Road Test Review
Honda, like all motorcycle manufacturers, classifies its models into various categories such as touring, adventure, cruiser and sport. With the 2009 introduction of the DN-01, which had the twist-and-go transmission of a scooter, the seating position of a cruiser and futuristic styling, Honda created a new category it called “crossover.” Overpriced and underwhelming, the DN-01 didn’t last, but Honda stuck with the crossover concept, rolling out new models like the Crossrunner and Crosstourer in Europe and the NC700X here.
Last year Honda introduced the CTX700/N (Rider, September 2013 and online), combining the modestly powered, fuel-efficient 670cc parallel-twin from the NC700X with a feet-forward cruiser riding position and sporty styling. Naked and faired versions were the first models in the new CTX family, united under the banner of “Comfort, Technology and the riding eXperience.” For many riders, comfort is first and foremost about seat height—if they can’t easily put both feet on the ground at a stop, their confidence and “mental” comfort suffer. The CTX700’s seat is just 28.3 inches above the asphalt. Factor in the sub-500-pound weight, low price and optional DCT automatic transmission, and you’ve got a motorcycle that is accessible for a broad swath of riders.
New to the lineup this year is the CTX1300, which offers more power and performance than its middleweight sibling, yet still offers the low seat (28.9 inches) and riding position of a cruiser along with the modern styling of a sport tourer. Two versions are available, the base CTX1300 ($15,999), with LED lighting and 35-liter saddlebags, and the CTX1300 Deluxe ($17,499), which adds ABS, traction control, a Bluetooth audio system, self-cancelling turn signals and black rather than silver paint on the wheels and frame. The CTX700 is available without a fairing, but the 1300 comes plastic-wrapped only, with a broad, bulbous fairing that shares styling elements with the 700 and, if you squint a little, ’90s-era VFRs. Cylinder heads protruding from beneath the “tank” (fuel is carried under the seat) with sculpted chrome pipes on both sides add a hot-rod look, and unequal-length exhausts give it a resonant rumble.
Honda hopes to capitalize on the bagger craze with the CTX1300, but, to further buck the trend, rather than using yet another V-twin it adapted the engine, 5-speed transmission and shaft final drive from its recently departed ST1300 sport tourer. Basic architecture of the liquid-cooled, longitudinally mounted, 90-degree V-4 is the same, with a bore and stroke of 78.0 x 66.0mm, 1,261cc of displacement, DOHC with four shim-under-bucket valves per cylinder and dual counterbalancers. For less sport and more cruise, Honda lowered redline from 9,000 to 7,500 rpm, reduced the compression ratio from 10.8 to 10.0:1 (allowing it to run on regular gas) and fitted smaller 34mm throttle bodies (down from 36mm). The engine has new pistons, camshafts, valves, cam timing and ECU settings, as well as a milder state of tune. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the CTX1300 spun the drum up to 75.6 horsepower at 5,900 rpm and 76.3 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, with more than 65 lb-ft of torque available from 2,900-6,000 rpm. Respectable figures among 1,300cc cruisers but well below peak figures for the ST1300 (111 horsepower, 86 lb-ft of torque).
Unlike today’s velvet-hammer sport tourers, whose performance has the uncanny ability to turn epic scenery into a forgettable blur, the CTX1300 encourages a more leisurely pace, one that emphasizes smoothness, fuel efficiency and smelling the proverbial roses. You can do the ton on the CTX, but that misses the point. It has a relaxed, all-day riding position and barely a tingle of engine vibration reaches the rider. Those long of leg may occasionally bump their shins into the cylinder heads, and anyone who rides with the balls of their feet on the pegs will find their left heel intruded upon by the sidestand tang. A stubby windscreen and up-in-the-air handlebar result in significant windblast on the hands and from mid-torso on up, but the airflow is smooth. Still, all that wind rushing around my helmet necessitated earplugs. An accessory windscreen ($125.95), which is about 18 inches taller than stock and reduces windblast and noise significantly, is a must-have item.
Long and wide with a stretched-out cockpit, the CTX1300 is a big motorcycle. With its 5.1-gallon tank full, it tipped our scales at 734 pounds—about 100 pounds lighter than the Gold Wing F6B we tested last month, but heavier than most sport tourers. You feel the weight lifting the bike off the sidestand, but with fuel carried under the seat the CTX’s center of gravity is low and it handles as if it were much lighter. A long wheelbase and relaxed steering geometry provide stability in corners and a decent amount of clearance is available before the pegs begin to scrape. A steel double-cradle frame and cast aluminum swingarm do a fine job of supporting the CTX’s weight, but the same cannot be said for the suspension. The 45mm non-adjustable male-slider fork and twin preload-adjustable rear shocks, with 4.1 and 4.3 inches of travel respectively, are on the firm side and perform adequately by cruiser standards, but they react harshly to large bumps. Adjusting rear preload is a challenge because you must first unbolt and remove the saddlebags and then use a pin spanner to turn the shocks, but the tools required are not included in the meager toolkit.
With the saddlebags removed, unbolting their carriers leaves a clean look that accentuates the chrome pipes. As for the saddlebags themselves, they work well but are on the small side; smaller helmets will fit but I couldn’t get my medium full-face lid in either side.
One of the areas where the CTX1300 really shines is in the braking department, with triple discs squeezed by 3-piston Nissin calipers that are linked rear-to-front. They offer power and feel more on par with sport tourers than most cruisers. The Deluxe model increases the margin of safety with ABS and traction control, and the latter can be turned off by pushing a button on the dash. The CTX rolls on cast aluminum wheels, 18-inch front and 17-inch rear, shod with Bridgestone Exedra radials that have a well-rounded profile and good grip. The 200mm-wide rear adds cruiser cred but increases steering effort. Fortunately, the wide, tiller-style handlebar provides plenty of leverage.
The CTX1300 Deluxe is the first Honda motorcycle to offer a Bluetooth audio system, which can be paired with a Bluetooth device (such as a smartphone or MP3 player) and a Bluetooth helmet communicator. A USB port in the right dash compartment can be used to connect to a flash drive, smartphone or MP3 player, allowing devices to play music as well as recharge while on the go.
Music can be played through the system’s external speakers or a paired headset, and mode, track and volume buttons are on the dash. The system has speed-sensitive volume control and an auto mute function that turns the sound off when speed drops below 7 mph. Sound from the speakers is decent up to about 50 mph but gets drowned out by wind noise at higher speeds. If you opt for the base model, you’ll be constantly reminded of your frugal ways by the non-functional speaker grills and inoperable buttons. The audio system is available as an accessory for the base model, as well as a long list of other items, including a taller windscreen, heated grips, centerstand, 45-liter trunk, 12V socket and more.
When I evaluate a motorcycle, I’m always more interested in how well it works than what it is. Honda’s CTX1300 is a fresh take on the touring cruiser, with an innovative look that won’t please everyone, a comfortable seating position for rider and passenger alike, a smooth, fuel-efficient drivetrain adapted from an established platform, and modern features such as LED lighting and, on the Deluxe model, ABS, traction control and Bluetooth audio. None of its shortcomings are deal breakers, and as unconventional as it may be, the CTX1300 is a cohesive package that’s a genuine pleasure to ride.