Motorcycle Road Test: Honda VTX1300C and VTX1300S
Honda downsized its VTX1800 concept to create two all new middleweight cruiser motorcycles -- and an instant sales
hit. From the December 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.
You could say it's been a banner year for Honda. 2003
has seen the release of Big Red's mind-blowing Rune
and its scene-stealing CBR600RR -- both class-
leading, head-turning motorcycles representing a new
era in technology. In the midst of this massive hype,
however, Honda has also chosen to introduce the
smaller, lower-profile VTX 1300C -- a companion
model to last year's VTX 1300S. And while the buzz on
these middleweights was more of a whisper than a
Photography by James Brown, our favoriteAtomic Rancher scream, the crowd still went wild. Both 1300 models
are selling like hot cakes.
In a year of big-displacement headliners, you might think Honda daft to pitch a duo of smaller-scale cruisers into the
market, but the Japanese company has done its homework. In-depth market research was conducted with both
consumers and dealers, who clearly asked for a bigger selection of higher-horsepower cruisers. So Honda went where
no manufacturer had gone before -- at least not with
this engine configuration and size.
When the VTX 1800 was introduced two years ago as
the biggest production V-twin at the time, Honda had
an instant hit on its hands. With the 1800's raw muscle
defining a strong brand, Honda felt it could then
expand and build a "VTX family" offering the style and
cachet of the 1800 at a softer level. Honda took its
existing V-twin monstrosity down a notch, and the VTX
1300 was born.
The release of the VTX 1300S in '02 left no doubt that
Honda was serious about the VTX family; it was also a
foregone conclusion that there would be another
member joining the clan soon. We rode the retro-styled
1300S upon its initial release, but decided to wait until
its fraternal twin, the drag-style 1300C, joined the party The VTX1300C has briefer fenders and a generally more
to fully test them both. steramlined look than the S.
Any way you ogle it, Honda's mini VTX version isn't
exactly small -- there are 65.7 inches between the
wheels on the S model, and not much less on the C.
These 1312cc versions of Honda's maximum 52-
degree liquid-cooled V-twins are shorter, lighter and
more agile than their burlier 1800cc counterparts, but
barely. The looks of the Big Brother VTXs and their
muscular characteristics have been retained; the
engine bay is still the focal point of both models, with
the beefy twin jugs at the forefront of the design.
The S rides on the same basic platform with the same engine,
but has a retro style.
But that doesn't mean the 1300 engine is a sleeved-down 1800 (or reworked, like the
1800R). This newest, three-fourths rendition of the VTX formula (it probably won't be the
last) is fresh from the ground up, and differs substantially in more than just displacement
-- even though both VTX mills look very similar and use liquid cooling and three-valve
cylinder heads. The 1300 engine shares the same basic design as its bigger brother, just
none of the components. Its overhead-cam cylinder heads feature a screw-type valve
adjustment and two plugs per cylinder for better combustion efficiency, but the 1300 has
a single crankpin to the 1800's two, making for a more pronounced engine personality
Honda had to make the pipes and extra rumble. The potential vibration is addressed with a pair of two-axis primary
slightly longer on the S counterbalancers -- one ahead of the crank and one behind it. Engine mounts are also
because of longer head-pipe designed to snub some of the shaking while still retaining the pulse and character of the
routing around the additional engine. You can feel it.
bodywork up front.
There's also a choke on the smaller VTX just under the petcock on the left side -- the
1300s are carbureted, inhaling via a coolant-heated 38mm CV carb, as opposed to the
1800's injectors. The difference is noticeable; the 1300s are a bit sluggish to start on cool
mornings. Like the big boys, the smaller VTXs get a five-speed transmission to transfer
power to the shaft drive system -- though there's still a bit of lash evident in the drivetrain
(seems to run in the family). A new driven-flange design at the final-drive gear is claimed
to eliminate final-drive noise and wear and simplify rear wheel installation. The 41mm
fork (the 1300S for wears covers) incorporates conventional internals with 5.1 inches of
The shorter shotgun-style travel. Covered, external dampers in the rear offer 3.7 inches of wiggle room (3.6 on the
exhaust pipes suit the sporty C model), and include a five-position adjustment for preload. Although there's only one
style of the VTX1300C on the 1300 models, the front brake disc is a massive 336mm in diameter, and it's
model. squeezed by a two-piston caliper. Stopping the rear wheel is a large 296mm disc gripped
by a single-piston caliper. Honda also gave the smaller VTX a new square-section
backbone frame that's only 1.8 inches shorter than the 1800's.
Haven't We Met Before?
Seriously though, both the 1300cc and 1800cc VTX models are strikingly similar in
appearance. The 1300S blatantly takes its styling cues from the 1800R and S models -- it
has the same tank-mounted clocks, and floorboards with a heel-toe shifter (the "S" suffix
refers to its wire-spoke wheels). The deep, full fenders, the stretched, hooded headlight
and the teardrop taillight force you to examine the tank badge to be sure of the
displacement of the model you're looking at. The secret? Both 1800s have painted side
panels, while the 1300S' are chrome (chrome colored, anyway). Wheels and tires on the
S are still plenty beefy at 140/80-17 in front and 170/80-15 in the rear. The aesthetic differences
between Honda's VTX 1300C
(shown here) and the S and
the VTX1800s are few.
The 1300C seems less an imitation of the 1800C than a modification of the bigger twin.
The new-for-'04 VTX 1300C capitalizes on the muscular hot-rod styling treatment of the
original VTX, and is the second iteration of the 1300 engine. It carries a taller, skinnier
19-inch tubeless front tire on a cast wheel and has a lighter, more aggressive look thanks
to smaller fenders, a narrower, sportier saddle and footpegs instead of floorboards. The
huge, hooded headlight is a nice carry-over from the big bike, and the lines work well.
The 2-into-2 staggered exhaust is one of the only ways to distinguish the mini from the
maxi VTX, which trucks around that monster 2-into-1 pipe. The 1300C's 110/90-19 front You can always spot the
and 170/80-15 rear rubber is also substantial. retro-styled VTX1300S by its
unique chrome side cover,
which isn't used on any other
Fuel capacity for both 1300s is a hefty 4.8 gallons with a one-gallon reserve (more than VTX.
the 1800). With a claimed dry weight between 641 and 661 pounds, the 1300s are only
90 pounds lighter than the 1800s, though they feel even less bulky at speed. And the positively subterranean 27-inch
seat height of both 1300s -- lower than the 1800 -- is sure to inspire confidence in even the most diminutive rider.
The bikes become much more individual when you ride
them. Although the 1300s are cut from the same cloth,
they wear it completely differently. On the bigger 1800,
you instantly feel a neck-snapping flood of power when
twisting the throttle; the 1300's party gets cooking a bit
later and with much less fanfare. Sure, the two midi
VTXs will absolutely run all over most 1100cc cruisers
(except for the V-Rod), but hey, they're supposed to.
Unofficially, we've seen a claim of 75 horsepower at
5000 rpm for the VTX 1300 models, with the flat torque
curve peaking at 3000 rpm, but judging by our finely
tuned hiney dyno, we'd say it's more like 65. Applying
the throttle is also less of a jerking contest than with the abrupt 1800, but even though the surge is less noticeable, that
characteristic isn't entirely absent in transitions -- and the 1300s are carbureted. We guess it's hereditary. You can pull
away more evenly by working the smooth clutch, though there's still a bit of lash evident in the drivetrain -- more than on
comparable bikes. That annoying quality makes the bike lurch when transitioning from closed throttle to acceleration.
The chassis doesn't rise too much when gassing it, but shifting is inordinately noisy in the
lower gears of both 1300s.
The instrument arrangement on both 1300s is identical, and doesn't force you to dip your
eyes off the road too much. Instrumentation is clean and spare, with everything lining up
neatly in one big gauge centered on a nacelle atop the tank. One of the riders found the
VTX 1300C's speedometer reading to be laughably optimistic -- it was as much as 9 mph
over the bike's true speed. There no frills here though--no fuel gauge, clock or other
niceties found on some comparably priced bikes.
The C was a bit more manageable in the handling department than the S, possibly by
dint of its lighter tonnage -- you can throw it around more easily -- but its footpegs don't
offer significantly better cornering clearance. Both bikes touch down sooner than most of
the notoriously low Road Stars we've ridden (at least the S' floorboards are hinged), and
the C tends to wallow once the twisties appear -- which didn't bolster our confidence in The S gets its retro style
the corners. The S bike is a bit more stable in turns and transitions. Chassis flex on the largely from its classically
1300S is better controlled than on the C version, and it's surprisingly nimble, with styled, deeply valenced
accurate, predictable cornering. fenders, though its pipes and
wire wheels contribute too.
Both 1300 versions are fairly low and well-planted compared to the top-heavy 1800, but
the vibrations are evident in the floorboards, handlebar and saddle. The single disc brake
on both, though huge at 336mm, works adequately, but not with as much feedback as
we'd like -- you still have to use both brakes to really haul things down in a hurry.
The C also transmits bumps more sharply in the rear than the S model. We tried
adjusting the preload on both bikes, but none of the settings seemed better than the
stock adjustment, which proved too stiff on the C model, and just slightly plusher on the
S. To manipulate the shocks, we used the provided tool kit hidden under the left side
cover. (Be sure you put the tools back in exactly the way you took them out -- it's a tight
The C's briefer rear fender,
The handlebar on the S also feels more comfortable and accessible -- its low rise with rectangular taillight and
modest pullback provides gobs of leverage and suited shorter riders just fine on the nearly nonexistent passenger
highway, but our largest rider was no fan of it. The C's drag-style bar is more of a reach pillion (left) make it look like a
with its taller risers, and starts to wear after a bit of seat time, especially for those with much smaller bike than the S.
shorter arms. The seat's another story, and the C's short, narrowly shaped pan cut into
our hamstrings where they contacted the seat, though the taller rider preferred its more open design. The S' seat is
wider, but the pan is shorter and crowds larger butts. Naturally, the two shorter riders preferred the S' seat, which also
gives you a better view of the cockpit.
Everyone agreed that the basic lines of both 1300s are attractive, but that much was left unfinished, particularly on the C
version. The junction between the seat and tank on the S, for instance, is far cleaner; there's an ugly gap where the tank
tab is visible on the C. And we were disappointed to see the hideous array of cables and wires emanating from the
handlebars of both bikes -- it's very un-Hondalike, especially for a machine in this class. The good news is that the
diminutive VTXs hail from the same Marysville, Ohio, plant as their bigger brethren, which means (in a departure from
Honda) they will have nearly 30 accessories available to add on to the bike, two-thirds of them shared with the 1800.
We've Done This Before
If consumer response is any indicator, Honda's new family of bikes is a quite popular
group in the V-twin neighborhood. The VTX 1300 fulfills a purpose. Though just a tad
smaller in wheelbase length, the 1300s conduct themselves much more gracefully
around corners and in a generally much more civilized manner than the 1800 models.
But there is still a lot of plastic evident on these bikes, and we're disappointed in the
finish of both 1300s. And while the price is reasonable, you can't say the bike's a bargain
at $9199 -- Kawasaki's cabureted 1500 Vulcan can be had at a lower price and with a
Both 1300 cockpits are nearly
identical, save for the
pullback handlebar on this
1300S retro version. On either VTX1300, you tend to spend the majority of your time peering intently at an
elongated headlight shell that takes up a pretty big chunk of sightline. We rode the bikes
mostly in urban scenarios with a bit of spirited back-road usage thrown in, but could not
seem to do any better than 33 mpg when all the numbers were averaged. We found
ourselves looking for the reserve petcock at approximately the 110-mile mark, and were
less than impressed with the fuel economy on these two models -- we'd average less
than 160 miles per tank on our various rides. All the testers agreed that the engine sound
exiting the staggered dual exhausts (slightly longer on the 1300S model) is pleasingly
strong and textured, though, and preferable to the unusually clean, robotic sound of the
The C has more integrated
mirrors of the two. The nest
of wiring sprouting from the The 1300 will feel more substantial than bikes found in the 1100 class, which is good for
neck ofn both bikes larger riders. Yet even a pint-sized, sportbike-biased colleague of ours felt comfortable
disappoints. on the VTX 1300, too, at least after a couple hours around town. He said, "As soon as I
got used to putting my feet in a forward position -- that took awhile -- the bike felt
completely manageable. It's a nice change of pace."
While not perfect, the VTXs address their target audience pretty well, and with the Shadow Spirit 1100 and Sabre still in
the lineup in '04, Honda won't say the 1300s are replacements for those models; a source within the company tells us
the VTXs represent "different flavors" instead. They're a good upgrade from the 1100s (though not a better bargain). And
the company's stalwart Shadow 750 A.C.E. and Shadow Spirit 750 bikes will continue to represent the middleweight
category. So really, we needn't have worried about the company's strategy -- apparently Honda knew what it was doing
Honda VTX 1300S & VTX 1300C
NOTE: Where they differ, specifications for the
VTX1300C are in italic.
Suggested base price: $9199
Standard colors: Pearl blue, silver, black/pearl orange,
Extra-cost colors: Candy red ($9299)
Standard warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two intake valves, one
exhaust valve operated by screw-type adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1312cc, 89.5mm x VTX1300C
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Carburetion: 1, 38mm CV
Lubrication: Dry sump, 4.5 quarts
Minimum fuel grade: 89 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, five speeds
Final drive: Shaft
Wet weight: 708 lbs./ 689 lbs.
GVWR: 1105 lbs./ 1089 lbs.
Wheelbase: 65.7 in. / 65.45 in.
Overall length: 102.3 in. / 95.4 in.
Rake: 32 degrees
Trail: 5.7 in. / 5.9 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 17 x front, 15 x rear / cast alloy,
19 x front, 15 x rear
Front tire: 140/80-17 Dunlop tube-type / 110-90-19
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop tube type / 170/80-15
Front brake: Twin-piston caliper, 13.2 in. disc
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 11.7 in. disc VTX1300S
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, preload adjustable, 3.7 in./ 3.6 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Handlebar width: 34.5 in. / 33.3 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 364 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH, sealed
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt halogen headlight
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter;
warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, oil
pressure, coolant temperature
Fuel mileage: 29 to 37 mpg, 33.3 mpg average
Average range: 175 miles
Roll on (60Â–80 mph): 6.37 sec. / 6.40 sec.
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.86 sec. @ 93.12 / 13.79 VTX1300C
sec., 93.63 mph
Friedman: I'm not a fan of the VTX series. I regard the 1800s as awkward, overweight and surprisingly unrefined. The
1300s have almost nothing to offer me. They are both uncomfortable, and both have surprisingly little cornering
clearance, mediocre suspensions, lackadaisical detailing, unremarkable (good or bad) power and a raft of annoyances
(like a clumsy front brake lever, abrupt throttle response and an optimistic speedometer). The finishing touch was that
one boiled over every time we rode it in traffic (and of course the other one never did, so it isn't necessarily a standard
problem). I just can't believe that Honda let these things out.
When readers ask about buying one of these, I tell them to look at the less-expensive and far more comfortable
Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic ($8999), Honda's own Spirit 1100 ($8099) or the Yamaha V-Star 1100s ($7899 to
$8499), all of which are more desirable motorcycles, in my view. (See the Road Tests section of
MotorcycleCruiser.comfor tests on all of these.) I'd much rather ride any one of them, and the money I saved would pay
for a nice road trip.
Honda really missed the mark with the VTX 1300s.
Need a cranky old fart to run down your favorite ride? E-mail Friedman at Art.Friedman@primedia.com or at
Cherney: The big VTX has never been my cup of tea -
- powerful, but too ponderous -- yet I'm also not ready
to slam its smaller cousins just yet. I can see where
Honda's going with these bikes, even if it needs to
perform a few more nips and tucks along the way to
get things nailed just right.
Both VTX 1300s are good-looking machines, and I like
the engine's powerband, jerky delivery and all. Their
proportions suit me much better than those of the
heftier 1800. The VTX 1300S seems to be the more
evolved of the two models, exhibiting slightly better
stability while providing more sensible ergos for small
Stylistically, I like the 1300C for its naked street-rod
sensibilities, but in this case, "naked" also means "too
much showing" -- the C reveals far too many unfinished rough patches to earn the name "Honda" on the tank badge.
Both bikes need suspension work, but since it's only the first model year of their production run, I'm optimistic that Honda
will refine and improve the duo (and maybe drop the price a notch) to better deal with the existing 1100 crowd -- those
bikes are probably a better value now. But I have hope.
E-mail your hopped-up optimism to Cherney at Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.
Elvidge: Unlike Cherney and Friedman, I have great taste when it comes to big-twin cruisers, and I love Honda's
VTX1800C. I'm no fan of the Retro version (of either displacement package), it's true, but the straight 1800 is a
substantially sexy machine.
The 1300cc spin-offs might seem like a great option for people who are smaller or just getting started, but I'd always
recommend the big gun instead. To me, it's worth an extra $3000 to have the real thing instead of a chip off the block.
The size, weight and handling of the 1300s is very comparable in feel to the biggie versions anyway, but the power is
Too big to be justified as a choice to go small, these new Hondas are only middling to me.
Complain that Elvidge is a big-twin snob at email@example.com