The older I get, the more I appreciate the value of subtle confidence in favour of overstatement.
Neither the presence nor the persona of the 2014 Honda CTX 1300 may exude the overwhelming excitement or passion of its “Look at me!” contemporaries, however it does whatever is asked of it, efficiently and without drama or consequence.
Approaching the CTX from the front on our initial meeting, I attempt to place the visual inspiration but all I can come up with is that a designer was doodling what it would look like if a futuristic robot and an Ewok had a love child. While it plays in a very popular and competitive segment, there is little to suggest that this bike was created to impersonate or compete with any one model in particular – it charts its own course. Inserting the key and pressing the starter button emits a sewing machine-like whir thanks to dual counterbalancers, accentuated by a subtle gurgle from the dual tailpipes which were made different lengths in order to add some character.
Throwing your leg over a modern motorcycle for the first time to get acquainted to the controls can often bring about glaring oversights or annoyances and while the CTX is impeccably engineered, there is at least one shortcoming. From the moment I attempted to adjust the mirrors I noticed something was off but it wasn’t until I was out on the road that it surprised and downright aggravated me. Proportions and riding positions will vary, but for me neither of the mirrors were remotely useful while I was riding due to the inconvenient placement of the brake fluid reservoirs on the handlebars. Some have expressed that they found the location of the horn button frustrating since they confuse it with the intelligent self-cancelling turn signals, but I thought it was intuitive and well positioned – you don’t want to go searching for the horn when you need it so having it easily within reach is fine by me. I felt that the controls were intuitive and ergonomics were otherwise far beyond my expectations of a mass market motorcycle. Again each rider has unique proportions and riding position preferences, but the CTX fit my six-foot frame like it was custom fitted and just may offer the most comfortable riding position of any cruiser I’ve ever tested. Arms easily reach the swept back handlebars while knees reside at a 90-degree angle on the pegs but can easily reach the ground despite the wide, deeply scalloped seat well cushioned for long trips.
Initial impressions of ergonomics can often deteriorate with the amount of time spent in the saddle, however I only became more impressed the longer I rode. This should be of no surprise of course, since Big Red has been building long-distance touring bikes like the Gold Wing since 1975. For those who want to travel comfortably across long distances but don’t necessarily require a Winnebago on two wheels, they created the F6B, a six-cylinder Gold Wing without the top case and high windscreen last year. The CTX is another beast all together since it is a new package from tip to tail, although it does repurpose the DOHC V4 of the much loved ST1300, albeit with tuning that favours low- to mid-range power. I was surprised that will all of Honda’s experience and means they couldn’t have sourced a more intuitive and user-friendly locking mechanism for the saddle bags though.
The liquid-cooled 1,261cc powerplant feels smooth and leisurely but with torque to spare in every gear despite surprisingly only featuring a five-speed transmission, although gears are tall to ensure low engine RPM under load. Another surprise was a positive one, as the bulbous but relatively short front fairing is well designed so that vision isn’t impeded and the wind breezes up and over it without turbulence even at significant highway speeds.
As soon as you kick up the side stand, the CTX feels far more nimble than its 331.8 kg running weight would suggest which is only amplified while in motion, regardless of speed or turning radius. This was accomplished in a number of ways; the 19.5L fuel tank is located under the seat and the fore/aft configuration of the crankshaft allowed engineers to lower both the engine and the seat to ensure the bulk of the weight resided as low as possible. The CTX’s substantial proportions, crisp throttle response and stability at high speeds make it ideal for gulping up asphalt on long trips, however it also excels where many cruisers fall short by providing impeccable balance and effortless agility at low speeds, making it a breeze to ride within the cluttered confides of the city.
The chassis of the CTX consists of a new steel double cradle split downtube frame connecting to a 690 mm aluminum swingarm. Suspension is comprised of twin rear shocks, featuring mechanical spring preload adjustment and 43mm inverted forks up front. The ride is smooth and supple, but taught. The roughest patches of asphalt I encountered, which are admittedly terrible, could have done with a tad more rebound damping but hopefully those kinds of roads are the exception instead of the norm.
Available in Candy Prominence Red or the Grey Blue Metallic of my tester, the CTX 1300 doesn’t offer the attitude or extravagance of baggers outfitted with miles of chrome, flame paint jobs or obnoxiously loud pipes, but neither does its price tag of $18,999. This price includes five-stage heated hand grips and a twin speaker stereo system that compatible with iPod, MP3 player and smartphones but doesn’t feature a radio – terrestrial or satellite. Maybe I’m the only one who still listens to the radio? Bluetooth connectivity also allows use of helmet headsets between the passenger and rider or between other bikes. This price also includes a Combined Braking System (linked front and rear brakes) with ABS and Honda’s Traction Control System (TCS) which constantly monitors wheel speed and throttle position in case traction loss occurs in which case it will step in to reduces engine power. I didn’t encounter a racetrack or any inclement weather so thankfully I didn’t experience this system in action and am unable to speak about it with any authority.
The CTX 1300 is a smooth operator that would be an easy bike to live with whether you’re navigating the urban jungle on your morning commute, carving corners on the weekends or logging long distances on your vacation. It may not reinvent the segment, but it does provide a viable alternative to the existing baggers on the market.