Motorcycle Road Test: Honda VTX1300C and VTX1300S

Honda downsized its VTX1800 concept to create two all new middleweight cruiser motorcycles -- and an instant sales hit. From the December 2003 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

You could say it's been a banner year for Honda. 2003 has seen the release of Big Red's mind-blowing Rune and its scene-stealing CBR600RR -- both class-leading, head-turning motorcycles representing a new era in technology. In the midst of this massive hype, however, Honda has also chosen to introduce the smaller, lower-profile VTX 1300C -- a companion model to last year's VTX 1300S. And while the buzz on these middleweights was more of a whisper than a scream, the crowd still went wild. Both 1300 models are selling like hot cakes.

In a year of big-displacement headliners, you might think Honda daft to pitch a duo of smaller-scale cruisers into the market, but the Japanese company has done its homework. In-depth market research was conducted with both consumers and dealers, who clearly asked for a bigger selection of higher-horsepower cruisers. So Honda went where no manufacturer had gone before -- at least not with this engine configuration and size.

When the VTX 1800 was introduced two years ago as the biggest production V-twin at the time, Honda had an instant hit on its hands. With the 1800's raw muscle defining a strong brand, Honda felt it could then expand and build a "VTX family" offering the style and cachet of the 1800 at a softer level. Honda took its existing V-twin monstrosity down a notch, and the VTX 1300 was born.

The release of the VTX 1300S in '02 left no doubt that Honda was serious about the VTX family; it was also a foregone conclusion that there would be another member joining the clan soon. We rode the retro-styled 1300S upon its initial release, but decided to wait until its fraternal twin, the drag-style 1300C, joined the party to fully test them both.

Less Maximum

Any way you ogle it, Honda's mini VTX version isn't exactly small -- there are 65.7 inches between the wheels on the S model, and not much less on the C. These 1312cc versions of Honda's maximum 52-degree liquid-cooled V-twins are shorter, lighter and more agile than their burlier 1800cc counterparts, but barely. The looks of the Big Brother VTXs and their muscular characteristics have been retained; the engine bay is still the focal point of both models, with the beefy twin jugs at the forefront of the design.

But that doesn't mean the 1300 engine is a sleeved-down 1800 (or reworked, like the 1800R). This newest, three-fourths rendition of the VTX formula (it probably won't be the last) is fresh from the ground up, and differs substantially in more than just displacement -- even though both VTX mills look very similar and use liquid cooling and three-valve cylinder heads. The 1300 engine shares the same basic design as its bigger brother, just none of the components. Its overhead-cam cylinder heads feature a screw-type valve adjustment and two plugs per cylinder for better combustion efficiency, but the 1300 has a single crankpin to the 1800's two, making for a more pronounced engine personality and extra rumble. The potential vibration is addressed with a pair of two-axis primary counterbalancers -- one ahead of the crank and one behind it. Engine mounts are also designed to snub some of the shaking while still retaining the pulse and character of the engine. You can feel it.

There's also a choke on the smaller VTX just under the petcock on the left side -- the 1300s are carbureted, inhaling via a coolant-heated 38mm CV carb, as opposed to the 1800's injectors. The difference is noticeable; the 1300s are a bit sluggish to start on cool mornings. Like the big boys, the smaller VTXs get a five-speed transmission to transfer power to the shaft drive system -- though there's still a bit of lash evident in the drivetrain (seems to run in the family). A new driven-flange design at the final-drive gear is claimed to eliminate final-drive noise and wear and simplify rear wheel installation. The 41mm fork (the 1300S for wears covers) incorporates conventional internals with 5.1 inches of travel. Covered, external dampers in the rear offer 3.7 inches of wiggle room (3.6 on the C model), and include a five-position adjustment for preload. Although there's only one on the 1300 models, the front brake disc is a massive 336mm in diameter, and it's squeezed by a two-piston caliper. Stopping the rear wheel is a large 296mm disc gripped by a single-piston caliper. Honda also gave the smaller VTX a new square-section backbone frame that's only 1.8 inches shorter than the 1800's.

Haven't We Met Before?

Seriously though, both the 1300cc and 1800cc VTX models are strikingly similar in appearance. The 1300S blatantly takes its styling cues from the 1800R and S models -- it has the same tank-mounted clocks, and floorboards with a heel-toe shifter (the "S" suffix refers to its wire-spoke wheels). The deep, full fenders, the stretched, hooded headlight and the teardrop taillight force you to examine the tank badge to be sure of the displacement of the model you're looking at. The secret? Both 1800s have painted side panels, while the 1300S' are chrome (chrome colored, anyway). Wheels and tires on the S are still plenty beefy at 140/80-17 in front and 170/80-15 in the rear.

The 1300C seems less an imitation of the 1800C than a modification of the bigger twin. The new-for-'04 VTX 1300C capitalizes on the muscular hot-rod styling treatment of the original VTX, and is the second iteration of the 1300 engine. It carries a taller, skinnier 19-inch tubeless front tire on a cast wheel and has a lighter, more aggressive look thanks to smaller fenders, a narrower, sportier saddle and footpegs instead of floorboards. The huge, hooded headlight is a nice carry-over from the big bike, and the lines work well. The 2-into-2 staggered exhaust is one of the only ways to distinguish the mini from the maxi VTX, which trucks around that monster 2-into-1 pipe. The 1300C's 110/90-19 front and 170/80-15 rear rubber is also substantial.

Fuel capacity for both 1300s is a hefty 4.8 gallons with a one-gallon reserve (more than the 1800). With a claimed dry weight between 641 and 661 pounds, the 1300s are only 90 pounds lighter than the 1800s, though they feel even less bulky at speed. And the positively subterranean 27-inch seat height of both 1300s -- lower than the 1800 -- is sure to inspire confidence in even the most diminutive rider.

Shakedown Cruise

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 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.

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.

We've Done This Before

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.

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.

Honda VTX 1300S & VTX 1300C

NOTE: Where they differ, specifications for the VTX1300C are in italic.

Suggested base price: $9199
Standard colors: Pearl blue, silver, black/pearl orange, black
Extra-cost colors: Candy red ($9299)
Standard warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAINType: Liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two intake valves, one exhaust valve operated by screw-type adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1312cc, 89.5mm x 104.3mm
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Carburetion: 1, 38mm CV
Lubrication: Dry sump, 4.5 quarts
Minimum fuel grade: 89 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, five speeds
Final drive: Shaft

Wet weight: 708 lbs./_ 689 lbs._
GVWR: 1105 lbs./ 1089 lbs.
Wheelbase: 65.7 in. / 65.45 in.
Overall length: 102.3 in. / 95.4 in.
Rake: 32 degrees
Trail: 5.7 in. / 5.9 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 17 x front, 15 x rear /_ cast alloy, 19 x front, 15 x rear_
Front tire: 140/80-17 Dunlop tube-type / 110-90-19 Dunlop tubeless
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop tube type / 170/80-15 Dunlop tubeless
Front brake: Twin-piston caliper, 13.2 in. disc
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 11.7 in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks, preload adjustable, 3.7 in./ 3.6 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.8 gal.
Handlebar width: 34.5 in. / 33.3 in.

Charging output: 364 watts
Battery: 12v, 12 AH, sealed
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt halogen headlight
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, oil pressure, coolant temperature

PERFORMANCEFuel mileage: 29 to 37 mpg, 33.3 mpg average
Average range: 175 miles
Roll on (60-80 mph): 6.37 sec. / 6.40 sec.
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.86 sec. @ 93.12 / 13.79 sec., 93.63 mph


Friedman: I'm not a fan of the VTX series. I regard the 1800s as awkward, overweight and surprisingly unrefined. The 1300s have almost nothing to offer me. They are both uncomfortable, and both have surprisingly little cornering clearance, mediocre suspensions, lackadaisical detailing, unremarkable (good or bad) power and a raft of annoyances (like a clumsy front brake lever, abrupt throttle response and an optimistic speedometer). The finishing touch was that one boiled over every time we rode it in traffic (and of course the other one never did, so it isn't necessarily a standard problem). I just can't believe that Honda let these things out.

When readers ask about buying one of these, I tell them to look at the less-expensive and far more comfortable Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic ($8999), Honda's own Spirit 1100 ($8099) or the Yamaha V-Star 1100s ($7899 to $8499), all of which are more desirable motorcycles, in my view. (See the Road Tests section of for tests on all of these.) I'd much rather ride any one of them, and the money I saved would pay for a nice road trip.

Honda really missed the mark with the VTX 1300s.

Art FriedmanNeed a cranky old fart to run down your favorite ride? E-mail Friedman at

Cherney: The big VTX has never been my cup of tea -- powerful, but too ponderous -- yet I'm also not ready to slam its smaller cousins just yet. I can see where Honda's going with these bikes, even if it needs to perform a few more nips and tucks along the way to get things nailed just right.

Both VTX 1300s are good-looking machines, and I like the engine's powerband, jerky delivery and all. Their proportions suit me much better than those of the heftier 1800. The VTX 1300S seems to be the more evolved of the two models, exhibiting slightly better stability while providing more sensible ergos for small riders.

Stylistically, I like the 1300C for its naked street-rod sensibilities, but in this case, "naked" also means "too much showing" -- the C reveals far too many unfinished rough patches to earn the name "Honda" on the tank badge. Both bikes need suspension work, but since it's only the first model year of their production run, I'm optimistic that Honda will refine and improve the duo (and maybe drop the price a notch) to better deal with the existing 1100 crowd -- those bikes are probably a better value now. But I have hope.

Andrew Cherney

Elvidge: Unlike Cherney and Friedman, I have great taste when it comes to big-twin cruisers, and I love Honda's VTX1800C. I'm no fan of the Retro version (of either displacement package), it's true, but the straight 1800 is a substantially sexy machine.

The 1300cc spin-offs might seem like a great option for people who are smaller or just getting started, but I'd always recommend the big gun instead. To me, it's worth an extra $3000 to have the real thing instead of a chip off the block. The size, weight and handling of the 1300s is very comparable in feel to the biggie versions anyway, but the power is not.

Too big to be justified as a choice to go small, these new Hondas are only middling to me.

Jamie Elvidge

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparisons are available at the Road Tests section of

Photography by James Brown, our favorite Atomic Rancher
The VTX1300C has briefer fenders and a generally more steramlined look than the S.
The S rides on the same basic platform with the same engine, but has a retro style.
Honda had to make the pipes slightly longer on the S because of longer head-pipe routing around the additional bodywork up front.
The shorter shotgun-style exhaust pipes suit the sporty style of the VTX1300C model.
The aesthetic differences between Honda's VTX 1300C (shown here) and the S and the VTX1800s are few.
You can always spot the retro-styled VTX1300S by its unique chrome side cover, which isn't used on any other VTX.
The S gets its retro style largely from its classically styled, deeply valenced fenders, though its pipes and wire wheels contribute too.
Both 1300 cockpits are nearly identical, save for the pullback handlebar on this 1300S retro version.
The C has more integrated mirrors of the two. The nest of wiring sprouting from the neck ofn both bikes disappoints.