2006 Honda ST1300 Review and Journey

A Reader Shares His Journey From Touring Cruiser To Sport Tourer...And Back

All riders know that buying a new bike is as much a decision of the heart, one that we feel in our gut, as it is a rational choice. And I had just made my decision. I loved my last four bikes, all Harley-Davidson touring models, but I also had often kept them too long and on several occasions (all long trips), they had let me down. So, anticipating an upcoming trip out to Glacier National Park in Montana with my good friend Bill and his Road King, I decided that my 1999 Ultra Classic Electra Glide with 102,000 miles had to go. Financially, though, I was balking at buying a new H-D; I just didn't want to spend quite that much at this time with so many other obligations looming over my head. As I rode by the Honda dealer, a little voice in my head said that I should check out their bikes.

Walking in the door, I was greeted by a shiny, black, ST 1300. I knew the bike well, having read about these bulletproof sport tourers for years. When I sat on it, it brought back feelings of 30 years ago when I owned a string of Moto Guzzis that I really loved. It "spoke" to me. That was it. My decision was made. And you're right, this is not going to be your average Honda ST1300 review.

It was February 29, leap year day, and the dealer was willing to give me a great trade on my H-D since he wanted to exceed his sales quota for the month of February and this ST was a "leftover" from '06. We talked about the GIVI trunk that I would need and the Two Brothers exhaust that would give the bike some growl. The deal was done. I raced home, got my Harley title and rode right by the local Harley dealer without even a glance toward the bikes parked out front as I hurried back to pick up my new ST.

But, when I rode the ST out of the shop, I was overcome with dissonance. What had I done? This bike was so different from what I was used to. It just didn't seem like a bike to me; certainly not the kind of bike that I had come to know. When I got it home, my wife hated it; "what the heck were you thinking," she scolded. Then, she refused to take a ride with me and vowed that she'd never "ride on that thing." I actually lost sleep that night, but decided to take a long ride the next day and start keeping a diary of my thoughts and feelings about this new relationship with the ST. Selected diary entries follow.

3-1-08
Woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn't sleep. Turned on my computer and was greeted by the screensaver picture of me on my old Ultra Classic in front of the Blue Ridge Parkway highway marker. I feel like I've betrayed that bike. It never let me down, so why did I trade it in? I was so upset that I walked over to the Wawa and bought a pack of smokes; I haven't smoked in two years. What is going on with me? Oh, well, I'll keep the ST through the summer and see how I feel.

3-2-08
Had a nice long ride on the bike yesterday and it felt pretty good. The Two Brothers exhaust sounded great and the bike sure is strong and smooth. I've missed riding a bike like this-one that feels quick and nimble. It reminded me of my younger days, riding smaller bikes that were responsive.

3-4-08
Smoked a crotch rocket last night on Route 95. Hit 110 easily. The bike still felt good. It is smooth and quick, that's for sure. Hey, I could get used to this. But, is that the attitude that one should have about their bike? That you've got to "get used to it." Will I ever have the kind of close personal relationship with this bike that I felt with my H-D?

Geez, all of these concerns and then I get Bill's (my friend with the Road King) email:

"I am glad you like the bike, but it sounds like you are trying to convince yourself that you made the right decision. There is no doubt that the Honda is a good machine. But it is not a better machine. It is different-that is all. The Harley is not as refined as the Honda but is engineered as well, if not better. It is a 100-year-old design that has evolved. One of the reasons I like to ride is to express myself. It says I don't want things easy. I like to feel a symbiotic relationship with the machine I ride. This is why I own and ride a Harley. Some would say that I ride a Harley for all the clichs that we have heard about. Just watch the movie Wild Hogs. However, I was riding and building Harleys before they were chic. The Harley has history; it has presence, and most of all, it has soul. The Honda would transport me but it would not move me. It is too sterile and generic in nature for my tastes."

Geez, when will this ambivalence end? There hasn't been one day since I bought my bike that I've not felt some regret. I feel like I betrayed an old friend. Such is the personal relationship, the bonding of souls, that occurs when you own a Harley. I doubt that I'll ever feel that way about this bike. I did, though, have a similar bonded feeling with my Moto Guzzis. I don't know, maybe there is something to the idea of buying a bike that is steeped in a long and proud heritage.

Only time will tell. Maybe I'll feel better about this bike after the ride out west this summer. I am resolved to keep the ST thru the summer and then see how I feel. But, in my heart-of-hearts, I'd love to ask the dealer to give me a number for buying this bike back right now. I've just got to get over this gut level upset feeling that does go away when I ride the bike. Then, everything feels pretty good. I think that's because I am a rider. I just love riding motorcycles. Period. So the journey will continue and perhaps I'll learn something more about myself in the process. I just have to get over this angst and stop smoking so much.

3-6-08
Took an early morning ride. A Harley rider actually gave me "the wave" which made me feel good because on my first ride on this bike, a Sportster rider just ignored me as I rode by. Anyway, this morning I gave the bike a gentle pat; it is pretty and it is what it is. I feel like I did act too hastily; in retrospect, I wish I would have just kept my old bike. But then I remind myself of some of the little things about the old bike that were bugging me. The clunky front forks that needed attention. The sluggishness and weight at times annoyed me. But I feel a sense of resolution. I made a bad choice, perhaps, but I can live with it. Heck, I'll be riding and I will have fun. In the end, I think that is all that really matters to me.

3-14-08
Getting to feel like I know this bike well. Went south on Route 896 for about an hour and easily drifted through all the curves. As I went down Route 1 past Chadds Ford, I twisted the wick and noticed that this bike hits 100 in about 5 seconds from a standing start. Then, I continued to accelerate to 133...it was turning just over 7K rpm. Surprisingly stable feeling at 130! But who needs to go that fast?

3-30-08
Watched American Thunder last evening. They were showing the history of the FL models. I remembered the early ones. When I was a kid, there was a 1959 Duo Glide parked outside of Max Myer's barber shop. The owner was a roofer who lived in the apartment over Max's shop. He lived the lifestyle of a biker, such that it was in Hershey, Pennsylvania in the late 1950s. I remember staring at the blue and white bike, its huge tractor-style solo seat, the big visible springs under the seat and chrome rail around the back of it. Something about it was very seductive; I was too young at that time to genuinely appreciate the years of tradition behind this uniquely American machine. But in my gut, at the age of nine, I felt something stir. And that's why I'm so conflicted right now. I do miss the H-D spirit, staring at the beast outside on my carport; the Honda just doesn't do that for me. But when I ride the ST, I am pretty satisfied. What will I feel by the end of the summer? I'm still not sure, but I am looking forward to the ride to Montana.

5-6-08
It's about choice. I am reminded of what Swarthmore College professor, Barry Schwartz, says in the Paradox of Choice. He argues that we've got so many choices in our society today:

"As Americans, we assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. But beware of excessive choice: choice overload can make you question the decisions you make before you even make them, it can set you up for unrealistically high expectations, and it can make you blame yourself for any and all failures. In the long run, this can lead to decision-making paralysis. And in a culture that tells us that there is no excuse for falling short of perfection when your options are limitless, too much choice can lead to clinical depression."

And that's where I was for the first couple of weeks after my purchase-started smoking again, was losing sleep at night, wondering how I made such a bad choice; trying to rationalize it, feeling a deep sense of loss late at night when I thought about my big white Ultra sadly sitting in the back corner of the used bike section of a Honda dealer! In the end, I think that it was this panoply of choices with lots of great bikes on the market today at all price points and reading too many motorcycle magazines reviewing these bikes, that pulled me away from some fundamental truths that I always thought I understood. But in a brief lapse of judgment I was overwhelmed by choice and the possibilities and promise of a new shiny bike. In the end, on sunny days like today, I like my bike; it is truly a joy to ride. So did I make a bad choice? Yes. I should have sucked it up, made the sacrifice, and gotten a new H-D. Can I live with this one...sure...for a while, and I am certain that it will serve me well. The only problem is the speeding tickets that I've started accumulating.

7-10-08Bill and I left for Montana today. A 625-mile day. It was a snap on this bike. I felt like I could do an Iron Butt run at the end of this day.

7-14-08
Experienced a serious case of "monkey butt" today. Rode across Minnesota on Route 90 with a blazing sun the whole way. It was HOT! Besides noticing that a good bit of heat does come up through the fairing at the front of my seat, thoroughly roasting my "chestnuts," the bike ran strong. I really do appreciate the virtues of having a liquid-cooled engine.

7-16-08
Lots of Beemer riders in the campground; they are all heading to the rally in Gillette, Wyoming. Bill was a bit miffed that they were much more interested in my ST than his Road King. He placated himself by going to a car wash and then polishing his bike as the sun set over the KOA grounds. The Beemer guys still were not impressed!

7-20-08
Enjoyed all the wonderful scents and sights as I rode the Road to the Sun in Glacier today. The bike ran flawlessly and loved some of the twisties.

7-24-08
Lying in bed at the Comfort Inn in Toledo, Ohio on the route home. Thinking about whose bike was more trip-worthy on this journey, mine or Bill's? Mine was, hands down. I never had to be concerned about riding to fast, too hard, or too long. Bill was constantly complaining about the high speeds pushing his Road King's engine and kept saying that he was going to get a newer H-D with a six-speed transmission. And, with my 7.6-gallon tank, I almost never had to stop for fuel; I sure didn't have to be worried about it when we rode those long, desolate routes through Wyoming or Montana. Passing a slow-moving cattle truck on a two lane road-no problem with the ST; it kicked me in the butt when I twisted the throttle at 80 mph.

8-4-08
A beautiful evening for a ride, but my wife still isn't interested in riding on this bike. We used to ride the old H-D up to Maine at least once or twice each summer, but no more. That's it! I'm selling this bike.

8-27-08
Just watched a stranger ride my bike down the driveway. He was like an excited kid, nervous, even though he's ridden many bikes over his 60 years. As the bike, no longer my bike, disappeared down the street, I felt a sense of relief, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I remember having the same feeling when an old girlfriend moved out of my house many years ago. She was nice looking, smart, did everything well, and she sure could cook-but not in the kitchen! However, there was never a comfortable connection between us; there was always an uneasiness that I felt in my gut. When she moved out, I wanted to feel sad, but instead I felt relieved. I had that feeling tonight. So it turned out to be the same way with this bike. It was a sharp-looking and beautiful bike; strong, quick, smooth, doing everything I wanted it to do. No real complaints. There was nothing wrong with the ST, it just wasn't the right one for me.

Well, you can't change the past, but you can move forward. Guess I'll head over to the Harley dealer tomorrow morning. What have I learned from this adventure? When it comes to buying a bike, you've got to trust your gut and you've got to understand how important certain features of any bike are to you-in your heart. For me at this point in my life, I want to feel a machine under me. I want that machine to quiver and shake a bit when it idles. I want that machine to sound like a machine, with all of the clunks and whirls of the engine audible when I ride; a machine that reflects a certain timeless styling and one that moves me, not simply transports me to a destination.