Where does the Honda CTX story begin? The obvious place would be the introduction of the bikes. But that isn’t quite the right place to start. We need to go back further.
The year is 2010. It isn’t a good year for motorcycles. The start of the Great Recession is not long in the rear view mirror. Motorcycle sales have plummeted in North America but the plummet is mostly due to the huge number of bikes that were being sold in the years leading up to the switch being flipped by a financial crisis that left most people feeling far less comfortable opening their wallets and purses to buy a new motorcycle. There were other things that had to take priority. Those booming numbers of 2006 and 2007 were mostly due to cruisers selling like hotcakes. Metric cruisers, American cruisers (even Victory Motorcycles for whom we shed a small tear for even still but that is another story).
Given the good things that were happening in the cruiser market before 2008 it made sense that cruisers might pull sales out of the slump that was lingering where other recreational segments were seeing a rebound. Honda was at the forefront of a cruiser rebirth but there were other interesting products and innovations in their pipeline back in 2010. For this story the interesting item was the DCT, or dual clutch transmission, that was introduced in the VFR1200F. Suddenly a clutch lever and a gear shift weren’t going to be a required parts on a motorcycle. Shifting, if you wanted it to be, could be done at the push of a handlebar mounted button or not at all.
This probably seemed like a good idea even if the technology was introduced on a very capable sport-touring machine that was far more enjoyable with the also offered six speed manual transmission. Outside of the motorcycle world, manual transmission were coming to represent only a small sliver of the market be it cars, trucks, atv or SxS. It was reasonable to presume that the DCT transmission would take off in the motorcycle world.
Following the introduction of the DCT in a luxury model Honda looked around for another platform, a less expensive one, in which to broaden the market. We aren’t at the CTX yet though. In 2012 Honda offered the bike the NC700X and the NC700S which were mid-displacement standards. The NC offerings likely gave Honda the idea that a DCT was the way to go. It was a reasonable assumption considering DCT-equipped bikes made up 44% of NC700 units sold. The percentage was even more dramatic in the other DCT platform, the Crosstourer, a soft adventure bike based on the VFR platform, which sold 70% DCT bikes.
Perhaps it would do the same thing in the cruiser segment.
Again, this wasn’t an entirely unrealistic expectation. The Great Recession might have throttled the cruiser market but there were concerns prior to that bad turn of events. The cruiser demographic was aging out even 10 years ago. The average age of a cruiser rider was pretty much going up a year for every year that passed. Eventually this would have dire consequences (and it did). Honda came to the conclusion that something had to give in the cruiser segment if cruisers, and particularly the metric cruiser, was going to have any future at all. Some indication of this thinking was already apparent in the launch of the Fury and other bikes on that custom platform.
But flair, style and coolness, in a traditional vein, wasn’t going to solve the bigger problem. What would solve the dilemma was a combination of Comfort, Touring and Experience. That’s right – a lot of CTX. Honda decided to keep the ergonomics of the cruiser and the long wheelbase of a cruiser – two very proven benefits – but change everything else. Gone was traditional styling. What came next was something entirely different. Maybe this would be what was needed to entice new riders, let alone new cruiser riders, to the motorcycle family.
Everything about the CTX700 was intended to be non-threatening. The seat height was low, the centre of gravity was low. The 670cc parallel twin, rather than the traditional v-twin, produced a non-threatening 47hp. But most importantly perhaps, the CTX700 (faired) and the CTX700N (naked) had the DCT transmission offering. The manual transmission had long been perceived as a hurdle to new riders most of whom had only driven cars with automatic transmissions. This was going to be easy.
The Honda CTX700 models were unveiled at the big motorcycle show in Chicago – which made sense because North America is the land of the cruiser. What didn’t perhaps make sense was that all the good news about the adoption of DCT transmission was coming out of the European market which certainly isn’t the land of the cruiser.
At much the same time Honda was doubling down on the CTX concept without waiting to see what the reception would be to an entirely new kind of cruiser with non-traditional looks, engine or transmission. With the styling done, something termed “Front Massive”, Honda looked around for a bigger, more powerful and luxurious offering for the new cruiser mold. The Honda Valkyrie, or F6C in other parts of the world, was about to debut. Stripping the bodywork from a Gold Wing to create a muscle cruiser was a novel approach. It looked interesting and the foundations were long proven and beyond reproach but there was a definite sense of repurposing of an aging platform. it was a sense that would be further shown with the arrival of the F6B bagger.
Honda likes family of bikes and the small Honda CTX needed a sibling. This would prove to be the CTX1300. Honda looked around their stable of engine offerings and spied the v-four (1261cc) mill from the ST1300 – again a very proven mill and, as a plus for this segment, it already came connected to a shaft drive. The motor received some tweaks to improve mid range torque while diminishing top end power. Honda also stated that the sound and character over the engine had been enhanced seeing as the CTX1300 was a cruiser and “riding sensation” was important.
The package seemed to hit all the right marks. The seat height was low, panniers were available and the range was over 300km. Other tech features, the T in Honda CTX 1300, included integrated ABS, traction control, a 43 mm inverted forks and a Bluetooth stereo system. Interestingly though, the CTX1300 came with a 5 peed manual transmission where as the CTX700 came standard with the DCT transmission. At almost 49mpg, the big CTX was almost as fuel effecient as it’s much smaller sibling that pushed just over 60mpg.
There seemed to be a lot to like about both members of the CTX family. It didn’t seem like this was going to be a Rune moment for Honda.
Both bikes bikes were gone well before the end of the decade. As was the Valkyrie and the F6B. For better or worse, the North American market wasn’t ready for the arrival of a new style metric cruiser. As time has shown, the metric cruiser market has almost dried up completely. For big bikes you are now left with the likes of the Kawasaki Vaquero and the Suzuki M109R – great offerings but they were also great offerings when they were introduced a long, long time ago. But it isn’t just metric cruisers feeling the demographic and stylistic shift. To some extent those effects are felt across the cruiser spectrum today.
Ironically, it is Honda that has tried to keep the metric cruiser alive. The only new offering in the segment in recent years has been the Rebel 1100. The interesting thing is the Rebel 1100 has a lot in common with the Honda CTX 700 if not the Honda CTX 1300. The Rebel 1100 has a parallel twin engine, it is available as both a DCT or manual, with the 2023 1100T, the big Rebel is also available naked or faired. And finally, and perhaps most significantly, the Rebel 1100 looks like nothing else out there beyond members of its own family.
It is true what they say. All that is old “new” is new “new” again.
Ending the story where we began, was Honda wrong about DCT transmissions? No. The company still offers them in several models like the Rebel, Africa Twin and Gold Wing. Ten years after the DCT introduction, Honda had sold 140,000 bikes in Europe featuring the technology with two-thirds of Gold Wings sold there being DCT models.
by John Molony