2013 Light-Heavyweight Touring-Cruiser Shootout - Video
Honda Interstate vs. Star 1300 Deluxe vs. Suzuki Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S.
Fine Bike, Unfortunate Name
When comparing bikes, the key is to stay true to the purpose for which they’re intended. Obviously, as fun as it might seem, comparing sportbikes to cruisers isn’t viable or valuable. But when OEMs give their bikes common designations, such as tourer or dual-sport, the bell sounds and the Motorcycle.com challenge is on.
And that’s how the Honda Interstate came up short in this shootout. We wanted to like the Interstate; we really did. It’s a fine-looking cruiser with many positive qualities. Our recently published review of the Interstate succinctly nailed its pros and cons. The Honda eschews a bit of function for maximum form on several levels, and the result is many of its curbside pluses end up being highway minuses.
The engine was not the culprit. Honda’s 1312cc mill was strong and eager to pull through its powerband, and even won an impromptu roll-on test; at 65 mph on a flat stretch of Highway 101, the Interstate pulled away and left the Star and Suzuki pretty much side-by-side, their pilots jaws dropping in surprise. On twisty two-lanes the Honda held its own despite its floppy, chopper-esque handling; it never fell so far behind on the curves as to be unable to catch up on the straights. The Honda came in third in the Engine category of our Scorecard, but just barely.
Its looks were not to blame, either. The Interstate scored 28 out of 30 to win the Appearance/Fit & Finish category – with “Chaps” Roderick awarding it a perfect 10 – and came in a close second in the Cool Factor section. “It’s got a boulevard-cool profile; remove that windscreen and you’ve got a real ladykiller,” Roderick notes. And we all agree the Interstate’s straight-cut dual chrome pipes delivered the most appealing exhaust sound of the three.
Honda also did well in the Braking and Tech sections of our scorecard. Its brakes were nearly as good as the Star’s and significantly better than the Suzuki’s, and the availability of an optional anti-lock braking system (our Interstate was thusly outfitted; the accessory adds $1000 to the MSRP) helped it come out at or near the top in these categories.
So let’s get this straight: it’s not the powerplant. It’s not the curb appeal. Stopping power is as good or better than the competition. So why doesn’t the Interstate live up to its name? Roderick put it best: “All the attributes that make the Honda the coolest-looking of the three conspire against it when it comes to comfort,” Tom surmised. And who are we to argue with a guy in chaps?
According to Honda’s website, the Interstate is Honda’s “long distance operator” – but touring involves more than just comportments. A bike built for the long haul needs to provide hours of comfort in the saddle, and that means not only amenable ergonomics – a healthy, wide chunk of foam doesn’t hurt – but suspension and handling characteristics that can carry bike and rider (and often passenger) confidently for long periods of time and over varying types of terrain. On its namesake highway, a passer-by will likely have a far more positive impression of the Honda Interstate than the bike’s rider.
“It feels more like a chopper than a proper touring cruiser,” Duke points out, noting that at 70.3 inches the Honda’s wheelbase is 3.8 inches longer than the Star’s and 4.4 inches longer than the Suzuki’s. He also noted how the Honda’s chassis seems to flex more than the others when hitting bumps while leaned over and notes it feels especially ungainly in slow-speed maneuvers, hindered partially by the Interstate’s wide and low beach bar. Finally, the ’State’s suspension is on the soft side, occasionally bottoming out on bumpy back roads.
Another victim of style? That sexy contoured fuel tank. The component that most visually distinguishes the Interstate from the other baggers in this test holds, at 4.4 gallons, a half-gallon of fuel less than the competition. While Honda’s spec sheet touts 46 miles per gallon for a total range of over 200 miles, we were lucky to make 175 miles on any of the several tanks we poured into the Interstate.
Mounted behind that stretched tank is the lowest, narrowest, thinnest seat of the bunch – and by far the hardest, so in addition to requiring constant, er, rider adjustment over the course of a long run, it also transmits the most amount of engine vibration. And its scooped shape forces the rider into one position and insists he remain there. Worse, the passenger “seat” is a barely-there pillion pad. “The Interstate’s pillion section is not just narrow, but it slopes rearward,” Duke says. “This bike should come with one of those shirts that reads: ‘If you can read this, the (passenger) fell off.’”
Kevin, the most height-challenged of our test riders at 5-foot-8, also derided the Interstate’s windscreen, noting he was buffeted at a level far more intense than on either of the other baggers. It wasn’t quite as unbearable for Chaps, er, Roderick and me, both about 5’11”, but it definitely provided the worst wind protection of the three.
Ultimately, in the Ergonomics/Comfort category of our Scorecard, which takes into account the seat, pegs, riding position, wind protection – anything that affects rider well-being – Honda’s self-proclaimed long-distance operator got walloped, netting just 18 out of 30 possible points. Neither of the other two touring-cruisers received a score less than 25.
A touring bike also requires creature comforts. Note to Honda: floorboards, saddlebags and a windscreen alone do not a tourer make. In both appearance and practicality, these accessories seem to have been simply bolted on to a base-model cruiser, in this case the Sabre, and the recipient rewarded with a different name and designation. Both the bags and windshield can be removed, but they’re not of the quick-detach variety. You’ll need some tools.
Ah, those funky little saddlebags – another feature of the Interstate that seem designed for charm rather than pragmatism. Visually, they certainly contribute to the bike’s slim silhouette and lean profile, but any I-State owner desiring to do real, long-haul motorcycle touring should immediately start shopping for some kind of additional strap-on cargo. The stock saddlebags simply won’t hold more than a long weekend’s worth of clothing and gear.
The Interstate’s bags feature a nifty hidden trigger-style latch on their inside front, just above the passenger footpeg and next to the side cover. But here’s the thing: There’s no locking function. At all. It’s an innovative latch system, to be sure, and virtually undetectable unless you know it’s there and what you’re looking for – like, say, anyone who happens to read this story or watch the video accompanying this shootout. And remember: the bags aren’t readily detachable. So the question becomes, will you feel secure leaving your property inside them at a rally, bike show or lunch stop, hoping no one knows how to open the stock saddlebags on a 2013 Honda Interstate?
“Stylistically, the Interstate is halfway blacked out to suit contemporary tastes, but it seems a mite confused, fitted with so many chrome components,” Duke says. An unfortunate on-road side effect, he notes, is all that chrome brightwork visible from the cockpit also reflects annoyingly in the windshield.
It’s important to say that all of these grievances are directed at the bike’s designation as a tourer. As a cruiser, it’s a fine ride with a ton of eyeball appeal – but then, so is the $12,250 Sabre. But for the long haul, especially when stacked up against its competitors in the light-heavyweight-touring cruiser segment, the $14,240 Honda Interstate ABS we tested is rather like a high school graduate who’s forced by his folks to enroll at his father’s med school alma mater, when all he really wants to do is hang around by the beach and meet chicks. Like parents projecting lofty aspirations on an underachieving child, Honda has put its light-heavyweight tourer in a position to disappoint by foisting unreasonable expectations upon it.
After a day in the saddle, the three of us debated over who should ride the Interstate home. Problem was, we all argued against it. For the record, I lost.