Behold the Beast
Park Honda’s new-for-’02 VTX1800 in front of your local burger joint and we guarantee the first comment out of any gawking onlooker’s mouth will center around one undeniable truth: This thing’s big. The exhaust system’s big. The gas tank is big. The fork is big. The cast aluminum wheels are big. And the hulking 1795cc engine? It’s huge.
In the case of the VTX, size does matter. And if you think big, brawny motorcycles need equally big and brawny power delivery, then you’re going to love the latest custom to roll off Honda’s Marysville, Ohio production line.
Thank God Honda didn’t skimp in the engine department. That’s fairly obvious upon first glance at the VTX. The chrome-covered, 1795cc double-barreled bazooka Honda stuffed in the steel chassis sports dual-plug three-valve heads, 4-inch pistons and the largest cylinders and connecting rods the company has ever made. A 41.4-pound forged steel crankshaft uses bolted weights, which according to Honda reduces crankcase width nearly two inches and shaves crankshaft weight by 8.8 pounds compared to a conventional one-piece design. Two counterbalance weights help quell the inevitable, paint-shaker vibrations caused by such a big engine. Its 52-degree V-twin configuration is augmented by a high-pressure, programmed electronic fuel-injection system, complete with two 42mm throttle bodies that utilize 12 fuel nozzles in each injector. Together with twin-plug heads, they guarantee that the gaping cylinders and large combustion chambers receive enough atomized fuel to feed their appetite.
The result: A claimed 106-horsepower at 5000 rpm and 120 pound-feet of torque at 3500 rpm. And while the VTX’s internal combustion prowess may sound like enough to send your local EPA rep into cardiac arrest, the truth is that after all the huffing and puffing, the two-into-one exhaust system on California models exhales so few hydrocarbons as to meet the California Air Resource Board’s (CARB) tough 2004 emissions standards. This was no easy feat. To meet CARB standards, Honda got inventive, employing such tactics as individually mapped fuel injection for each cylinder to match its specific needs, and the aforementioned 12-orifice throttle bodies to help maximize fuel atomization and burn efficiency. The result is a 30-percent reduction in hydrocarbons. To the politically correct, that’s pay dirt.
But it’s not just the engine that draws your attention to the VTX. Cloaking the big twin is a hot-rod-inspired visual package that is arguably the best looking of any cruiser ever produced. The VTX sits long and low on its muscled haunches, with a 67.5-inch wheelbase that practically puts the satin-finish cast aluminum wheels in different area codes. In contrast to the stretched out chassis is a seat height just over 27 inches, allowing even the most vertically challenged inseam a sure-footed outrigger at stops.
Long and low. Honda’s latest custom cruiser sports a 67.5-inch wheelbase and a 1795cc V-twin. Cast aluminum wheels shod with Dunlop D251s give the VTX an edgy, street-rod look. Our test model came with the Illusion Blue paint, a $300 add-on that changes color in different light.
Everything about the VTX’s design screams attitude, from the sculpted chrome headlight and aluminum bar hangers to the shotgun exhaust and teardrop taillight mounted on the chopped rear fender. The 4.5-gallon fuel tank is wide and conspicuous yet tapers smoothly into the front of the comfortable seat. The rider’s eye view is distinctly void of any windscreen or instrument cluster. Only a lone speedometer peaks into the rider’s vision, leaving the mind free and clear to soak up the scenery and the resonant pulses of the giant V-Twin.
Handling that V-Twin and the inherit characteristics of a stretched out custom is no easy task. By default, customs and cruisers lack the geometry and chassis configuration that allow sportbikes to handle so well, but the VTX sports a compliment of respectable components to try and help it through the corners. A massive tubular steel frame is the backbone of the chassis, working with a 45mm inverted fork with 3.5 inches of travel up front and dual shocks sporting 3.5-inches of travel each out back.
Braking chores are handled by a slimmed-down version of Honda’s Linked Brake System (LBS). The VTX’s braking system features two, 296mm three-piston front calipers and a single 316mm two-piston rear caliper. Squeezing the front brake lever activates the two outer pistons of the front calipers. Step on the rear and an inline pressure valve delivers proportioned application of the front caliper center pistons and two pistons of the rear caliper.
You feel cool just sitting on the VTX. And the general public backs up that sentiment. Very few motorcycles have elicited the number of looks, smiles, thumbs-up and overall interest that we encountered during our outings on the VTX. The seating position isn’t too extreme and fits the rest of the bike; a wide handlebar splays out the rider’s arms, with forward placed footpegs that require the smallest stretch for shorter riders. Lever pull is light, and throttle action is downright buttery. Thumb the starter and the big twin chugs to life, a muted, mellow tone emitting from the big exhaust.
With its V-twin design and considerable girth, it’d be a fair assumption that the VTX would rattle the fillings out of your teeth. Fair, but incorrect. Vibration damping techniques are used throughout. The engine uses rubber mounts and incorporates a dual-offset-crankpin design, then delivers power through a damped shaft drive assembly. To eliminate what would otherwise be a substantial amount of rocking couple in a V-twin of this size, the VTX is equipped with two counterbalancer weights that spin on the primary shaft, a space-saving move that, according to Honda, reduces secondary-source vibration by 60 percent. And it works. It definitely shakes and shimmies at a standstill, but the vibrations that make their way to the rider are muted, just a little reminder that there’s a monstrous V-twin down there itching to stretch its legs.
First gear burnouts are child’s play, and chirping the tire during second and third gear upshifts is equally effortless.
And stretch its legs we did. Twist the throttle in any of the first three gears and be prepared for a king-sized helping of acceleration and prodigious amounts of torque. First gear burnouts are child’s play, and chirping the tire during second and third gear upshifts is equally effortless. Accelerating from 40-mph in fifth gear is completely doable, and if you drop down to second you’d best be holding on tight. The feeling of acceleration is magnified on the VTX due to its laid-back seating position. When the scenery gets shoved into fast-forward, all of the rider’s weight is shifted rearward to the seat, leaving the arms and legs clawing for a secure hold. This thing will blow just about anything on the road off the road during the first couple hundred feet, hindered only slightly by somewhat tall gearing in the five-speed transmission.
But don’t get the wrong idea. Sure, the VTX is ready and willing to shred Dunlops all day, but it’s just as happy plodding lazily along your favorite back road or boulevard. Power can be had anywhere in the rev range, and near-flawless ‘carburetion’ means managing it doesn’t have to be a lesson in throttle control. Steering effort is light, and while low-speed maneuvering takes a little getting used to because of the raked-out front end, overall the bike feels lighter than it is and easy to handle. At freeway speeds, the seating position and wind blast create a sail effect on the rider’s upper body. Up to 70-mph it’s not too bad, but when the speedo swept past 90 mph we found ourselves bracing fiercely against the wind. Really though, will this keep you from buying a VTX? We doubt it.
It wouldn’t be fair to beat-up the VTX in the handling department, because going around corners quickly isn’t what it was designed to do. Overall, the VTX carries itself well. Up front, the big fork does a good job of handling pavement irregularities, with just a smidge too much high-speed compression damping noticeable over sharp-edged bumps. The preload-adjustable shocks are a bit undersprung and underdamped, and combined with a fair amount of shaft drive affect, can bounce the rider out of the seat over larger bumps. Ground clearance is limited (surprise!); the folding footpegs are the first to touch, and you’d be wise not to go much lower after that. What follows does not fold.
Even though slowing a motorcycle weighing more than 700 pounds is no easy task, the VTX performed admirably. Scrubbing off speed was surprisingly low effort. Honda equipped the VTX with a good set of Nissin binders; both the front and rear brakes offered up generous amounts of bite and good feedback. A two fingered squeeze at the lever and a little pressure on the foot pedal was usually more than enough for even unexpected ‘panic’ stops.
THE VERDICT PLEASE
Basically what we’ve got here is a bona fide hot rod custom. Is it perfect? Maybe not. It’s a big, heavy motorcycle that relies on cubic inches and inertia to make its point. Honda set out to produce the largest displacement custom ever, and in doing so designed a package that’s as appealing to the eye as it is to the right wrist. The VTX is making up for years of cruisers packing lackluster engines, weak brakes and spongy chassis with an in-your-face design and the performance to back it up.