As much as we like to feature some serious custom rides on which every effort has been made to amaze all who gaze upon them, we also recognize that most folks who read the magazine might only have a set of mufflers and maybe some apes ... or perhaps a flashy paintjob. But let us not forget that there are those for whom merely getting out on the road in an affordable manner is the goal. After all, the fruits of a custom ride are only enjoyed at rest/gas/food stops anyhow, when onlookers can gather and gawk. When you're scoping out vast expanses of prairie, sun-drenched beaches or towering snowcapped mountains, all that really matters is a pair of handlebars to frame the landscape and a low growl to provide the soundtrack.
For those who consider the "extras" optional, there's this beefy, budget-minded bike introduced for 2008. Coming in around $11,000 (with most other baggers residing just under $20K), Honda's VTX1300 Tourer is similar to the VTX1800 Tourer we tested last year, with a few corners cut. It's a couple inches shorter, has a smaller 500cc engine, lacks linked braking and trades a 38mm carburetor for the 1800's EFI. Even with those significant changes, it's pretty tough to tell the two apart from looking; the trim level is higher on the 1800 with a bit more chrome, but all around they're virtual twins.
Riding the 1300T is where big differences are felt. Where the 1800T will launch forward at a twist of the throttle, the 1300 is far more mellow. The power delivery, while far from anemic, is very tame. In fact, while the shaft drive torque effect is very noticeable on the 1800, it's far less so on the 1300, and it barely feels different than a belt-driven machine. That said, the larger Honda is a perfect mount for the power-hungry, while the 1300 is totally unremarkable in this regard. While it's far better than Harley's old Evolution 1340 in all aspects besides fuel mileage, he 52-degree V-twin is not going to sneak up on anyone with a big burst of torque. Highway cruising above 80 is well within the capabilities of the bike.
The slightly curved windshield was just the right height and controlled the airflow well.
Our test of the VTX1300T didn't exactly start out smoothly. First off, there are a couple of unfamiliar pieces of equipment on the left side of the bike for those who have been riding 21st century bikes recently. With a carburetor comes the archaic-feeling petcock and choke lever, which both reside in the "V" under the tank. Warming up the bike on the choke seems to take an eternity before reaching down and slowing the idle back down to a purr. Naturally there's also no LED-lit low-fuel indicator, just that old-fashioned loss of power at the end of the tank like back in the good ol' days.
One thing that is very similar to the big VTX1800 is the flat, unsupportive seat. I wasn't out of LA County on a trip to Phoenix before my butt started to hurt. It's not bruised-tailbone bad, more just aches, pains and some body parts falling asleep from lack of circulation. The cockpit is compact but not cramped--a good combination for a semi-entry-level bike, with all the controls in easy reach for even a smaller rider.
Suspension is decent but definitely on the lame side. It's cushy but doesn't damp particularly well and can bottom without too much provocation. For open-road riding, it's fine though. The transmission is an easy-shifting five-speed; it seems to run out of gears prematurely but revs out fairly well without getting too buzzy. Like the 1300's big brother, the shield is a well-designed piece that sits low enough for most riders to look right over the top while still providing a smooth, buffet-free ride.
The luggage is better than on most bargain tourers with a decent 24-liter capacity and the ability to overstuff quite a bit with some adjustability in the strap. The bags themselves are held to the bike with a single, sturdy mounting point at the front, which makes for easy removal and less ugly crap underneath if the bags are off. The standard sissy bar is also a good mounting point for gear, but after that, the options for where to attach bungees are pretty limited with all of the fender mounting hardware hidden on the inside of the fender.
Our photo model Mark, who is not tall, liked the low-slung ride and dubbed it "The Big Eas
With just a single-sided brake, the wheel needs a hubcap or something to smooth the profil
A single two-piston caliper up front gives barely adequate stopping power, while a plastic