2007 KTM 450 EXC, Honda Shadow Spirit 750 And Star Motorcycles V-Star 1300 - First Ride

There was a time when you could buy a new motorcycle, ride it to an off-road race, remove the lights and go for it. That was long ago, when men were men and motorcycles were junk. There was next to no difference between a streetbike and a dirtbike, and nobody knew any better. Since then, motorcycles have made mega-strides in performance and technology. But much of the advancement has come through category specialization. You can go scratching on a cruiser (literally, in most cases, from parts dragging) and tour on a sportbike, but why? Get the right tool for the job.

The same is true of dirtbikes. If you want a dirtbike you can legally ride on the street, the choices are sadly limited. This category has been known as dual-sport, with the inference being that they can be used for pavement and dirt riding. The resulting machines aren't really comfortable on the pavement, and they range from poor to dismal on dirt. At least until now.

KTM's 2007 450 EXC is a new sort of dual-sport machine. It is 50-state street-legal right off the showroom floor, but KTM has no desire to see any EXCs commute to work. They admit it's not a streetbike. It's an off-road racebike remarkably like the one used by KTM star Mike Lafferty to win the 2005 AMA National Enduro title. It remains a true dual-sport machine, but the sports are dirt riding and dirt racing. The street accoutrements are to allow legal passage from one trail head to another.

With that as the sole goal of street legality, KTM chose to add a mere 5 pounds of switchgear, lights, reflectors and sound- and smog-reducing parts in order to keep the government happy. None of these parts aids off-road performance, but they don't hurt it much either. Exactly zero pounds of equipment was added to enhance on-road comfort. Taller gearing was added to satisfy sound regs, and it does keep the engine in a happier rpm range on the road, but that is an accident. A standard KTM off-road 450 runs a 14/48 final-gear ratio, while the EXC gets by with 15/45. Mathematically that equates to well over 100 mph when fed through the wide-ratio gearbox, but with roughly 40 ponies on tap and a barbed and dirty aerodynamic profile, reaching the ton requires a giant downhill and a tailwind. We shifted into sixth at over 80 mph, and the bike actually slowed down.

As a streetbike, let's look at a checklist. Wind protection: nil. Seated comfort: next to none. Vibration: plenty. Lean angle: not really. Come up with a list that rates the EXC as a trailbike and the checklist looks much better. The EXC is super-slim, with a state-of-the-art four-stroke engine, fantastic suspension, great handling, grippy, knobby tires, and it's ready to ride off-road. Suzuki's DR-Z400S is the most comparable dual-sport bike, and the KTM has roughly 10 more ponies, one more gear in the transmission, more wheel travel, a more aggressive riding position and weighs 60 to 70 pounds less.

The number of rigid V-twin customs out there proves there is a market for those willing to suffer pain to evoke a certain style, and if you need discomfort, feel free to commute or tour on this KTM. But you will have robbed a serious dirt guy of his chance to slip from one trail to another without getting busted.

To read more about the KTM EXC 450 and 525, check out the March issue of Dirt Rider magazine.

2007 KTM 450 EXC

MSRP $7998
Type l-c single
Valves OHC, 4v
Displacement 448cc
Transmission 6-speed
Weight 250 lb., claimed dry (114kg)
Fuel capacity 2.1 gal. (8.0L)
Wheelbase 58.3 in. (1481mm)
Seat height 36.4 in. (925mm)

Star Motorcycles V-Star 1300 First RideWhen Honda introduced its sleek, feature-packed VTX1300 back in 2003, it started a whole new modern cruiser class, one that found plenty of success with buyers. And until now, Big Red's three 1300cc models have pretty much had the category to themselves-Suzuki's Intruder 1400-inspired S83 having only marginal sales and excitement impact.

Not one to ignore a lucrative market for long (especially one owned by Honda; the battle scars between the two OEMs are legendary), Yamaha-sorry, Star Motorcycles-has jumped into the 1.3-liter act with its new V-Star 1300, a "middle- weight" cruiser that offers a load of features, styling and performance.

We got the chance to sample the big-inch V-Star recently at a press launch in Asheville, North Carolina, and were plenty impressed with what we found there.

The V-Star 1300's fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, solidly mounted V-twin is altogether different than its sibling's air-cooled, 1063cc vee. It gets its 1304cc from oversquare (100 x 83mm) cylinder dimensions; broad cruiser power with the help of four-valve heads and what Star calls "aggressive" cam timing; a satisfying throb via a single-pin crankshaft; engine durability from its chrome cylinder bores and forged rods and pistons; and its nearly air-cooled look from clever hose routing and a mostly hidden radiator tucked stealthily between the frame's downtubes. Tallish gearing with an overdrive fifth keeps revs comfortably low at cruising speeds, while belt final drive keeps things smooth and quiet on the highways and byways.

Chassis-wise, the V-Star 1300 offers a comfortably low 28-inch-high seat along with a long and low stance bracketed by a 66.5-inch wheelbase. There's a 41mm conventional fork complemented by single-shock rear suspension and dual discs mounted on the bike's fat, 16-inch front wheel. Bar-mounted instruments are stylish (and a welcome change from hard-to-read tank-top items), and overall styling-complete with real steel fenders and a flangeless fuel tank-is handsome in a modern-classic way.

On the road we found the engine quite responsive, pulling from lower revs cleanly and offering what felt to be competitive power. The only real glitch was an off-idle flat spot, most likely due to EPA regulations and the need to be lean in the lower end of the rev range. Shift action is superslick (if you'll allow us this overused clich_f_), and engine vibration was well controlled, which means the dual counterbalancers do their jobs quite well. The taller gearing drops rpm to a pleasant range at highway speeds, which will undoubtedly please owners-and those who opt for the mechanically identical V-Star 1300 Tourer (which offers saddlebags, a backrest and windshield as standard equipment for $1300 more).

Handling is plenty competent, with crisp response to steering inputs and suspension that finds a way to be compliant and firm at the same time. Turning radius is a bit wide, though cornering clearance-even with the bike's floorboards-is more abundant than we're used to. The riding position was good for my 6-foot frame (shorter riders may want to lower the bar a tad), and the saddle was comfortable enough for a full day in the saddle.

With the introduction of the mid-sized V-Star 1300, Star Motorcycles has in many ways legitimized the class and begun routing some of those sales-and dollars-from Honda toward itself.

2007 Star Motorcycles V-Star 1300

MSRP $10,090
Type a-c 60-degree V-twin
Valves OHC, 8v
Displacement 1305cc
Transmission 5-speed
Weight 624 lb., claimed dry (284kg)
Fuel capacity 4.9 gal. (18.5 L)
Wheelbase 66.5 in. (1665mm)
Seat height 28.0 in. (701mm)

Honda Shadow Spirit 750 First RideAn Old Favorite Gets The ShaftTechnically, it's not a new model, but Honda's latest Shadow Spirit 750 gets enough nips and tucks for '07 that Team Red tagged alphanumeric characters onto the original model designation. The result-the Shadow Spirit VT750C2-is worth the extra syllables.

Headline news is the Spirit's switch to a new drivetrain-from chain to shaft, like its 750cc cruiser cousin, the Aero. Even with those added 8 pounds, the Spirit is still a relative lightweight at 504 pounds dry. The new 21-inch front hoop, though, is the real visual kicker, giving the Spirit the attitude (or at least the appearance thereof) it always aspired to. The tweaks to the latest Spirit were enough for us to snatch up the keys when Honda offered them.

What's the C2 for? Think of it as a Spirit, Version 2.0. Because Honda chose to leave the current chain-drive Shadows in the lineup until the newer shafties ship, it had to differentiate between the two. But you can feel the difference on the new C2 as well-the '07 bike is nearly an inch lower than last year's model and sits 25.7 inches above terra firma. The deeply dished saddle gets a one-piece "gunfighter" style, with sculpted edges that flow more seamlessly with the rear fender. To pull it all together, a recontoured, straight-cut rear fender now features an integrated taillight, and the air cleaner boasts a teardrop shape. All of that sits on a new single-backbone frame similar to that of the Aero.

While the C2 retains some of the drag-bike styling of yore, from the saddle it feels more evolved, with a new pullback handlebar and triple clamp. Still, you're reminded it's a price-sensitive class the Spirit's playing in when you take in that tank seam glaring between the seat/tank junction (though the tank now wears a speedometer).

Thumb the starter, though, and all is almost forgiven. The lumpy blat issuing from the reshaped, staggered dual exhausts is a welcome improvement over the anemic tenor of last year's model. The bike starts easily enough; the switch to a single 34mm CV carb from dual units comes with a noticeable surge in acceleration and, says Honda, a clean-burning engine that'll pass '08 emissions. Just don't think you'll be winning any drag races with this puppy.

En route with the Spirit, you won't need a heavy hand to guide it. That 21-inch front tire offers a surprisingly light feel with little of the flop you might expect from a hoop this tall. The slightly longer wheelbase-now 65.0 inches-delivers stability at highway speeds. And while the 41mm fork offers .5-inch less travel than the '06 model, the dual shocks out back have .3-inch more stroke. This translates to a zero-sum situation on the road; the rear has a tendency to transmit road irregularities while the front soaks up most bumps acceptably.

All in all, however, the Spirit C2 is a welcome evolution of a popular model.

2007 Honda Shadow Spirit 750

MSRP $6449-$6649
Type l-c, 52-degree V-twin
Valves OHC, 6v
Displacement 745cc
Transmission 5-speed
Weight 504 lb., claimed dry (229kg)
Fuel capacity 3.7 gal. (14L)
Wheelbase 65.0 in. (1651mm)
Seat height 25.7 in. (653mm)