe Honda should have resurrected that name instead?

Although based on the Fury, all three get a new frame with curving downtubes, a redesigned subframe and a steel (rather than aluminum) swingarm. Long and low, with 33 degrees of rake, 4.6 inches of trail, a seat less than 27 inches above the tarmac and a 70-inch wheelbase, there's no denying their chopper roots.

The engine is the same fuel-injected, 1312cc, SOHC, 52-degree V-twin with two spark plugs and three valves per cylinder: two intake, one exhaust. Liquid-cooled, it hides its radiator between the aforementioned downtubes, the upper coolant hose concealed beneath the forward valve cover. Spent gases exit via a double-barrel shotgun exhaust, while motive power makes its way to the rear tire via a five-speed gearbox and shaft drive.

The differences are in the details. The Sabre is essentially a Fury with a drag bar and a 170mm-wide rear tire instead of a 200. The Stateline substitutes a 17-inch front wheel for the Fury's 21-inch pizza-cutter. And the Interstate adds a windshield, saddlebags and floorboards. Honda's Combined Braking System with ABS is a $1000 option on the first two but strangely not on the third; apparently the marketing department was adamant about keeping the price below $13,000.

The U.S. press was invited to sample the VT1300 line in Temecula Valley Wine Country northeast of San Diego, just as the wildflowers were blooming in April. Because the Interstate is the most significantly different model, I'll focus on it here.

First thing you notice when you throw a leg over the saddle is that you don't have to throw a leg over it at all-you kind of just step over and plop down. You then note the near-90-degree bend in your legs, in spite of having both feet flat on the floor.

The Interstate's wide, pullback handlebar epitomizes the old "controls falls readily to hand" cliché. The single-crank V-twin fires at the touch of the button, settling into a potato-potato cadence that's not quite Harley, but not far removed. Pull in the light-action, cable-actuated clutch, snick the shifter into first, let the lever out and the Interstate chugs smoothly away. Dual counterbalancers quell engine vibes, but still let through some V-twin character.

Predictably, given its radical chassis geometry, the Interstate is prone to "chopper flop" at parking-lot speeds. Once above 15 mph, however, the steering settles down and the bike steams full-speed ahead. Only in corners does the front end feel funky, the tire turning in and pushing, albeit far less than a traditional chopper-only Honda could manage that. This understeering tendency is much less nerve-wracking on the Interstate or Stateline than on the Fury or Sabre, incidentally, thanks to the formers' use of a fatter (if not phatter) 140/80-17 tire. But you'll run out of cornering clearance long before you run out of grip.

By Brian Catterson
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