2008 Honda VTX1800T

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

Comfort and style always seem to be the talking points when the subject of cruisers comes up. Lots of chrome, thumping V-twin motors, and a relaxed riding position top the list of prerequisites for boulevard supremacy. And while that's all well and good for the short hoppers, supplying a little street cred for those with distance aspirations is even better.

There's no denying the Honda's VTX1800 series meets those pure-cruiser criteria. The V-configured cylinders that displace volume just shy of an ICBM silo, are attached to a low-slung chassis festooned with all sorts of shining bits, big fat tires and mile-wide handlebars. It may be the perfect poser platform, but that's not necessarily the best thing considering today's volatile pump prices and the number of riders reinventing their motorcycle mindset. That's not saying bikes that are only about a Sunday afternoon ka-thump down to the bar for a Corona and a few numbers from the Buffett cover band are endangered yet - but the writing is on the wall. As sales figures and stretched budgets indicate, the gas-guzzling SUV is no longer much of an option for taking head-clearing escapes about the countryside. And for custom-platform fans coming to grips with a burgeoning wanderlust, the big-twin Hondas have lacked (OK, were devoid of) over-the-road accoutrements. But the gap is closing, and this new breed of itinerants wanting a ride for back roads as well as boulevards may find the VTX1800T is the perfect ticket.

Life in the Fast Lane

The 1800T, a travel-inspired version of the retro-styled R model, is far more a rolling stone than the moss gatherers parked at Margaritaville. Though Honda's accessory catalog has never been short on touring pieces for their cruiser line, until now they have only been available as options. Aboard their new "Mr. T," you can ride straight off the showroom floor with highway visions and "pity the fool" who has to spend all afternoon thumbing through luggage catalogs with the parts guy. Already included are leather saddlebags, a pillion backrest, and a large windscreen that worked quite well when put to the test. The 24-liter bags are a bit on the small side, but they easily accommodate a two-up weekend ride or provide room enough for the gear needed on a four- to five-day solo jaunt. Throughout the summer, the bags were exposed to several decent rain showers without showing signs of major leakage. Still, waterproof liners are always a good idea. If more luggage space is needed, the stout passenger backrest offers more than added comfort for the navigator. It's also an excellent mounting point for tailpacks of all sizes.

Perhaps the best part of racking up the miles on the T was the seat. As on most cruisers, the saddle spreads out nice and wide, and is seated quite low at 27.4-inches. Simply put, its long-distance comfort has proven exemplary. Even after numerous multiple day excursions, most totaling at least 1,000-2,000 miles, there wasn't anything to frown about in that regard at the end of the day. Not your typical over-fluffed showroom seat, it is firm and supportive - the real long-distance deal.

The ample windscreen is another feature that fit my 5'-10" frame perfectly. No fan of looking through windshields, I was happy that my line of sight sat just above the top edge. In clear weather the view was unfettered, but if the drops began falling, a slight hunch was all it took for me to get out of the shower. This method ensured safe passage through more than a few cloudbursts too. On the same note, do keep in mind that this is a true cruiser (though wearing a Tourer moniker); so be realistic when it comes to weather protection expectations. It's no Goldwing. However, limitations understood, I wouldn't hesitate a minute to set out for the other coast on this machine.

Down the Road

It's hard not to be impressed with the liquid-cooled, 1795, 52º, V-twin engine. Honda's literature boasts that it "features 4-inch (101.6mm) cylinder bores and the largest connecting rods Honda has ever made," and that's a significant statement coming from a company that has built an automobile or two over the years. With those substantial pistons stroking close to four and a half inches, one would expect some pretty harsh vibrations, but really, there's not a whole lot of shaking going on in the T-model. With a beefy 41.4-pound Offset Dual-Pin Crankshaft and a flawless PGM-FI (Programmed Fuel Injection) engineered to produce peak horsepower at 5,000 rpm and peak torque at 3,500 revs, the engine's power rolls on early and in a deceptively smooth fashion. The motor's manners are beyond reproach whether in low speed maneuvering about the parking lot, thumping away at Interstate speed, or rolling in and out through the twisties. Another aspect contributing to the bike's velvety feel is the engine's rubber mounting system, which quells even more vibes. All the same, the T still exudes its fair share of the soulful V-rhythm expected by the cruiser faithful. The staggered, dual, slash-cut exhaust pipes are eerily quiet, maybe too much so. Then again, I did receive several parking lot comments from passersby thanking me for the dampened decibels. Short on character, maybe, but it did remind me that neighbors do matter and that not everyone's on board with the "loud pipes save lives" maxim. Despite its subdued auditory attitude and 800-pound Clydesdale physique, the VTX possesses a decent dose of get up and go that's exceptionally tractable and very user friendly.

Out back, the rubber meets the road via a well-spaced 5-speed tranny and a nearly maintenance free shaft drive that spins a beefy 180 series rear tire. Though sounding clunky, the gearbox is a smooth shifter and has proven rock-solid, handling any load at the lowest of rpm with no complaints. The action on the hydraulic clutch is equally smooth and predictable, exhibiting no adverse reactions even after 10,000 touring miles.

Highway Song

A great motor and superior ergonomics are indispensable attributes for the rambling man or lady, but without a quality chassis, that's all for naught. For the most part, our 1800T has delivered the goods on all fronts. The 45mm inverted front forks and twin chromed rear shocks, while delivering a stable, comfortable ride under most circumstances, have had a tendency to become overwhelmed when the going got rough. The rear especially is wont to deliver a few harsh licks if the road surface deteriorates or frost heaves rear up. This bias becomes even more perceptible when the bags are loaded and a copilot is seated. Your only option is to slow down and steer around. But when the going is smooth, the big T deftly belies its size, tackling corners with gusto and flinging floorboard spark showers reminiscent of a welder's convention. With the leverage afforded by the wide handlebars and the bike's impressive, rock-solid stability (compliments of its beefy, tubular steel frame), we found it easy and quite fun to dig in and ride this one hard.

The brakes back things up quite nicely; although understandably (since the T weighs 800 pounds) they aren't sportbike responsive. And with a rider, passenger, and some gear aboard, hauling this baby in is a fairly tall order. The dual 296mm rotors and three-piston calipers up front and 316mm, twin-piston combo on the rear team up via LBS (Linked Braking System) to provide pretty impressive stopping power. I'm still reserving judgment regarding the merits of LBS, but I can see how this system could be a very desirable option for some riders. Essentially it combines aspects of the front and rear brakes no matter the lever actuated, thus eliminating the ugly specter of rear brake only skids or front brake only washouts. Frankly, this setup performs its duties as intended - it just takes some getting used to.

Even before the first service, it became obvious that the VTX1800T was no trailer queen. Boasting ample stowage considering its cruiser pedigree and a flawlessly smooth-running mill, the T also possesses an exceptionally competent chassis that delivers an all-day comfortable ride on all but the harshest paved roads. If I had to raise a stink about something, it would be the kickstand. It pitches the bike over at such an angle that righting it is a chore under the best of circumstances. Throw in some dirt and gravel or a haze of rainwater on the greasy pavement beside a gas pump and things can get interesting. And dropping the stand on a grade sloping away to the left of the bike is a mistake made but once. I can promise hyperventilation and a shocking torrent of NC-17 vocabulary will ensue.

But on the whole, form and function merge beautifully in the VTX1800T. From custom-inspired styling cues like heavily valenced fenders, super-glossy paint, and liberal use of chrome, to the serious touring touches of an excellent seat, noteworthy wind protection, and leather saddlebags, this bike has all the bases covered. Now it's easy to concentrate less on the polishing rags and more on the riding gear. Who cares if the "rolling art" holdouts are singing the blues after their arduous 5-mile ride to the local watering hole. While they're busy choosing between lime or no lime, VTX1800T riders will be deciding on a motel or campground.