Snob-proof cruiser

Tourer loyalists should put prejudices aside and try this out, writes David Booth

2014 Honda CTX 1300.Road test for Weekend section.  Feature by Kevin Hackett.Courtesy of Honda
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To purists, the new CTX1300 is the ruination of a perfectly sensible Honda ST1300 sport tourer. They deride it as one of those new cruiser-cum-tourer low-rider thingies, albeit with one of motorcycling’s transcendent powertrains, a couple of hard-mounted saddlebags and a fairly comfortable saddle. Despite this pretence to practicality, however, it gets no respect. For biker snobs (yes, there is such a thing), anything that even remotely smacks of cruiser styling is a condescension.

There is some basis for this snobbery, the plain truth being that many customs are not very good motorcycles. Too often, their form is bought at the price of their function, their performance reduced, their handling sloppy and the radical riding position profilers prefer not conducive to long-term comfort.

Unlike most, however, the new CTX manages to combine form and function, its practicality no mere pretence. Indeed, the CTX is a very good motorcycle – so good in fact, that, after testing one in the hills high above San Diego, I’m actually eager to compare it head-to-head with the aforementioned, highly revered ST1300.

First, there’s the engine. If you did nothing more than read spec sheets, you would think the CTX’s version of Honda’s 1,261-cc, 90-degree V4 was emasculated. Its estimated 83 horsepower is some 35 ponies down from the higher-revving ST, mainly due to lower compression pistons, smaller valves and some decidedly low-bump camshafts. Eighty-three ponies and an all-up weight of 329 kilograms doesn’t exactly speak to high performance, at least on paper.

Ride the CTX1300 on real roads, however, and it feels anything but lethargic. Oh, its top end rush is diminished compared with the ST1300, the CTX running out of steam near its low, low 6,900rpm redline even though it will spin to almost 8,000 before the electronic rev limiter kicks in.

But those tuning changes have resulted in a gush of low-end torque, the V4 able to easily pull 2,000rpm in top gear. Indeed, the CTX’s rendition of the big V4 is the very definition of rheostat-like power – there are no peaks and valleys to the 1300’s powerband, only a constant rush of power no matter what rpm the engine is spinning. There’s even a little more bark to its exhaust note. At least a few of the assembled motojournalists were impressed enough to suggest the ST1300 would be better for having the CTX’s version of its engine.

The same can be said for the CTX’s handling. The naysayers will decry its over-wide 200mm rear tyre as a cruiser affectation too far, pooh-pooh its reliance on traditional twin shocks (adjustable, though not conveniently, for preload) rather than a modern single shocker and make light of its ginormous “beach” handlebar. But, the truth is that, despite its non-traditional appearance, the CTX handles as well as most other sport tourers, at least until it runs out of ground clearance. The steering is perfectly neutral (a real surprise considering that huge rear tyre), the suspension is well damped and its brakes are as powerful as anything in sport touring. And the icing on the cake is that, thanks to its low seat height, subterranean centre of gravity and that wide handlebar, it’s a doddle to manoeuvre at low speed – much easier than a Gold Wing or even an ST.

But, in perhaps its biggest surprise, the CTX turns out to be a much more than passable touring mount, its comfort – with one fixable exception – virtually a match for the ST. For one thing, despite its cruiser styling, the CTX’s seating position is conventional; there’s no radical feet-forward V-Rod backache here. The foot pegs are traditionally placed, vibration is minimal and the seat is broad and almost completely flat, making it perfectly suitable for eating up miles on the superslab. Even the handlebar, which looks as though it was lifted from the most radical of Harleys, proves ergonomically correct. The CTX1300 really does offer tourer-like comfort.

Almost. The glaring exception is wind protection. The standard windscreen is a Harley-Davidson Road Glide-like cut-down affair, which is good for minimising turbulence but poor for wind protection. There is an optional, taller windscreen available, but it is simply not large enough for the average rider and just ends up rattling your helmet’s windscreen. Expect a larger screen from the aftermarket.

Other issues may include Honda’s optional top case. One wasn’t available to test, but it appears too small (the standard saddlebags, on the other hand, can carry up to 35 litres of cargo) to serve the practicality part of the touring equation I have been preaching. And if the traditionalists really wanted to pick nits, the audio system could use a few more watts if Honda expects it to be heard above 80kph.

Despite these limitations, though, the Honda CTX1300 is an amazingly competent motorcycle, one that pays surprisingly little price for its cruiser affectation. You may buy one of these bikes for its form, but you’ll end up loving it for what it does.