First Ride: 2010 Honda VT1300 Sabre, Stateline and Interstate

Big red rolls out the new 1300s

When it broke the mold with its bombshell launch of the VT1300CXA Fury last year, Honda primed the pump for its new-gen VT1300 series. And not a moment too soon, it seems; in the 10 months since it was unleashed, the company says the Fury chopper has become the best-selling metric custom cruiser in America. No surprise that other new VT1300s were following close behind. The remaining three models were unveiled to us this past April in Southern California's bucolic Temecula Valley, where we sampled the machines to see how they measured up against the VTX1300s they were replacing.

The VTs have some big tires to fill; the VTXs had been selling like hotcakes (Honda says 82,000 units since its inception in 2003) and we get the feeling Big Red was loathe to phase out the line. But those pesky EPA emissions regs were lurking in the background, necessitating an update to the VTX1300 engine, which was carbureted.

Honda categorizes these newbies as 'Custom Cruisers', just like the VTXs, though each have distinct model names rather than those annoying alphanumeric combos. The Sabre, Stateline and Interstate now join the Fury-the first of the new VT1300 steeds-as the next generation of Honda's 1300cc cruiser platform. To no one's surprise, they're more evolutionary than revolutionary.

The VT1300 models are all powered by the same liquid-cooled 1312cc V-twin, with a single-pin crankshaft and dual counterbalancers to snub vibes. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the engine from the old VTX1300: a 52-degree vee with a single overhead cam operating three valves per cylinder, compressing the fuel/air at a 9.2:1 ratio. The engine is tuned the same for all three models, so the biggest change from previous models is the switch from CV-style carbs to Honda's Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI), which utilizes a single 38mm throttle body. Power is transferred to the back via a 5-speed gearbox and shaft final drive, just as it was on the VTXs.

Another case of_ deja vu_ unfurls when you check out the brake setup on the VT models. The 336mm front disc is worked by a dual-piston sliding-pin caliper up front, while out back, a 296mm disc is squeezed by a single-pot unit, another carryover from the VTX13s. Engine bay aside, however, the three models do vary visually, and in their intended target audience.

Specifications
2010 Honda VT1300CS Sabre
MSRP: $11,799/$12,799 (ABS)
Colors: Black, Candy Red (ABS/CBS Black only)

Engine
Type: Liquid-cooled 52 degree V-twin
Displacement, Bore x stroke: 1312cc, 89.5mm x 104.3mm
Valve train: SOHC, three valves per cylinder
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Fuel System: PGM-FI; 38mm throttle body
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Chassis
Wheelbase: 70.3 in.
Rake/trail: 33 degrees/4.6 in.
Front suspension: 41mm fork; 4.0 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single shock; 3.9 in. travel
Front brake: Single 336mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brake: 296mm disc with single-piston caliper; Optional ABS/CBS
Front Tire: 90/90-21
Rear Tire: 170/80-15

Dimensions
Overall length: 100.8 in.
Seat height: 26.9 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.
Curb Weight: 664 lbs. /676 lbs. (ABS)

Start Low
The distinctions are especially clear between the Fury and the other VTs: The Fury's downtube is straight, while on the Sabre, Stateline and Interstate, the downtube features a slight concave curve. The Sabre represents the biggest departure from its VTX predecessors, featuring a longer and lower stance courtesy of a 70-inch wheelbase that's a solid 4.5-inches longer than the old 1300s. Pegged as "pro street" style by Honda, it's built for the boulevard, with a substantial, muscular stance. With the curved downtubes, Honda was able to slip a slim radiator between the rails to free up space between the frame and front wheel. Another tidy detail (one that Honda patented) is found in the top radiator hose, which disappears discretely behind the front valve cover. And it's positively airy between the engine, steering head and tank, with the sharply aggressive curves of the fuel tank and uncluttered headstock solidifying the custom bike look.

While the Sabre also runs a 21-inch wheel (and 90/90-21 tire) up front, its 41mm fork is raked at a milder 33-degrees compared with the Fury's chopper-ish 38.0 degrees. The shaft drive housing is reshaped to look more like a traditional swingarm rather than a clunky piece of piping, while the burly-looking dual exhaust covers up the aesthetic sins of the swingarm's right side. Alas, a good chunk of the VT engine is doused in plastic. That means engine case covers, the air cleaner cover and cylinder heads, all the way to the sleekly stretched headlight nacelle are heavy-metal-free.

Ramble On
Average-okay, shorter than average-size folks like me normally cringe at the sight of forward controls, but once I planted my butt in the Sabre's narrow one-piece saddle and extended my stumps, I didn't have to stretch far. Because this is a Honda, the riding position is a more humane version of the Clamshell-though feet are kicked forward, it's only at a slight degree and the narrow, semi-drag-style bar is pulled back enough for an easy reach even for a stubby 5-foot-7-inch frame, canting me more upright than expected. It's a ton better than the stretched-out Fury, and feels most natural of the three bikes.

Thanks to the PGM-FI's auto enrichment circuit, the bike instantly sparks to life when you thumb the starter-curing that nagging characteristic of the VTX1300, cold-bloodedness. With a pull of the clutch and a kick into gear, the positives continue; I find the lever draw to be light and easily accessible. Adjustable clutch and brake levers add the welcome option of fine-tuning the reach. As I settle in and get rolling, the front tire seems to recede into the distance, giving the impression of vagueness. There's not much feedback coming in, but fortunately it's not disconnected enough to really hurt the riding experience. The tiller-ish, pullback bar works well, though a wider handlebar would probably help things in the leverage department. Generic-looking switchgear is well-placed and easy to operate, but it's parts-bin stuff all the way- more contemporary pieces would be a better reflection of the bike's new style. The speedo's location atop the tank gives decent views of the instruments, though I have to drop my head a bit to do so.

I like a side of vibration and some shudders to go along with my V-twins, but Honda isn't known to excel in that department, opting for smoothness instead. Big Red lets dual-counterbalancers do the work here, mitigating vibes to a tolerable level while a single-pin crank does a respectable job of keeping the lumpy character and feel of a Vee.

Performance is more than adequate unless you're a drag-strip junkie. The newly-smooth fuel delivery is finally up to par with other Honda EFI bikes, and with peak power coming on early, the motor feels like it is working without too much strain. The otherwise generous powerband doesn't do as well on the top end, and some of us commented that we would have appreciated an extra 10hp or so for some extra zip, but it wasn't a deal-breaker. Regardless, the Sabre puts out a pretty burly note from its 2-into-2 exhaust, one that all riders gave a thumbs up to.

Power delivery to the rear wheel is constant and smooth with little noticeable shaft jacking. As you run through the gears, the well-sorted five-speed tranny shifts more smoothly than American V-twins, but with enough mechanical presence to let me know I'm working the cogs.

Overall ride quality on the Sabre is average, even with suspension being on the firm side. In fact, I'd rate the Sabre as a Hilton compared with the Harley Forty-Eight's Abu Ghraib-like accommodations (read our riding impression elsewhere in this issue). Just keep your jaunts to under 60 miles or so.

With its long wheelbase, razor-like 21-inch front wheel, and kicked out rake, I didn't experience the dreaded front-end flop in low-speed turns on the Sabre-even though I waited for it. To its credit, the Sabre steered without too much effort, and even tracked well in the corners. As mentioned, there was the occasional "where is my front tire and what the hell is it doing," impression in more aggressive maneuvers, but it wasn't as pronounced as I expected.

A 170mm wide, 15-inch tall Bridgestone cuts a clean profile out back and nets a grippy interface with the road, but with its 296mm disc /single caliper brake combo, stopping is a relative term-you have to really stomp on it for results. By comparison, that fragile-looking single disc-and-caliper up front conspired to slow the Sabre far more efficiently, with decent feel at the lever and only a touch more effort.

Stateline/ Interstate
The Stateline and Interstate models lean more toward the classic side of cruiser styling. In basic form the bikes are carbon copies, with the Interstate's slew of touring accoutrements being the only difference. Even with their more traditional look, the two adopt a cleaner, more progressive style than the VTX models.

The Stateline is perhaps the most neutral of all the bikes here. The deep fenders, traditionally sized front tire and beefier bodywork serve it well aesthetically. And the easiest way to distinguish the Stateline is by those fenders-the valanced units swoop down more than the Sabre's, and with more real estate out back, Honda added a larger, vertical taillight. While its downtubes are also curved, a plastic frame cover over the steering head transforms the raw nature of its Sabre sibling into something more refined. Simply put, the Stateline brings more comfort and stability: the front wheel is thicker and smaller, at 140mm wide and 17-inches tall; the bars are higher, wider, and come back an extra 3.18 inches; the seat is wider and more padded. Strangely enough, the Stateline rather than the Sabre receives a blacked-out treatment on the engine.

On the more neutral Stateline, you sit up straight with both the grips and feet close in. This touring-ish riding position is good for going cross-country or just up the coast for some backroad blasts. Like the Sabre, the Stateline is available with the optional Combined Braking System (CBS), which links the rear brake to the front and engages one piston of the twin-piston caliper, along with ABS.

Bodywise, the 2010 Interstate is a reflection of the Stateline. It too has the large fenders, meaty 140mm, 17-inch front wheel, and blacked-out engine. But it gets chrome covers circling the upper portion of its 41mm fork, and touring bits to distinguish it from its siblings. It loads on a windscreen, 22-liter leather-wrapped saddlebags, full floorboards, a heel-toe shifter and larger brake pedal. Those fixed bags sport a nifty hidden locking system (it's behind the bag) and what looks to be a decent-sized cargo area. This is the sole VT1300 that doesn't offer ABS as an option; Honda explained that it wanted to keep all the bikes under the psychologically important $13,000 threshold (the Interstate lists at a $12,749 MSRP).

The first thing I notice right away on the Stateline is its ergonomics compared to the Sabre. The bars are noticeably wider and higher, and I feel like I sit on top of the bike. The reach to the foot controls is the same, but the wider seat isnoticeably more comfortable (though you couldn't tell by looking at it), and the combination puts me in a more relaxed, upright position. The wider bars offer better leverage, though the speedo sits even lower in my line of sight.

Launching from a curb is drama-free, thanks to the spot-on fuel delivery of the PGM-FI. Cracking the throttle yields good low- and mid-range torque, but it's the same engine as the Sabre's, so I'm left wanting up top. I expected a marginally better brake package from the Stateline, but the 336mm big front disc with a twin-piston caliper doesn't have a very aggressive bite. The 296mm disc/single caliper rear brings much the same, with just adequate power to bring a 672-lb bike to a clean stop.

I spend the bulk of my time on the Stateline as it proves comfortable and confident in its handling, and thoroughly enjoyable once I get the feel for its weight, COG and balance.

In the twistier sections of the backroads we traveled the wider tire feels more planted, but the wider bars require more input compared to the Sabre. The four inches of travel up front gives me just enough damping to soak up road acne-it's certainly more forgiving than the Sabre-and the single shock out back manages to keep up most of the time, though it doesn't allow for any adjustment. Like I said, it's better than the Sabre...

Of the three, I felt the Stateline should be the base model for the lineup; it has the most neutral styling and riding position and it's most easily adapted to other uses.

Interstate
On the Interstate, ride quality was almost the same as on the Stateline, though I didn't get to spend much time on it. The fixed windshield felt a tad too tall for me, sitting just above eye level, and while it offered adequate protection from wind blasts we encountered, it didn't feel like an all-encompassing bubble by any means. The heel-toe shifter feels more useable than the standard foot controls of the other two and the floorboards offered plenty of foot-position options.

Honda says it's targeting Gen X-ers and Y-ers with the VT models, but at an MSRP of $11,799, the Sabre and its siblings will probably attract a good chunk of other riders looking for a bold fresh style, user-friendliness and the reputation for Honda reliability. For $1000 more, Honda also gives you an ABS option on the Sabre and Stateline.

Specifications
2010 Honda VT1300CR/CT
Stateline/Interstate

MSRP: $11,699/$12,699(ABS)/ $12,749 (Interstate)
Colors: Black, Dark Red (Stateline)
Black, Pearl Blue (Interstate)

Engine
Type: liquid-cooled 52 degree V-twin
Displacement, Bore x stroke: 1312cc, 89.5mm x 104.3mm
Valve train: SOHC; three valves per cylinder
Compression ratio: 9.2:1
Fuel System: PGM-FI, 38mm throttle body
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Chassis
Wheelbase: 70.3 in.
Rake/trail: 33 degree /4.6 in.
Front suspension: 41mm fork; 4.0 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single shock; 3.9 in. travel
Front brake: Single 336mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brake: 296mm disc with single-piston caliper; Optional ABS/CBS for Stateline
Front Tire: 140/80-17
Rear Tire: 170/80-15

Dimensions
Overall length: 104.3 in.
Seat height: 26.8 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.
Curb Weight: 670 lbs./687 lbs. (ABS)/712 lbs. (Interstate)

2010 Honda VT1300 Sabre, Stateline And Interstate