Retrospective: 1990-2002 Honda ST1100

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

YEAR/MODEL: 2002 Honda ST1100

OWNER: Clement Salvadori

HOMETOWN: Atascadero, California

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Back in the late 1980s, the European market was as important to Honda as the American one. And motorcycles were popular, as cars and car insurance were more expensive than they were here. The demand was quite different, with Yanks liking big cruisers and narrowly focused sporting machines, while those east of the Atlantic had more of a practical approach, favoring motorcycles that could be used to commute on workdays, and then go two-up on a vacation.

Each motorcycle company is constantly looking around to see what the competition is doing. The Japanese Big Four undoubtedly have their own domestic spying networks, trying to keep track of each other’s doings, but there are also the local manufacturers. In the U.S., the only indigenous competition was from Harley-Davidson, but in Europe numerous homegrown marques were taking their share of the market.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

In the late 1980s, BMW, with its new four-cylinder K-bikes, was doing quite well in the touring market. The head of Honda Germany decided he wanted a piece of that action and got permission from Japan to design his own bike, a sport-touring model, with emphasis on touring but still agile.

Hence the ST1100, introduced in Europe in 1990 as the Pan-European, with a wind-protecting fairing, removable saddlebags, and shaft drive. Ride to work in the rain, load the bags for a trip, and never have to worry about cleaning and adjusting a chain. This was an all-new machine, with a longitudinal (meaning the crankshaft was at a right angle to the axles) V-4 engine, putting out close to 100 rear-wheel horses.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

This was no lightweight, as the ST weighed about 700 pounds with the huge 7.4-gallon gas tank filled. But the blessing was that the tank was beneath the seat, keeping the weight down low, which is where many sensible touring riders like to have it. That required a fuel pump pushing the gas up to the four 34.5mm Keihins – carburetors in the coming age of fuel injection. No matter, as the carbs did an excellent and trouble-free job of keeping the engine spinning. A choke lever on the handlebar was a reminder of the carburetors.

The liquid-cooled V-4, with a bore of 73mm and a stroke of 64.8mm, had a total capacity of 1,084cc. It used double overhead camshafts, with a single timing belt running all four camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Valve adjustment was by shims, not always appreciated by home mechanics, but service intervals were set at a fairly lengthy 16,000 miles. Ignition was transistorized, with electronic advance. And the oversquare engine pulled strong all the way from 2,000 to the 8,000-rpm redline.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

Down in the bowels of the wet-sump engine, everything was built to last, with almost four quarts of oil capacity and a cooler up front. It sat in a full-cradle steel frame (contributing to the bike’s hefty weight), which gave confidence to the rider when leaning hard into the curves at considerable speeds. Up front was a 41mm Showa cartridge fork, with Honda’s TRAC anti-dive mechanism and allowing nearly 6 inches of travel. No adjustments here. At the back, a single Showa shock, with adjustability for rebound damping and spring preload, offered nearly 5 inches of travel.

The longitudinal power ran back through a wet clutch and a cassette-style 5-speed transmission to the driveshaft. Aluminum three-spoke wheels used an 18-inch 110/80 tire on the front, a 160/70 17-incher on the back, with a shade over 61 inches between the axle centers.

The Europeans loved it – perhaps for no better reason than it was a good alternative to the BMWs, along with a bit more power. The American market got to see this bike a year or so after it was released east of the Atlantic. Several improvements were made after that first version, including raising the alternator output from 28 to 40 amps and offering a combined ABS and traction control system. The initial ABS, running from 1992 to ’95, had separate systems on the front and rear wheels, but an upgrade for ’96 used linked brakes. A mild upgrade of the windscreen arrived for the 1995 model year.

Most important for a motorcycle of this design is comfort. On this ’02 model, which belongs to yours truly, a Laminar Lip was added to the top of the windscreen to smooth airflow around my helmet, since I’m taller than average. A nice addition is over to the left of the instruments, where a hand-turned knob can alter the angle of the dual halogen lights; very simple, very useful. Fitting a tankbag on the plastic cover over the engine was simplified by a company called Bagster that makes Naugahyde covers for over 200 motorcycle models, to which a bag can be neatly clipped. That bag has logged a lot of miles, as I had it on my ’92 model, which was sold after 93,000 miles, and then on my then-new ’02 ST1100, which has 103,000 miles and counting.

The flattish saddle is comfortable for long two-up days, or even longer solo days, allowing the rider to move back and forth. The saddlebags are locked onto the bike, but they can be removed with only minor fuss. However, it is far more useful to have liners in the bags; just open the bags, take out the liners, and you are on your way.

1990-2002 Honda ST1100

A convenient frill on the ST is the handle under the left side of the saddle, which folds against the bike until pulled out 90 degrees to be very useful when lifting the bike onto the centerstand. Another much appreciated addition is the concealed crash bars on the fairing, allowing for a slow fall without doing any damage.

Big smiles could be seen at Honda Germany after the ST1100 appeared. They had given the competition a good kick in the old wazoo, with the ST soon winning all sorts of awards. And it was pretty much left unchanged for the next dozen years until the ST1300 debuted in 2003.

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Throw a leg over that saddle, turn the key, push the button, clutch in, click into first, and the sheer, silent rush of power is exhilarating. And 500 miles with one fuel stop in between is always a temptation.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Love to see articles by Clem. The ’90’s to 00’s were/are my favorite bikes, and it’s great to see them still ridden, written about, and appreciated.

    FWIW, there’s a type early on about the engine – it should read longitudinally-mounted rather that transverse-mounted. It is corrected later on in the article.

      • Rider Magazine, the crankshaft on the ST1100 (and the ST1300) runs front-to-back, not side-to-side. Front-to-back is longitudinal. Side-to-side is transverse.
        I’m quite certain Clem knows this, so it must be one of your editors that messed it up.

        • Clem wrote “transverse-mounted (meaning the crankshaft was at a right angle to the axles),” but a transverse-mounted crankshaft typically runs side-to-side, or parallel to the axles. The parenthetical reference is corrected, but it the text should read “longitudinal (meaning the crankshaft was at a right angle to the axles).” We’ve made the correction, and we apologize for the confusion.

      • Oops, Clem used the term “transverse” to refer to the crankshaft orientation, but he meant “longitudinal.” Both the crankshaft and driveshaft on the ST1100 are parallel. Apologies for the confusion.

    • You are spot on as Honda always described in their own lititure that this V-4 variant as “longitudinally” . The V-4 Magna/Sabre & Interceptor V-4s where designated as being transverse just like the CB750. Classifying this jewel of a motor as being longitudinally mounted conjured up images of an American V-8 and also played into the long haul description.

    • so, who is correct? I think Fred is…..because;
      My 1998 ST had valve covers on both sides of the engine, which would indicate a longitudinal (paragraph 6, first sentence) crankshaft that is 90 degrees to the axles, not parallel to them.

  2. My pal Clem. His storied experience is always appreciated. I have an ’05 ST-1300 with 86,000 miles. In moving from the ST-1100 to the ST-1300, Honda did a funny thing. They increased the displacement and (needlessly) dropped the gear ratio). I don’t know why. In 15 years of ownership, I may have used full throttle a half dozen times, and then only for a few seconds. The acceleration is too scary!

  3. Retrospective has always been one of my favorite writings by Clem. Always a pleasant trip down memory lane as I’ve owned, or lusted after many of the bikes of which he has written. Here’s wishing you another 100,000 miles on your ST, Clem!

  4. Yeah…a great motorcycle ! I wish Honda still made something along those lines. I owned a ’21 Goldwing DCT for about 7 months…hated that bike, and longed for something far less heavy and clunky. So, here’s hoping Honda can come through with something lighter in weight and more refined. I opted for a BMW r1200RT for the time being, since Honda really didn’t have anything to slot in that size-weight range for touring.

  5. I remember when Clem bought the second ST1100 (no better replacement at the time). I had a ’98 and loved it. I didn’t care for the ST1300 so I kept the ST1100 for 150k miles. Eats tires 🙂

  6. I have a riding buddy who has about 150,00 mi on his and it is still his daily rider. He recently had issues with the “third member ” which drives the rear wheel. He found a used one on line and installed it . Seems to be working ! i as well have missed Clem’s articles. May we have more. ?

  7. I went pretty much the same route as Clem, with a ’91 ST, then a ’97 ST, in order to gain the ABS brakes, and finally a 2003 ST and it’s increase in HP. The ’97 had 148,000 miles on it when I traded up to the 2003. So, in total, I had in excess of 250,000 miles on a Honda ST when, in 2013 pushing age 70, I decided to down size to a lighter bike. Other than maintenance, my entire cost of repairs for that quarter million miles was $15 of one small casting in the cooling system that started to leak. I’m waiting for someone to tell me they can beat that.

  8. I owned a 1998 ST1100 and a 2007 ST1300. 80,000 miles between the two and never a mechanical failure on the road. Great rider protection in the wind and rain. Not a lot of “personality”, but just a good workhorse. A real ‘mileage eater’ on long trips; 600 or 700 mile days. Wick it up out here in Colorado or Wyoming and at 110 + mph, the miles really tick off.
    Quiet, smooth, FUN. Lots of smiles. Come on Honda, you can do it again…..

  9. Nice to see you still writing Clem, I’ve always turned to your articles first over the years. I also have an ST1100. One of the 2001 variety. Purchased used some 15 years ago it resides in the back of the shop because I can’t seem to want to put it up for sale. I’m currently on an FJR1300, but every time I look at the ‘ol ST my heart goes pitter patter. Glad to know someone else out there loves them as much.

  10. Another 4 star article by one of my favorite writers. Keep em coming Clement. Thank Sue for sharing you with us, and thank you for your service to our country.
    Bob in Florida

  11. ive had both the 1100 and the 1300 and i have to say i like the 1300 more, because of 2 things, fuel injection and adjustable windsheild. both are great bikes. found an 06 with 25k last year and love it. also have others to ride.

  12. Thank you, Clem, for the great ST-1100 retrospect! Only one minor correction. The ST-1100 was available in the U.S. in 1990. I purchased my 1991 ST-1100 new from my dealer in Ridgecrest, CA in July 1990. According to its vin number it was #243 off the assembly line in March 1990. I have been riding it ever since, but only have 103,000 miles on it. Still runs GREAT and feels great, as always. I have tried to slow down a bit, since I did turn 82 my last birthday. I believe Clem and I are about the same age.

    • I’m 75 years old and have an ST1100 with only 13,000 miles on it. I better get busy riding it if I expect to ever break it in!

  13. I’m very fond of Honda’s V4s and have owned the ST11 and 13. I actually think the 11 may be the easiest bike to adjust valves on as the rubber belt drive passes through idler gears to the four cams, so the cams can be very easily unbolted, the shims changed, and the cams dropped back into place without messing with a camchain/tensioner or the belt dive.

    The forks are an odd mix of cartridge on one side and damper rod+TRAC on the other. The 11 is the calmer bike to ride, but the 13 is much more capable when corners are to be attacked.

  14. I believe the 1100 was first sold in Europe as a late 1989 model and came to North America as a 1990.

    Oddly coincidental now that the new NT1100, not yet available to NA, has the same size 1089cc engine but with only two cylinders. No shaft drive either, but I guess weight was a big factor in the production of this new sport tourer.

    Will it measure up to the venerable ST1100? Maybe in standard amenities like cruise control, heated grips, etc., but in smoothness, weather protection and locomotive like stability?

    I kinda doubt it.

  15. If Honda wanted to walk away with the sport-touring market (again), here’s what they might consider doing.

    Start with the 1100–c’mon, more than enough motor–and do three things:

    1. Lighten it by at least 150 lbs. If anyone could figure this out, it’s Honda.

    2. Lengthen the swingarm by about 3″. This would would put a passenger’s butt in front of the rear axle and make the bike far less “front-flighty” when loaded with gear.

    3. Fit it with at least a 190 rear tire. The ST’s penchant for eating tires, especially the rear, is well known and leads the serious tourer to get far more aquainted with the pretty-good-with-a-few-additions tool kit. On the other hand, I’ve made friends with people at Helena Cycle Center in Montana, Zap Motorcycles in Paynesville, MN., and just last fall, C & C Custom Cycle in Chariton, IA…

    Do that, Honda, and put me on the wait list. I’ll be patient.

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