Honda Breaks out the Big Guns with its VTX1800

In 2002 Honda fired the first salvo in the big-bore V-Twin wars when it unleashed the VTX1800. At the time, it was a massive machine, so un-Honda-like that it rocked the metric cruiser market and even momentarily distracted the attention of American Iron aficionados away from their straight pipes. Offering up brawny power and slick styling, Honda flexed some serious muscle with the VTX and, in the process, broadened Honda’s scope of its clientele from the Richie Cunninghams to include the Arthur Fonzerellis as well.

Since its arrival on the cruiser scene, the VTX has been supplanted as the bully on the block by the bruiser-cruisers with displacement numbers that spill over the 2000cc mark. Honda, unwilling to play the game of one-upsmanship, opted to forgo an increase in displacement and instead stuck by the VTX and repackaged it in a variety of models like the 2005 VTX1800F we acquired for our test.

The VTX1800F is an enigma of sorts, boasting impressive dyno numbers but offering it in a rather demure package. It’s big but is also agile considering its substantial heft. Think of it as Warren Sapp with wheels, strong as hell and way more nimble than you’d ever imagine, but massive nonetheless.

At the heart of the VTX lies a 1795cc liquid-cooled 52-degree V-Twin. With a bore and stroke of 101.0mm x 112.0mm and a compression ratio of 9.0:1, the VTX isn’t forging new and uncharted territory, but Honda engineers somehow managed to deliver smooth doses of usable power along just about every inch of the powerband.

2005 Honda VTX1800F 

A closer look at the internal components reveals three valves per cylinder actuated by a single overhead cam with the air/fuel mixture being fed to gaping cylinders via programmed fuel injection with automatic choke. Counterbalancers quell vibration to the point that Editor Kevin Duke says “feels like its pistons are swirling in a vat of maple syrup.”

The motor’s only real glitch is that its throttle is a bit abrupt, both when reapplying throttle and when coming off of it. “Backing off the throttle with an indelicate hand will have your passenger bonking helmets with you,” says Duke.

A quick walk around the VTX1800F reveals impressive attention to detail, a hallmark of Honda machinery. The first thing that stands out about our VTX-F model is the silver paint scheme with optional tribal pattern; it looks good without being too obnoxious. A bobbed front steel fender provides a little attitude while aluminum handlebar mounts are a good indication that Honda went to great lengths to create a custom look. Fit and finish on this cruiser is top notch for the most part, as Honda fits the VTX-F with aluminum, metal, and chrome as opposed to utilizing cheap plastic parts.

Fine attention to detail includes a nice spiral-wound metal shield for the hydraulic clutch hose and switchgear wiring that is hidden by a silver-colored vinyl wrap that blends in well. Conversely, its dowdy looking black throttle cables are routed extremely untidy for what’s supposed to be a “custom” cruiser that retails from $13K to $15K, depending on options.

Swing a leg over this behemoth and its sheer mass is striking. Not surprisingly, the VTX tips the scale at a whopping 766 pounds, the heaviest machine in this group by nearly 75 pounds. The VTX has the cushiest seat of the bunch, which is great for touring-minded riders, but in the performance category the VTX doesn’t make the rider feel as tough as they should on a big-bore V-Twin.

“The Honda is the sofa recliner of the bunch,” says MCUSA head honcho Don Becklin. “You drop into this thing and feel like you could take a nap. The soft seat, reclined riding position, and low-drop bars make this the couch potato’s ride of choice. It’s the luxo-liner of the bunch, and I could see myself doing some power-touring on this bike.”

Lift the VTX off the sidestand and it feels heavy, but when you drop it in to first and get up to speed, the VTX sheds weight faster than a recipient of gastric bypass surgery. An ultra-buttery five-speed transmission allows riders to roll along at a lazy pace, or for the more adventurous, offers up face-flattening acceleration with a short-shift and a twist of the wrist. Unfortunately, some of that incredible thrust is robbed by the shaft drive, which lifts bike and pilot skyward when the throttle is initially cracked open.

The VTX was only beaten by the Street Rod in the horsepower wars, churning out 84.7 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Honda does wear the torque crown, though, which for a cruiser is even more prestigious than taking the pony title, grinding out a whopping 97.9 lb-ft. at 3,700 rpm.

Most impressive is the VTX’s quarter-mile performance of 12.29 seconds @ 109.4 mph, second only to the Street Rod, and it hits 60 mph in 3.49 seconds. But those numbers don’t come easy. Nearly every test rider reported that they were constantly hitting the rev-limiter during hard riding, partly due to the illegibility of its small bar-type LCD tach recessed in the top of the fuel tank. It took quite a while to get used to short-shifting the F in order to get the most out of that nearly 100 lb-ft. of torque, though dragstrip jockey Duke acclimated quickly enough. The VTX may be big, but so are its performance numbers. And so is its appetite for fuel, consistently the thirstiest of the group.

Suspending the VTX is a 45mm inverted fork with 5.1 inches of travel, while dual shocks with five-position spring-preload adjustability and 3.9 inches of travel take care of suspension duties out back. Our test crew found the suspension on the plush side, ultimately inhibiting it from hanging with the most nimble machines in this performance quintet.

“The VTX has a lot of power, you can tell,” says our graphics guy Brian Chamberlain. “But when we really pushed these bikes on curvy roads, the VTX started to do a little hula dance and that extra weight had it swaying around a bit.”

For the type of riding most riders will partake in, though, the VTX’s suspension is sufficient and performs quite admirably for a big cruiser. However, for a machine that is looking to wear the performance cruiser crown, the VTX could use stiffer suspension, perhaps even a wider range of adjustability, which would ultimately help keep its substantial heft in check on curvy roads.

“When riding the VTX briskly, the suspension feels soft and undersprung,” says Becklin. “Again, it’s a cruiser, so I understand why, but the bike tends to be constantly in motion. It’s either up and down from the shaft drive or undulating because of the soft suspension.”

Braking duties on the VTX are accomplished with a pair of three-piston calipers biting down on 296mm discs up front, while a single 316mm disc is actuated by a twin-piston caliper out back. Honda utilizes its Linked Braking System on the F, which didn’t sit well with some in our crew. The rear brake pedal in the LBS system also actuates a piston in each front brake caliper, which helps the inexperienced bring the bike to a controlled stop with just the brake pedal. But for those of us who have logged ten of thousands of miles on motorcycles, we didn’t appreciate having to jab the rear brake pedal to get the maximum power out of the front brakes.

Our test crew judged the VTX to be a bit of an enigma. The very things that make it a pleasure to ride – namely refinement, attention to detail, and a lack of blemishes – are also the very things that make us want to look elsewhere for a performance cruiser with a nasty disposition. After all, how nice do you want your bad-assed cruiser to be?

“The VTX lineup’s tagline is ‘Extreme as you want to be,’ but there’s not much extreme about it,” Duke sums up.

From our tester’s notepads:

  • It’s too bad this bike has such limited cornering clearance because it actually handles quite well. Pegs touch down at modest lean angles.
  • Honda, like always, does a good job building an almost perfectly assembled motorcycle. Too bad that “perfect” doesn’t always work in the cruiser category. Better to be quirky with some bad-ass personality.
  • It popped out of first gear during compression braking more than once, similar to our experience on the Rune.
  • Its fuel filler cap is nicely chromed, but its lack of a hinge is an inconvenience because it means you’re looking for a place to set it down during fuel stops.
  • It’s the Honda-est, smooth and balanced but a bit soft around the edges.