Honda's on-paper release of the VTX 1795cc V-twin was like a wet kiss on a summer night. Needless to say we at _ Motorcycle Cruiser _were left wanting. It's been a long winter, but the foreplay is finally over, and the big cruiser is on the street.
We didn't want a casual affair with this bike, and call it a test. We owed it to you to have a real relationship with the cruiser market's latest heartthrob -- to find out if it put the cap on the toothpaste, so to speak. After 3500 miles of seat time in less than two weeks, the Honda VTX is left with few secrets. From burnouts to buttache, we honestly can attest to whether (and how) it fulfills its grand intention as the ultimate V-twin cruiser.
Taking the biggest production V-twin on the planet to the biggest cruiser rally in the world seemed like an obvious (and timely) destination. Daytona Bike Week is a veritable banquet of V-twin possibilities -- a proving ground with standing room only. I'd leave California on a freshly assembled unit (from Marysville, Ohio) with only three and a half days allotted for travel to Florida. We'd already clocked city miles and seen some back roads aboard another VTX test bike and would sample yet one more in Daytona. Three test units, every imaginable riding condition. Here's what you can expect if you dish out 12.5 grand for a 2002 Honda VTX 1800.
Big Pond, Bigger Fish
There are plenty of large-displacement V-twin cruisers on the market these days, and until this launch, Honda was conspicuously missing from the scene. Sure, life rumbled on, but we often paused to wonder when the most respected manufacturer of high-efficiency vehicles would join the party; never doubting that knock on the door eventually would come. And, of course, we speculated about the effect Honda's mystery dish would have on the potlatch. For years we'd heard rumors of a monstrously large displacement V-twin brewing in that burrow. And given the Jones effect in the cruiser market, bigger was certainly going to stir things up.
Well, after several years of marketplace chatter, and more than five years of closed-door development at Honda, the cruiser world has its enormous new entry. A street rod-styled bike, more bruiser than cruiser, driven by a dynamic 1795cc 52-degree, liquid-cooled and injection-fed V-twin -- a motor that dwarfs Yamaha's 1600cc push-rod design, previously the hot-ticket for those inclined toward the big at heart. With impressive horsepower (we got 88.9 at 5250 rpm) and enough torque to pull trees -- 100.3 foot-pounds at 3000 rpm (by God) -- we're talking about cutting into a new dish of mustard here folks.
Answer to Question A
Yeah, it's fast. On paper or pavement, Honda's VTX is much faster than any stock V-twin cruiser on your dealer's floor. With its 12.3 seconds at 105.5 mph quarter-mile time, the only large displacement cruisers in the running are Honda's own six-cylinder Valkyrie at 12.13 seconds and 107.0 mph, its V-4-driven Magna (12.21 seconds at 107.6 mph) and, of course, Yamaha's yahoo-inducing V-Max -- which eats a quarter-mile in a mere 10.87 seconds, crossing the line at 124 mph. But remember all of these bikes have at least a two-piston advantage over the VTX. The closest V-twins we've timed are Harley's FXDX at 13.62 seconds and 96.2 mph, and on the metric side, Kawasaki's Classic FI which pulled a 14.07 seconds at 92.6 mph. The VTX beats them all in the torque department.
Impressive indeed, but maybe not as notable as having your head snapped back when you accelerate in fifth gear. It's guaranteed to make you cackle. Nothing on the block beats the VTX's acceleration figure of 79.6 after 200 yards from 50 mph (even the Valkyrie) and this V-twin moves forward just as fiercely from 80 mph, 100 mph and above. Way above.
OK, so we've established that the motor lives up to our lofty expectations. We're still astonished by its creation, however, and Honda should be applauded for the heroic effort. We're talking 1800cc, man. The pistons are 101mm in diameter (that's 4 inches), each pumping through a 112mm (4.4-inch) stroke. To put this in perspective, Honda's all-new Civic engine is 127cc smaller (and also makes less torque). How do you damp the ensuing vibration, or quell the eminent thrust ripping through the drive train? How do you even fit a V-configuration of such outlandish proportion into a vehicle when you can't cut a hole in the hood?
These are the tasks that have kept the world waiting. Honda literally spent years chasing vibration from this bike. The dual-offset-crankpin design certainly helps, as do two counterbalancer weights that spin on the primary shaft. Four 60mm rubber mounts bracing the motor mop up what's left. You know, it's kinda spooky. The V-twin buzz is all but gone. Like the devil from Linda Blair's body, the vibration has been exorcised right out of the VTX.
So, in addition to being highly entertaining to throttle around, this new cruiser is smooooth. But not eerily vacant of feeling, a characteristic sometimes associated with Honda machines. VTX designers may have staunched the V-twin's vibration (even the mirrors stay clear), but they've actually managed to amplify the combustion pulses. Like a drum, that engine's big rhythm comes right up through the seat. And when you roll on the power, it gets very, very visceral. The pulse is there to remind you that you're sitting on the biggest production V-twin on the planet. The matching exhaust rhythm emits the deepest most aggressive stock note we've heard, while the volume remains sedate. Engine noise is minimal, and what's heard is melodic. The result is sexy and charming all at once.
Now sexy is a word that may never have been applied to a Honda cruiser before, but we think the VTX looks hot in its stark street rod-styling. Perhaps you traditionalists won't agree, but we've been valanced to near death over the last few years and a little nip and tuck is a nice pick-me-up. The VTX visuals draw from possibility, not the past. From the hooded headlight to the arched tank, sculpted seat and stylishly svelte rear fender, the VTX reveals a sexy curve, like the profile of a stalking panther with its head down and shoulders enunciated.
And there you have it. The three imperatives of an ultra successful cruiser -- power, grace and beauty. These are certainly the things we found most remarkable about Honda's new VTX -- at least on the initial ride. But that first impression is also the thing that grows rose-colored glasses, right? Remember, we've hoed a long row with this baby since that first date.
It's Hard to See the Forest When the Trees are so Big
Interstate 10 from Los Angeles to Jacksonville, Florida, may well be the most continuously boring thread of pavement in the world. Eight states and nothing more interesting to look at than a giant plaster roadrunner (New Mexico's state bird) and a few tourist tee-pees. Well, there is "The Thing?" in eastern Arizona. Billboards advertise it as an oddity for 30 miles fore and aft. I stopped to investigate The Thing? on this trip -- but the thing is, I can't tell you what I saw because then you'd have nothing to look forward to if you ever get stuck on I-10. It is a popular shopping spot, however, especially if you're in market for rattlesnake heads and cactus candy.
Before burdening the beautiful lines of the VTX with an inordinate amount of soft luggage and pointing the hooded headlight east, we'd been able to ride the bike around the city and along the beautiful rolling hills and coastal plains above Santa Barbara, California. It became readily apparent that Honda had to make some concessions to accommodate the vertical dimensions of the motor, while retaining a very friendly and stylishly low 27.3-inch seat height. It seems both ground clearance and suspension have paid a bill for the compromise, leaving the bike with somewhat limited travel and lean angle. Honda has high standards for clearance, but even John Boy Walton would touch the footpegs of the VTX eventually. (Note that the usable cornering clearance of the 1800 is still more generous than what's offered by the majority of current cruisers, and it's always a soft touch first -- the retracting peg, or your heel, depending on your posture.)
It could have been worse. Honda went to great lengths to shorten the lofty twin. VTX designers created a sophisticated dry-sump system to cut inches from the motor's height, locating the oil tank right below the tranny output shaft, but still within the engine cases. Honda also reports that using simple screw-and-locknut valve adjusters saved space on top. A more compact engine allowed the seat height to remain impressively low. However, most of us wish the whole works was a little taller. Suspension has suffered for the sake of what? It's immediately obvious that Lilliputians won't be able to heft the 756-pound bike off the sidestand anyway (which holds the bike at a profound lean).
So the bike's suspension reaches the end of its travel more often than we'd like (excessively when loaded) and what damping is offered from the technically trick inverted fork (4.3 inches of travel) and dual externally-mounted shocks (3.9 inches) feels stiff, which makes the ride less than gentle when the pavement isn't mirror smooth. There is a five-position adjustment for preload out back, but even when it was set at its most yielding position, we were dissatisfied. There's a discernable amount of shaft effect as well, which in concert with the taut suspension and drawn out rake and trail makes matters worse. The cruiser occasionally bucks over chuckholes and will rock irritatingly when subjected to repetitive concrete freeway furrows. We think that static friction in the fork and an abundance of unsprung weight also contribute to the uncompliant ride. Nothing dangerous, just grating. The VTX offers solid feeling communication with the ground in every riding situation thanks to Honda's almost magical propensity for delivering well-balanced motorcycles (those attractively fat, sticky tires don't hurt matters either).
Tumbleweeds usually make me laugh out loud, and hitting them can make me shriek with delight, but when one the size of a minivan rolled into my path in West Texas I had to admit I was intimidated. The ensuing explosion was remarkable. Texas is so big the wind can't even decide which way to go. But despite the infamous gusts, you've got to love cruising through this middle-of-everything. Even the most boring coast-to-coast ride allows you to comprehend the enormous proportions and texture of this amazing country. It's empty enough to provide anonymity, and big enough to get lost...if only in your thoughts.
The VTX is remarkably easy to live with. Just one push of the starter button makes that big twin sing like it's been on stage for hours, no enrichening needed. It's hard to imagine that 41.4-pound forged steel crankshaft being so easily motivated (they had to create a special hoist at the assembly plant just to maneuver the monster into the cases). The fuel-injection system Honda devised for the bike uses a new, dual 12-nozzle orifice system with tandem regulators. A new sophisticated vacuum sensor measures minor changes in the throttle opening and is dedicated to balancing the first 10 percent of throttle application, while the main throttle-position sensor (TPS) doles out proper mixture for decisive throttle action. It works with flawless efficiency, although response is so crisp off idle it requires a very smooth hand on the juice to avoid jerkiness. Smooth application is also vital in low-speed cornering situations since a little throttle adjustment can produce an exaggerated amount of weight transfer.
We all found the ergonomic layout on this new cruiser to be very agreeable, although the low, slightly swept-back bars may be a reach for some. After riding the VTX 1750 miles in two days, my only bodily complaint was a stitch between my shoulder blades, a result of the forward stretch. No butt-ache in 3500 miles, which is a surprising accomplishment for any stock seat, given that I have no actual butt, just bones and a bit of muscle. It certainly helped that National Cycle supplied me with a windshield (a Valkyrie-intended #N2250 which adapted perfectly to the VTX fork legs and worked wonderfully). I put an additional 1000 freeway miles on the bike without a shield and it was excruciating in comparison.
But maybe that's because the bike just begs to cruise at hyper highway speeds. Above 80 mph you'll find none of the front-end wandering some cruisers dole out on the high end of acceleration. Above 90 mph and still not a twitch from the VTX, and even at 120 mph, the thing is totally stable and -- unbelievably -- asking for more. In fact, the VTX is able to cruise for hours at an unprecedented 125-plus (although law enforcement officials have informed me I am not). The bike was amazingly stable at high speeds, even through the infamous Texas crosswinds (and I couldn't walk a straight line at the gas stations).
_I pass this Harley guy in east Texas, all swaddled in leather -- blow by him pretty good in fact. Before I know it he's dogging me, hanging on my tail even as I throttle away. His Evo is obviously beefed and he wants to put me in my place. I let him pass, thinking how funny he looks with that black beanie helmet catching air. "See you and about a quarter-million other guys just like you in Daytona, man." But then he slows down in front of me, like he wants to play Dennis Hopper (and I suppose I'm Harry Dean). I blow by him again, my feet on the rear pegs just so he has a better view of my 1800cc powerplant. He gives chase but can't keep up.
"Nyah, nyah," I think._
Even at high speed, with a giant windshield and shipload of gear strapped on, the 1800cc delivers adequate fuel mileage. The worst figure I saw on my cross-country sprint was 31.3 mpg. During normal cruising we consistently saw around 42 to 45 miles per gallon from the VTX and it delivered an average range of 194 miles. The yellow fuel warning light, housed in an integrated chrome-like cluster on the tank, comes on prematurely, however, and the ominous light is hard to ignore. The bike's aviation-style filler is easy to remove and replace but it's difficult to get gas into the bike without suffering some back spray. The bottom of the fuel capsule is only millimeters from the opening, yet it is slanted so that you can fire fuel cleanly into the tank when you point the nozzle low and to the right.
Build It and They Will Complain
Yes, I said the indicator housing was chrome-like, which is one of the most unforgivable styling flaws on the bike. Believe it or not, that beautiful headlight is also fake chrome. It looks like metal, but one knock tells you it's plastic. We can't believe Honda was trying to save weight on this already monolithic motorcycle, so we must assume the choice was one of several corners cut to keep the MSRP reasonable. Worse yet, this first run of the bikes had a tiny matching birthmark -- specks of the shiny chrome paint overspray on the black inside edge of the indicator housing. There are other style no-nos on this high-end cruiser too, which you don't notice until you're able to stop staring at the bodacious motor. The air cleaner cover and passing light shells are also plastic. Wire routing could have been handled more tastefully too. The turn signal wiring, for example, is terribly ugly snaking around the back of the fork legs, and the bike's throttle cables arch off the handlebar like something from the 1960s. Plastic cable ties were even called into action to couple brake lines and hand-control wiring.
The lower tank seam, a protruding lip that runs around the bottom edge, seems a bit uncivilized, and was most glaring on our silver mount. And the beautiful chrome exhaust pipes are a facade over an unfinished system. When the _ Motorcycle Cruiser _ staff gathered with readers at Daytona Beach, they were quick to criticize these styling flaws, and pointed out a few new ones. Several people commented on the chintzy reflectors and the bulky brake fluid reservoirs inscribed with wordy warning -- in English and Japanese. Also, the side covers don't follow the line of the frame, which seems more like an oversight than an objective.
Regardless, we still say the bike, overall, is a beauty, especially when freed of the passenger accommodations, which are easily unbolted. The cockpit view is very attractive too, with the long, broad tank sweeping up toward billet risers, which house a small, but readable black-faced speedometer/LED odometer unit. The headlight is handsome from all angles, and everyone agrees the cast aluminum wheels are perfect for the bike. The tank cluster houses the usual indicators as well as an LED odometer/tripmeter. However, we're frankly baffled by the fact the LED display offers only a single trip counter. It's so much more pleasing to have a second meter, and especially a clock.
You don't need a sign to let you know you're in Louisiana. All of a sudden there's water everywhere, and the road surface turns to near rubble. Even on the upper Interstate 20, the Bayou state's a bumpy ride -- a real butt-clincher when you're on a bike like the VTX. I look for alligators in the swamps beneath the endless bridges. And I can't resist a stop for Creole and a Cajun Shrimp Po' Boy. I'll regret it later...
More Than Big Jugs
The braking system Honda chose for its new flagship cruiser is a linked design, although wholly unlike its other linked system, which couples front and rear stopping power to the hand lever. For this cruiser the engineers linked approximately 30 percent of dual, six-piston front disc reaction to the rear pedal. The hand brake utilizes the remaining 70-odd percent (eight of the twelve total pistons) independently. Honda is aware that the typical cruiser rider uses more rear brake than front, and this system is designed to compensate for that bad habit. While the VTX's stopping distances didn't particularly impress us, the design certainly works well to halt the hefty cruiser in a balanced and controlled fashion.
Moving through the five gears is effortless, although each shift is marked by a noisy clack. We were also impressed at how well the gearbox handles high rpm downshifts. A vigilant electronic rev limiter throws a low ceiling at your fun in the short gears, but you learn to listen and shift right beneath the dissatisfying voids. (Yes, we'd be adding a tach straightaway.) The rev limiter can feel like a real party pooper when it cuts in at about 6000 rpm, but when you take into account how fast those meaty pistons have to travel in the long stroke, you understand its significance.Maneuvering this mega-metric is also unproblematic. Steering requires minimal input and conveys no surprises. It tracks complacently through corners of all types, and if you find you've gotten in too hot (easy with all that grunt) the linked brakes (with an assist from the Dunlop tires' wide profile) slow you without jacking the bike up straight. The only thing that might get you into trouble during aggressive cornering is unsprung weight in the rear reacting to adjustments in the shaft drive on abrupt deceleration or acceleration. The key is keeping a smooth throttle hand. You're sitting on quite a big shotgun, so respect the trigger.
The VTX's entire mechanical package performed without a single hiccup in every situation -- from the relentless stop-and-go of the Daytona Beach frenzy to its stint screaming across eight states in 79 hours.
I finally get a ticket 60 miles into Florida. Bikes are buzzing by like bees headed home to make honey, while I'm standing on the side of the road trying my best lines on Officer Killjoy. He's unimpressed, but can't stop staring at the VTX. "That's a big motor." Ah, yeah. "How fast will this thing go?" Um, I have no idea. I reach the beach, and after so many miles of white noise and oneness, I'm totally unprepared for the thundering chaos of Bike Week. The VTX receives admiring stares from the throngs, and the occasional curled lip or smoking tire from hard-core Harley fanatics. Bah. It's only engine envy, a hazard in a world of exposed members.
True Love or Piston Lust?
Sure the VTX has a few idiosyncrasies, but the bike hangs up the towels and tightens the cap on the peanut butter. For new owners it will offer a marriage filled with promise and possibility. Those keen on customizing will see the VTX as a beautiful face just waiting for an expression. If you want to see the world on two wheels, this bike's an eager and easy-going tourer. Most cruiser enthusiasts would have shown Honda the money just to own the biggest production V-twin ever made. With the VTX you get that big, wet kiss and a competent, convenient companion to back up the bliss when the big-piston passion wears off (and kick you in the ass when you hit those inevitable bumps in the road).
High Points: **Unique motor, huge power, attractive styling, comfortable ergos.
**Low Points: **Harsh suspension, chintzy details, shaft jacking.
**First Changes: **Aftermarket shocks, chrome for plastic, tach.
Brasfield: **The displacement wars have heated up to the point that I'm beginning to think that we need to create a new class of cruisers. Somehow Big Twins doesn't seem to fit any more, and Really Big Twins just doesn't have the right ring to it. Regardless of how we classify the VTX, it has upped the ante.
Even with a frame and bodywork wrapped around it, the Honda's engine is imposing. At idle, just enough of the buhhp-buhhp can be heard out of the intake to announce the 1800cc displacement. Despite having coffee-can-sized pistons dancing between your knees, the engine is remarkably smooth. Rolling on the throttle gives brutal acceleration from the bottom end. Doing the same in top gear at 50 mph produces plenty of poop, but at 70 mph the exhaust note changes to a holler and the forward rush intensifies.
As much as I love the engine, it does have some rough edges. The fuel injection requires a steady hand, as the transition from off throttle to on is abrupt. Although this can be annoying in traffic, it can be easily adapted to. Another engine related issue is the jacking effect of the shaft drive. Combine this with the relatively low ground clearance and hard parts can touch down abruptly if you chop the throttle midcorner.
The linked brakes will be a boon to riders who have never bothered to master proper braking procedures, but for those who incorporate advanced techniques, the linked brakes can be a hindrance. For example, I frequently trail the rear brake in a corner to maintain a constant speed with a positive throttle, keeping the front suspension from compressing. Unfortunately, applying the rear brake on the VTX also activates the front, causing the bike to squat and reducing ground clearance. Also, the front brake requires a hefty squeeze to haul the big Honda down from speed.
Finally, the VTX lacks a few features that I expect from a manufacturer's flagship. When a digital odometer makes its way into the speedo, it's shameful to omit a clock. And a performance-oriented cruiser needs a tach. Victory has proved that speedometers and tachometers can live peacefully in the same housing.
However, when I add up all the strengths of the VTX, I know that I'd be quite happy with one in my garage. I can only hope that Honda allows us to keep ours for a long, long time.
_Defend linked braking to Evans at _ www.EvansBrasfield.com.
**Elvidge: **I spent an abundance of time on the VTX saddle and relished every pony mustered by the beautifully designed V-twin. Since I'm a power junkie, most twins fall short of my pleasure threshold. It's nice to ride a stock V-twin cruiser that blurs the scenery, and I'd be proud to own this one. However, when I ripped into Daytona I handed the bike over to the guys and picked up a 2001 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic FI for my around-town mount. In both finish and feel the FI is far more civilized than the VTX. And you know what, it didn't feel like a doorstop in the power department either. I'd have to say I like 'em both about equally, the VTX for its robust motor and vivacious styling and the Vulcan for its pleasingly balanced ride and high production quality. It reminded me that the big-twin challenge is far from over. In fact, things are just starting to heat up.
_If you're just dying to know the identity of The Thing? E-mail the editor at _Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.
**Friedman: **I'm glad that the more-is-less trend has finally been arrested. It seems that every time we had a bigger V-twin engine in a new cruiser, it went slower than the old one. The 1500 Suzuki was slower than the 1400. Yamaha's 1600 was slower than most of the 1500s. The exception was the Victory, which was at least stronger than the other 1500s. Fortunately, Honda pumped juice and torque into the big twin, so the power is an impressive as the displacement.
I love the lines. And since it is comfortable to sit on, reasonably manageable in traffic (if a bit abrupt in the throttle-response department) and even has brakes that I like a lot despite the fact that they are linked, this thing was well on its way to earning my respect. But my enthusiasm is tempered by the shoddy execution of some details, like the ugly seam on the bottom of the tank, the conspicuous wiring for the front turn signals, and the plastic chrome panel atop the tank. Somebody just couldn't resist the urge to save a few pennies and took the edge off of what could have -- and should have -- been a truly stunning motorcycle.
2002 Honda VTX1800
Designation: Honda VTX1800C
Suggested base price: $12,499
Standard colors: Black, illusion blue, illusion red, metallic silver
Honda web site: powersports.Honda.com
Owners group: VTX Owners Association
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 52 degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC; 3 valves per cylinder, screw-type adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1795cc, 101 x 112mm
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Carburetion: Electronic fuel injection, 42mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Dry sump, 4.8 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 3.091
Wet weight: 758 lb.
Wheelbase: 67.5 in.
Overall length: 98.5 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 5.8 in.
Front tire: 130/70ZR18 Dunlop D251F
Rear tire: 180/70ZR16 Dunlop D251
Front brake: Dual six-piston calipers, 296mm disc
Rear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 316mm disc
Front suspension: 45mm inverted cartridge fork
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Handlebar width: 33.5 in.
Seat height: 27.3 in.
Inseam equivalent: 32.6 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 280 watts
Battery: 12v, 20 AH
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, low fuel
Fuel mileage: 31 to 50 mpg, 43 mpg average
Average range: 194 miles
Rpm at 60 mph, top-gear: 2684
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 79.6 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.30 sec., 105.5 mph
_The similar VTX1800S was included in our 2002 Big Twin Comparison, which can be found here.
_If you want to see how owners are customizing Honda's 1800 twin, look at our article about four VTX Customs.