2012 Honda ST1300 Review: Night Rider

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2012 Honda ST1300 Review: The Goods

2012 Honda ST1300
The 2012 Honda ST1300. Photo © Basem Wasef

How do you get from A to B with the optimum combination of speed and comfort?

Motorcycle manufacturers have offered a variety of solutions over the years, and Honda's answer since 2002 has been the ST1300, a sport touring motorcycle that's become a favorite among an unlikely cross section of riders: law enforcement officials and long distance tourers.

Priced at $18,230, the ST1300 occupies the higher end of the sport touring segment. It's powered by a 1,261cc V-Four engine mated to a 5-speed transmission that powers the rear wheel with a shaft drive. A massive 7.7 gallon fuel tank feeds the engine, and combined with Honda's EPA estimate of 35 mpg, produces a theoretical cruising range of around 270 miles.

Standard touring-friendly features include integrated, lockable and removable saddlebags, anti-lock brakes, and an electrically operated windshield. The non-adjustable front suspension offers 4.6 inches of travel, while the rear preload can be set using a dial just behind the engine. Honda describes the ST1300 as having a combination of "Gold Wing-inspired luxury with CBR-derived performance," but there's a surprising amount of GL-inspired heft here, too: the ST1300 has a staggering curb weight of 730 pounds, making it far more "touring" than "sport."

So, why have I called the ST1300 "Night Rider"? It goes deeper than the fact that it's only available in black. To find out why, click "Next".

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2012 Honda ST1300 Review: On the Road, Part I

2012 Honda ST1300
Photo © Basem Wasef
There's no getting around the fact that Honda's ST1300 weighs 730 pounds: lift it from the sidestand or push it off the centerstand, and its heft becomes immediately apparent. With a full tank of gas, those 7.7 gallons of fluid don't help ease of handling, either. The slightest grade makes pushing the ST into a parking spot a challenge, so you'll need to plan your low-speed maneuvers accordingly.

The ST1300's big V-Four starts up and settles into a whiney idle, and its abundant torque becomes immediately apparent off the line, whisking the heavy bike forward with ease. The shifter operates smoothly and easily. Overall ergonomics are pleasing thanks to a big, cushy saddle that distributes your weight evenly, and a relatively upright seating posture that enables the ST to conform to your body, not the other way around. That comfort level helps explain why law enforcement forces speak highly of the ST1300's usability; few motorcycles are as comfortable for all-day riding. The integrated saddlebags operate easily enough, with the ignition key locking and unlocking the hinged outer door, as well as the mechanism which allows the bags to be removed.

On twisty roads, the ST1300 has generous power to charge ahead on the straight sections, with the V4 easily pushing the tachometer towards its 8,500 rpm redline. But a lack of front end feel makes it less enjoyable to flog around corners. The suspension feels stable around most bends, but there isn't a whole lot of feedback coming from the front tire to let the rider know how weight transfer and grip are affecting the bike's handling dynamics. Again, this is a motorcycle that's biased more towards straight line comfort and speed than surgical precision in the corners. Linked three-piston front and rear brakes offer strong stopping power, but there isn't a huge amount of braking feel, either.

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2012 Honda ST1300 Review, On the Road, Part II: Why "Night Rider?"

2012 Honda ST1300
Photo © Basem Wasef

The ST1300 works best when it's gobbling up large expanses of pavement, as I learned on a 200-mile roundtrip ride from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, California. The electrically operated, stepless windscreen didn't quite gel with my 5 foot, 11 inch frame; in the lowest setting, an even stream of wind passed across my chest, but the taller positions directed airflow towards my helmet and created a turbulent stream that pushed my upper body forward. Though the tall settings did offer better protection, I preferred the noisier, lower position overall, and wished both were available together: shelter from the wind, and airflow that didn't buffet my helmet. Just like the Yamaha FJR1300, the ST1300's transmission has only five gears; in 5th at 70 mph, the ST1300's engine is spinning at just under 4,000 rpm, a respectable enough figure which would be even more relaxed (and fuel efficient) if it had a taller top gear.

So, why did I call this Honda "Night Rider"? Well, on my way up to Santa Barbara I rode mid-afternoon through some serious traffic and temps reaching the high 90s. The ST1300's saddle was comfortable, but its engine spewed hot air and the vague front end feel didn't help the lane-splitting cause. I arrived in Santa Barbara in good time, but sweaty and craving a cool shower. When I rode back home late at night, a completely different side of the bike's personality came through: it coasted through the cool air with ease, and just the right amount of wind protection shielded me from the cold. Without having to thread through traffic, that vague front-end feeling didn't bother me, and the ST1300 came across as a comfortable and confident ride. Thanks to its humungous gas tank, I didn't even have to think about refueling-- all of which emphasize that this bike's strengths lack in some areas, and excel in others.

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Bottom Line, Key Specs, Who Should Buy the Honda ST1300?

2012 Honda ST1300
A rider's view of the ST1300. Photo © Basem Wasef

Bottom Line

The Honda ST1300's dashboard (seen here) says a lot about this sport tourer: It's ambitious, offering lots of information and a mixture of analog and digital displays. But it's also dated, particularly the section on the right. The instant fuel economy gauge only updates every 15 seconds or so, and unlike bikes costing half as much, there's no digital gear indicator. While the ST1300's strengths are many, namely its smooth, powerful engine, large fuel tank, and comfortable ergonomics, so are its shortcomings, which include unsporty handling, non-adjustable front suspension, a heat-generating powerplant, and a disconcertingly heavy curb weight. Perhaps most crippling to the ST1300 is its $18,230 MSRP, which is $2,231 pricier than the sportier VFR1200F (though saddlebags cost extra on the VFR.)

Cross-shopping the ST1300 reveals serious competition from the Ducati Multistrada 1200 (starting at $16,995) and Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS ($15,899)... and to a lesser extent, the aging Yamaha FJR1300A ($15,590). If you're willing to spend a bit more, the options open up to the stellar BMW K1600 GT, which starts at $20,900. Formidable competition should also arrive with the forthcoming Triumph Trophy SE (price TBD.)

The Honda ST1300 isn't necessarily a bad or unlikable bike, but its dated platform and excessive curb weight puts it at a disadvantage against other bikes in its class. So while you might find satisfaction like I did on my solitary night ride, you might also find the ST1300 is a less-than-ideal tool for technical, warm weather riding-- which makes me pine for a ground-up refresh much in the same way Honda re-imagined the VFR1200F. No doubt there are tons of Honda enthusiasts (and police officers) who are saying "Bring it on!"

I know I am.

Key Specifications

  • Price: $18,230
  • Engine: Liquid-cooled, fuel-injected 1,261cc V-Four
  • Fuel Economy: 7.7 gallons
  • Fuel Efficiency: 35 mpg (EPA estimate)
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual
  • Final Drive: Shaft
  • Brakes: Linked ABS, 3-piston front and rear
  • Suspension: Non-adjustable 45mm cartridge fork, preload-adjustable single-shock rear
  • Rake/Trail: 26.0 degree (Caster Angle) / 98mm (3.9 inches)
  • Storage: Two dash compartments, plus hard rear saddlebags
  • Seat Height: 31.1 inches, plus or minus .6 inches
  • Colors: Black
  • Warranty: Three years, transferable, unlimited mileage

Who Should Buy the Honda ST1300?

Long distance riders looking for a comfortable bike who don't demand cutting edge electronics, of-the-moment styling, or exceptionally sporty road manners.