Honda VTX1800N Motorcycle - First Ride Report

The beauty of Honda's latest rendition of its monster twin goes beyond the neo-retro skin, with more accommodating ergonomics and a program to let you make this motorcycle your own. **By

The latest spin on Honda's VTX1800 monster twin is a styling theme that Honda calls "neo-retro." Essentially that means a new (neo) take on something from the past (retro).

The 1800N's look, which debuted on the Rune, creates a massive appearance, thanks to wide fenders that curve around the wheels, following their curve rather than flaring outward like more conventional fender designs. The fender join the broad-shouldered frontal cross section to define this burly and beautiful beast. It is reminiscent of American motorcycle of the mid twentieth century, which embraced an elegant, full-figured style, but brings something fresh to the party as well.

The VTX1800N is most similar to the popular VTX1800R model, but it has moved beyond the R model's classic American lines. Like R model, the N has cast wheels, and all the VTX1800s except the 1800C get the new "flangeless" fuel tank (that is, a tank without the unsightly bottom seam of the previous models VTX1800s). That significantly cleans up the tank. The chassis and engine are also the same, and a few details, like the headlight are also shared. However, the N (for neo-retro), has a number of unique details, which helps justify its $100 high price than the S (identical to the R but with wire-spoke wheels and a studded saddle).

The most obvious difference, of course, is the N's unique fenders, which really set its style. The rear fender includes a pair of flush-mounted horizontal LED taillights, a first for any full-production Honda cruiser. It also has its own saddle. The 1800N shares the basic staggered dual-muffler design of the R and S, but N version's mufflers have straight-cut ends with five-bolt caps. Other unique details on the N are cut-out rear fender rails, shock covers that are ribbed for your pleasure, a low-rise handlebar mounted on a riser, and decal logos on the tank rather than badges.

The tank logos are a bit disappointing because are not smooth on the tank's surface. Even the Harley Sportster Roadster we are testing at the moment has much smoother decal graphics, perhaps because there is more clear coat over the decals. That was my only complaint about the VTX1800N's finish, which is generally outstanding.

I spent about four hours riding the VTX1800N, and was not surprised to find it is very much like the VTX1800R. It shares that bike's attractions, including great power, delivered with a minimum of vibration over a nice speed range. It feels effortless and smooth cruising at an indicated 80 mph, and has plenty of top-gear acceleration left at that speed to surge past slower traffic. It is stable and has impressive brakes, which are linked, with the pedal applying both front and rear brakes. The wide tires provide good traction during hard stops. The controls all work smoothly and fall to hand -- or foot -- easily for me, though I think that handlebar levers' positions should be adjustable for small hands. The VTX levers do not adjust. This bike shifted a bit smoother and more quietly than the last VTX1800 I rode.

The ergonomics are a slight improvement on the other VTX's for me. The riding position was natural and let me relax, whether riding in high-alert mode in dense traffic or cruising down an empty highway. At 80 mph I felt no need for a windshield, as holding my position against the air pressure took little effort. My only complaint was that the turned-back bar required a stronger squeeze to hold onto the handgrips than if it the grips were angled more perpendicularly to the direction of travel.

The N-model saddle was an improvement on previous VTX1800 saddles for my backside. I felt a bit confined by previous seating arrangements, but this one seemed to let me slide back a bit more and still gave space to shift forward. When I pressed rearward, the seat back did not create an uncomfortable pressure. The saddle seemed a bit firm when I first climbed aboard, but that often means that it will support you longer than a soft seat. That was the case here, since it felt just as good at the end of my ride as the beginning.

My complaints carry over from the R and S models. My biggest bitch is that the suspension delivers a choppy ride on choppy pavement. It hobby-horses some on jointed concrete-slab roadways, and clearly announces the passage every single prominent bump.

I also think the drivetrain could stand some refinement. Throttle response is somewhat abrupt, which can interfere with efforts to be smooth, especially in lower gears. You should be able to direct this much power and flywheel to the rear wheel gracefully without effort. There is also some lash, apparently created by shock absorbers in the driveline, that gets taken up abruptly when you go from trailing throttle to acceleration or visa versa. Large, quick throttle change also reveal a bit of jacking, caused by the shaft final drive. Fortunately, the clutch is quite progressive and can help overcome some of these shortcomings.

The VTX steers with respectable precision and little effort, but it is a big bike and won't tolerate much ham-handness at low speeds before it makes you feel awkward. The big, wide look isn't compatible with a lot of cornering clearance, and I wish all the VTXs leaned a bit deeper before dragging, which it initiates with a lot of noise but little drama. Owners almost never complain about the limited cornering clearance, however.

Honda allows you to choose from three "Build Specs" on VTX1800 N, R, and S models this year. Our sample sported the Spec 3 finish, the spiffiest choice, with more chrome and shine than the other two. It can be identified at a glance by the chrome radiator. A Spec 3 costs $1850 more than the basic Spec 1 treatment, and the magenta color adds another $100, bringing the total for our bike to $15,349 MSRP. You can see all three build-spec variations of the 1800N in every color in our first-look story . In addition, the build-your-own process available through Honda's web site allows you to pick out and price functional and cosmetic accessories to be installed by the dealer (or yourself) after the bike is delivered to the dealer.

The impending arrival of the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 will snatch away the VTX1800's claim to the largest-twin title, but features like the 1800N's distinctive styling and the personalizing program give the Honda unique attractions. When all the players are available, we plan to print a comparison of the biggest of the big twins.

SPECIFICATIONS
Honda VTX1800N

Designation: VTX1800N
Suggested base price: $13,399
Standard finishes & colors: Spec 1, black or silver
Optional finishes & colors: Spec 2 add $700, Spec 3 add $1850; red or magenta add $100 Warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 52-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: Single overhead camshaft; two intake, one exhaust valves per cylinder, screw-type adjusters
Displacement, bore and Stroke: 1795cc, 101mm x 112mm
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Carburetion: EFI
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.8 qt.
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet, multi-plate clutch; 5 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft

CHASSIS
Dry Weight: 760 pounds
Wheelbase: 67.5 inches
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 6.4 in.
Front tire: 150/80R-17 radial
Rear tire: 180/70R-16 radial
Front brake: 2, 296mm discs, three-piston calipers, linked
Rear: Single 316mm disc, twin-piston caliper, linked
Front suspension: 45mm inverted fork; 5.1 in. travel
Rear: Dual dampers, 3.9 in. travel, adjustable for spring preload
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
Seat height: 27.3 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 300 watts
Battery: 12-volt, maintenance-free
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Dual LEDs
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/dual tripmeter; warning lights for neutral, high beam, left and right turn signals, EFI failure

Additional motorcycle first rides,road tests, and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

The engine is mechanically identical to other VTX1800s.
Flush LED taillights are a nice feature.
Spec 3 bikes get chrome fork covers.
The N's speedo has a black face.
Straight-cut mufflers get five-bolt end caps.
The chrome radiator identifies the Spec 3 treatment.
Spec 3 gets black motors.