The bikes become much more individual when you ride them. Although the 1300s are cut from the same cloth, they wear it completely differently. On the bigger 1800, you instantly feel a neck-snapping flood of power when twisting the throttle; the 1300's party gets cooking a bit later and with much less fanfare. Sure, the two midi VTXs will absolutely run all over most 1100cc cruisers (except for the V-Rod), but hey, they're supposed to. Unofficially, we've seen a claim of 75 horsepower at 5000 rpm for the VTX 1300 models, with the flat torque curve peaking at 3000 rpm, but judging by our finely tuned hiney dyno, we'd say it's more like 65. Applying the throttle is also less of a jerking contest than with the abrupt 1800, but even though the surge is less noticeable, that characteristic isn't entirely absent in transitions -- and the 1300s are carbureted. We guess it's hereditary. You can pull away more evenly by working the smooth clutch, though there's still a bit of lash evident in the drivetrain -- more than on comparable bikes. That annoying quality makes the bike lurch when transitioning from closed throttle to acceleration. The chassis doesn't rise too much when gassing it, but shifting is inordinately noisy in the lower gears of both 1300s.
The S gets its retro style...
The S gets its retro style largely from its classically styled, deeply valenced fenders, though its pipes and wire wheels contribute too.
The instrument arrangement on both 1300s is identical, and doesn't force you to dip your eyes off the road too much. Instrumentation is clean and spare, with everything lining up neatly in one big gauge centered on a nacelle atop the tank. One of the riders found the VTX 1300C's speedometer reading to be laughably optimistic -- it was as much as 9 mph over the bike's true speed. There no frills here though--no fuel gauge, clock or other niceties found on some comparably priced bikes.
The C was a bit more manageable in the handling department than the S, possibly by dint of its lighter tonnage -- you can throw it around more easily -- but its footpegs don't offer significantly better cornering clearance. Both bikes touch down sooner than most of the notoriously low Road Stars we've ridden (at least the S' floorboards are hinged), and the C tends to wallow once the twisties appear -- which didn't bolster our confidence in the corners. The S bike is a bit more stable in turns and transitions. Chassis flex on the 1300S is better controlled than on the C version, and it's surprisingly nimble, with accurate, predictable cornering.
Both 1300 versions are fairly low and well-planted compared to the top-heavy 1800, but the vibrations are evident in the floorboards, handlebar and saddle. The single disc brake on both, though huge at 336mm, works adequately, but not with as much feedback as we'd like -- you still have to use both brakes to really haul things down in a hurry.
The C also transmits bumps more sharply in the rear than the S model. We tried adjusting the preload on both bikes, but none of the settings seemed better than the stock adjustment, which proved too stiff on the C model, and just slightly plusher on the S. To manipulate the shocks, we used the provided tool kit hidden under the left side cover. (Be sure you put the tools back in exactly the way you took them out -- it's a tight squeeze.)
The handlebar on the S also feels more comfortable and accessible -- its low rise with modest pullback provides gobs of leverage and suited shorter riders just fine on the highway, but our largest rider was no fan of it. The C's drag-style bar is more of a reach with its taller risers, and starts to wear after a bit of seat time, especially for those with shorter arms. The seat's another story, and the C's short, narrowly shaped pan cut into our hamstrings where they contacted the seat, though the taller rider preferred its more open design. The S' seat is wider, but the pan is shorter and crowds larger butts. Naturally, the two shorter riders preferred the S' seat, which also gives you a better view of the cockpit.
Both 1300 cockpits are nearly...
Both 1300 cockpits are nearly identical, save for the pullback handlebar on this 1300S retro version.
Everyone agreed that the basic lines of both 1300s are attractive, but that much was left unfinished, particularly on the C version. The junction between the seat and tank on the S, for instance, is far cleaner; there's an ugly gap where the tank tab is visible on the C. And we were disappointed to see the hideous array of cables and wires emanating from the handlebars of both bikes -- it's very un-Hondalike, especially for a machine in this class. The good news is that the diminutive VTXs hail from the same Marysville, Ohio, plant as their bigger brethren, which means (in a departure from Honda) they will have nearly 30 accessories available to add on to the bike, two-thirds of them shared with the 1800.
If consumer response is any indicator, Honda's new family of bikes is a quite popular group in the V-twin neighborhood. The VTX 1300 fulfills a purpose. Though just a tad smaller in wheelbase length, the 1300s conduct themselves much more gracefully around corners and in a generally much more civilized manner than the 1800 models. But there is still a lot of plastic evident on these bikes, and we're disappointed in the finish of both 1300s. And while the price is reasonable, you can't say the bike's a bargain at $9199 -- Kawasaki's cabureted 1500 Vulcan can be had at a lower price and with a better detailing.
The C has more integrated...
The C has more integrated mirrors of the two. The nest of wiring sprouting from the neck ofn both bikes disappoints.
On either VTX1300, you tend to spend the majority of your time peering intently at an elongated headlight shell that takes up a pretty big chunk of sightline. We rode the bikes mostly in urban scenarios with a bit of spirited back-road usage thrown in, but could not seem to do any better than 33 mpg when all the numbers were averaged. We found ourselves looking for the reserve petcock at approximately the 110-mile mark, and were less than impressed with the fuel economy on these two models -- we'd average less than 160 miles per tank on our various rides. All the testers agreed that the engine sound exiting the staggered dual exhausts (slightly longer on the 1300S model) is pleasingly strong and textured, though, and preferable to the unusually clean, robotic sound of the bigger Honda.
The 1300 will feel more substantial than bikes found in the 1100 class, which is good for larger riders. Yet even a pint-sized, sportbike-biased colleague of ours felt comfortable on the VTX 1300, too, at least after a couple hours around town. He said, "As soon as I got used to putting my feet in a forward position -- that took awhile -- the bike felt completely manageable. It's a nice change of pace."
While not perfect, the VTXs address their target audience pretty well, and with the Shadow Spirit 1100 and Sabre still in the lineup in '04, Honda won't say the 1300s are replacements for those models; a source within the company tells us the VTXs represent "different flavors" instead. They're a good upgrade from the 1100s (though not a better bargain). And the company's stalwart Shadow 750 A.C.E. and Shadow Spirit 750 bikes will continue to represent the middleweight category. So really, we needn't have worried about the company's strategy -- apparently Honda knew what it was doing all along.