As Japan stepped into the 20th century, the father of judo, Jigoro Kano, applied the precepts of Zen to the founding principles of this martial art. Seiryoku zenyo, to “strive for maximum effect with minimum effort,” is central to the philosophy of judo, where serenity and strength are synonymous.
It may be said that Soichiro Honda followed the path illuminated by sensei Kano. In the company's 60-odd year history, Honda has dominated opponents, not with brashness and brawn, but through an obsessive devotion to perfection, and the constant refinement of its design and technology. The character of Honda is in its excellence, and in Mr. Honda's stated goal of making technology assuredly reliable and accessible to all.
So it is with the Honda ST1300 ABS. Arguably the most versatile and capable luxury sport touring bike in the world, it is the embodiment of seiryoku zenyo. A samurai in a Yohji Yamamoto suit, it goes about its task silently and efficiently, understating its genius rather than proclaiming it. Since its introduction in 1991 as the ST1100 Pan European and its 2003 re-launch as the ST1300, the ST has met all challengers, taking them to the mat with nary a bead of sweat.
“The ST1300 was specifically designed with the autobahns of Europe in mind,” explains Jon Seidel of American Honda, “traveling at over 100 mph for hours at a time, while addressing a complete variety of urban and highway conditions. The ST delivers optimal flexibility and handling at any speed.” The ability to execute the most demanding maneuvers with a minimum of input will be valued by the dedicated motorcyclist, as well as the one who gets occasional seat time. These rider-friendly qualities married to best-in-class performance have not been lost on the police forces in Europe, and now in this country, who are making the ST1300PA law enforcement version their weapon of choice.
Rick and Rita Case, owners of Rick Case Honda in Davie, Fla., select the ST as their personal canyon carvers when spending time at their Colorado ranch. “On paper, it's a heavy bike,” admits Rita, “but that weight disappears once you're in the saddle. It's a machine that is comfortable and requires very little effort. You can just fly on it for hundreds of miles all day long, and at the end be ready to do it again.” Well-padded for long hauls, the three-position two-person seat adjusts from a height of 30.5 to almost 32 inches. Peg and bar ergonomics provide a semi-upright position taking the weight off one's wrists, enhancing comfort and control.
Experience how 700 pounds dances along the twisting roads of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains and you will thank Honda's engineers for their brilliance. The twin-spar aluminum chassis and compliant suspension take part of the credit. The motorcycle refuses to fuss no matter what the road or road surface, as if telling you, “relax … just enjoy the ride,” while the 90-degree 1261cc twin-overhead cam V-four engine turns the shaft-driven ST into your own private jet. The smoothness and power are remarkable. “The angle of the V eliminates secondary vibration, and the linear power curve is inherent in the engine,” explains Honda's Seidel. “Unlike an inline four, you don't have to spin it to get into the torque curve, so power is always there in a useable form.” That spread of torque gives the rider exceptional control, as the throttle becomes a rheostat. Conversely, the ST's linked brake system, with optional ABS, responds to every request with surgical, balanced stopping.
Former Honda GP World Champion Eddie Lawson credited smoothness as central to his success. The ST similarly exhorts its rider to become one with it, rewarding such smoothness accordingly. When pushed to sportbike levels, the ST surprises with its eagerness to lean over in the kinkiest curve, and will sneak up on crotch rockets with ease.The design is deliberately low-key—stealth fighter meets executive express. Quietly potent, it beckons you to consort with it daily. Quick jaunts and blasting up flat stretches of turnpike become adrenaline-infused meditations. The V-four emits a lion's roar while accelerating, finding its sweet spot just above the century mark on the speedometer. With almost eight gallons in the tank, those blissful moments continue long after your companions have signaled for a refueling stop.
Honda quality and convenience are manifest. The electrically adjustable windscreen can be raised to create a cocoon around the rider. The headlamps are large, providing a generous pool of light, as do the taillights, adding an important margin of visibility. Form and function abound, with ample, aerodynamic wing mirrors; neat storage bins in the fairing; and crash bars disguised as fins on the flanks. The lockable, detachable saddlebags are tautly fabricated, swallowing a full-face helmet easily and carrying more than enough gear for a weekend adventure. A top-box is available from after-
Perhaps the most telling endorsement of the Honda ST1300 ABS is its clientele, typically a mature rider. The ST puts ultimate technology at their disposal so the focus can be on the transcendent joy of the ride itself. Like the judoka who arrives in the dojo not to compete, but to discover sublime satisfaction in the pursuit of perfection, the ST rider can strive for maximum effect with minimum effort. As Master Kano and Mr. Honda might remind us, seiryoku zenyo means riding well with unity of gentleness and strength.
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