The seed was planted to go on a more extended touring ride last summer after taking a 800+ mile ride from Portland Oregon up around the Washington Olympic peninsula and Mt St Helens on a Kawasaki Super Sherpa 250cc dual-sport. The Kawa is not exactly a touring bike, but did terrific for what it is on the 3-day riding/camping trip. (see the full report HERE )
I’ve been mostly a dirt bike rider over time, but with a house full of kids and a busy job, I just haven’t been able to find the time to get out to ride like in the past. The beautiful Washington state scenery really got me itching for a more street-worthy steed. Summer ’03 was winding down and I starting working on my plan to get a bike by spring ’04 (with 5 bikes already in the garage, I should say “get a real street bike by spring..”).
The bike would need to be very comfortable for a long ride, even for a passenger as I would hope to take my wife along on occasion. It would also need an exciting engine and be fun to ride in the curves and not weigh as much as a boat. Riding position would need to be fairly upright and neutral for the long-haul. I really like the ergonomics of a dirt bike.
Turns out, there are not many bikes that fit the bill. A trip to most any brand dealership and you’ll get the story that 60% of bikes sold now are V-twin cruisers and the rest are sport-bikes with a few dual-sports thrown in.
Cruiser bikes have very un-exciting engines for me. While they have grunt, that’s all they have.. nothing on top. I would want a higher reving engine for the “fun factor”. They also scare me silly when the roads get curly. I also wanted a bit more weather protection and more range than a cruiser can provide.
Sport bikes have fun engines, and are a kick in the twisties, but not the right ergonomics for the long-haul in comfort. And, insurance rates are extraordinary.
I’ve had plenty of dual-sports. Should I consider a huge, Dakar-type bike? Perhaps a BMW GS? No, this next bike would need to be a real street bike.
I could barely stand to look at a GoldWing without smirking – holy cow, they have electric “reverse” and I’ve seen some with training wheels! Everyone who rides one says they are great bikes, and I actually do believe them.. someday perhaps I’ll likely have one, but it’s just not for me.. yet. I still have the feeling that even if I sit on one in the show-room, I’d feel somewhat ashamed and embarrassed. For now, I drive an Acura TL when I want to be in something akin to a car.
So what else is there? I was on a business trip with a co-worker who used to road race and saw a Honda ST1100. “What’s that bike right there?”, I exclaimed. My friend said, “That’s a ST11. ST stands for Sport Touring and some people even take them to the track”. I was very intrigued and started doing my homework. I found that it was replaced by the ST1300 in 2003 and the new version has more power and better handling. I found the best internet forum on the bike at http://groups.msn.com/st1300us/home.msnw and read every post from it’s inception.
I found that the main competitor bike in this class is the Yamaha FJR1300. I was real close on choosing the Yamaha, but decided against it as it really was more of a sport bike in disguise, let’s say a SPORT-Tourer, versus the Honda which is a Sport-TOURER. If my wife ever got on the back, I wanted her to be comfortable. And I read that while Yamaha wins in the top-end-power department, the Honda still has a potent engine and is no slouch in the curves. I had found my future bike.
My wife was very supportive of the decision to get a bike (after all, it was part of our pre-nuptial agreement..) and at first I thought I’d pick up a used ’03 ST13. But, that was a first model year.. We had learned in the past to never buy the first year of any new model anything. My good wife encouraged me to avoid any potential first year bugs and get an ’04, even though it would be more money to get all the goodies that I could likely find on a used one. What a great wife I have (and this is just a minor reason)! 🙂
On March 31st, 2004 I took delivery of one of the first ‘04s that arrived in the states for the year. I opted for the version with ABS brakes, since being in Oregon I ride in a lot of rain. There was a slight rain in action the day I picked it up. Going around my first left hand turn from a stop light I gave it just a bit much gas. I could feel the new, glazed back rubber break loose. Instinctively, my dirt riding skills kicked in, left leg came out, bounced my boot off the pavement, eased off on the gas, regained control, no problem. I was getting excited about the engine – this was going to be fun!
First impressions.. Smooth. Quiet but with an odd “whine” that sounds like a turbine – that’s what I tell people it is anyway. Fast – with a very linear power band. It never really hits a particular RPM and goes wild – it just pulls constantly from the bottom up to about 9000 RPM where the rev limiter kicks in (red line is officially 8500). It’s easy to ride at anything at parking lot speed or above. Loves to turn – effortless to initiate turns when the roads get squirrelly.
Now the initial adjustments – the throttle had far too much play and so did the rear brake pedal – easy enough to remedy. I immediately started setting up the bike with the list of goodies that I had compiled after doing months of homework on the MSN ST13 forum.
- Heli-bar risers to bring the bars up one inch and back two
- Honda heated grips
- Honda mirror and fairing wind deflectors (help remove buffeting around passenger and direct hot air from engine away from the legs)
- Throttle-meister throttle-lock
- Bill Mayer custom saddle (everyone said the stock seat was bad)
- Airhawk seat cushion (removes vibrations – nice for >500 mile days)
- 5 accessory power outlets in various places (for charging cell phone, PDA, heated vest, radar, etc..)
- Hondaline Top Box (the stock saddle bags aren’t big enough to hold my laptop case. )
- Escort 8500 x50 radar detector
- Micro-swirl windshield edging (effectively makes the shield larger – I like to look over the top of it and this deflects wind up higher over my helmet)
My first major ride was from Portland, Oregon to Baker, Oregon to Blackfoot, Idaho to Jackson Hole, Wy, down through Utah to Bryce Canyon, then to North Rim of Grand Canyon, Arizona and back home through Utah, Idaho and Oregon. A bit over 3000 miles in 8 days. Nice bike, no mechanical problems. I only felt a bit saddlesore after the 7th day – rode over 600 miles that day. I rode with a bunch of guys on Cruiser bikes. We traded and I rode them all, Shadows, a Harley, BMW cruiser. The other bikes would jiggle my eyes and only felt right in a straight line. On the curves, you would have to work so hard to get them to corner. I was so happy with the ST. It’s so fun to pass cars too. You don’t have to downshift to pass, but if you click into 4th (or 3rd if you really want some fun) it just hauls buns. You pass a car starting at 65 mph and are instantly around it with speed pushing 3 digits, just like that. It never feels like you’re going that fast – so smooth and stable at speed.
For a real test, I rode the bike from Portland Oregon south to Grants Pass, Oregon, then back north to Blaine, Washington (near Canadian border) and back to Portland in about 17 hours. This was over 1050 miles and qualified me for an Iron Butt Saddlesore award. I used the Airhawk pad on Bill Mayer saddle for this trip – worked great – I really didn’t get sore although it was a bit tiring. This makes a fine endurance motorcycle – now I know I can ride it on any long-distance road ride in comfort. I put ~6k miles on the bike in about the first 4 months with no mechanical issues. By far the best motorcycle I have ever owned.