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2002 Honda VTX 1800: MD Ride Review – Part Two

Some time ago, I wrote an article about cruisers, in general. I observed that they often lack power and strong brakes, and wondered why. I received quite a bit of e-mail from readers, including an e-mail from Pete terHorst who works for Honda. Pete asked me in his e-mail what I would think about a v-twin cruiser “with some guts”. At the time, rumors were swirling that Honda was working on a “power cruiser”, but the VTX 1800 was several months from its debut.

Well, the VTX 1800 is here (and at your local Honda dealer), and it definitely has “some guts”. Riding the bike home from Honda’s headquarters on the freeway, I couldn’t help but roll the throttle off and on — just enjoying the torque and acceleration. I had never done anything like this before on a “cruiser”, but the VTX invites it, and it sure was fun.

Honda isn’t always known for being adventurous. The word “conservative” comes up quite often. Nevertheless, the VTX 1800 is a bold step by Honda or any other manufacturer. The styling is bold (and attractive, in my opinion), and the performance is bold, as well.

After listening to some other manufacturers (one, in particular, which will go nameless) tell me in response to the VTX that their “focus groups” and studies indicate cruiser buyers want “lots of torque” and are “not so concerned about horsepower”, I had to struggle to keep a straight face. Many cruiser owners ooze testosterone. Aside from the macho leather, beards and boots, they want a bad-ass motor in their bikes, and are willing to pay for it. Some of these guys will spend $10,000 outfitting their cruisers with an S&S motor, pipes, carburetors, wheels, performance brakes and other performance parts.

Honda, like other manufacturers, visits Daytona, Laughlin, Sturgis and other cruiser rallies with employees paid to gather pictures and ideas about trends in the cruiser segment. Honda obviously decided there was a market for a stock bike under $13,000 with a bad-ass motor, stiff chassis and killer brakes as standard equipment. I think they were right.

So, Honda took a calculated leap in the direction of the VTX 1800. It is a leap, because the VTX 1800 offers performance never before available in the v-twin cruiser segment (remember, Yamaha’s V-Max is not a v-twin). The VTX 1800 has performance in spades. It accelerates, stops and even turns well (despite its raked-out appearance).

The huge engine has excellent torque down low and, somewhat surprisingly, likes to rev out hard on top. The big, slow revving motor is deceptively fast, but very fast, indeed.

The motor is flexible enough that second gear can handle most around-town speeds, and third gear could get you a speeding ticket anywhere here in the U.S. Fifth gear roll-ons from eighty to one hundred ten miles per hour were breathtakingly quick (ever heard of a stock cruiser that could do that?) With large, modern disc brakes and calipers worthy of a sportbike, and a modified linked braking system, the VTX brakes quickly and smoothly. In fact, the braking performance is almost as impressive as the motor (almost). Combined with a stiff chassis (for a cruiser) hauling the VTX down from high speeds in a rapid manner is a relatively flex-free and precise, rider-controlled event. Outstanding.

With its huge wheelbase, the VTX certainly does not flick into corners, but it does corner smoothly and confidently — holding a line through bumpy corners quite well. This wheelbase also makes the VTX track like a freight train in a straight line.

Long distance comfort is surprisingly good. The seating position is almost intuitive (how does Honda do this?). The seat itself is comfortable, and engine vibration (again, surprisingly) is very well controlled.

With two oil can-sized pistons firing away just inches from your buns, you’d expect the VTX to beat you into submission with vibration. In fact, the VTX is one of the smoothest running cruisers I have ridden. Honda accomplishes this with offset dual-pin crankshaft and two primary, shaft-mounted balance weights. Rubber engine mounts also contribute.

All-in-all, Honda’s fuel injected motor with three-valve heads represents a high water mark in stock v-twin cruiser performance. The claims of 106 horsepower and 120 pound feet of torque at the crank are certainly believable.

The five-speed transmission provided smooth, positive shifts, and was spaced well (this motor produces so much torque and horsepower that a four-speed transmission could easily do the trick). Highway speeds found the motor loafing, but passing power was still readily available without a downshift.

Night riding revealed the stylish headlight provides more than enough illumination. Very bright for a single bulb lamp — probably, attributable to a careful design of the multi-reflector surface behind the bulb. The high beam was particularly impressive.

Passenger accommodations were also comfortable . . . at least, according to my 17 year old son, Alex. Alex accompanied me on the VTX to the beach and back (a 120 mile trip, in total). The passenger seat is wider and more supportive than most cruiser passenger seats, and the foot pegs are relatively low.

Frankly, the VTX 1800 is a hard product to criticize. About the only thing I can say is that the stock exhaust note is not very inspiring (after market pipes would solve that, if that is your pleasure) and the motor may be almost too smooth for some people. If your idea of cruiser “character” is enough vibration to rattle your teeth after fifty miles or so, the VTX might not be your bag. Also, the shaft drive will make it more difficult to mount after-market wheels.

Otherwise, the VTX performs flawlessly and exceeded my expectations. I knew the bike would be fast, but it was faster than I expected. It also stopped and handled better than I expected.

Cycle News made a comment to the effect that the VTX was the first cruiser they had had around the office that “sportbike guys” enjoyed riding. I can certainly understand that comment, because the VTX is an enjoyable performance motorcycle that happens to be a cruiser. It does not need to be judged strictly within the cruiser class. Honda promised “Performance First” to its dealers and customers about one year ago. The VTX delivers.

Honda has already created several accessories (chrome and otherwise) for the VTX. You can check those out along with further details and specifications on Honda’s VTX web page. The U.S. MSRP of the VTX 1800 is $12,499 ($12,799 with optional Illusion Red or Illusion Blue paint).