2011 Honda Interstate

Text: Michelle Baird • Photography: Michelle Baird

Although the three models in Honda’s Custom sector (Sabre, Interstate and Stateline) are quite similar, each has a specific purpose and personality, and the Interstate is the touring one of the trio. It comes with a windscreen, floorboards, saddlebags and, new this year, an optional ABS/CBS brake system.

To see if the Interstate lives up to its moniker I took it on a three-state tour through California and chunks of Nevada and Arizona. I maneuvered it through bustling beach cities, tiptoed along icy mountain switchbacks, leisurely cruised around rock formations in Arizona, and throttled down lonely desert highways in the Mojave. The mid-sized cruiser handled it all like a champ.

Ergonomics and Handling

It wasn’t until a day after the trip that I realized the Interstate’s best trait: its ergonomics. After logging more than 1,700 miles in five days I was prepared to have an assorted range of aches and pains, but there were none. The riding position and controls are set up well for long-distance hauls: Arms are at a natural reach to wide handlebars; legs are slightly outstretched to roomy floorboards; and the cushioned seat has plenty of room to scoot around.

It was the day before my trip, though, that I discovered another Interstate trait: It handles better when it’s loaded up with gear. My U-turns were awkward and the suspension felt somewhat choppy when my bags were empty. But the Interstate transformed into a new machine when I filled up the saddlebags and strapped on a 40-pound backpack with the weight resting squarely on the passenger seat. With the laden machine, U-turns were much easier, even with its fairly steep 33-degree rake and longish 70.3-inch wheelbase, and the suspension package (nonadjustable 41mm fork and single shock with adjustable preload) soaked up the rough stuff much better.

The stock windscreen did a good job of taking the brunt of the wind (and of the flying critters), allowing me to ride for longer stretches than I normally do, but there was a fairly consistent buffeting noise, especially at highway speeds.

Controls, Instruments and Brakes

The Interstate’s no flim-flam controls and instruments do what they are supposed to and are thoughtfully placed. The cable-actuated clutch lever has a firm pull, but it isn’t tiring. There’s no trace of vibration from the handlebars or floorboards. Shifting is typical of a Honda, easy and firm, never clunky, and there’s a heel shifter to mix it up. There’s a speedometer, an odometer, two trip meters, and the usual array of indicator lights: turn signals, high beam, neutral, oil pressure, coolant temp and clock. Because of the way the dash is angled the instrument lights don’t reflect onto the windscreen at night.

The battery is easily accessible on the left side by prying off a plastic cover, without the need for tools, while the coolant and oil levels can be easily checked on the other side of the bike.

The ABS/CBS option is only available on the black-painted Interstate, but I borrowed the other color option for 2011, Dark Red Metallic. The front 336mm and rear 296mm hydraulically activated disc brakes on the red bike worked sufficiently and didn’t let me down when I needed them, literally, in several real-world tests. Adding the optional ABS/CBS system for an extra 1,000 bucks to this 712-pound tour bike is a no-brainer.

Storage

The leather saddlebags integrate nicely into the lines of the bike, and although they lack locks they open with secret hidden latches. Would-be thieves would have to be quite persistent to find them. The bags are watertight and have a capacity of 5.8 gallons and carry a maximum weight of 10 pounds each, enough room for a weekend getaway. Bigger or smaller bags, some fringed and some studded, are on the Interstate accessory list, as are various chrome pieces, an audio system, a shorty Boulevard screen, passenger floorboards, and backrests. A full-face helmet won’t fit in the stock saddlebag, but the Interstate does have a helmet lock, and there’s a fork lock, too, with its own key.

Powerplant and Mileage

The shaft-drive Interstate’s 1312cc liquid-cooled V-twin engine is showcased in an open-air frame, and the bike has Honda’s PGM-Fuel Injection, which is why it consistently rumbles to life at each press of the ignition, whether the bike is in the higher altitudes of a chilly mountain-resort area or down at sea level in an arid desert. This bike, like many of Honda’s V-twins, has a three-valve dual-plug combustion chamber. This two-intake one-exhaust design increases the engine breathing and efficiency, meaning the engine burns cleaner, too.

The 712-pound Interstate gets up to speed quick enough and is stable cruising along at highway speeds. This 5-speeder is not designed for triple-digit speeds, but it has plenty enough grunt for passing, even on Nevada’s handful of 75-mph highways.

At consistent speeds in fifth gear the Interstate sips about a gallon of fuel every 46 miles and is a little thirstier in the stop-and-go stuff, using a gallon about every 43 miles. This adds up to a range of 180 to 200 miles from the 4.36-gallon tank, and the low-fuel light warns well in advance of the tank running dry, at about 140 miles from fill up.

The Basics

Styling on Honda’s custom bike is clean and simple. The radiator follows the lines of the steel, double-cradle frame and is practically hidden at side view. The engine is blacked out and bedecked with plastic faux-metal-chrome covers. Metal-valanced fenders and chrome fork covers add splashes of sophistication.

The Interstate doesn’t come painted with purple flame licks, and it can’t brew a cup of espresso while it checks its own tire pressure. But it is a smart-looking and comfortable ride for a more-than-fair price of ,849. It’s great for overnighters and weekend getaways or for longer tours that cross multiple state lines, and, in fact, it does live up to its name.