Honda VTX 1800 and CBR1100XX
Honda’s Big-Bore Brothers
by Tony Marx
I work with this guy. His name is Kurt. In the short time I have known Kurt he has bought and sold a Honda CR80E, a CR250, an XR650, a Shadow 750, and a Suzuki Bandit 1200. He has a brother who has the same disease, a need to ride every bike they lay their eyes on and a soft spot for Hondas.
So one day a few weeks ago we were sitting around talking about bikes and he’s blabbering on about the new Honda CBR1100xx he bought. “I think this one’s a keeper.” he says, “It’s the smoothest, most comfortable, best handling, fastest….blah blah blah.” He’s like the father of a newborn baby. “Whatever, you’ll have sold it to your brother by this time next week.” I tease. “No way. He just bought a VTX” Hmmm. Honda’s biggest displacement cruiser and Honda’s biggest displacement sportbike. “You think he’d let me ride it?”
This is how I came to find myself chasing Kurt and his 1100xx down some Wisconsin back road at 120mph on an 1800cc cruiser that didn’t seem to be that bothered to be doing twice the speed limit.
The VTX1800 is to cruisers what the Hayabusa was to sportbikes. Bigger than anything else in it’s class and with more horsepower than anything else in its class. And that means it’s that much faster than the rest of the class. True, the Honda Valkyrie is up there performance wise but it never fit into the cookie cutter cruiser mold because of its oddball engine. The VTX will no doubt be better accepted because everyone wants the biggest v-twin motor they can afford, and at 898cc per cylinder it’s the biggest available. In fact its pistons are the largest Honda has ever made including its automobiles!
Big, heavy bikes with powerful motors and long wheel bases tend to stay put as their rear tires frantically claw for grip and having read Cycle World’s review of the 1800 before riding it, I was pretty excited to start burning the tires off as fast as possible. They used such phrases as “What’s your taste in burnouts? Not a connoisseur of wheelspin…then you haven’t tried the VTX.” and my favorite “Tire smoke will become your laughing gas.”
Untrue, though maybe their bike was special or maybe they were riding on dirt roads. One of the first things I tried when on the VTX was breaking the tire loose in first gear. Bringing the bike up to walking speed I pinned the throttle to the stop and leaned as far forward as the big gas tank would let me and though the thing reared back unloading the forks, and though it accelerated faster than any cruiser I’ve ridden, the rear stayed put. Not even a little darkie. A couple more tries yielded nothing and not wanting to beat on the bike I did not try the clutch though with the super torquey motor it wouldn’t have taken much extra work.
The same shenanigans on the 1100xx yielded a good 7 ft black mark, a small wheelie and a quick trip to redline. The 1100xx is different from the Hayabusa in that you can actually touch the throttle stop briefly in 1st gear which I couldn’t do on the Suzuki for fear of being totally out of control. The Honda will still scare you but with 15 less horsepower than the Hayabusa the delivery is more user friendly.
Back to the supercruiser or “bruiser” as we’ve begun calling this new generation of cruisers, such as Yamaha’s Warrior and Harley’s V-Rod, that actually have powerful motors as stock equipment.
Not having any fun with burnouts I decided to try the VTX against the weakest sportbike we had with us that day, a ’98 VFR800, capable of running an 11 something 1/4 mile it’s not a weak bike by any means. Rolling on in 2nd gear the Interceptor would pull away for a few feet until the fuel injected VTX hit around 1500 rpm and started pulling ground back. The motor wound up quickly and I smacked harshly into the rev limiter halting any further progress and letting the sportbike stretch out it’s high rpm legs and walk away. The thing revs up quickly and pulls hard all they way up to it’s 5800 rpm redline and that led me to redline it often thinking that power would tail off as I approached it. 3rd gear let it stretch out more and take better advantage of its torque, which is around 90 ft-lbs at 2000 rpm and peaks at 99 ft-lbs at 3100 rpm. Both torque and horsepower curves have been described firsthand as “Very square and very flat and very precisely engineered.”
In a flat out race from first gear the VFR again pulled away and at 100 mph was about 15 yards ahead. When shifting from 2nd to 3rd during said race I was impressed when the big bruiser pulled my arms straight when I got a little too aggressive with the gas during a powershift.
The first four gears are good for normal use and 5th is really tall, barely even usable below 60 mph. I tried a top gear roll on from 55 mph and the motor sounded like an old Ford tractor, the power strokes were so far apart. With each whuff……whuff……whuff the exhaust would belch out a big pop and puff of air as the bike shuddered like mad. There’s some heavy metal spinning around in there. Around 80 mph vibes are smoothed out and it feels nice and relaxed with clear mirrors. It seems more prone to vibrate at low rpm. At normal cruising rpm the only things that shake are the gas tank and the long, heavy exhaust which sticks out a good 4 inches behind the rear tire and seems very restrictive because little sound escapes. What little exhaust note escapes has a chirp to it that sounds a lot like an old Volkswagen Bug. One last complaint was that I has trouble engaging 1st from neutral every time I stopped.
Both bikes use linked systems made by Nissin though the two systems are very different. The VTX system only employs the “link” to the rear brake so riders who like to use the rear only will be forced to unintentionally use a small amount of front brake while those who use front only will notice nothing.
The 1100xx uses a fully linked setup, front to rear and rear to front, that is controlled by a complicated system of proportion control valves that do a good job of hiding the systems effects from the chassis, suspension and rider. The only thing I noticed is that the rear would squat a tiny bit and the front end would not dive as hard as on bikes with normal brakes. Honda GP teams use/used this sort of strategy where the rear brake would be set to kick in for a split second when the front was applied. The front calipers on the 1100xx are actually allowed to rotate about 1/4 inch using the rotors to push them upward into a small master cylinder that activates the rear brakes. I found the whole system to be pretty unintrusive and really liked the way it felt settling into corners. Rolling burnouts can be done but it’s pretty abusive having to completely overpower the rear brake.
The fastest Honda does the 1/4 mile in the low to mid 10ís and will top out around 180 mph but for some reason it’s never gotten quite the respect that the Hayabusa has. I think this is because the thing is so smooth it doesn’t feel fast and with it’s simple paint scheme it doesn’t scream “LOOK AT ME” like most other sportbikes. It’ll still do well over 100 in 2nd gear and pulls hard past 160 mph, but many liter bikes will do that nowadays and they weigh at least 100 lbs less than the 492 lb blackbird. The dash has digital fuel gauge, clock, engine temp, odo, and speedo and is very well put together. There were no rattles or buzzing like on the Hayabusa and the Honda gearbox is light years ahead of most. It feels skinny from the saddle but then again it is only a 1100cc bike, which seems small now that even most standards have 1200cc these days.
The 1100xx is a competent sportbike that will spank 90% of anything it runs into on the road and the VTX1800 will do the same to any cruiser including Honda’s own Valkyrie. I knew I’d like the CBR1100xx but the VTX surprised me by being able to hang with faster bikes at a reasonable pace in the corners and 120 on the straights. Watch out for the day when someone uncorks one of these things and we see what an 1800cc v-twin is capable of. Thanks to Kurt & Mark for letting MMM kick around on their bikes.