Attend any major event like Daytona Bike Week, Sturgis or Americade and it’s going to include a custom bike show. Head on down to a poker run and there’s likely to be a roped-off area within which the locals display their customizing talents. Pick up a bike magazine, and you’ll often see photos and stories about customs. Turn on the tube and there’s Jesse James, a bike build-off, or the Teutuls crabbing and swearing and grinding away as they crank out custom bikes along with an ample supply of rancor and naughty words for the entertainment and enlightenment of us all. Custom bikes are definitely cool!
If you own a cruiser, it’s likely that you have at least bolted some aftermarket items to your ride. Those blessed with even greater knowledge and experience have likely gone even further and have become creative with a torch, lathe, milling machine or spray gun.
But what about the rest, those riders who don’t have mills and lathes and shops and an upbringing that included hanging around guys who were handy with tools? What if you don’t have the 20 grand or more to hand over to a customizer? What if your entire tool collection fits into a single metal box that can be carried in one hand?
If that’s your dilemma, Honda has a cruiser for you. It’s called the VTX1800, and it’s the second largest displacement standard-production V-twin made-only the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 is larger. Not only does it have the proper gravitas to be regarded seriously, but it’s also available in several customized variations-and then variations of those variations. If you’re yearning to ride a big-inch V-twin cruiser that’s custom to the extent you won’t find its twin coming down the street at every rally or poker run, Honda has a whole raft of VTX1800s for you.
The version you’re looking at here is the 2005 Honda VTX1800F. That’s “F” as in “Five,” as it’s new for ’05 and this is the VTX’s fifth iteration. The four existing models include the C, R, S and N. OK, five models to choose from-cool! Further understand that each of these five models is available in three different versions or “builds,” and now the possible VTX1800 variations for 2005 becomes 15-cooler! Finally, multiply by the paint options available (each model offers four or five), and you come to realize that it’s possible to have a rather limited-edition bike right from the dealer. Add in Hondaline accessories, and whatever aftermarket bells and whistles you wish (installed by the dealer, or by yourself with what’s in your one-hand-wonder toolbox) and your bike can be totally unique. The sidebar carries more details on the various models, and their build options.
The VTX1800 (in all its iterations) is powered by a liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin engine with 4-inch cylinder bores, and it displaces 1,795cc. With a bore and stroke of 101mm by 112mm, you know the beast is going to be a torque monster. Each cylinder has a single-overhead camshaft operating two 36mm intake valves, and a single 45mm exhaust. Its two 42mm throttle bodies supply the mixture, two spark plugs per cylinder light it off, and the 41.4-pound forged steel crankshaft goes round and round. Power is routed through the five-speed transmission and reaches the ground though a driveshaft.
Offset crankpins help smooth out the power relative to the typical single-crankpin engine, and also allow for a higher redline. Even so, Honda added dual counterbalancers on the primary shaft, and rubber mounting to be certain things ran smoothly.
With the new F-model, Honda’s goal was a sportier big VTX (there is also a VTX1300) in keeping with its idea of how a sporting rider might modify his or her bike. To achieve this leaner, shorter, more athletic look Honda started with 18-inch, 10-spoke cast wheels front and rear (the C-model was shod with a 16-inch rear). With their faux rivets they mimic billet wheels, and in my opinion are among the more handsome stock wheels rolling. To further enhance that slimmed-down look, Honda installed low-profile radial tires. They’re framed by steel fenders, a smaller, upswept unit in front and a straight-cut rear that helps display the rear skin and wheel, enhancing that sporting look. Sidecovers are plastic.
Up front the F-model carries a more streamlined version of the familiar hooded headlight that adorns other VTX1800 models; the housing remains plastic. Follow its lines rearward to the flangeless 4.8-gallon tank; it offers the cleaner, longer style of a custom extended tank.
It’s what’s on that tank that immediately lured us into the saddle. The unique chromed nacelle incorporates the filler cap and gauges. Positioning them on the tank prevents the chromed handlebar from becoming cluttered. The key hangs down below the rider’s left thigh, and thanks to PGM fuel injection the big VTX requires no choke or enriching control-just turn on the key and thumb the starter button.
Once the engine starts (which it did easily during California’s very wet winter) those big, chromed two-into-two cans puff out a mellow staccato lope that sounds well (almost too well) within legal limits. Pull in the hydraulically actuated clutch lever, click that five-speed into first and great gobs of torque rush the bike forward. Clutch pull is moderate and shifting very low effort. Are you sure this is a cruiser? It’s almost too easy.
Once underway notice the digits flipping by at a good rate on that sleek digital speedometer as you twist the throttle. The new bar-graph LCD tachometer sweeps horizontally across the top of the speedo. There’s the usual collection of LCD odometer, two tripmeters and a clock, but no fuel gauge.
The big-inch V-twin begins delivering decent power at about 2,400 rpm, then comes on with a rush up till its 5,200-rpm redline. The chromed handlebar sits atop 5.5-inch risers, and are slightly pulled back to a comfortable angle.
The seat is broad and well shaped, a cushy two-piece unit that’s just right for my tush-your tush may vary. The passenger section serves as a low backrest. Remove it easily (with what’s in your one-hand-wonder toolbox) and the rear fender looks businesslike, clean, custom.
At highway speeds the bike is turning an indicated 3,000 rpm at 65 mph, the rider feels only a subdued throb primarily in the tank. There’s no problem with distance riding-engine vibration never intrudes, and the seating position is relaxed yet attentive.
Park the VTX at your favorite bike hangout, then hang within earshot as other riders check it out. You’ll likely hear comments that those chromed bullet turn signals with their clear lenses and amber bulbs look custom. And how about those milled aluminum billet rear fender rails with their slots, and the chromed cover over the rear master-cylinder cover? And of course there’s that chromed fork and recessed LED taillight tucked below the fender.
Eventually you’ll want to explore the VTX1800F’s alleged sporting pretensions. Sure, there’s plenty of grunt from the engine-that’s a given. Honda increased rear shock stroke by 10mm and revised the rebound and damping rates. The top shock bushings have also been replaced with needle bearings. In front, the 45mm male-slider fork has redesigned bushings and dust seals. All this holds the seat just 27.9 inches off the pavement.
On a winding road the VTX initiates turns slowly and steers heavily, but always feels planted on those low-profile radials. The pegs touch down early and often, so you’ll come to appreciate that the VTX’s sporting abilities have more to do with styling and straight-line acceleration than with twisty road riding.
All VTX1800s are equipped with a linked braking system (LBS) which is linked back to front. It incorporates a pair of 296mm discs up front, each with a three-piston caliper, and a single 316mm rear disc with two-piston caliper. Pulling the front brake lever activates the two outer pistons on each front caliper. Stepping on the rear pedal activates both rear pistons, plus the middle piston on each front caliper. We rate the success of a linked system by how subtly it works, and the VTX1800’s scores high marks. There’s plenty of feel and feedback, you won’t likely sense that it’s linked, and the system produces powerful, secure stops.
Our red F-model here is finished in Build Spec 2, which includes the blacked-out engine finish, cast aluminum handlebar risers and caps with the hairline satin-brushed finish, polished aluminum levers and chromed steel covers on the fork. With Candy Black Cherry paint it’s $14,099. In solid black it’s $100 less, or it’s $14,299 in the Titanium Tribal or Silver Tribal design. The chromed engine covers (cylinder head covers, valve inspection covers, spark plug covers, airbox cover, left crankcase cover, clutch cover and left-rear engine cover) are standard on all F-models.
Will it be a success? A factory “custom” with that many variations for that price has to be a “can’t-miss.” Sure, we wish the 778-pound bike were lighter, and had a little more sass (it’s almost too civilized), but the rider who chooses it because he or she has a one-hand toolbox likely won’t care.
At this point the most difficult thing may be an ethical question. Once you’ve ordered and picked up your VTX1800F in your build spec and color…should you enter it in a custom bike show? So, how is building a bike this way any different from handing a customizer a check and having him do it? Hey, go bolt on a few accessories, wash it well and let your conscience be your guide-you’ve got your toolbox!
If you’re interested in the 2005 Honda VTX1800F, you may also be interested in Rider‘s 2004 Honda VTX1300C review.