Honda ST1300

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

Being able to have the best of both worlds is a tough proposition when you're out on the road in unfamiliar territory. Two cases in point: the difficulty of finding clean, comfortable rooms for reasonable sums or restaurants that still serve tasty and wholesome fare. Sometimes you don't have any control over situations. However, the bike used is all about having control, and in rare instances, it also redefines the best of the sport and touring worlds. Case in point: Honda's ST1300.

Making serious miles on two wheels is, without a doubt, the realm of the true enthusiast. We eschew parking the Escalade and trailer at the Wal-Mart and riding the last few miles to our destination. The grayish film that rain leaves on the chrome is a badge of honor as is sitting down to dinner in wrinkled shirts and bug-spattered touring boots. It's really about the ride, and those of us taking that attitude seriously generally read from the same book. While some prefer a lengthy, detailed story line that concentrates on comfort and luxury, others go the Cliffs Notes route, roughing it with weepy, soft luggage, short bars, and scarred peg-feelers. Rain and cold be damned, it's all about carving the curves. Then there's the group angling for the best of both worlds, a touring novella if you will. Perfect wind control, CD changers, and reverse gear are a bit too much for them, yet lower back pain, aching knees, and soaked gear won't cut it either. The true challenge is finding that fabled middle ground where the closed circle of yin and yang is equal amounts Sport and Tour.

Engine and Transmission

In a book about perfection on the touring front, Honda would have a very compelling chapter about their ST1300. The uninitiated might consider this bike a bagged-out CBR or a scaled-down Gold Wing, but neither assumption could be further from the truth. At the heart of the ST1300 is the unique, longitudinally mounted V-four - and even though the overall power falls short of other four-cylinder competitors from Japan and Germany, this Honda is no slowpoke. What it lacks of their elbow-straightening snap, the big V makes up for by spurring its ponies in a tractable, linear, almost gentlemanly fashion that's deceptively fast, easily launching the speedo needle into the triples before you can say "Hello Officer."

Thanks to its Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), power delivery is both velvety smooth and utterly predictable, no matter the load or riding conditions. Dual engine counter balancers, all but eliminating primary and secondary vibrations, undoubtedly add to this buttery feel. Normally whining about not having a sixth gear on similar mounts, I never missed it on this one. The easy pull of the hydraulic clutch and slick shifting action through the five cogs is reminiscent of many a sportbike gear box. Once past the tranny, the power motivates the rear wheel via a smooth, quiet shaft drive that should provide years of near maintenance-free service.

On the green front, a closed loop ECU emissions system employs twin oxygen sensors that not only help deliver a more precise fuel/air mixture, they work in tandem with dual catalytic converters to keep the emissions compliant with EPA and CARB standards.

Though this is all well and good, I never did warm up to the sound. At idle, the V elicits a quiet, whistling, BMW K75-ish purr, never really reaching a satisfying growl no matter how hard the throttle was wrung. Call me kooky, but a little mechanical snarl elicits a visceral stirring that carries a lot of weight.

We truly stress-tested the engine's capabilities on a fully loaded, two-up, cross-country journey, and the ST spanned the continent without a hitch. Whether plugging along at sea level on the Pacific Coast Highway, zipping across the Tioga Pass near 10,000 feet, or slicing through the South's heat and humidity, we never experienced the first engine cough or hiccup. Once accustomed to the somewhat tame power delivery, I found the 1261cc mill to be a very competent runner, especially with a passenger aboard.

Chassis and Brakes

Within a matter of just a few miles, it becomes obvious that the ST1300 is a very surefooted machine. Even without the benefit of a shakedown ride, I was soon splitting lanes and deftly working my way through traffic on Los Angeles' busy 405 freeway. Normally this is no big deal, but with a passenger, fully loaded saddlebags and an aftermarket top case, there's no way I should have felt so comfortable so quickly. Much of this stability comes from the ST's rigid, aluminum frame, which uses the engine as a stressed member. Steering is precise and surprisingly nimble with no "getting used to it" necessary. As the road opened up and the curves set in, the chassis again exhibited its competent stance. Even some more aggressive lines through sharper curves were handled with a solid, neutral feel. Large diameter, 45mm Honda Multi-Action System (HMAS) forks are not adjustable, but prove themselves surprisingly compliant despite the extra weight. Harder dives into the esses spawned a bit of wallow, but on later passenger-less tours this effect was almost negligible. It is important to keep in mind that we are talking about a bike that's close to 700 pounds ready to roll. The single shock rear suspension features a five-position preload adjustment that can easily be dialed in for Interstate stints, city commutes, or more aggressive back road wanderings, with or without a passenger.

One aspect of the bike that did take a bit of getting used to was the Linked Brake System (LBS™). This setup works exactly as its name implies. The front brake lever activates the two outer pistons of both the front and rear calipers, while the rear pedal engages the center pistons at both ends. Our model was also equipped with the optional ABS that assured even more security during hard stops. However, although the LBS™ works perfectly as intended and may be an excellent addition for others to have, it's just not my cup of tea. After thirty years of autonomous fronts and rears, the loss of caliper independence during aggressive cornering was difficult to come to grips with, especially with Kathy and our luggage aboard. A firm believer in ABS, I'd much prefer to have LBS™ as the option. But again, from a strict functionality, "as advertised" perspective, the ST's binders perform their duties with aplomb.

Accessories and Arrangements

So the ST1300's engine and chassis balance the Sport scale quite well. On the Touring side, making miles, comfort and amenities are expected from a bike like this, and the ST delivers. One look at the wide and spacious pillion and my wife knew right away there wouldn't be any problems on her end. The driver's seat is narrower, yet still very supportive, allowing a comfortable sitting position for longer stints on straight roads and ample lateral movement when the twists tighten up. Another nice feature is the seat's three-setting height adjustability that adds or subtracts a half inch from the standard 31-inch stance. At 5'10", I found my comfort zone with the middle position. But in experimenting with these settings, I was struck by just how much a mere half inch either way can change the overall feel of the machine.

The integrated, lockable, and removable saddlebags flow within the overall design, are easy to use, and their 35 liters absorbed our gear with room to spare. Each is big enough to hold a large, full-face helmet. We had trouble with our aftermarket top case initially. The stock luggage rack is a bit small, and the bike has no bungee hooks and precious few locations for the straps to gain purchase. After a bit of playing, we finally found some secure points; but the bike ought to have some readily available tie-down points for straps, cargo nets, and other incidental travel items.

Once under way, we quickly discovered why this machine is such a popular touring mount. The attractive, aerodynamic bodywork provides excellent wind and weather protection and thanks to the electrically adjustable windshield allowing for 7.4 inches and 13 degrees of convertibility, your choice of complete coverage or that "wind in the face" experience is just a button push away. Typical of Honda's attention to detail, a bevy of little things add up to heighten the riding experience. The rearview mirrors, integrated into the bodywork, provide an unobstructed view of what's happening behind and also deflect wind away from the hands, a real bonus on those cold, rainy days. And the retractable, center stand assist lever is a big help, especially when the saddlebags are loaded. For night rides, the headlight adjusts electrically over a 2.5-degree range. And especially pleasing to the inner Iron Butt champion in all of us, the fuel capacity on the ST1300 is an incredible 7.7 gallons. That's a feature that came in real handy on those long, lonely stretches through the California desert and the outback of East Texas.

In most respects, the ST1300 is a very impressive sport-touring mount. But for my wish list, I'd add a few more horses and a little more bottom-end punch. I'd also angle for a few easy to reach bungee hooks. Other than that, there's not much to quibble about here. We're pushing 10,000 miles and, aside from a tire change and routine maintenance, have experienced nothing but enjoyable, trouble-free touring.

For nearly every rider with touring aspirations, the perceived choice of motorcycles ends up falling to either the luxury or sporting side of the spectrum. Thankfully, that doesn't always have to be the case. These two ends can and do unite in Honda's ST1300, a bike that manages to achieve a unity of opposites, truly delivering the best of both worlds.