Honda VTX1300S

Right-sizing the V-twin extreme

Even among cruisers, where bigger has always been better, there is such a thing as too big. For many riders, Honda's enormous 1795cc VTX1800 V-twin crossed that boundary. No one complained about the 1800's displacement or power, but the bike's mass simply pushes the limits. The original version of the VTX (which stands for V-Twin Extreme), the C model, was a bit of a buffalo at low speeds and in corners, and the second-round S and R models were even heavier.

Fortunately, the 1800s were the first born of Honda's VTX family of cruisers. The VTX formula was always intended to slide down the range after storming onto the scene in the max-motor 1800, and the arrival of the 1300 begins that displacement proliferation. We expect a "middleweight" version circa 900cc in another year or two. However, many riders normally attracted to smaller bikes who decide to try the 1300 on for size may not feel the need to wait.

|| |---| ** Honda VTX1300S **|PRICE MSRP $8999| |ENGINE Type: l-c 52-deg. V-twin Valve arrangement: sohc, 6v Bore x stroke: 89.5 x 104.3mm Displacement: 1312cc Compression ratio: 9.2:1 Transmission: 5-speed Final drive: shaft | |CHASSIS Weight: 708 lb. (wet)/679 lb. (fuel tank empty) Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal. Rake/trai:l 32.0 deg./5.67 in. (144mm) Wheelbase: 65.7 in. (1669mm) Seat height: 27.0 in. (686mm) | |SUSPENSION Front: 41mm fork Rear: dual shocks adjustable for spring preload Tire, front: 140/80-17 Dunlop D404 Tire, rear: 170/80-15 Dunlop D404 | |PERFORMANCE Corrected 1/4-mile*: 13.72 sec. @ 94.51 mph 0-60 mph*: 5.31 sec. 0-100 mph*: N/A Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph*: 5.51 sec. Fuel mileage: (low/high/average) 33/41/35 Cruising range: (exc. reserve) 134 miles | |*Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)|

Although the 1300 looks a lot like the 1800, the bikes share few components. An entirely new square-section, backbone frame hangs the all-new 1312cc engine on mounts designed to soak up the strongest shakes from the engine, letting out enough to let you know there is a reciprocating device in the engine room. And though it appears outwardly like the 1795cc mill, the 1312cc V-twin is different under the skin. Like the 1800, this engine's cylinders diverge at Honda's usual 52 degrees, and it is liquid-cooled beneath the finning. Each of its heads features two spark plugs and three valves like the 1800's. But this engine uses a single crankpin instead of the staggered-crankpin approach of the big VTX (and most other Honda V-twin cruisers). To quell the inherent shakes of the design, Honda installed a pair of counterbalancers, one each fore and aft of the crankshaft. Instead of fuel injection, the smaller engine gets a single 38mm carb.

Although the whole package looks nearly identical to the 1800 (see the accompanying "VTX Spotter's Guide" to help discern which is which), there is a tremendous difference in feel. At a substantial 708 pounds with the 4.8-gallon tank full, the 1312cc version weighs 50 pounds less than a gassed-up 1795cc VTX-C, but the weight difference feels like twice that much. Gone is the elephantine heft when dipping into a corner or maneuvering in a tight space. The 1300 responds more immediately and lightly to steering and is less ponderous at a stop. Credit 1.8 inches less wheelbase and a quarter-inch lower saddle for the improvement in manageability. Expect to drag the floorboards, though; even by cruiser standards the VTX1300 doesn't tip over far before the folding boards begin to scrape.

|||| |---|---|---| CHEERS AND JEERS|Engine|7| Strong, manageable, ear-pleasing power | |Drivetrain|7| Good gearbox and clutch; some lash | |Handling|7| Decent suspension and steering; drags early | |Braking|8| Stops hard despite its 700-pound mass | |Ride|9| Well-chosen suspension rates | |Ergonomics|7| If only the saddle matched more seats... | |Features|6| Few gimmicks, but what's there is right td> |Refinement|9| Even slicker than big brother | Value8 Pleasing styling and finish; nice price |Fun Factor|7| Styling, if not kinetics, to boost your ego | verdict: In many ways the VTX1300 is a better bike than its 1800cc counterpart. Styling is nearly identical, but the drivetrain is smoother, handling is much more responsive, and the sound is classic V-twin.

A wide range of riders adapted comfortably to the riding position, thanks to the low-rise handlebar and flexibility of the floorboards. Few found a sweet spot on the saddle, however, because the seat is contoured so that almost no backsides fit it comfortably. Petite riders might adapt. We expect the aftermarket to quickly provide remedies for this, which is the only significant comfort shortcoming of the 1300S. You'll also feel a bit of vibration, though few riders felt it intruded, even on long rides. The suspenders--dual preload-adjustable dampers in back and covered 41mm legs in front--do an admirable job of absorbing large pavement jolts, but the ride gets a bit choppy over smaller seams and cracks.

Although the whole package looks nearly identical to the 1800...there is a tremendous difference in feel.

Honda claims 76 horsepower at 5000 rpm for the VTX1300. (Our tester cranked out 60.3 hp at 5000 rpm and 77.4 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm on the SuperFlow dyno.) Acceleration is comparable with the stronger 1100s (such as the defunct Virago). Power flows smoothly from just off idle, with plenty in hand for top-gear passing on the highway. Throttle response is smooth and predictable. The gearbox and clutch work smoothly, but there is a bit of lash in the drivetrain, which can induce some lurching in throttle transitions. Indeed, chassis jacking with throttle changes is much less noticeable than on the 1800. In a class where sound can be as important as performance, the single-crankpin layout of the engine joins with carefully tuned intake and exhaust systems to produce a solid exhaust note and a traditional cruiser cadence. We like it.Heavy bikes with a single front brake usually mean lethargic stops, but Honda has teamed what is probably the biggest brake rotor (13.2 inches) of any cruiser with an effective two-piston caliper to produce strong, straight stops with good control. The pedal for the rear brake is bigger than that of many cars, but it is easy for most feet to cover and the brake provides good power and control.

If you like the lines and flourishes of the VTX1800 retro model, the 1300 will be every bit as pleasing. The detailing is just as well executed even though you are paying more than $4000 less. The bike comes from the same Ohio facility as the 1800, and the paint and chrome are just as smooth and thick as on the bigger bikes.At $8999, the 1300 is much more affordable than the 1800, though it's just as roadworthy and even more civilized and refined. The VTX1300S arrives with 30 accessories in 12 categories (there is, for example, a choice of passenger backrests). You don't get the bragging rights to the biggest V-twin on the planet, but the VTX1300 is a bike we think more people will enjoy riding.

VTX Spotter's GuideThe 1800 and 1300 versions of the VTX-S models (the retro-styled versions with wire spokes) look so similar that you may have trouble telling which one you are looking at unless you get a good look at the displacement announcements on one of the badges, emblems or cases. To help you avoid stammering when one comes by, here are four quick visual cues to help you determine instantly which one you're looking at.--A.F.

if it has: the bike is:
Clutch master cylinder 1800 (the 1300's clutch is cable operated)
Chrome side panels 1300 (the 1800's panels are painted)
Two handlebar-riser clamps 1300 (the 1800 uses a single wide clamp)
Thin radiator between downtubes 1300 (the 1800's radiator is much deeper)
Two-piece chrome covers on heads 1800 (the covers on the 1300 are one piece)
The VTX1300S' single-disc front brake looks barely adequate but functions superbly.
The wide handlebar and tank-mounted instruments allow a near-unobstructed view ahead, though there's no tachometer. Fit and finish are excellent.