Honda VT1300 Interstate, Stateline & Sabre | First Ride

Road rage

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.

Unlike its three stablemates, the Interstate is actually quite comfortable. Where the others' forward highway pegs cause your inner thighs to cramp at speed, the Interstate's floorboards allow a natural seating position. Like most bikes with floorboards it has a heel/toe shifter, plus a big, rubber-covered brake pedal that's almost automotive-looking-and nowhere near as pretty as the faux-billet piece on the other three VTs. The Interstate's one-piece seat (shared with the Stateline) looks similar to the Fury's, but is actually wider, with more of a lean-back angle. It might wear thin after a long day's ride, but it was fine for the 125 miles we did at the intro. While we weren't able to verify fuel mileage, Honda claims 47 mpg, which given the 4.4-gallon gas tank should allow 200 miles between fill-ups on the highway.

The only shortcoming in the Interstate's comfort quotient is its bar-mounted windshield, which buffeted my helmet so badly that my faceshield rattled. Granted at 6-foot-1 I'm on the tall side, but I tried slouching in the saddle and the buffeting didn't diminish until I was approximating someone about 5-foot-6. Perhaps the shorter accessory Boulevard screen would work better?

Performance-wise, the Interstate functions as expected. While Honda makes no power claims, the VT1300 engine is said to be unchanged save for its black finish, and the Fury we tested last year made 56 horsepower and 72 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheel. Couple that with a claimed wet weight of 712 pounds, and you're not going anywhere in a hurry. That's just as well, because the single front disc brake, barely adequate on the other three VTs, feels pretty weak on the Interstate. And it would feel weaker yet if the bike were fully laden with a passenger and luggage. Needless to say on a cruiser with such a pronounced rearward weight bias, the rear brake does more than its fair share of the work. Thankfully it is quite strong, with good feel.

The non-adjustable suspension is also merely adequate, offering a plush ride most of the time but bottoming over square-edged bumps, sending a painful jolt straight up the rider's spine. The fork feels odd because of its extreme rake, seemingly moving as much fore/aft as up/down.

In the end, the Interstate is a qualified success. It retains the Fury's chopper roots while improving upon its function, but does so at a price point that compromises its ride. Hopefully the Gen X/Yers and budget-conscious older buyers at whom this bike is aimed won't care about that, and these three new VT1300s will follow in the Fury's footsteps.

Tech Spec
Honda VT1300CT Interstate
A Fury equipped for long-distance touring instead of boulevard profiling.

Boulevard C90T, Harley-Davidson Road King, Star V-Star 1300 Tourer.

Price $12,749
Engine type l-c 52-deg. V-twin
Valve train SOHC, 6v
Displacement 1312cc
Bore x stroke 89.5 x 104.3mm
Compression 9.2:1
Fuel system PGM-FI EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 5-speed
Claimed horsepower na
Claimed torque na
Frame Steel double-cradle
Front suspension 41mm Showa fork
Rear suspension Showa shock
Front brake Nissin two-piston caliper, 336mm disc
Rear brake Nissin single-piston caliper, 296mm disc
Front tire 140/80-17 Bridgestone Exedra
Rear tire 170/80-15 Bridgestone Exedra
Rake/trail 33.0º/4.6 in.
Seat height 26.8 in.
Wheelbase 70.3 in.
Fuel capacity 4.4 gal.
Claimed dry weight 686 lbs.
Colors Pearl blue, black
Available Now
Warranty 1 yr., unlimited mi.

American Honda Motor Corp.
1919 Torrance Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90501

There's no reason to be furious about the Fury after all.

Honda VT1300

Highest priced of the VT1300 Custom family at $12,749, the Interstate is fully equipped for touring. Bike shown here is outfitted with optional luggage rack, passenger backrest and floorboards, digital audio system, engine guard and acres of chrome.
Tanktop instrumentation includes a speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeters and the usual array of warning lights, but no tach. Glancing down at it takes your eyes off the road longer than we like.
Liquid-cooled V-twin engine is unchanged from the Fury; note radiator tucked between the arcing downtubes. Interstate gets floorboards instead of highway pegs and a heel/toe shifter.
Leather-covered, 22-liter hard saddlebags open on top, a la America's finest. You won't get a full-coverage helmet inside, but they do open and close easily via hidden latches.