The Honda ST1300 will most likely be replaced with a new model around 2014. If so, then Honda may be well into the planning stages for the new design. In this short article, I will outline my view of what the replacement model should retain and change.
I’ve owned my 2007 Honda ST1300 for two years. Although I’ve only ridden it for just over 12,000 kilometres (parenting a young child keeps me off the bike more than I would like), I’ve ridden it through the kind of extreme weather that is common in the South Island of New Zealand. This has included riding for over 500k through continuous rain and a night ride in a southerly storm with a wind gust recorded near my home of 161kph/100mph.
My experience as an ST owner has been very much in line with other rider reports and the many excellent reviews of this bike. It does everything well that you could realistically want a big sports tourer to do. One review stated that although the ST1300 may not be at the very top of the list with respect to handling, aerodynamics, comfortable, performance, and styling when compared to the competition in the big sports tourer category, it ranks towards the top (first or second) in all of these areas. Before purchasing the bike I did a lot of market research. I won’t go into all the details here, suffice to say that it came down to a choice between the BMW1200RT and the Honda. Reading about the long-term reliability issues of the BMW and the absolutely legendary long-term reliability of the Honda ST1300 sealed the deal.
In short, the Honda ST1300 is a superb bike. If you buy one you won’t be disappointed (unless you buy it with completely unrealistic expectations- it doesn’t have the performance of a Fireblade nor the electronic gadgetry on the latest BMW1200RT).
Having said this, Honda has done remarkably little to update the ST1300, instead investing a lot into the VFR1200. It is due for replacement but will Honda get this right?
The Longitudinally Mounted VR Engine- Keep It!
As far as I am aware, the engine configuration on the ST is unique. You have to own one of these bikes to appreciate what an incredible engine this is. Beautifully smooth, with steady and predictable power delivery throughout the range, still more power than the 2012 BMW1200RT, and tremendous long-term reliability. I could go on but I know I’m preaching to the converted.
The key point for Honda to note is that this engine configuration should be retained in the ST’s replacement. I don’t want to see a larger version of the VFR 1200 engine- I do want an updated version of the current ST V4.
My only reservation is that if Honda stuff this up and shove a VFR engine in the replacement then it will help to keep up the price of used ST1300s (and reduce my desire to purchase the replacement – saving me lots of dollars).
Aerodynamic Design- Less Wind Noise Please
Although the aerodynamic design of the ST1300 is excellent, especially with respect to maintaining a remarkable degree of stability in high wind conditions (meaning up to storm force), it isn’t as good as the BMW1200RT. A former BMW owner said that for him this was the main area in which the BMW outperformed the Honda- there is a lot more wind noise on the Honda. So there is room for improvement in this area.
Please keep the analogue speedo and tachometer! I don’t care if some people think this will make the bike look retro- the analogue instruments look good and are really easy to read in all light conditions.
The electronic displays on the ST1300 are not easily readable in bright light conditions and when the rider is wearing sunglasses or using a tinted visor. Hopefully these displays will be improved in the replacement model and will be easier to read in a wider range of light conditions.
The new model should, like the BMW RT, have reliable heated grips as standard, with the control mounted on the bars not the fairing. The Honda ST1300 is ultra reliable - the genuine Honda grips are not.
Six Speed Gearbox Please
There’s nothing wrong with the current five-gear setup, but it would be nice to have the extra gear for long distance highway riding.
Styling and Exhaust Placement
This is one area where there will be a wide range of preferences. To my eyes, the 2003-2004 BMW RTs are probably the best looking sport tourers ever built. The Honda ST1300 does not look as good as those BMW models, but I think it’ still a nice looking bike compared to the current competition in this category.
There is, however, one thing upon which most ST1300 owners will agree- the bike looks ugly with the panniers removed. I love how much more like a sports bike the ST feels when you take off the panniers and the top box- it moves the centre of gravity a little further forward and even lower down in the bike- making it a joy to throw around on tight twisties.
The ugliness of the current ST without the panniers could be avoided if the replacement model follows the styling of the VFR800 and runs the exhaust pipes under the seat. If it does this, then when you take the panniers off the ST’s replacement, it will look like a sports bike rather than a piece of agricultural equipment!
Updated Electronics- Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA) and Traction Control
There is currently a technological revolution going on with respect to the application of electronics to suspension and traction, following the earlier application to braking (ABS and linked braking). The replacement for the ST1300 needs to incorporate the advances now common on its competitors (BMW RT1200, FJ1300, Kawasaki Concourse, Triumph Trophy 2013 SE). Simple and easy to use electronic suspension adjustment would be great. I commonly ride to the supermarket, load the bike up, and return home. It would be really useful to be able to adjust for the extra weight at the push of a button. I find the ST1300 handles so well in the wet (with Michellin Road Pilot 3 tyres) that I am less convinced of the need for traction control (it's not like the replacement is going to have the grunt of a Kawasaki ZX1400R where 'low power' and 'rain' traction control settings are essential), but it would be nice to have. Having taken my ST onto the track for the first time, I now appreciate that it would be an useful technological advance to be able to select suspension and traction settings for more aggressive and faster riding. Finally, Triumph is making it's software upgrades for new models available to owners of older models- it would be good if Honda could do likewise with it's electronics package for the ST 1300's replacement.
Improved shaft drive as per the VFR1200, make sure the thermostat doesn’t fail after 60,000 kilometres, slight weight reduction would be good, and the top box should be more easily and cheaply available than for the ST1300.
Overall, Honda should adopt a reasonably conservative approach to its design of the ST1300’s replacement. The ST1300 is a fantastic bike that is unique in important respects. The replacement should be based on a design that retains the ST’s main strengths, while improving and refining it to eliminate some of its weaknesses. In short, Honda should not replace the ST1300 with a completely different bike. BMW has been making small incremental adjustments to its RT models, and Honda should adopt a similar approach in its design of the ST’s replacement. Most importantly of all, it should retain the longitudinally mounted V4 engine configuration. If it fails to do this, then it will struggle to retain the loyalty of existing Honda ST owners.