Road Test: Honda ST1100 v. ST1300

Beloved of the happily middle-aged (and the police), unobtrusive, but more than capable of letting fly on a twisty road, Honda's ST1100 was a marvelous thing. Can the same be said of the ST1300?

Link: Honda ST1100 Pan European reader reviews

Link: Honda ST1100 Pan European gallery

Link: Honda ST1100 Pan European specs

Link: Honda ST1300 Pan European first ride review

Link: 2006 Honda ST1300 Pan European first ride review

The Honda ST1100 Pan European was one of those bikes that quietly got on with doing the job it was designed to do. And that was to provide something just short of a full-dress touring bike in a slightly more manageable (and cheaper) form, at the behest of the European, not US, market.

That's exactly what it did, throughout its entire 12-year lifespan, which stretched from 1990 to 2002. Along the way it won an army of dedicated and loyal fans, like some bikes do. When it was replaced by the faster, gruntier, lighter, shorter and much funkier looking ST1300, there was a faint muttering among some of the Pan People that Honda had missed the mark with the new bike, and the point of just what had made their original Pan so special.

It didn't help that the ST1300 suffered an unusual (for Honda) series of problems, including high speed stability issues, sumps grounding out ruinously and various recalls - all of which, some three years later, are a dim and unpleasant corporate memory for the big H. But come on - a healthy dollop of extra capacity for the V4 engine, fuel injection, lots of bells and whistles (including an electric screen), surely the revised Pan must be a revelation compared with a bike conceived almost in another era of motorcycling.

We would've thought so here at TWO Towers, but the muttering hasn't quite gone away and it seems the Pan Clan haven't migrated in massive numbers over to the new model. Why's that then? And is the current ST1300 actually a better bike than the old ST1100? And if not, why not? Or so, is it the people's resistance to change that's the problem? Plus, perhaps a little more saliently, with the new model a chunky £11,500, and late model '02 Pans available from five grand, if you're in the market for a solid tourer that'll last forever, what to do?

Damn all these questions...

In order to find some answers I started with Garry Mackay at DK Motorcycles. Garry knows lots about new and used motorcycles, and the people that buy 'em. As ever, he proved illuminating. "When a brand new Pan was announced," he says, "the anticipation was high. By chance we bought a dozen or so of the old model, simply because it was so good and we had them at the right price. But then with the recalls that the ST1300 suffered, I think that people's confidence in the new bike took a bit of a knock, especially as the ST1100 was so bombproof. But even more surprising was that ex-ST1100 owners were telling me that the new bike wasn't as good as the old one. The ST1100 still had such a following that we were selling ST11s to ST13s at a ratio of ten to one for a while."

Hmmmm. Not what I'd have expected. Who is the average Pan customer then? "Middle-aged," says Garry, "definitely no youngster but at the same time not your grandad. They like doing serious miles, on a bike that they can hustle around corners a bit. The press reports on the ST1100 always helped in that regard, and it is a bike you can have fun on. We still sell loads of 'em, because they're such a strong bike for the right money. Honda customers seem to buy them in the main, maybe coming from VFRs or Blackbirds. The ST1300 attracts a more nomadic type of customer and doesn't have the loyalty factor of the ST1100.

"Maybe the new bike seems a bit too intimidating, and looks a bit... flash. And for a middle-aged bloke, perhaps 'flash' is not at the top of the list of his requirements. He wants a mile-munching big bike that isn't covered in garish bits of trim and whatnot. Mind you, Honda do this sometimes, when the VFR got V-TEC we had quite a few customers trying out the new one for a while, but then swapping back to the old. Don't get me wrong; the VFR800 V-TEC is a great, great bike. It's just that the model before it may have been better..."

Blimey. Manufacturers can and do make mistakes when they evolve their motorcycles but the arguments usually centre around whether a bike's nature has changed in the evolution. And arguments, by their very nature, are subjective, as are opinions. In my mind there was only one way to sort the Pan confusion out - get a pair, and own both for a good while. So, for the last week I've had one of each: a late '02 ST1100 with ABS, and a fully-loaded brand spanker ST1300 direct from Honda UK. One, I have to say, I really don't want to give back. But I'm not telling you which just yet.

With some help from TWO's performing dwarf, Daryll Young, weighing both took 10 minutes. Fully fuelled, the ST1100 came in at 335kg (with a top box and panniers) while the ST1300 tripped the scales at 330kg (panniers, no top box). Not a massive difference, but also an anomalous one because ST1100 myth has it that it's a lighter, smaller machine than the ST1300. That illusion does hold up if you play bike leapfrog and hop from one to the other - the older bike feels more compact. It may be a result of the ST1300's bigger fairing and angular styling opposed to the ST1100's smoothed, almost Ford Mondeo-like lines.

The riding position of the ST1100 is a little more relaxed, since the ST1300's has you leaning slightly forward toward the bars, instead of them coming out to meet you just so. It's just that fraction bit more sporty feeling than the laid-back ST11, but both seats are broad, well shaped for a myriad of arse shapes, and very comfortable.

To ride, they do feel very different. The ST1100 has a reassuring lengthy and solid feel, from 1mph upwards. It's unflappable, yet rolls around easy enough in and out of corners. A 330kg motorcycle is no featherweight, obviously, but the ST1100 hides its weight well, and low. The engine, fed as it is by four 34.5mm CV carbs is smoooooth, and ticks over at a mere 3700rpm when cruising at 70mph. There are no surprises lurking under those plastic flanks; you turn the throttle and the bike goes, simple as that, seamlessly, quietly. I took quite a buffeting at motorway speeds, the screen lip just the wrong shape to smooth air over and around my helmet but, apart from that, time spent on the ST1100 passed efficiently, if unremarkably. 'Unobtrusive' is the word I wrote in my notebook after a 100-mile trip.

You can chuck the ST1100 about, it stops hard and the ABS works unobtrusively. It isn't a bike that issues any challenges but the more time I spent on it, the more I understood that this is the very reason people have got so attached to the original Pan. You know it's going to work every time and that, even fully loaded, after a 500-mile motorway day, you can still hoot through a set of bends and enjoy.

The ST1300 does, however, dish out a challenge or two. The engine eats the old bike for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's got an edge, a growl to it that tells you straight away it's got a whole lot more going on. Looking at the dyno figures only tells half a story - the ST13 is stronger torque-wise in the 3-5000rpm range, and packs an extra 5bhp up top. On the open road, side-by-side with the ST1100, the ST1300 picks up its skirts and fair marches away from 70mph. Faster by a long way. But relaxing? I'm not so sure. It'll pick its front wheel up in first.

The ST1300 seems shorter-geared, indicating just under 3800rpm at 70mph, a full 100rpm more than the ST1100. Not a major difference, granted, but these little things start to add up. At anything over 80mph the front goes light, depending on cross winds and what angle the screen is set at. It never feels risky, just completely at odds with the stability of the old model.

Having said that, the ST1300 handles far better than a touring bike should and, in my opinion, far better than the old bike. It's accurate, fast-steering and hauls up really hard, the Combined Braking System and ABS doing a proper job of stopping the beast. I was unprepared for just what a tool the ST1300 is - combine the chassis' nimbleness with that rorty motor and you're talking about a bike that's a lot of fun.

The leccy screen's a novelty. The heated grips are, of course, ace, but I found the keypad controls down on the left side of the fairing a bit fiddly to use. The older bike's thermostat-like dial gauge is simpler, and easier. I also found the 'negative' LED display hard to read - there's a ton of information there, such as litres per mile used, etc, but it's hard to assimilate.

There's not a lot in the fuel economy, though the difference in the bikes' natures could cause you to want to cane the ST1300 guzzling gas, rather than drifting along on the ST1100, gently sipping away.

Which really, is where we start to get to the crux of this matter. To my mind, the new Pan is a better Pan than the old Pan. But I'm in my late-middle 30s and a long way from the older target audience the original bike's gathered over its lengthy existence. So the very reasons that make the ST1300 appeal to the likes of me make it much less so to the people that bought it originally. Maybe this was deliberate.

If you do want all of the above, then the new Pan's expensive but a bloody good bike. If, on the other hand, you don't need the performance, but favour practicality and comfort, a late model Pan is a bargain. It's half the price, but more than half as good.

One man's ceiling is another man's floor, after all.

SPECS - ST1100



PRICE NEW - £5000 (USED)


POWER - 110.7bhp@7800rpm

TORQUE - 84lb.ft@6200rpm

WEIGHT - 297kg




0-60 - n/a


SPECS - ST1300



PRICE NEW - £11,599


POWER - 114.7bhp@7900rpm

TORQUE - 84.3lb.ft@6500rpm

WEIGHT - 283kg




0-60 - n/a