Road Test Review
Its wheelbase stretches a mighty 68.9 inches, the longest in Honda’s lineup by more than an inch. With six gallons of the premium fuel it requires aboard, the bike weighs 878 pounds, two more than the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing.
Its flat six with six throttle bodies and those two huge mufflers deliver 109 pounds-feet of torque to that fat 6- by 17-inch rear wheel, and it has the largest front and rear brake discs ever fitted to a production Honda. Well, guess it had better, eh?
We’re talking about the Valkyrie Rune, of course, easily the wildest production motorcycle to come along in decades. You’ve seen the Rune in magazines and at the motorcycle shows-Rider even published a series of detailed articles about the bike, its styling, development and manufacture back in the May 2003 issue. In addition to simply showing off its styling and engineering muscle, Honda’s goal with the Rune was to establish a successor to the Valkyrie and future direction for the flat-six family, which is unique and exclusive to Honda. And it has clearly succeeded. But we’ve been staring at, sitting on and speculating about the bike and its future with Honda designers, PR types, Hollywood celebrities and fellow motojournalists since we saw the first pictures last summer. Enough talking, scratching and sniffing-how does the Rune run and ride?
As a limited-production machine there were few press bikes available, so American Honda was even more discriminating than usual about releasing Runes for testing. Rider was among the few magazines that were allowed to ride off with one for more than a day. In addition to putting the behemoth through its paces, this allowed us to weigh it and run it on the dyno back-to-back with a stock 2003 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing.
The Wing’s liquid-cooled, fuel-injected, 1,832cc opposed flat six-cylinder engine with single overhead cams and two valves per cylinder is the basis for the Rune’s mill. Six individual 32mm throttle bodies feed the cylinders instead of the Wing’s two 40mm units, however, and the Rune engine’s growl and slightly uneven lope at idle confirm additional changes to its cams, ignition and of course exhaust. Keep small children and pets away, please.
With the Gold Wing mill already cranking out enough power and torque to smoke the back tire and pull wheelies riding two-up and fully loaded, it’s no surprise that Honda didn’t hot-rod the Rune more. Outrageous power was not really the idea for this rolling sculpture, and would have required an even larger pair of radiators to keep the temp gauge in the black. Some of the Wing engine’s user-friendly traits-32,000-mile valve adjustment intervals, easy regular service and accessibility-may have had to be sacrificed to make room for more ponies, too. Though the company definitely wanted to build a bike unlike anything that’s come before, Honda also meant for the Rune to be a rider’s bike, not a trailer queen.
And a rider’s bike it is, though the first few moments on the big, $26,000 Rune still require a pretty stiff upper lip. Swing a leg over, reach for the bar and settle into that low 27-inch solo seat, maybe paddle around a bit, and the Rune’s girth and chrome Superbowl-trophy headlight nearly three feet in front make you feel like you’ve straddled a top-fuel dragbike, or perhaps something out of a James Bond movie. Q might have even designed the remote steering lock lever back by the ignition switch, which releases automatically when you turn the ignition on.
The Rune’s engine fires with a growl that sounds a bit like a Porsche race car. At low speeds the bike doesn’t hide its weight, weaving a bit at a walking pace as the nearly 6-foot wheelbase searches for gyroscopic stability from the wheels. Once well underway, though, the pounds melt away and the Rune handles and steers much like any big cruiser, albeit one with a rocket motor. Twist the grip to the stop in the midrange and the bike leaps forward like a locomotive in one of those speeded-up vintage movies. Against a 2003 Gold Wing GL1800 on the dyno, the Rune made about one percent more peak torque (see the chart), and slightly more horsepower and torque overall in the low- and midrange from 2,000-3,750 rpm. Above 3,800 rpm the Wing makes about five percent more horsepower and torque.
As you might expect of the Honda six, vibration is virtually nonexistent, and except for the sometimes abrupt throttle response the bike runs like a snarling 100-horsepower refrigerator. Shifting the five-speed is clean and smooth, with just a hint of driveline lash from the shaft final drive.
Comfort is surprisingly good on the Rune, and the 6.2 gallons of fuel in that seamless tank give it decent range. The thin gunfighter seat is really the only limiting factor. In addition to the optional chrome wheels, our Candy Black Cherry test bike had one of two available handlebars with 2 inches less pullback, placing the rider in a slight forward lean when reaching for the stainless-steel grips with soft, knobby rubber inserts. In the interest of clean styling you won’t find any lever adjustments or unnecessary switches on the bar, and the chrome master cylinders have an integrated design complemented by stainless-steel mesh covered cables and hoses. Nearly every external part is only used on the Rune, says Honda, and we believe it.
Under most riding conditions that robotic looking, chrome, trailing bottom link front suspension provides an amazingly supple ride. The axle load is transferred through pushrods and a link to two upper shocks, one housing a main spring and the other a sub-spring and damping system. No adjustments are provided, and bigger bumps and/or spirited riding can sometimes overwhelm the front end slightly, but it’s more than stout enough for normal riding.
The single-sided swingarm in back uses a compact single-shock suspension setup borrowed from Honda’s RC211V MotoGP race bike, in which the top shock mount is in the swingarm itself, allowing for a low seat height with almost 4 inches of suspension travel on the Rune. A remote reservoir offers compression damping adjustment, and the ride in back is pretty good for such a big cruiser, though it gets a bit jouncy on uneven pavement and can jolt the rider over big, sharp-edged bumps. Rebound damping is a touch light for aggressive cornering, too, though the bike runs out of cornering clearance (similar to the VTX1800’s) before it runs out of stability. Linked, triple-disc brakes haul the Rune down hard, with good feel and strength at the lever and pedal.
Don’t look for any storage space on the Rune, but you will find an integrated security system and complete instrumentation (except for a tach) on the handlebar and in a non-glare LED display on the tank. Honda only plans to build about two Runes per dealer for 2004, and is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward 2005. So if owning the biggest, baddest, wildest-looking custom of the millennium thus far is your goal, you had better not wait.