Ringleader: Tim Carrithers
MSRP: $15,099 (2006)
Average fuel mileage: 43 mpg
Accessories & modifications: michelin pilot road 2 radials
Honda wants it back and the license-plate tag runs out at the end of the month. Otherwise, the ST1300 is just about ready for another 10,000 miles. It could use a little love right at the moment. A few thousand miles of fast desert backroads and Southern California traffic have cooked the standard brake fluid, and a roadside photo session with the engine off and the lights on temporarily flattened the battery. Otherwise, the big V-4 sport-tourer has been as reliable as continental drift, though superficial types say it's only slightly more engaging to ride than, say...Eurasia.
That's a common misconception for those who never venture beyond their own ZIP code. OK, so exciting it's not. But after living with this one for a year and change, exciting is one of the only things it's not. It's not particularly light, either. Now that I've adapted my riding style to accommodate its 727-pound heft, weight isn't an issue anymore. The heat that escapes those fairing vents has never been all that problematic since I don't ride in jeans. Some ST types get apoplectic about the windscreen, but it's never been bothersome enough to send me off in search of some potential improvement. As for maintenance, I spent more time and money on my washer and dryer over the past year.
Changing the oil and filter takes 30 minutes, and you can slip in a fresh air filter in 15. Adjusting the valves is a more complex endeavor-figure three hours if you're good-but I wouldn't be worrying about that for another 6000 miles. Factor out the fractured luggage rack-blame an ill-advised top-box installation by one of our esteemed ad sales staff-and the sum total of maintenance bits comes to one oil filter and a set of brake pads. The Michelin Pilot Road 2 radials show no discernable wear after a couple thousand hard miles. There's not a lot to complain about here.
The ignition switch has developed a bit of intermittent intransigence. Its free-turning top section, designed to make life harder on slide-hammering thieves, doesn't always cooperate with the guts of the lock just below. Shiny black paint isn't so shiny where the knees of my Aerostich suit get friendly with the fairing, but Honda's accessory knee pad kit ($59.95) could have prevented that. Saddlebags could be bigger, but the optional Honda liners ($129.95) are a perfect fit and make the most of available space. They're plenty tough and greatly simplify hauling your gear up three flights of stairs to the night's econo-lodging at the end of a 600-mile day. For two-up duty, I'd dig up a bolt-on trunk that's easier on its moorings than the generic model our ad guy tried.
Looking through the lens of 20/20 hindsight, I'd opt for a few aftermarket enhancements myself, starting with a fresh shock. Given the fact that there are no drain plugs in the fork legs, swapping the standard fluid for something more acquiescent is harder than it should be. But if my name were on the registration instead of Honda's, front suspension therapy would be inevitable as well. Beyond that, I'd spend my money on super-unleaded and cheap motel rooms. It's that kind of motorcycle.
Like a lot of other tools in my garage, the ST is less impressive to look at than it is for the quality and quantity of work it's capable of cranking out. Despite the results of our recent sport-touring showdown, the Honda is still at or near the top of my list for any long-distance weekend. Other motorcycles generate more admiring glances from the neighbors. No worries, I'll send 'em a postcard from Squamish or Bigfork.
It's almost funny to watch my fingers type this, but I'm finally enjoying riding my 2006 Yamaha FZ1.
It took some time.
Ringleader: Mitch Boehm
MSRP: $9099 (2006)
Average Fuel Mileage: 33 Mpg
Accessories & Modifications: Race Tech Fork And Shock Springs
I dug the look of the second-generation Fizzer when it bowed in late '05. Aggressively styled and packing a thoroughly athletic build, the new FZ looked like it would easily out-perform the original.
But no: Overly stiff suspension and horrible fueling manners made the bike an unpleasant handful. Just riding the thing smoothly was a challenge. Yet for some strange reason-Pity? Stupidity? Early onset Alzheimer's?-I adopted it as my long-term testbike.
I eventually fixed 70 percent of the EFI system's abruptness with a Cobra USA digital fuel processor, and a set of Avon's new Storm radials with their softer sidewalls helped smooth out the ride somewhat. But to truly transform the bike's ride quality required a trip to Race Tech (www.race-tech.com).
Because the stock fork cartridges are sealed and can't be modified, our only avenue of improvement-aside from a pair of expensive ($1300) replacement cartridges-was fresh oil and slightly firmer springs (1.0 kg-mm, up from .92). The stock shock is similarly nonrebuildable, so we settled for a softer spring (12.5 kg-mm, down from 13.4).
Despite the minimal changes and reasonable cost ($272 installed), the FZ1's ride quality and wheel control improved dramatically, and it now works nearly as well as the updated '07 model. And given the newer bike's excellence, that's a helluva turnaround.
Problem is, now that the bike's finally fun to ride, Yamaha wants it back. Bye-bye, FZ1-it was fun while it lasted.