When it comes to mid-displacement touring cruisers, the poor Honda VTX1300T often gets overlooked. It seems as the VTX1300T was the unfortunate victim of bad timing, as this time frame saw the rise of cruisers that took the “no replacement for displacement” mantra to heart. Big-bore cruisers were quickly gaining popularity from OEMs both near and far. For those with more reasonable displacement needs, the 1300T was a solid long-distance package, as Mark Gardiner makes clear to us in his ride review from 2009 below. To see more of the VTX1300T, be sure to visit the photo gallery.


2009 Honda VTX1300T Review

Don’t watch for cops, watch the scenery

By Mark Gardiner Nov. 17, 2008

Pity the metric cruiser rider. That was my thought as I pulled out of a gas station in Buellton, having filled the Honda VTX1300T. I shared a pump island with two husky, half-helmeted Harley riders who didn’t glance my way even once.

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In the last few years, the cruiser world has been on a bigger-is-better kick, to the point where your bike needs to push the two-liter mark to give you any bragging rights at all. Little brother of the VTX1800, Honda’s $11,299 VTX1300T may therefore not be suitable for people with fragile egos.

That ‘T’ designation stands for ‘Touring’ marked by the addition of leather saddlebags, a passenger backrest, and a large windscreen. In my first week with the Honda, I rode from the teeming metropolis of Cardiff-by-the-Sea up to Laguna Seca, where I attended the AMA Superbike Championship’s Finale.

A low seat height helps mask the bike's substantial avoirdupois when paddling it around in parking spaces. However, the footboards either extend a little too far back, or are bit too wide in those situations. I found myself banging my shin on them.

A low seat height helps mask the bike’s substantial avoirdupois when paddling it around in parking spaces. However, the footboards either extend a little too far back, or are bit too wide in those situations. I found myself banging my shin on them.

The VTX is long, with a 65.7-inch wheelbase, and heavy at 750 lbs. Consider its 32 degrees of rake and 5.4-inches of trail, and it’s clear that nothing’s happening too quickly on this Honda. Still, this 1300 is 50 lbs lighter and has one-inch less trail than it’s big brother, the VTX1800T.

Locomotion is provided by a 1312cc V-Twin. It looks air-cooled at first glance, thanks to deep finning on the cylinders, but there’s a fairly small radiator there, too. A single cam resides in each head, actuating three valves (two intake, one exhaust) with twin-plugs in the heads. The 52-degree V-angle is far enough from Harley’s 45-degree single-crankpin setup that it doesn’t exactly say ‘potato-potato,’ but the VTX idles with its own pleasant rumble. It’s a Honda, so it’s fitted with civilized mufflers and balanced to within an inch (oops, I mean “a millimeter”) of its life. As I ran it up and down the rev range, there were only a few moments when the rigidly-mounted motor caused a faint resonance at the natural frequency of the footboards or seat. Never enough to be even least bit bothersome.

...since it makes all of its torque right off idle, gear selection matters little.

…since it makes all of its torque right off idle, gear selection matters little.

By traditional cruiser standards, it’s almost modern in that it’s got overhead cams and liquid cooling. And yet it’s still fitted with a single 38mm carburetor. How quickly I’ve forgotten the cool-morning rituals of pulling out a manual choke, and choosing between a too-fast idle or occasionally stalling. While the fit and finish is good, it’s devoid of niceties I’ve become accustomed to such as a tach or fuel gauge. Such features would be appreciated by the novice riders who will be attracted to the VTX for its relatively approachable price, mild manners, ease of maintenance, and low seat height.

My initial impression was that it felt heavy, although the low seat and formidable leverage afforded by the wide handlebar prevented that from being intimidating. At low speeds it has a tendency that I seem to notice in all raked-out bikes with a lot of steered mass; that the front wheel feels like it wants to fall over in tight parking lot maneuvers. Once underway in town, the handling improves as speeds get up above about 15 miles an hour. The bike also has a conspicuous tendency to follow road surface features, like some cracks and seams or the ‘ruts’ that develop in old pavement.

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For my 5-foot-7 frame, the reach to bars was an inch too long, and the foot controls were a little far away, but for anyone of average height it would be right on the money. The mirrors are the best ones I’ve ever used on a motorcycle. There were one or two spots in the rev range where they vibrated slightly, but the rear view was usually crystal-clear.

To clarify its intention, Honda actually puts a label on the front fender.

To clarify its intention, Honda actually puts a label on the front fender.

The cable-operated clutch pull felt heavy, especially considering the relatively mild power output of the motor. The five-speed tranny met my expectations. I never missed a shift on this bike, which uses a heel-and-toe style shift lever. It engages first gear with a mighty (dare I say Harley-esque) clunk. The brakes were adequate. With just a single disc up front, using the rear brake is essential if you want to come to a quick stop.

 

Sometimes it's nice to ride a bike that encourages you to watch for scenic viewpoints, not cops. The minimal dashboard instrumentation hearkens back to simpler times and reminds us that we've become used to more information in this digital age.

Sometimes it’s nice to ride a bike that encourages you to watch for scenic viewpoints, not cops. The minimal dashboard instrumentation hearkens back to simpler times and reminds us that we’ve become used to more information in this digital age.

Just before returning the bike, I took it to Area P for a dyno test. Proprietor Kerry Bryant actually had to move his dyno a few inches further from the wall to make room for the VTX’s locomotive-style wheelbase. Horsepower came in under 60 but it was the torque curve that had Kerry shaking his head in grudging admiration. “It’s already making about 90% of peak torque at the point where we start to record the run,” he noted. All that torque, available right off idle, makes the motor both novice-friendly and fun for more sporting riders.

Does the “Tourer” badge on the front fender really imply a touring bike? Or, is it merely a cruiser with a windshield and saddlebags? My conclusion is that the windshield, bags and fuel range only barely justify that claim. The bike’s redeemed by its steady motor, low-maintenance drivetrain, and better-than-average handling.

Adding to the list of things that, I have to admit, are nice about my job. Thanks to the tourist from North Bay, Ontario, who snapped this pic for me.

Adding to the list of things that, I have to admit, are nice about my job. Thanks to the tourist from North Bay, Ontario, who snapped this pic for me.

The Girlfriend tried the passenger accommodations and although I wouldn’t mind riding two hours up to Julian with her on the back I think we could just put enough stuff in the bags for one night at a B&B. If you call that touring, then it’s capable of touring. If your idea of touring involves camping in several time zones on the same vacation, you need to look at other bikes.

As a cruiser, the VTX is mild mannered but certainly pleasant. The motor’s tractable and the low seat height is confidence-inspiring for beginners. I couldn’t help but compare it to a Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail that I recently rode. They’re about the same size. In some ways the Harley’s more primitive (it has pushrods) and in other ways more sophisticated (fuel injection), but both come with leather bags and a windscreen. The Honda’s far more rewarding on a winding road but I’d rate the Hog more fun around town. The question is, is that cool factor worth the 50 percent cost premium?

Dyno Chart 2009 Honda VTX1300T

Dyno Chart 2009 Honda VTX1300T

Gardner_VTX1300T_GM5V9119Buyers may choose the VTX because they think they’ll meet the nicest people on a Honda, but most will likely do so because it gives them something resembling a Harley-Davidson at a more affordable price. With an MSRP of $11,299, the VTX1300T’s closest real competitors are not made in Milwaukee. They’re more likely the Suzuki Boulevard C90T (1462cc, $11,699) or the Yamaha V-Star 1300 Tourer (1304cc, $11,290)

The charms of the VTX grew on me over time, and it would be a safe choice for low-key riders who fancy themselves to be Honda men (or Honda women, if they aren’t put off by heavy control inputs). It’s a competent cruiser with leather luggage that says, “Hey, I just might pack it all in and hit the open road.”

  • D H

    The arrogant of some riders on certain type of motorcycle always amazes me. I owned full bore open class japanese oem and full dressed HD tourer, and I always wave and acknowledge other riders, even the one ride Vespas.

    • fastfreddie

      It’s not a myth that HD&BMW owners seldom acknowledge riders of other makes.Idiot,I know.

  • Douglas

    I’ve noticed that. I have an ElectraGlide & a SuperGlide, and nearly always get the low, 2-finger acknowledgement given to a fellow “in-the-know” rider from many H-D’ers. And, on occasion, if I’m riding the Vulcan 1600 Nomad (which from the front could be taken for a Road King or Heritage Classic, due to it’s size, the big windshield and the light bar I installed), some said riders will give “the sign” until we’ve closed to within about 50ft of each other and they realize what they’ve done. The “sign hand” quickly goes back to the handlebar, they stare straight ahead,as if nothing happend, and the look makes me wonder that, if they happened to be of the Roman church persuasion, they might not immediately look for a cathedral or parish, dart inside, grab a priest and head for the confessional. I’ve been riding H-D’s for about 4yrs and have actually had that happen (well, not the part about the confessional, but I wonder sometimes….). About a month ago, I picked up an ’08 Silver Wing (’cause I got such a deal on it) and get waved at by ALL other scooter riders regardless, and even a few bikers.

    Beemers, I don’t know too much there, ’cause I don’t pay any attention to them, unless they wave first. I can be a snob too, even if it’s a reverse snob, n’cest-pas?

  • Craig Hoffman

    Kind of amazed this Honda cost 11K back in 2009. Actual prices had to be lower as nobody was buying anything back then. Regardless, you can buy it now for 4K or less. A good solid buy for a functional bike that will never wear out, if you don’t mind the dismissive scorn of the Village People on their Harleys…