I recently acquired a low-mileage, (34,000Km), ex-Tasmanian Police Honda ST1100. It is a very out of character purchase on my behalf, I usually steer away from heavyweight motorcycles, but I needed an open road commuter and the price was right.
My neighbour knows nothing about motorcycles but was impressed by the sheer bulk of it. “What’ll it do?” he asked. I ignored the intent of the question, I hadn’t had a chance to open it up out of town, “It confuses people” I replied, not at that stage realising how prophetic a remark that would be.
At 300Kg it is about the size and weight of a Soviet era cast iron bath and as a giant piece of white goods it is as quietly efficient as any other fridge freezer and as remotely difficult to fall in love with – it does the job as described on the packet, and that’s it. Reliable, efficient, anodyne, a Police bike devised by government bureaucrats. ST, Sports Tourer – you are joking aren’t you about the Sports, aren’t you? I’ll get to that.
First impression, smooth as silk, a pig to manhandle around the workshop and surprisingly lissom on the move. However it is other people’s first impression of the bike that resonates.
A large white Police motorcycle and a large white ex-Police motorcycle look remarkably similar to the average cager. Other than an outlaw’s motorcycle it is the only bike to be either noticed or strike terror into the heart of Joe Public. Suddenly people want to be good, they will slow to the legal limit when you haul into view in their mirrors, they will get out of the way, their subconscious will prick and they will stop and check instead of pulling out at sideroads 99% of the time. The other 1% will still pull out in front of you because they honestly don’t look. Ex-cops wander over at servos and check out the flag mount on the front guard before reminiscing about their glory days on 750 Yamahas. The ST1100 definitely has presence.
It also has range and long legs. A 28 litre tank allows for over 500Km between fill-ups – there is no better way to make time on the road than by not stopping. The seat and fairing provide unheard of comfort and protection for hours at a time, although in town on hot days splaying the knees outside the fairing allows them to remain medium-rare rather than well done.
In tour mode it can be loaded up for a camping weekend away with a recommended combined passenger and luggage weight of 195Kg – or when you can’t stuff anymore onto it – and it sails as serenely as ever provided you ride smoothly. Quite where the front wheel is and what the suspension is doing seem irrelevant, it floats along like a white cloud, or small limo, dealing with everything until it doesn’t. There is very little feedback to the rider, I have yet to come back from any ride feeling as though I’ve had one, or, “Effused with the joys of motorcycling”. It’s an accountant’s bike that just counts Ks. Visceral, emotive, enticing are missing adjectives – effective, accomplished are far more suitable.
Yet, that doesn’t give the credit it deserves. Fully loaded on 18 year old suspension it swept from Bridgetown to Balingup via Nannup and the twisty Blackwood River road at a velocity that kept the accompanying sports bike riders honest and watching to see if the panniers grounded out. (They didn’t). A month later it did 2000Km in 20 hours around southern WA and both it and the rider were up for another 350Km the next day. It covers ground like no other bike I have ever owned.
So I think I can safely agree that it can tour all you want on sealed surfaces. As for the Sports side, it goes something like this. I was riding tail-end Charley with 4 other bikes on the ST1100’s debut on the local scratchers road when a Tuono howled past us as we approached the interesting portion of the road.
Immediately after going past me he raises his left hand in admission of guilt and slows dramatically, Ex-Cop bikes can do that to people… “You beauty!” thinketh I and do the unheard of thing on an ST1100 of going down not one, but two gears, to accelerate after him. The absence of flashing lights or sirens allows Aprilla dude to regather his wits and crack it on in anger as the ST1100’s measured 84Hp allowed me to close on entry into the hairpins. He takes a conventional, wide Observation line into the first one, but hasn’t looked across the steep downhill curve early enough to see that it is clear – I take a racing line and as he checks his mirrors on exit I am a little closer than he expected.
We dive over the little bridge at the bottom of the valley and start to climb the series of tightening bends up the far hillside. The road looks in fantastic condition, better than I remember from 6 months ago. It is better because it has been recently been redone and I am about to hurl a third of a metric tonne of Tupperware on very ordinary tyres into an uphill gravel strewn left-hander in an effort to gain ground on a state of the art modern sports bike being ridden with aplomb.
I climb off the seat a bit more, no chance of knee down on this size barge, load the outside footpeg, quickly countersteer in and keep the throttle as smooth as possible. Nothing touches, camber is my friend, there is enough gravity and grip to allow for only a small slide and I am hard on the power and looking up through a series of lefts and rights. “That wasn’t so bad!” goes my race brain, but my 62 year old survival brain overrides it. “You, don’t know what the surface is like” and I button back to a fast cruise. After a couple of minutes the Tuono appears in the other direction and we wave.
The big bike can boogie to a point, but after 18 years the back end wants to squat and takes too much weight off the front on mid-corner acceleration encouraging the bike to run wide as the power is poured on. The anti-dive doesn’t help the braking distance either as it rather limits the ability to load the front tyre quickly.
Most people would leave the suspension well enough alone, so you know what’s coming next…. it has now been upgraded front and rear with an Ikon rear shock and progressive springs, whilst the anti-dive has been disabled and a new front tyre ordered.. There is still no way it’ll haul in a Tuono, no rubber can provide the grip required, but now there is some real dialogue from the front tyre’s contact patch. It now deserves the Sports moniker and I can feel a track day coming on.
So it does everything, including giving me a hernia shifting its deadweight. I am almost as confused as everyone else about what it actually is. Part of me says, “Sell it for something 100kg lighter”, but right now it fits. The engine has the capability of leviathan mileage – replace the timing belt at 90,000Km and there is no way I can wear the thing out. If The Dude in “The Big Lebowski” had ridden a motorcycle instead of a Torino, it would have been a ratted high-mileage ST1100 – a magic flying carpet that “ties the room together” and also has the ability to shrink Australia – Perth to Broome in a day, anyone? By the way 215Kph is the answer to the original question. The ST abides.