2011 World Cruiser Shootout [Video]
Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom vs. Honda Sabre vs. Moto Guzzi California vs. Triumph Thunderbird
2011 Honda Sabre $11,899
Other than the kinda-weird Guzzi, Honda’s Sabre is another standout in this crowd. With a 70-inch wheelbase, relaxed 33.0-degree rake angle and skinny 21-inch front wheel, the Sabre is the most chopperish cruiser here.
Visually, the Thunderbird and Harley strike a similar stance, if even remotely. But the Honda’s lines create the appearance of a pro-street muscle bike. Viewed from a distance the Sabre fools the untrained eye into thinking this motorcycle is a pricey custom fab-up from the shop of some wild-eyed, tortured-artist bike builder. The Sabre, however, has a secret or two behind its swanky look.
We discovered during the Sabre’s introduction in early 2010 that Honda utilizes plastic material for things like the fenders and various engine covers. The pieces have excellent finish quality; sometimes even the professionals are fooled. However, while this choice of materials likely results cost savings for Honda, as well a genuine reduction in weight if the same pieces were made of steel or aluminum, the use of plastic saps the perception of authenticity from the Sabre.
“A turnkey custom-style, pro-street motorcycle with Honda dependability for less money than any bike in this competition makes the Sabre an attractive option,” Tom astutely notes. “The drawback is a very plasticized look, like an industrial-sized toy purchased from the 99¢ Store.”
If you aren’t a hardcore biker committed to some do-or-die ethos, and can live with some plasticy bits, the Sabre’s flashy appearance has redeeming value.
For instance, the unencumbered view across the bike’s lustrous and stylish headlight garnered a Best Headlight award from Kevin. Additionally, the lines of the Sabre’s fuel tank are unique and beautiful, although its pressed seam is unsightly. But even ever-optimistic Kev found the color-matched frame for 2011 a skosh on the bold side.
“Our Sabre’s blue paint color is an eyeball magnet, but the blue-ness is a little overbearing since it’s matched by more blue on its artfully curved frame rails.”
The Sabre’s 1312cc liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-Twin doesn’t produce pavement-shredding power, but it’s plenty potent enough to get the 659-pound Honda quickly up to speed, feeling nearly as powerful as the Harley Super Glide Custom in certain circumstances. Perhaps more important to some, the Honda Twin on loan from the Fury definitely sounds the part.
“The Sabre’s exhaust system sounds appropriately burly, emitting a baritone bark that could fool many into thinking it’s a Harley,” says Kevin. The exhaust note is particularly noticeably while riding the Sabre, but its thunder is less audible to passersby. Kudos to Honda engineers for giving the Sabre a tough-sounding rumble while also keeping the EPA happy.
A skinny front tire/wheel up front is integral to the Sabre’s styling, but this combo, along with a basic, nonadjustable fork, doesn’t inspire spirited rides in the canyons. Troy found at times that larger ruts or groves would suck in the front-end, but with a “quick tug” on the bar he easily corrected the Sabre’s course.
The aforementioned stretched wheelbase and laidback rake angle are key contributors to the Sabre’s less-than-snappy steering response. But as Tom observes, “The front wheel doesn’t flop into corners,” which is a common handling flaw for many long and low cruisers. Lean angle, i.e. cornering clearance, isn’t as stingy as the Harley, but certainly nothing like the canyon-carving Moto Guzzi.
We didn’t expect much from the Sabre’s dual-piston caliper and single rotor up front, and the Honda didn’t make liars out of us. The brake lever provides a wooden feel joined by modest stopping power.
For 2012 Honda has made optional ABS available for the Sabre, adding $1000 to this year’s base price of $12,250. While ABS won’t necessarily improve the Sabre’s braking performance, it does add an element of safety that few cruisers at this price point can boast.
The Sabre’s look is long, low and lean, which might turn off some prospective buyers for fear that the stretched appearance is matched by a stretched rider layout. Thankfully this isn’t the case. A 26.9-inch seat height is just a hair taller than the Harley, and Kevin discovered the Sabre’s rider triangle was preferable to the other scoots’ layout.
“I think I like the Sabre’s riding position best, with its slight forward lean toward the low bars,” says Kev, going on to highlight how the “nicely scooped seat sits close to the ground, allowing even the shortest legs to flat-foot at a stop.”
If a style-centric cruiser at a budget price with proven reliability is what you’re after, the Honda Sabre nicely blends all those criteria.