First Ride: Honda ST1300 Pan European

Visordown snapper Oli needed a rugged pack-horse to go to the South of France and back while chasing two hypersports bikes. He chose Honda's new-for-2002 Pan-European ST1300

Click to read: Honda ST1300 Pan European owners reviews, Honda ST1300 Pan European specs and to see the Honda ST1300 Pan European image gallery.

I've been here before. So many times it's getting boring. The two dots in my mirrors are growing rapidly. I'm minding my own business at 110mph, and sure enough with a double buffet they're past and vanishing fast. I'll see them soon though, in another fuel station looking smug but barely 80 miles from the last fill up. The Honda's tank won't be half empty, but the ritual must be completed.

Honda's new ST1300 Pan European is a continent-crushing super-tourer, but only when swimming with similar fish. If you're in a group with two-and-a-half-mile-a-minute fly boys as I was on the way to the Bol d'Or with Wozza and Daryll aboard the ZX-12R and Hayabusa prepare to be frustrated. This bike has been designed to travel 250 miles between fill-ups and to do so without leaving you feeling like you've done ten rounds with a Turkish wrestler. So having to stop as detailed above just after you've got into the tall, relaxing top gear and settled behind the hugely adjustable electric screen makes for staccato, annoying progress.

Other riders' shortcomings aside, the big Pan has always been a terrifically good compromise, if such a thing is possible, between pace, handling and load lugging with added range and comfort.

I rode the previous model down to the southern  French circuit of Nogaro in company with a couple of sportsbikes (an R1 and 998, poor souls) in '98. Laden with camera gear, even on backroads I was never embarrassed given the all-up weight of the thing. Indeed when first released the Pan was used as a travelling marshals' bike at the TT which, while only for the brave, gave an indication of Honda's faith in the handling. And so when asked to repeat the exercise (albeit to the Bol at Magny Cours) on the new Pan,  with a couple of Ÿber-speedster bikes for company, it  didn't seem too tall an order.

Four am is never the best time to get to know a bike, least of all when it weighs 283 kilos (seven more than the non-ABS version) and has another 60kgs of camera and camping gear attached. Still, by the time we'd blundered towards the coast to catch the 7am ferry from Calais, I was getting to know the beast. Wozza, being a late-braking racer dude brought an early insight into the effectiveness of the Pan's combined braking system as I followed his brake lights into an early roundabout and nearly overshot the thing. Fortunately a fistful of the very good stoppers hauled me safely up and out of harm's way.

Safely aboard the Seacat after our first stint and with the 'manoeuvring absurdly heavy motorcycle on diesel-covered loading deck' test complete, a proper appraisal of the bike could begin. For reasons obvious to anyone with too many penalty points, a swift cruising speed in the UK is going to stop short of three figures but once 'feet-dry' over the Channel however you can push a bit more. Unfortunately what I did learn was that around 110mph there's a weave that rears its head.

Usually set off by undulations in the road, it's lively enough to make that speed the comfortable maximum cruise. Now I can't  say for sure whether my accumulated gear on the back (heavy but weighing less than the average pillion) had anything to do with it, but I can say adjusting the preload on the very conveniently-placed BMW-esque rear adjuster had little or no effect. My Blitzkreig companions said that for the brief periods they were behind me the effect was "interesting". That said the weave never felt like it was going to get out of control but it wasn't until the return journey a possible solution presented itself.

Sat for hours on French motorways at speed, with impeccable lane discipline from other road users leaving one little to do, the mind can wander. Fortunately the Pan has plenty of gadgets to while away the time including a terrific digital display with two trips, average or instant fuel consumption, time and distance left to empty and, amazingly, three stages of brightness for panel illumination. Adding to the quality feel is what could be one of the best screens on any tourer I've yet come across. It's electrically adjustable from wind-in-yer-teeth to barn-door effect in seconds. The latter means you have to look through it, but despite presenting a near-vertical barrier to the wind it doesn't seem to upset the handling. As Dwaff put it, it's like closing the window in your car such is the peaceful environment behind it. I found the best compromise to be just below line-of-sight, such that bugs and assorted night life were taken care of while keeping a clear visor and uninterrupted view.

One thing the fairing does do is reflect back a lot of mechanical noise from the engine and gearbox, particularly under hard acceleration. This motor's very torquey and plenty smooth, especially in the cruise but the mechanical cacophany that comes at you gunning from low speed is a little alarming and not something I remember from the old model. Those triangular pipes seem to rasp and fart a little, like the similarly equipped VFR. Perhaps that's Honda's interpretation of character.

Off the motorway, and hoofing around the wooded back roads to the east of Nevers, the Pan, like its predecessor showed itself to be no slouch. With no gear strapped on to slow things down, the big torquey V4 was able to drag the bike very smoothly out of tight corners as easliy as the immensely powerful brakes stuffed it into them. The favourites though, were sweeping bends were a rhythm could be kept up and for once the boys on the other bikes weren't complaining of lack of pace from me and the Pan. At no point could I make the bike feel insecure.

But the real raison d'etre of this bike came after the Bol, after the sleepless night rushing around the pits, after the tramping the circuit for 24 straight hours. It came when it was time to go home. When we were 361 miles from the last ferry with just three and-a-half hours to cover it in. The Pan took up the challenge. Just one fuel stop, supersport boys whimpering in the far distant background, relentless overtaking, day-for-night headlights carving through the pitch-black motorway darkness defying anyone to pull out. And all the while an uncomplaining seat, a buffet free helmet and all extremities alive and kicking. Perfect. And we made the boat. Didn't see Daryll or Wozza 'til the next day though...

Oh, and the solution to that worrying weave at 110mph? Well, Honda may be citing incorrectly-tightened engine bolts as the cause and recalling all Pans to have them checked, but I found out that riding at 130mph sorted it all out just fine...

Honda ST1300 Specifications

Price new £10,349
Engine capacity 1261cc
Power 117bhp@8000rpm
Torque 86lb.ft@6500rpm   
Weight 283kg
Seat height 790mm
Top speed 135mph