2008 Honda ST1300
The Honda ST1300 is the longest standing model in our 2008 comparo, with the 1300 a revision of the long-serving ST1100.
After a momentous crossing of the Golden Gate, our S-T troop plodded forward on Highway-1, winding up the serpentine PCH toward Stimson Beach and Point Reyes. Fog made the challenging roadway even more formidable, but our mounts were ready for anything, including the elder statesman of the five, Honda's ST1300.
Making its debut back in 2002, the Honda ST1300 has the longest tusks in our S-T test. A refinement of the decade-long run of its ST1100 predecessor, the 1300 embodies the touring pedigree of the manufacturer which brought us the Gold Wing. With these plaudits it's easy to dismiss the conservative-looking ST as unexciting, but, as we would discover, the Honda has much to offer as a sport-touring platform.
The defining component in the Honda is its longitudinal-mount V-Four. Displacing 1261cc via a 78 x 66mm bore and stroke, the liquid-cooled ST engine is a smooth operator. Although less powerful than its Inline-Four competition, the Honda motor belts out 109.3 horsepower at 7700 rpm and 83.6 lb-ft torque at 6200 revs.
While it may not set the dyno on fire, the V-Four does pull hard right from the bottom and is deceptively fast. The ST motor delivers power with a bland, warbling engine noise, which sounds like a cross between a blender and George Jetson's car. The lulling tones of the ST mill also make for some interesting moments, like blazing past Eucalyptus-lined roads outside the coastal town of Jenner and glancing down to see what feels like 60 mph is nearer to triple-digits on the speedo!
"The motor is pure Honda," comments Ken, "with its whirling cam howl and ultra-smooth power delivery this truly is a great sport touring machine."
While its dyno numbers aren't spectacular, the deceptive V-Four powering the ST delivers plenty of pull right from the get go.
We hate to harp on it, but "smooth" is the operative word with everything on the Honda powertrain. Throttle response, smooth. Power delivery, smooth. Shaft drive, smooth. Eck, how can we get this smooth taste out of our mouth?
Well, don't talk about the transmission because it's, you guessed it, smooth! Like the FJR, the Honda transmission is just five speeds, but sixth gear isn't missed, with the ST's velvety gearbox accurate and, what's the word...
"Reliable," says an impressed Robin. "Just like everything else about this bike, the transmission and clutch have a feeling of reliability. I can't figure out how else to say it - with positive shifts and smooth clutch lever action."
The Nissin braking components received high praise. Rated second to the Honda by our testing crew, the linked ABS units feature three-piston calipers, two up front teamed with 310mm discs and one out back matched with a single 318mm rotor. Actuating the front brake lever causes the outer pistons on all three calipers to clamp down, while the rear pedal activates the center pistons to do their thing. The real-world result is an efficient, confidence-inspiring ABS - although again, caution has to be exerted in the gravel for fear of tucking the front end with an enthusiastic pedal push.
Working through Sonoma and Mendocino County on the PCH we were surprised by the nimble handling offered by the ST. Not only was it holding its own, the Honda was willing and able in the corners. Although far and away the heaviest machine in our comparo at 730 lbs (684 lbs tank-empty), the well-balanced ST has a low center of gravity, delivering easy maneuverability and surprisingly graceful cornering.
Surprising us all, the heavy ST1300 is well-balanced and a remarkable handler in corners.
At 26 degrees the Honda rake angle is right in-line with the other five, but its 58.7-inch wheelbase is the shortest by a full inch. While it trails the Yamaha in overall handling, the Honda cuts into a turn with surprising ease and it is quite simple to toss from side to side.
The HMAS suspension components, a 43mm cartridge fork and gas-charged shock, deliver an almost identical amount of travel (4.6 inches front, 4.8 inches rear). Ground clearance in a full lean isn't spectacular, grinding the pegs often, but the fork and shock supply ample stability and assuring feedback.
A relaxed riding position is marred by a too-firm seat. The 31.1-inch, adjustable perch reveals a level of sadism in some nameless engineer. As we were unable to build up calluses on our inner thighs and glutes during this test, riding the Honda was accompanied by frequent peg stands to obtain some momentary relief. But not all our testers were so criticial.
"The riding position of the ST is hampered only by a slightly hard seat," says Hutch. "The bar, pegs, seat relationship is very neutral and rarely left me feeling uncomfortable at any point during the journey up PCH."
At its highest setting the Honda ST1300 windscreen provided plenty of protection, blocking out the wind and rain entirely for most of our testers.
The comfort of the aforementioned neutral stance is supplemented by a lack of annoying vibration thanks to the suave engine. It is further bolstered by the sizable fairing, which provides ample security from the elements. The wide mirrors, incorporated into the fairing, also provide one of the best views of the rear.
The piece de resistance in rider comfort, however, is Honda's mammoth windscreen. Where other bikes try to deflect the wind, the ST screen blocks it outright. As we rode further north through the forested coastline, temps plummeting and fog rolled in heavy off the ocean, making the Honda wind protection much coveted.
"The front windshield adjusts so high it deflects air over my head," recalls the 6'2" Bryan. "This is the only bike where this was the case. In the fog, I was very grateful for this feature."
For one rider, the Honda screen fully extended still caused helmet buffeting, but the majority enjoyed full encapsulating from the wind and rain - the best windshield of the test.
One area where the Honda doesn't shine so bright is the instrument display. The staid instrument cluster reeks of a minivan dashboard. The stale visual presentation is further ridiculed by the conspicuous absence of a gear position indicator. It does sport a digital fuel gauge to track its gargantuan 7.7-gallon tank. Observing a 39.3 MPG efficiency, the ST doesn't need to be filled for 302 miles.
Overall, the styling lines of the Honda are the most dated and in some notepads it hinders the Honda's overall appeal. No matter what we think though, the design has proven itself timeless.
There's nothing wrong with the info on the Honda display, but its arrangement reminds us of something out of a minivan dashboard.
"Fairing and design is very smooth and aerodynamic, but it takes away from the "Wow" factor aesthetically," opines Bryan. "It just doesn't have the definitive lines of say the BMW, Kawi or Yamaha."
The Honda's $15,599 MSRP, second highest only to the BMW, is disappointing considering it has been around for so long. When you put it up against the Yamaha and Kawasaki, the Honda's allure dissolves with the extra 2 K tacked on to the asking price. Putting aside petty issues like money, we turned our attention to the wet road and miles of highway still ahead of us.
Motoring into Mendocino the smell of pinewood fires signaled the promise of warm, dry accommodation in nearby Fort Bragg. Shivering, we charged through the dark, fog-shrouded mists like ghosts in a dream. Our arrival at the coastal fishing and logging town was welcomed, as were the warm showers, hot food and strong drink that had us shuffling off to bed in dry sheets. We would have to be well-rested for what promised to be a rain-soaked final day on the road.