Honda VTX1300C, Star V Star 1300, and Suzuki Boulevard S83 | Rise of the Middle Class | Motorcycle Cruiser

Honda VTX1300C, Star V Star 1300, and Suzuki Boulevard S83 | Rise of the Middle Class

What do you call a cruiser larger than 1000cc but smaller than the horsepower-happy two-liter behemoths? The market has struggled to pin the right label on this evolving class for years, settling (rather lazily) on the catchall designation "middleweight." If you believe the spin, this includes everything from 600cc on up to 1300cc-quite an overwhelming mix of machinery.

Google up the actual word "middleweight," on the other hand, and you'll get an expansive selection of adjectives. The Wikipedia entry lists different classes in the sport of boxing, from middleweight to super middleweight, light heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight. It's a more descriptive naming convention; the cruiserweight division, for instance, was established to accommodate smaller heavyweight fighters who couldn't compete with the growing size of in-class competitors at the time-which very nearly describes the bikes we're talking about here-the 1300cc class. Or, should we say, what we now consider to be the cruiserweight class.

When Suzuki launched the Intruder 1400 back in 1987, its 1360cc mill was the largest V-Twin production engine available at the time, touching off displacement wars in the cruiser market. The current middleweight skirmish, though, took longer to heat up. Honda didn't join the fray with its VTX1300 until 2003. In hindsight, that looks like miraculous timing: According to industry sources, the mid-sized cruiser class has been hard on the gas (18-percent sales growth since 2002), thanks to buyers looking for a big-bike look and feel with the light weight and easy handling of a smaller machine. With the introduction of Star's 1300 last year, the 1300 class became a de facto subgroup, and we didn't need industry wonks to tell us consumers were interested-the heaps of letters we've received confirm it.

You could say it was mandated. We gathered up the three clear-cut "heavy middleweights" for some urban and back-road bombing, switching on and off among a core group of three test riders.

In This Corner...
Right from the jump, the testers were surprised by the bikes' differences, and not just for the usual visual reasons. Even the common denominator-a V-twin powerplant-has slight variations from bike to bike. The mills range from the S83's classic, 45-degree vee arrangement to the Star's slick, fuel-injected 60-degree setup. The Honda splits the difference with a liquid-cooled, 52-degree vee-just like its bigger 1800cc brother.

Our pilots ran the physical gamut, ranging from strapping, 6-foot-3 publisher Marty Estes, to editor Cherney at a disputable 5-foot-7, to our 5-foot-4 new kid on the block, Evan Kay. We had the ergonomic variables covered.

But that doesn't mean the 1300 engine is a sleeved-down VTX1800. The downsized example of the VTX line was fresh from the ground up when it debuted back in 2003, and differs in more than just displacement. For one, the VTX1300C is carbureted, and unlike the 1800, utilizes a single-pin crank arrangement. It also comes in "S" and "R" versions, which vary the bodywork and wheel options.

As for the ol' Intruder 1400, its years of service are legion. Introduced when styles were chopped and lean, the 1400 was engineered to be clean and lanky. With its Reagan-era lines, the 45-degree air/oil-cooled V-twin makes no bones about the fact that it's a (restrained) replica chopper, circa 1987. These days, it's wearing a Boulevard S83 badge, which spells out the cubic inches it displaces.

The Way You Look Tonight
Styling is the conversation-starter with most cruisers, and this group has something for everyone: streetrod (yep, the Honda), traditional cruiser with modern flourishes (the Star) and old-school chopper (the Suzuki). All the bikes emphasize a simple design aesthetic rather than radical chic-there's not an exhibitionist in the bunch.

As the newest entrant to the 1300cc class, the V Star 1300 also brings the most current technology. With fuel injection, liquid cooling, belt drive and four valves per cylinder, the 1304cc V-twin is a substantial step up from its aging stablemate, the V Star 1100. Star reps are quick to point out that the 1300 is 241cc bigger than the 1100, but if you look at the physical specs (wheelbase and width), it's close in size to the firm's Road Star model too.

The VTX C aims for street-rod attitude, highlighted by chopped fenders, front and back, and brief bodywork that cedes the spotlight to an attractive engine bay.

Everyone commented on the Honda's elongated, beautifully chromed headlight nacelle-you can't help but stare at the sky reflected in it as you ride. The tanktop instrument gauge forced taller riders to slightly dip their eyes down to view it, and there are no frills within. There was a thumbs up consensus on the VTX's vibe and styling, but some details belied its price-consciousness-the shaped tank's huge seam, plastic covers, a nest of unrouted cables and mismatched finishes were deemed the biggest sins, especially for a Honda product.

The Star brings perhaps the most traditional styling of the bunch, but it's mixed with modern sleekness in the stretched tank and full steel fenders. The Star is the only bike here with floorboards and a heel-toe shifter. Fit and finish is excellent, with integrated detailing and an easily accessed, full-featured instrument pod. Like the VTX, the V Star's engine is styled to resemble an air-cooled design, but if you look closely, you'll spot the compact radiator nestled between the downtubes. On the downside, that taillight isn't an LED unit as stated in Star's spec chart-there's a bulb in there. And the decal on the airbox that reads "Vstar 1300" looks plain cheesy on an otherwise thoughtfully finished motorcycle.

If you want a completely different look, the S83 is as singular as they come. A peanut tank, narrow saddle, smallish, almost drag-style handlebar and raked-out fork straddling a 19-inch wire wheel means styling is Spartan, to say the least. With its unique lines, the 45-degree V-twin makes no bones about what it is-an '80s-era chopper replica. In fact, one of the testers likened the Boulevard to a '90s-era Sportster married to a dragbike. But there's a cohesive cleanliness in the details. The tank is neat, seamless and beautifully finished. All fasteners are covered, and even the front control cables are routed cleanly through the triple-tree clamp, giving a tighter appearance than the Honda. A single analog-only instrument gauge just adjacent to the narrow, angled-back bar carries the theme.

Back In The Saddle
Settle into each of these bikes and your butt won't feel the same way twice. The Honda brings a fairly wide, dragstyle bar with a slight pullback that offers excellent leverage and reach for most riders. But while the gunfighter-style saddle may initially be comfortable, all riders whined that the steep dish also locks you in position, becoming somewhat painful after 30 miles. It's the lowest saddle here, so the reach to the ground was a breeze for shorter riders, and the VTX's forward-set controls were accommodating for taller folk too.

The Star's wide, lightly dished pan, on the other hand, was comfortable for everyone because it offers the greatest variety of seating positions. Its wide bar features an almost buckhorn-like bend for an easy reach, though taller testers complained it was too low.

Alas, the S83 bonks you with a near-fetal tuck. The cramped, sit-up-and-beg riding position (created by a small, narrow seat, mid-mounted footpegs and narrow bars) means you ride "as if you were on the pot reading a magazine," as one tester put it. The saddle itself offers limited real estate for shifting positions and drew criticism from all testers (and even a new Suzuki owner we spoke with). It's not inseam-bias either-shorter riders also ripped the S83's riding position. That tiny seat coupled with a narrow frame, however, does offer a straight shot to the ground, making those same short-legged folks feel planted at stops.

Start 'em up and count the differences yet again. Thanks to carbureted fuel systems (the VTX has a single carb, the S83 two), both the Honda and Suzuki required judicious choke on cool mornings to settle into normal idle speeds. We can't imagine either bike will continue this arrangement for long though, what with more stringent emissions standards coming in the near future. The Star's fuel injection meant it started on the first crank every time.

When The Whistle Blows
Threading the 1300s through rows of idling cars in L.A.'s glacial rush-hour traffic is a sight easier than with full-on heavyweights-handlebars are narrower (save the Star's), and with considerably less tonnage to haul, the cruiserweights are far more maneuverable.

The S83, at 587 pounds, is the lightest of the bunch, though it carries its weight up high and its skinny, 19-inch front tire tends to flop around at walking speeds, no thanks to a narrow bar set on tall risers, which gives little leverage. The considerable rake (36 degrees) and trail (6.54 inches) keep the steering from getting any easier when you get above walking speeds, despite that narrow front tire. All testers lamented the grabby hydraulic clutch, especially in first gear-the friction zone was short, with the engagement point coming at the very end of lever travel, making a clean launch nearly impossible.

Once under way, the Honda felt like the Harley-est of all the bikes here- the 1300 has a single-crankpin design, for a more pronounced engine personality. The 689-pound Honda also rolls on a 19-incher, but because rake is less pronounced, it's easier to toss around than the Suzuki (though you still need muscle). Stability is good at low speeds. The clutch pull is firm but smooth, engaging with a solid clunk. All agreed that the sound exiting the staggered dual exhausts is strong and textured.

The Star may look substantial, but it managed not to feel heavy under power, with good balance. Low-speed maneuvers were a snap, though the low bar proved problematic for larger riders initiating a full lock turn, as the bar ends occasionally contacted their knees. Thankfully, the V13's clutch was easy to modulate with a fairly light pull for a cable-actuated unit. Stirred by a heel-toe shifter, the five-speed 'box shifted with precise engagement. The 67-inch wheelbase means great stability, but the ground clearance wasn't as generous as on the VTX-hinged floorboards started grinding when we tossed 'er in aggressively. The Suzuki had the best clearance of all; none of the testers recalled touching the footpegs down even once.

On The Road Again
Out on the superslab, we goosed the bikes for all they were worth. The Star surprised everyone with glitches in its power delivery. On/off throttle transitions were a tad abrupt, requiring a steady hand to make them smooth, but overall the Star motor's a gem. The SOHC mill has a fairly high 9.5:1 compression ratio, and torque was delivered with more subtlety than the others. That's probably because the Star's 1304cc displacement comes through an unusually oversquare bore and stroke (100x83mm). Engine tuners generally feel this design trades low-end torque for higher-end power. The VTX1300 and S83 motors have more punch right off the bottom, with their competitive torque peaks coming earlier (3000 and 2800 rpm respectively), but the V Star motor overpowers them from the midrange on up. That engine is eerily quiet, snuffed as it is by single-axis, double-crankshaft balancers, but the 2-into-1 exhaust still punches out a bassy exhaust note.

Conversely, Honda's VTX1300 uses an 89.5mm bore and 104.3mm stroke to achieve its 1312cc size. Applying its throttle is less of a jerking contest than with its more abrupt 1800cc brother, but the surge effect is still there in transitions. You can launch more evenly by working the clutch, though there's still lash evident in the drivetrain-more than on the similarly shaft-driven S83. The lurch is especially annoying when transitioning from closed throttle to acceleration.

The Suzuki may be the old man in the group, but, man, that motor still kicks butt. Though the S83 didn't have the top-end rush, it revved well and pulled hard at high rpm. It compensated with slightly lower gearing than the rest and was a bit off the mark in off-idle power. The clutch offered a relatively similar effort to the Honda's unit (with similarly skinny levers). Carburetion was flat off the bottom, but those 1360ccs were ready to roll with more than adequate power from idle if you twisted the heavy throttle persuasively.

Rock 'n' Roll
Los Angeles' roads have been progressively deteriorating over the last few years, so it didn't help to learn that the Suzuki's front suspension offered little damping, even with 5.1 inches of wheel travel. The bike tracks fairly well once the turn is initiated, however. An appreciable shaft effect doesn't help cornering manners, but with such stable geometry, this isn't much of a problem. The bias on the suspension settings is firmer than on a boulevard cruiser like the Star, and the dual shocks are adjustable for preload.

The suspension is also less than high-end on the Honda. The smaller VTX gives more feedback up front than its big bro, but still felt vague. A slightly floppy fork and harsh rear shock meant the VTX wasn't too planted in mid-corner bumps. None of the settings on the preload adjustable rear shocks seemed better than stock. (There's a tool kit under the left side cover.) And our bumps got transmitted sharply. The VTX1300C also tended to wallow once twisties appeared. (It's been our experience that the S model is a bit more stable in turns.)

In this group, the Star's suspension shines, and we had little trouble with all but the worst of L.A.'s potholes. The bike is well damped and balanced. The rear, linkage-type single shock produces a reasonable 4.3 inches of travel, a handy margin over the VTX's and Suzuki's twin shock setups (3.6 and 3.9 inches, respectively), and soaked up most irregularities effectively.

When it came time to haul things down, we found all three bikes were somewhat lacking in the brake department. The VTX's single front disc, though huge at 336mm, worked adequately, but without as much feedback as we'd like. The Star's dual front discs also needed prodding to make an impression, and testers felt that also using the rear brake made for cleaner stops. The Suzuki had the least feel and feedback on both the single disc front and rear, with lots of pedal travel at the rear and a slightly mushy feel up front.

All Over Now
Everyone liked the $9599 VTX's attitude and styling, though most testers felt some details were too obviously built to a price point. The V Star, on the other hand, was almost too refined to some, and at $10,090, it's priced at the high end of the pack. But it also brings the best feature set, which raises the bar for the others. At $8499, the S83 is indisputably the bargain bike, but that comes with a caveat. Its unique look means you'll never get mistaken in the herd, and the engine can still hang with the best, but it's getting difficult to justify the price for what's now 20-year-old technology.

In all, we were impressed by the newest class of cruiserweights. They bring plenty of ponies to the table, are much more manageable than their heavyweight cousins, and pull off the big bike look so coveted in this class. They're also a step up in power, substance and status over the 1100s. (Though it'd be a stretch to call them beginner bikes.) No matter what you end up calling them, they're certainly a case of less being more.

In the Vicinity
2007 Harley-Davidson 1200 Sportster Custom
Although it doesn't pack the same amount of cubes as this 1300cc class, Harley's Sportster 1200 line certainly comes close in intent, price and performance. Revised in 2004, the newer Sportsters are less vibe-y than their predecessors, thanks to a stiffer, beefed-up frame with stabilizers and rubber engine mounts.

The same frame, fuel tank and 150mm rear tire is used on all four XL 1200 models, but the Custom is distinguished by its skinny 21-inch wire front wheel. Customs also get disc-style 16-inch rear wheels, forward foot controls and a short drag-style handlebar mounted on risers that supports an integrated speedo and warning lights. The function button, alas, is hidden underneath the gauges, making it virtually impossible to reach while riding.

To maintain a low squat, the Custom's dual rear shocks travel only 2.4 inches. 'Course, there's sweet detailing: The 1200 Custom has black powdercoated engine cases and cylinders, broken up with polished cylinder fins and chrome cases.

The new motors still get the standard Sportster layout, with air-cooling and similar bore and stroke, but-hallelujah-all 2007 Sportys are fuel injected, and the engine now spins up to around 6000 rpm. There are some situations-about 4500 rpm and higher-when the vibrations still come through, but you have to be going pretty fast to feel any impact. Throttle response is linear, though our short test ride revealed some snatchiness in on/off throttle transitions. The clutch required effort to pull, but engaged predictably (with a distinct clunk in first gear).

The broad power spread starts at about 2000 rpm and extends almost to redline, so our Custom ran almost as fast to 60 mph as the VTX and the V Star. The 1200s are smooth at normal highway speeds, and the Custom lets you sit almost straight-legged (depending on your inseam), with feet forward, though short riders found the footpegs to be a stretch. The saddle is on the hard side, and you get limited fore and aft movement, which didn't please our 6-foot rider. The bike felt tall, light and narrow, and most similar to the S83 in its stance.

The biggest drawback of the Custom was limited rear suspension travel; big bumps connected hard. The 1200 Custom tracked stably in corners, though all riders felt the minimal travel to be nearly intolerable on potholed, urban stints. Also, the single front disc provided just adequate stopping power. The Custom is about on par with the others with its limited ground clearance. In our time on the Sportster, we managed to pull out a 48.8-mpg average fuel consumption, but that was almost all freeway miles.

Solid detailing and finishes make the Sportster a bit more handsome than its metric counterparts, according to our cruiser critics. It's a lot of bike positioned at the sub-$10,000 price point, and an easy entry to owning a Harley-something short-hop riders might find appealing. If they can't stand the ergos on the Custom, the Roadster's a much better bet.-A.C.

2007 H-D 1200 Sportster Custom
MSRP: $9695
Wheelbase: 60.4in.
Seat height: 28 in.
Engine type: Air-cooled 1200cc
45-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 88.8 x 96.8mm
Compression: 9.7:1
Fuel system: EFI
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal.
Transmission/final drive:
5-speed/belt drive
Rake/Trail: 30 degrees/4.7 in.
Front tire: MH90-21
Rear tire: 150/80B-16
Front brake: 292mm disc, dual-piston caliper
Rear brake: 292mm disc, single-piston caliper
Front suspension: 39mm fork, 5.6-in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 2.4-in. travel
Dry weight: 562 lbs.
Colors: Black, red, blue and yellow; more than a dozen other colors

HONDA VTX1300C STAR V STAR 1300 SUZUKI BOULEVARD S83
MSRP $9599 $10,090 $8499
Warranty 12 months unlimited miles 12 months, unlimited miles 12 months, unlimited miles
Colors Black, red, white, blue, green Black, blue, red Black, blue
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type 1312cc liquid-cooled, 1304cc liquid-cooled, 1360cc air/oil-cooled,
52 degree V-twin 60 degree V-twin 45 degree V-twin
Bore x Stroke 89.5 x 104.3mm {{{100}}} x 83mm 94.0 x 98.0mm
Valve train SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder
Compression 9.2:1 9.5:1 9.3:1
Fuel System One 38mm CV carburetor EFI, two 40mm throttle bodies Two 36mm Mikuni CV carburetors
Transmission/final drive 5 speed/shaft 5 speed/belt 5 speed/shaft
CHASSIS
Front Suspension 41mm fork, 5.1-in. travel 41mm fork, 5.3-in. travel 41mm fork, 5.1-in. travel
Rear suspension Dual dampers, preload Single damper, preload Dual dampers, preload
adjustable, 3.6-in. travel adjustable, 4.3-in. travel adjustable, 3.9-in. travel
Front wheel/tire 19 in. cast/ 16 in. cast/ 19 in. wire-spoke/
110/{{{90}}}-19 tubeless 130/90-16 tubeless 110/90-19 tube-type
Rear wheel/tire 15 in. cast/ 16 in. cast/ 15 in. wire-spoke/
170/{{{80}}}-15 tubeless 170/70-16 tubeless 170/80-15 tube type
Front brake 336mm disc, Dual 298mm discs, 294mm disc,
twin-piston caliper two four-piston calipers double-action caliper
Rear brake 296mm disc, 298mm disc, 279mm disc,
single-piston caliper single-piston caliper double-action caliper
Rake/Trail 32 deg./5.9 in. 23.5 deg./3.9 in. 36 deg./6.54 in.
Wheelbase 65.45 in. 66.5 in. 63.5 in.
GVWR 1089 lb. 1131 lb. 1035 lb.
Overall length: 95.4 in. 98.03 in. 91.9 in.
Wet weight 689 lb. 679 lb. 587 lb.
Fuel capacity 4.8 gal. 4.8 gal 3.4 gal
Handlebar width 33.3 in. 34.2 in. 28.7 in.
Seat height 27.4 in. 28.1 in. 29.1 in.
INSTRUMENTATION
Analog speedometer, Analog speedometer, Analog speedometer,
LCD odometer/tripmeter, LCD odometer, dual tripmeters, odometer, tripmeter;
lights for neutral, high beam, clock; lights for neutral, high lights for neutral,
turn signals, oil pressure, beam, turn signals, low fuel, high beam, turn signals,
coolant engine diagnostics oil pressure, low fuel
PERFORMANCE
Horsepower (claimed peak) 75 @ 3000 rpm 76.8 @ 5500 rpm 71 @ 2800 rpm
Torque (claimed peak) N/A 81 ft-lb @ {{{4000}}} rpm N/A
Fuel mileage 31-45 mpg, 37.2-mpg avg 30-43 mpg, 36.5-mpg avg 34-48 mpg, 41-mpg avg
Average range 178 miles 175 miles 139.4 miles
Quarter mile acceleration 13.81 sec. @ 95.89 mph 13.14 sec. @ 100.47 mph 13.98 sec. @ 93.05 mph
60-80 mph roll-on
acceleration 5.51 sec. 5.49 sec. 5.35 sec.

Riding Position
Evan Kay, Associate Editor
5'4", 168 lbs.,
29-inch inseam
As the New Guy here, I'm both impressed and disappointed to varying degrees by these bikes. The Suzuki's riding position is best suited for those with very long arms and very short legs. I have a 29-inch inseam, and I'm cramped on the S83. It vibrates, the clutch grabs like nobody's business and the brakes don't. But I do like the sidestand. The Honda looks great, but falls short in action. The engine vibrates hard like the Sportster, though it does have a broad spread of power in all gears. The forks absorb bumps OK, but the rear is only marginally better than a hardtail. The Star is the-ahem-star of the group. For a V-twin, the engine spins smoothly at all rpm. The suspension works well, and the chassis is more composed than the others. The floorboards are well-placed, and the seat and bar are comfortable. Then there's that cool toggle on the handlebar to operate the functions on the speedo...

Riding Position
Marty Estes, Publisher
6'3", 200 lbs.,
34-inch inseam
For me, this comparison was all about ergos. When you're 6-foot-3, some bikes fit and others simply don't. Only one here really felt comfortable, and that was the Star. The seat's not as dished as the others, allowing movement into different positions. On the Honda, and even more so on the Suzuki, I was pinned against the "hump"-and really needed to move. One position, no options-not a good recipe for a happy tailbone. The Star's riding stance also worked better for my frame; it wasn't as "feet forward, leaned back," and I felt I had more control. Also, I didn't have to fight to hold myself on the bike as much and could actually lean into the wind. The others featured handlebars that were narrower and more pulled back, which for my size proved tiring, especially at speed in a headwind. I was impressed with the Star's suspension, particularly the front fork. The bike felt more substantial and details were well sorted, so it was the clear winner for me.

The VTX C's 52-degree vee is liquid-cooled, and a single-pin crank gives it a meaty cadence and a healthy rumble.

45 degrees is as classic as it gets. The Suzuki's 83-cubic-inch mill brings traditional design with air/oil cooling.

The V Star may look air-cooled, but there's a radiator stuffed between the downtubes. It's the only bike here with belt drive.

Even with dual discs and four-piston calipers, the Star's front brake still needs a good squeeze for results.

Who's got the biggest disc of 'em all? Honda's 336mm front rotor is huge, but it's only got a single twin-piston caliper squeezing it.

The Suzuki's single front brake disc works better in conjunction with the rear disc, so learn to use both for emergency stops.

Riding Position
Andrew Cherney, Editor
5' 7", 155 lbs.
30.5-inch inseam
It's a tight race here in this new class, right beneath the big boys. But I'm happy to see it. I feel like these bikes work better than those 900-pound tankers in terms of ergos, handling and even fun factor. The power-to-weight ratios on these things make a whole lot more sense too. For me, it came down to the wire between the VTX and the V Star-for very different reasons. I like the whole vibe of the Honda-it's a little bit hooligan, a little bit sloppy, but it's got spunk and the motor's great. I think psychologists call it "character." It's all the things its overweight, underdamped, lurching sibling, the 1800, ain't. Oh wait, the 1300 lurches too-but you get my point.For sheer comfort and convenience, the VTX or Suzuki can't hold a candle to the V Star's superior suspension and feature set, but then I feel the Star may be a tick overpriced, while the S83's decades-old design definitely is. I have a feeling Suzuki's up to something that'll put it right back in the thick of things, though.