As a case in point, during a recent press introduction Honda flashed a big, tangible number across a projection screen: 82,900.
That’s the number of VTX1300 cruisers (models C, R and T) sold in the U.S. from 2003 to 2009. To make that figure a little more monumental, look at it this way: Big Red moved a rough average of 11,843 VTX1300 cruisers per year for seven years running.
Other than releasing the above data, Honda usually guards closely its sales volume figures, so we don’t how VTX sales compare to, say, total CBR sales for that same seven-year period. But during our recent review of Star’s Stratoliner Deluxe we learned that for approximately the same period the VTX sold so well, cruiser sales for the U.S. motorcycle market at large obliterated sales volumes of all other segments.
Probably safe to say nearly 83,000 VTX sales is significant, no matter how you slice it.
With such volume, even a blind squirrel could see how important this platform was for Honda. So for 2010 Big Red has updated its mid-weight cruiser line.
Known as the VT1300 models, the new bikes are powered by the same 1312cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 3-valve-per-cylinder, single-pin crank, 52-degree V-Twin the VTX models employed. But instead of inhaling air-fuel mix through CV-style carbs, the VTs benefit from EFI utilizing 38mm throttle bodies.
Power gets to the back wheel via a 5-speed gearbox and shaft final drive, just as it did on the VTX models.
Honda has given the VT1300 bikes the general classification of Custom Cruiser in the company’s lineup, but they also each have distinct model names: Sabre, Stateline and Interstate.
Eagle-eyed Honda enthusiasts will know that Sabre (V45, V65 and a Shadow cruiser) and Interstate (Gold Wing and Silver Wing) are familiar names in the Honda motorcycle family. Stick with what ya know, we guess…
The three fresh-faced VT1300 machines join the Fury – the first of the new VT1300 steeds – as the next generation of Honda’s popular 1300cc cruiser platform. For now we’ll go over the Sabre, with the Stateline and Interstate reviewed at a later date.
Following the Fury’s lead
From April ’09 – when the Fury was unleashed on the buying public – to February of this year, Honda says the mass-produced chopper has been the best selling metric custom cruiser in America. Unfortunately Honda didn’t give out Fury-specific sales figures (surprise!), but we’ve no reason to suspect the Japanese bike-making giant is fibbing.
With such a successful product as the Fury, it makes sense that Honda would incorporate a model into the new VT1300 line that’s similarly designed.
While the Sabre, like the Fury, runs a 21-inch wheel (90/90-21 tire) up front, the Sabre’s 33.0-degree rake is milder than the Fury’s chopper-ish 38.0 degrees. Honda has pegged the Sabre as the “pro street” model. It has an element of long and low but also tends toward a more muscular stance than does the Fury.
And although much is shared amongst all the VT models (some things also carry over from the VTXs), there are a number of key distinctions between the Fury and Sabre:
|Comparing the Fury and Sabre|
|Fury: 45mm fork with 4.0” travel||Sabre: 41mm fork with 4.0” travel|
|Fury: single shock w/rebound damping and 5-position preload; 3.7” travel||Sabre: single shock w/threaded-collar spring preload adjuster; 3.9” travel|
|Fury: 200/20 x 18||Sabre: 170/80 x 15|
|Wheelbase, Rake, Trail|
|Fury: 71.2”, 38.0 degrees, 3.5”||Sabre: 70.0”, 33.0 degrees, 4.6”|
|Fury: 26.7”||Sabre: 26.9”|
|Fury: 3.4 gal||Sabre: 4.4 gal|
|Fury: 663 lbs||Sabre: 664 lbs (679 lbs w/ABS)|
A couple more subtle differences ‘tween the Fury and the other VT models: The Fury’s downtube is straight, while on the others the frame downtube is curved inward slightly; and the Fury’s swingarm is aluminum rather than steel.
Homogeny is found in the brake department. All VT models, including the Fury, run the same setup carried over from the VTX models: a single 336mm rotor gets squeezed by a dual-piston sliding-pin caliper up front, while out back a single-piston sliding-pin caliper grabs a 296mm disc.
Eye of the beholder
Styling is almost entirely subjective, however, I think it’s worth pointing out that I found the Sabre far more attractive in the flesh than I did when only gazing at images of the thing. It’s difficult to appreciate the aggressive “curvature” of the fuel tank from photos, but when viewed up close and personal, its clean, custom-bike-like lines are noticeable.
Also nicely penned is the shaft drive housing. Honda did an excellent job of integrating/shaping it to look more like a traditional swingarm rather than a big, honking shafty. And the aftermarket-looking (and sounding!) dual exhaust virtually eliminates from view the less attractive right side of the swingarm.
Overall the Sabre has smooth, flowing lines, and the uncluttered area between the front cylinder head and frame headstock junction lends to that custom bike look – lessons learned from the Fury.
Another nice touch is the speedo’s placement as far forward as possible on the tank. Whether by design or just good luck, this location makes quick views of the instrument panel much easier than if it were placed further down the tank.
Switchgear is big, simple and easy to operate. But a more contemporary, updated look or shape for the switches would better tie in the bike’s general style, while also exemplifying the attention to detail for which Honda is known.
|All that glitters … ain’t metal?|
The 1312cc engine is well suited to the bike’s intentions. However, some of Honda’s intentions for the engine might be perceived either as good or good for nothing, depending on the bike enthusiast you ask.
A sizeable share of the VT engine is covered in plastic. From nearly all the engine case covers to the air cleaner cover to the cylinder heads, high-luster chrome plastic façades spiff up the Twin. Even the headlight nacelle and front fender get in on the non-metal act. Along with cost savings associated with utilizing chromed covers and other non-chromed plastic in lieu of metal, Honda says the chrome should be just as durable as the chrome on metal.
Although time constraints prevented us from polling Honda dealerships for hard figures, our collective experience also tells us that replacement costs for plastic OE parts will likely be less than for identical parts made of metal.
All this plasticing up, says Honda’s Jon Seidel, was given the go-ahead, so-to-speak, by potential VT1300 customers queried in focus group studies. Study participants didn’t necessarily request the plastic treatment, but according to Seidel they didn’t find using the plastic bits particularly offensive either.
This is an interesting contrast to Star Motorcycles’ philosophy of purposely using metal on its bikes in places that plastic would make a suitable substitution; like a fender for example. Star believes using metal instead of plastic adds value to its products.
Saddlin’ up to the Sabre
During his time aboard the Fury, intrepid reporter Kevin remarked on the 52-degree Twin’s “rumbling lope” and spot-on fuel injection.
Some vibes and shudders are requisite of the V-Twin experience, but as Kevin duly noted, dual-counterbalancers nicely offset the shake, rattle and roll of this single-pin crank Twin, mitigating vibes to a tolerable level without entirely eliminating the feel of a Vee. He also commented on the issue of bumping his right knee against the Fury’s air-cleaner cover; I had a similar experience on the Sabre.
Kevin also appreciated the “appropriately butch note” from the Fury’s 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust. Since the Sabre and Fury mills are identical, the Sabre’s exhaust is equally burly sounding, to the point that I wondered if it flies just under the noise emissions radar. I rather liked the sound and was impressed by the amount of aural attitude still available in a bike manufactured in today’s seemingly over-regulated emissions environment.
Ergonomically the Sabre is reasonably comfortable on jaunts covering at least 50 miles at a time. It might remain cozy for longer stints, but this was roughly the distance between stops during our ride.
The forward controls, and narrow, drag-style bar didn’t put my 5-foot 8-inch frame in an unbearable stretch. However, I was positioned such that my backside got a skosh numb, occasionally requiring me to adjust to get the blood flowing again. A fellow rider – taller than I am – had similar comments about a numb bum.
This pelvis-rotated-forward/riding-on-the-tailbone position isn’t atypical for a custom-style cruiser, so the Sabre’s comfort was, at worst, better than average.
Adjustable-reach clutch and brake levers add a bit of rider fit fine-tuning. Also, for my tastes, I’d prefer a wider handlebar with a degree of “pull back” for a more relaxed position and increased steering leverage, but the existing bar works well enough.
Overall ride quality from the suspension was on the firm side – again, not unusual in this segment. However, the Sabre’s ride comfort was borderline plush in contrast to a number of other custom and custom-like bikes I’ve sampled.
Despite a long wheelbase, lazy rake and spindly 21-inch front wheel, the Sabre steered without much effort, didn’t have that front-end “floop” when initiating a low-speed maneuver and was surefooted mid-corner. Not all “customs” can boast of such good handling.
Seems most cruiser manufacturers bias a strong rear brake over a potent, or at least functional, front brake. Not so on the Sabre.
Its wispy-looking single rotor/caliper up front appeared suspect, but in fact it halted the bike authoritatively with moderate effort – say two to three fingers – at the lever, and provided decent feel. Feel from the rear brake, however, was hedging numb, and stopping power was at best sufficient.
Many customers – not just the Gen Xers and Yers specifically targeted by Honda for the VT models – shopping in this corner of the cruiser market should find plenty to appreciate about the Sabre’s uncomplicated but assertive style, ease-of-use and what we expect will be classic Honda reliability and refinement.
An MSRP of $11,799 is where the Sabre’s price tag starts, while the option of ABS adds $1000. The bike comes in either Black or Candy Red, and should be in dealers now.