After 12 years in the making, Honda's new ST1300 may have hit the sport-touring bull's-eye.
Sport-touring bikes are, as the hyphenated name implies, a compromise. It seems as if there's no way a manufacturer can build a winning combination that can satisfy all riders in every kind of riding environment.
Tip the balance to the sport side and the long-distance guys whine about greasy chains or a lack of stowage and weather protection. Weight things more to the touring side and the peg-scraping crowd bemoans porky agility and relatively sluggish acceleration.
Well, after 12 years in the making, Honda's new ST1300 may have hit the sport-touring bull's-eye.
The ST1300 is the descendant of the ST1100, a V-4-powered sport-tourer that continues to have a fiercely loyal following among high-mileage riders in spite of its 1991-era design origins. But other than its mission and the engine configuration, the ST1300 is an all-new beast with more ponies in its corral, defter moves in its chassis, and a level of comfort and refinement that makes the old bike seem like a vintage Norton.
This much became apparent during the ST1300 press launch that began and ended at Honda's headquarters in Torrance, Calif., with the ritzy seaside town of Santa Barbara as our layover. The 2002 ST1100 brought along for comparison, though blessed with decent power and comfort, simply feels a generation behind the new 1300. Er, make that two generations behind.
The ST1300 is a willing accomplice for inhaling wide-open expanses of open road and doing so in quite a bit of comfort.
The old ST, especially next to the new bike, has a tall, tippy feeling, mushy brakes, and heavy steering. Turbulence from the tall windscreen is quite noisy, and engine vibration is intrusive at higher rpm. Add in dated, slab-sided styling, a clunky gearbox and fairing sides that hit the knees of even short riders, and it becomes apparent that the ST1100 is to the 1300 like a 1990 CBR600 Hurricane is to a new F4i.
Obviously, one key change is the ST's bump in displacement, from 1084cc to 1261cc. Combined with a higher compression ratio and much larger intake and exhaust
valves, power is boosted significantly, up to a claimed 125 countershaft horsepower. Fuel injection leads the way to better fuel economy, lower emissions and no-choke starts.
The ST has an almost docile character under a sedate right hand - oh so Honda. The 90-degree V-4 feels so smooth that it seems as if it could be pulled along by its high-output 660-watt alternator. But get it past 5000 rpm - accompanied by a healthy intake growl from the four 36mm throttle bodies - and its character turns more beastly, though by no means impolite. A kind-hearted monster, the Shrek-like ST produces gobs of grunt as it gathers rpm, cranking out about 115 horsepower on a rear-wheel dyno while surfing a fat torque curve. A satisfying deep burble fires out the exhaust pipes on the overrun, but coming back into the throttle, power delivery can be a bit abrupt like most injected bikes.
The ST1300 features a completely redesigned 1261cc liquid-cooled longitudinally mounted V-4 powerplant. The larger capacity engine produces more power and, because of its smaller external dimensions, can be placed forward in the chassis, contributing to improved steering response and handling.
There, now that we've got more power, how about some more comfort? To fulfill that mission, vibration is damped in the longitudinally-situated V-4 by the addition of twin contra-rotating balance shafts. The old ST's engine was rubber-mounted to quell vibration but, thanks to the balance shafts, Honda could rigidly fasten the 1300's engine directly to the frame to use it as a stressed member for added chassis rigidity.
The new triple-box-section aluminum frame is 2.4 lbs. lighter than the old steel frame, while being much stiffer. Changes to the engine architecture allow the 2.0-inch shorter mill to be placed closer to the front wheel, which combined with a seating position 1.6 inches further forward allows better weight distribution while carving up corners.
Despite the ST's bulky external appearance, this sumo sportster is surprisingly adept on a tight and twisty road. Credit radical chassis geometry changes for its new-found agility. Its wheelbase is an enormous 2.5 inches shorter, and the fork's rake angle is significantly steeper, at 26.0 versus 27.3 degrees.
Larger fork tubes (45mm) hold a front wheel assembly that's claimed to weigh an incredible 7.4 lbs. less than the old bike's. Honda says 4.7 lbs. were lopped off the front brake rotor mass, and the 18-inch aluminum front wheel is lighter by 2.7 lbs. A new alloy swingarm that replaces the old steel arm and lighter rear-wheel components help to reduce unsprung weight for easier wheel control from the single shock.
Two generations of Honda's STs butt heads. Trust us, you want the one on the left.
It all works as advertised, as the new ST eats up bumps in the corners almost as well as it does on the superslab. Honda engineers (including the bike's deputy Large Project Leader Hidetoshi Miyazaki, who also assisted with the new, more sporting Gold Wing) have a knack at setting up a suspension without damping adjusters so that is at once plush and well-controlled. Had the 1300 been given a full brace of clickers, it's a good bet the bike's owner would just mess up its fine balance. That being said, an aggressive rider would benefit from slightly tighter rebound damping when tossing around its considerable weight in the tight stuff.
The standard version of the ST1300 retails for a reasonable $12,999, and it includes Honda's linked braking system (LBS), a manually-adjustable windscreen and the nicely integrated and cavernous hard-shell saddlebags, among a plethora of other niceties. The $14,499 ABS version adds an excellent set of anti-lock brakes, a very effective motor-adjustable windscreen (with 7.4 inches of sweep through 13 degrees), and 13 extra pounds (637 lbs. dry, according to Honda).
I'd recommend splurging the extra coin for the top version for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is the fantastic wind
protection offered by the electrically-adjustable windshield. Extensive wind tunnel development has made it effective at all its levels, something the similarly-missioned Yamaha FJR1300 can't claim. At its lowest setting the shield is well out of the way, giving the bike a lighter impression while still offering turbulence-free deflected air. With the screen positioned at the top of its range, the rider enjoys a still cocoon up to around 75 mph, allowing for a refreshing faceshield-open journey. And it's still protective up to 90 mph, though there's a bit of turbulent backlash.
Two cylinders of the V-4 stick out of each side of the gentle curves and sharp angles of the fairing.
On the other hand, the manually-adjustable windshield on the non-ABS version is a bit of a letdown, as it has neither the range (just 2.3 inches) nor the smooth aerodynamic properties of its expensive brother. Add in the fact that ABS-equipped bikes generally hold a higher resale value, and the extra 11% spent on the ABS bike is the bargain of the two versions.
Both are equipped with a more refined LBS system. Linked brakes distribute braking power to both front and rear brakes regardless of which lever is activated. Using the front brake lever actuates two pistons in each 3-piston caliper (including the rear), while stepping on the brake pedal moves the center pistons of each caliper. A delay valve activates rear brake pressure slightly ahead of the front stoppers to minimize front-end dive.
In addition, LBS also allows less experienced riders fairly quick stopping without bothering with the handlebar brake lever. Together with ABS, a newbie just needs to stomp on the brake pedal, and the two systems bring the ST to a fairly quick, no-brainer stop without fear of "layin' her down."
Full braking power, however, can only be had by working both controls. Big rotors (310mm front, 316mm rear) offer commendable speed retardation for such a large bike, and the ABS doesn't interfere too early nor cause inappropriate feedback at the lever. My only problem with the linked brakes surfaced when testing the handling limits of the ST on a twisty canyon road. Braking hard for a corner, a strong application of front brake lever causes the back end of the bike to feel like it wants to pass the front, a condition disconcertingly noticeable when trail-braking. "Hey, look, it's Nicky Hayden backin' it in!" As transparent as the LBS is, I still prefer my brakes to work independently of the other.
Springing the extra $1500 for the ABS version of the ST1300 gets you this amazingly versatile, electrically- adjustable windshield, as well as anti-lock brakes.
In these tight environs, the ST1300 can be ridden at a pace high enough to frighten many sportbike owners. A hard-riding pilot will note a bit of driveline lash through the shaft drive, but the ST1100's annoying shaft-drive effect (that causes the rear end of the bike to rise up when accelerating) is much better controlled on the new edition. Miyazaki-san considered a 6-speed transmission during the ST's gestation, but having just five gears in the tranny is no problem for the 1300's expansive powerband. Nonetheless, he told me a 6-speed may be offered in the future for better fuel economy. My only gearbox gripe is that it sometimes gets hung up on a hurried one-two shift, but it's way better than the 1100.
Perhaps my favorite component of the ST1300 is its trick adjustable seat that has three steps not just vertically (like BMW), but also three positions horizontally. With the dual-density seat in its lowest position, a seat height of 30.5 inches allows shorter riders an easy reach to the road. Set in its highest position raises a rider's butt 1.2 inches, allowing for more legroom and a more sporting cant to its relatively lower bars. I liked the seat in the furthest forward position (1.0-inch range) which delivers a more sporting leg bend and extra weight over the front wheel.
If you can't get comfortable on this bike, you might want to look to see if there's any simian genes in your family tree.
The ST is packed to the gills with comfort and convenience features. After you're done fiddling with the electric windshield, you can fool around with remote adjustable headlight that tilts over a 2.5-degree angle, that is if you were unable to level the bike and its extra cargo with the handy preload adjuster wheel beneath and to the side of the seat - all adjustable on the fly.
A fine example of a touring bike's cockpit. In amongst the windshield and headlight remote adjusters is a trip computer to amuse yourself on the road.
Still hungry for gizmos? How about a trip computer that calculates both current and average fuel economy, or maybe the ambient temperature gauge that confirms or refutes your guess as to how cold/hot it is on the road. A centerstand is standard, natch, as are padded passenger grabrails, twin tripmeters, storage pockets in the fairing, and a monstrous 7.7-gallon fuel capacity (with 2.2 gals. remote tank under the seat). Breakaway mirrors and lower fairing bumpers minimize damage in minor spills for those of us who grew up without the benefit of the "careful" gene.
As you might've guessed, the mini-Wing is amazingly adept when horizon chasing, offering the comfort and endurance to spend hours in the saddle at a time and enough speed to get you there in a hurry. It scarfs up the open road like a returning "Survivor" contestant chowin' down at Sizzler.
Honda has taken its time honing all the rough edges off the ST1300 that there's little to gripe about, even for a pro whiner like myself. I must say I was disappointed to have a difficult time seeing the high-tech gauge panel in direct sunlight, even at the brightest of its three settings. And heat radiating out the lower side of the fairing will roast your right Alpinestar on a hot day.
The ST1300 is otherwise a superbly executed machine, very much in the German mold that puts an emphasis on engineering. It seems like Honda took aim directly at the BMW K1200RS, what with its adjustable seat, ABS and electric windscreen. An ST owner will be consoled about his lack of cruise control, heated handgrips and adjustable bars and pegs by the money saved over the $16,990 Beemer.
If you want better wind protection, get a car. Large mirrors with integrated turn signals help shield a rider's hands from the breeze.
But it's the new $11,500 Yamaha FJR1300 everyone wants to measure up against the ST1300. Well, despite the corresponding nomenclature, there is a clear distinction between the two.
The FJR is suited to a YZF-R1 rider looking for a bike that packs in enough comfort to easily log a 600-mile day, while experiencing one of the most mightiest engines in the industry. The sacrifice in sporting ability is exchanged for decent wind protection, ample stowage space and a pinch of luxury. The Yammie, though, is a harder-edged tool than the ST.
Honda's new scoot is ideal for an Interceptor rider who is willing to give up a bit of canyon prowess in return for a long-haul machine that's better suited for endless open roads. As if to illustrate the point, after pulling into the Honda facilities at the end of our two-day ride, Miyazaki exhaustedly laid forward on the tank of the Interceptor he was on and wearily exclaimed: "Give me an ST!"
The overriding impression of the ST1300 is its adaptability. From mechanical pieces like the adjustable seat and windshield to its ability to dynamically acclimate to every type of riding environment, the ST never feels anything less than capable.
Bottom line: If someone told me I had to ride two consecutive 12-hour days over all sorts of roads, there's no bike I've tested that I'd choose ahead of the ST1300.