When we first tested Honda’s ST1300 we came away wondering just where the sport in big red’s Sport-Tourer resided. Was it optional? Had the dealer forgotten to put it in the ample left-hand glove box? So in the name of journalism (read fun), we took the ST out again… and poked it with a stick… a lot.
Staring down the Blue ST1300 ABS in the parking lot you realize it’s a bike of monumental proportions; I’ve been in smaller and less luxurious airport lounges in these days of budget travel. We’ve covered all that in our previous review, however, so a re-hash isn’t in order. What is in order, however, is to ride the ST1300 with an eye to the sporting side of things. Why? Well, I have a confession to make, the last time out on this sport-tourer I was fresh off a big spill. In fact I’d hidden my cane in the car as I went to pick up our first test ST last year, my ankle near wholly supported by a brace that Steve Austin would have been proud of. So that we didn’t find much sport in the ST1300 may have been confounded by a certain reticence to push. Not this time though, this time is different.
Right off the top I’m playing with the loud handle, and I’ve found something the ST1300 has in spades… torque. The glass smooth v-four engine has a claimed 85 pound-feet of torque at 6000RPM, not an insignificant amount of pull that, and better it starts from the get go. Soon as the engine has a bit of rev that torque starts hauling the ST1300 smoothly, efficiently and almost electrically up to speed.
Admittedly, the ST1300 is not generating jowl-flattening g-forces, but this bike can hustle up to a cruising altitude of 180kph with surprising haste. Beyond that it fades off a little, but there’s more velocity in the 1300 than most people will ever need within reason on the road. The downside is with the windscreen up the ST gets to these speeds in a way so sheltered that you can honestly answer that you had no idea how fast you were going – should the need to explain yourself arise. That’s all straight-line stuff, not the important bit to sport bikes, not like the twisty bits.
And it’s while hustling Honda’s Big Blue Meanie through a set of favorite 50kph marked twisties at double plus 20kph that I’m beginning to have second thoughts about the sport side of things. It’s not that the bike won’t do it. It does, and its near 730-pound bulk achieves some truly alarming lean in the process. The real reason I’m having second thoughts is I’m not in leathers. Heading out this morning it crossed my mind that full on leathers would look silly on the ST1300 and be too hot – especially given the amount of heat the engine puts off. However at the moment the silly bit is my lack of protection.
Doubtless the ST1300 is no snotty, bratty, brash little sportbike, but it is deceptive. It really does handle well, even without factoring in the fact she’s “not fat, just big boned”. To do it though you have to provoke the big blue ST1300 an almost totally un-sportbike-like manner. Hanging off, well that has almost no effect in comparison to smaller, lighter bikes. On the Big Blue Meanie you are a small mass, moving around on a very big one. So, this is a counter steering affair, so be ready to push on those bars from the comfy seating position behind the near perfect envelope provided by the electric screen.
Which I immediately set to the lowest position, via that handlebar control, for “sport mode”. It’s disconcerting chucking a bike through the twisites while looking through your living room window. That and the screen looks absolutely daft in the up-most position… the ST1300 was definitely styled with the windscreen being down in mind. Not that you’re ever concerned with such things when you are considering a bike’s sporting aspirations – nor should you be mid series of turns. I shove the bars again and the ST responds to the provocation by changing direction – quickly!
There I said it! I can already see the sportbike cognoscenti rolling their eyes in equal parts disgust, disbelief, and bias. Coming from smaller bikes you will need to go through a lot of physical and mental recalibration to get results piloting the ST1300. Your inputs will take a little more oomph, maybe 15-20% – but look at the payoffs! You find yourself giggling out loud when you realize the absurd lean angles you’re achieving; work at it and you can near scrape a tip-over wing! What sportbike can compete with that feeling of accomplishment? You’re also comfortable, capable of taking a week’s worth of clothes with you, and should you keep up you’re likely to have terrified the local sporters in the process.
That in itself is worth it! There are other ways the ST behaves differently from the sport set, and it’s not just because of the sheer enormity of the thing. The ride for instance; it’s soft, it’s cushiony, it coddles you. The suspension is pliant, refined and constantly saying, “Here let me take care of that for you.” And it does! But as a result the ST1300 is never going to be an edgy and precise weapon slicing though the roadways. There’s no mechanical intimacy, it’s all very distant and protected. Even with the preload dialed up the suspenders were posh and yielding – enough so that I kept worrying about compression bumps and the possibility of scraping hard bits.
Which the ST1300 never did, unless you count the side of my boot scraping on the final freeway exit before returning it to Carter Motorsports Coquitlam. The balls of my feet may not have been perfectly planted on the pegs, however, as I was relaxing a bit after all the hustle of cornering and traffic. Even then the ST1300 was solid and planted feeling – there is no twitchy, bike on the edge of a nervous breakdown feeling here.
And there is one more huge difference between the current crop of sportbikes and the ST1300 – the engine. If you’ve never thought of calling an engine “luxurious”, you’ve never ridden an ST. It’s near silent. At idle the power plant is so quite that I once accidentally restarted the bike, unconvinced it had fired up on the first try. But when you twist the throttle you hear it. The engine announces its intentions with a snarling growl, picks up the bike, and hurls the mass forward in some serious torque-y hustle. The throttle control is linear, it’s like you dial the speed into a rheostat and away you go, apart from clicking though the slick-shifting box. There is only the slight lean-wander (not quite a surge) around 5000 rpm if you hold the bike at a steady RPM.
Still, keeping up with smaller lighter bikes, which means just about everything else on the road, you do have to thrash the Big Blue Meanie a bit. The bike only puts out around 100hp at the rear wheel, which means the ST won’t be chasing down the Gixxer 750 anytime soon – unless you catch the sportbiker unaware. In which case the rider could be in for a bit of a surprise, as you loom huge in their rear views. And if you want to disappear quickly from their view – throw on the binders!
Sure the ST 1300 hoofs up to speed quickly, but the braking is exceptional for a big bike. The feel is progressive, almost disturbingly so, and when you grab a handful the linked system hauls the bike’s mass down from speed with amazing effectiveness. The feel was good enough that you can bring the bike right to the edge of the ABS kicking in for optimal stopping. The stopping power so completely belies the weight of the bike I found myself dragging the big ST down from speed periodically for giggles – well that and to enjoy the near electric rushing back up to speed.
That rush begs us to get back to the original question; can the ST1300 be sporting? Yes, in it’s own way. You’ll giggle like a frightened school girl at the lean angles achieved in the Big Blue Meanie’s opulent comfort. You’ll revel in the endless game of windscreen-go-up-windscreen-go-down rather than suffer sportbike wind-battered hearing. And, you’re going to luxuriate in the engine as it launches you up to speed with an unearthly sci-fi whine-tinged growl.
Honda has built an exceptionally well sorted road bike, which means you’re not likely to be taking it to the track anytime soon (though if Honda Canada were to co-operate we’d be willing). The result is not a neutered sportbike, but a tourer that you can take on the twisties and still have a lot of fun – and then come back home and not be so knackered that you can’t go out for an evening on the town. So maybe the old folks on the Wings have it right by not being so focused on the business of going quickly, as a sportbike the ST1300ABS has a lot more to offer. Especially if you include the sense of accomplishment after a day sport riding on the ST, and the looks in the rear views from your friends – those are priceless.
Test Bikes Provided By: Carter Motorsports Coquitlam