Honda NRX1800 Valkyrie Rune NZ 2003 Review Motorcycle Trader New Zealand

31 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Honda NRX1800 Valkyrie Rune NZ 2003 Review Motorcycle Trader New Zealand
Honda Valkyrie Rune

Honda NRX1800 Valkyrie Rune NZ 2003 Review

Honda NRX1800 Valkyrie Rune NZ 2003

Styling and appearance come a poor second in the Honda RD scale of priorities, compared to mechanical excellence. Reliability, technical innovation, performance and handling are each more vital than that indefinable something called visual allure. Honda’s ongoing showroom success says we shouldn’t knock this policy – even if, so often, it’s evident that Honda first engineers each new model, then gives it to the styling department to wrap some clothes round it.

The result has frequently been an anodyne appearance disguising a wonderful mechanical package, as on the SP-1/2 V-twins, the CBR600, or more recent FireBlade variants. It’s as if the bikes were designed by committee, and still worse, out of a styling manual. You can almost imagine them sitting round the table at one of those typical Japanese planning meetings, leafing through the pages. Colours?

Graphics? ‘Oh, let’s get one of our staff to play around a little bit on the computer, and for sure we can come up with something that won’t upset too many customers.’ Think I’m joking? Compare any FireBlade or CBR 600 of the past five years to the equivalent Yamaha – or, better still, to a 996/998 Ducati, or MV Agusta F4. Where does it say that only Italian manufacturers are allowed to focus on style, as well as substance?

Which is perhaps one reason why, until now, Japanese manufacturers have mainly shied away from the Limited Edition concept that has proved so successful, and profitable, for companies such as Harley-Davidson, Aprilia, MV Agusta and Benelli. That’s unless, like Yamaha with the R7, they need to create a homologation special to go racing with, or want to flick the finger at their rivals by showing that they can make something technically tricked-out for people to buy and ride on the street.

But that’s an engineering issue, not styling. Otherwise, intent on remaining true to their proven mass production modus operandi, Japan Inc’s four manufacturers have mostly spurned the chance to attack niche market sectors with a low volume, high-end product aimed at wealthier and more discriminating customers prepared to pay extra for something that is just plain special and, particularly, looks different.

Until now. And it can be no coincidence that the move to stand Honda’s best practice on its head, RD wise, has come from American Honda. With its own factory in Maryville, Ohio, already building the six-cylinder Gold Wing and its Valkyrie cruiser spinoff, Honda’s US affiliate is a sort-of manufacturer in its own right, catering for the world’s largest bike market with bikes that are engineered in Japan, but are essentially creations of Honda America.

When our RD department develops concept models, everyone in the company looks at favourite elements in them and thinks, what if? says Ray Blank, American Honda’s vice-president of motorcycles. On this basis, we created the Valkyrie custom-styled motorcycle from the first six-cylinder GL1500 Gold Wing. The Valkyrie built an unusually strong following, so when we introduced the GL1800 six, we wanted to extend this concept once again, and take another cutting-edge motorcycle into uncharted territory, exploding old limitations on what a manufacturer could mass produce.

In this case, Honda America looked back at the swoopy Zodia V-twin concept bike the company displayed back in 1995, with its trailing-link front suspension. With this in mind, to create an alternative to the 1500cc Valkyrie but powered by the new 1832cc six-cylinder motor, Blank asked the designers at HRA to include this look in a series of concept bikes based on the big-inch GL engine, to create a custom motorcycle that would be really special, a limited production model to be built on the Maryville line, but costing significantly more than other Honda models. Honda called the result of this three-year process the Valkyrie Rune – referring to the mystic stones respected by the ancient Vikings.

It was HRA’s head of motorcycle design, Martin Manchester, who was charged with overseeing the creation of the three concept motorcycles, catchily known as T1 to T3, which appeared at the December 2000 Long Beach Show in California, each coming at the post-Zodia design question from a different angle. Honda RD had threatened to pre-empt matters by already starting development of the T1 concept, but of all of them, T2 was far and away the most acclaimed, both within Honda America and by the general public, who rated it four times more popular than any of the other designs. Honda bosses acted quickly in the wake of the public’s reaction to the showbike, stood corporate convention on its head, and told their RD engineers to translate the T2 showbike into a production model, just the way it already looked.

Little more than two years later, the result is now in production in the US, although at $US25,499 ($NZ44,112), it’s not cheap. But the model will be built in extremely limited numbers, not more than 1200 bikes in total, or one for each American Honda dealer, says Blank, who also avers that Honda America will stand by its commitment not to increase production numbers to meet a likely greater demand.

The Rune employs the same liquid-cooled 74×71 mm 1832cc flat-six engine as the GL1800, with chain-driven sohc and two valves per cylinder, fitted with PGM-F1 fuel injection but six 32mm throttle bodies, compared to just two on the Gold Wing. Combined with the short, six-into-two, highly stylised triangular megaphone exhausts that faithfully reproduce those on the T2 concept bike, the result has been dyno-tested by Motorcycle Cruiser magazine (Honda won’t declare performance figures for the Rune) to produce 91bhp at 5250rpm, with tree-pulling torque of 110.9 ft/lb at just 2500 rpm delivered via a five-speed gearbox with hydraulic clutch, and shaft final drive.

This ultra-smooth powerpack is rigidly housed in an aluminium beam frame with a massive 1750mm wheelbase, although this is actually shorter than it seems, thanks to the same trick as Harley employs on the V-Rod, to make the front end look rangier than it really is. This sees the front struts – which on the Rune are styled to look like telescopic fork legs, when they’re nothing of the kind! – raked out much more than the steering stem, operating a trailing bottom link to actuate the twin upper shocks via pushrods and links, which comprise the front suspension.

At the rear, there’s somewhat improbably not only a single-sided swingarm but also the same Unit Pro-Link monoshock suspension as found on Valentino’s RC211V World champion MotoGP racer, with the laydown shock’s upper mount contained within the swingarm rather than the chassis, in turn helping lower the seat height to just 690mm, and enhancing the long, low, Kustom Krooze look. Dry weight is a predictably massive claimed 362kg, and to stop all this there’s a pair of the big floating 330mm front discs Honda first fitted to the FireBlade about five years ago, each gripped with three-piston calipers, with an ever-bigger 336mm/two-pot rear. The Rune features Honda’s trademark linked brake system as standard, so stepping on the rear brake pedal also activates the central piston on each front brake.

Honda Valkyrie Rune

Not even the best photos can really prepare you for seeing the Rune in the metal, lower and less massive than you expect it to be, flashing the Californian sunshine back at you from all its acres of chrome. This bike is extremely well detailed and built to a very high level of quality, and has undoubted presence, even at rest, where you can appreciate to the full its Looney Tunes styling and 1940s design cues, like that fabulous twin-bulb headlamp that looks like it came straight from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the chromed cylinder head covers helping deliver that muscle-car image, the slam-styled rear fender complete with flush-mounted LED teardrop lights that all but hides the rear tyre, and above all that wonderful stylised chrome cover for the twin radiators, which is the ultimate on hotrod style on two wheels. This bike could only have been styled in California!

Moreover, no bike I’ve ever ridden in public, not even the prototype MV Agusta F4 before it reached production, aroused such a constant flow of attention and universally favourable comment, as the Rune. Grinding through the morning traffic in Santa Monica, you get a continuous series of nods and smiles, interspersed with truckies shouting out Nice bike! as you trickle past them.

tUnder US road conditions, this is an extremely satisfying bike to ride. Okay, lean angle in turns is strictly limited to 32 degrees before the hero tabs on the flip-up footrests start grinding, and if you ignore the warning signs and let them rise up, you’ll ground the exhaust very quickly. So canyon-carving is only an option if you take it easy round turns, and use the Rune’s effortless torque and surprisingly brisk but ultra-smooth acceleration to power out of them relatively upright.


In spite of the low seat, the riding position isn’t too cramped, even though the sticking-out cylinders of the boxer engine means the footrests are further back than on other custom bikes, which actually adds to the sense of control you have over such a big, long bike, even with the long reach to the handlebars, which curve back gracefully towards your hands, but still require you to lean forward a little to reach them – there are two optional lengths, one shorter than the other. There’s just a single seat – Rune riders are Lone Runers! – with an improbably realistic fake carbon fibre vinyl covering to the squab. Climbing aboard at rest, the bike does seem as long as a football pitch, but reach down low on the left to turn the ignition key, crank up the engine on the automatic choke, select a gear – and suddenly the Rune becomes shorter and more manageable in motion.

The engine is a gem, so smooth and torquey with a distinctive wooffle through the twin exhausts at low revs that reminds you of an all-American V8 car, which then flattens out a little to a silkier, offbeat lilt at higher revs. The hyper-minimalist instrument dash in the top of the fuel tank doesn’t contain a tacho – just a digital mph speedo, fuel level indicator, dual trip/odometer and five warning lights, all lit by a restful blue light at night, but strangely (and annoyingly) not including that vital ingredient, a clock, or even a temp gauge on a liquid-cooled bike.

The Rune’s high all-up weight means it sits down well over bumps, but the limited 100mm wheel travel at both ends means you get jiggled up and down over the washboard effect of sealing joints on concrete freeways, where there seems inadequate rebound damping, especially at the rear. Generally, though, ride quality is adequate by cruiser standards, and the front end seems pretty good at eating up normal road shock.

But the big surprise is the steering – the Rune feels much less of a land yacht than you expect it to be with that mile-long wheelbase, and coupled with the good grip from the 17-inch Dunlop D251 tyres (whose diameter tells you a lot about the Rune’s unlikely, but justified sporting pretensions), you can hustle the bike through turns with lots of confidence, and some panache. Just watch out for decking the footrests – but there’s a surprising sensitivity in the Rune’s steering – it responds well to quite small inputs on the ‘bars. It also stops incredibly well from high speeds, especially if you use all three brakes, and don’t rely on just stepping on the foot pedal, as you can do by using just the linked pair at slower speeds in traffic.

Well, what else can I say except – more, please, Honda! I honestly never thought I’d enjoy riding the Rune as much as I did, and nor did I think it would be so capable in a mixture of road conditions. Okay, this is a freeway fang above all else, but it’s also a civilised ride in town or on reasonably well-surfaced country roads. But even if you’re not into bikes like this, endowed with extreme styling that sends out a statement, the Rune may have a message in its stones that you should read.

For if it’s the commercial sellout it threatens to be, perhaps Honda’s honchos in Japan as well as the US will realise that they need to let the stylists at least work alongside the engineers in developing each new model, and they shouldn’t be so afraid of going the limited edition route in future, especially with their sportbikes.

Honda Valkyrie Rune
Honda Valkyrie Rune
Honda Valkyrie Rune
Honda Valkyrie Rune
Honda Valkyrie Rune

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