They say, “Earth stopping power, iconic style.”
We say, “Yes, but who’s it for?”
I first laid eyes on a Valkyrie in 1994. We'd received a tip that Honda was doing an invite-only focus group at a Southern California motorcycle store, and I showed up to find riders taking short demos on an American-style cruiser with a Gold Wing engine. I wasn't invited, so I didn't get to ride it. In fact, when the Honda personnel realized a press guy had crashed the party, they loaded the bikes back in the truck. I didn't get any info, but the photos I shot gave the world its first look at Honda's forthcoming cruiser in the news column of the July 1994 issue of Motorcyclist. The story then—as now—was that Honda was developing applications beyond pure touring for its excellent flat-six engine.
A year and half later, I became the first journalist to ride a production Valkyrie when Honda provided one exclusively for the debut issue of our sister magazine, Motorcycle Cruiser. The Valkyrie immediately became one of the favorite motorcycles of the Motorcycle Cruiser staff, revered for its all-around functional excellence. Unfortunately, function isn't usually one of the top requirements for a cruiser buyer, so the Valkyrie cruiser—and the stunning, limited-edition Valkyrie Rune spin-off—disappeared from Honda's line up in 2004.
But now the Valkyrie has been rebooted, this time as the Gold Wing Valkyrie. For stalwart fans, the name raised hopes for the return of the original über-cruiser. Unfortunately for them, this latest Valkyrie arrived without any cruiser trappings, in a more streamlined, purposeful package. If Honda had instead called it, say, the Viking, discussions about whether this is a modern cruiser never would have happened. As it stands, listening to a roomful of motojournalists and Honda reps trying to categorize the new bike is amusing and confirms that the bike wasn't built to fill any existing niche but, rather, to exploit the pleasures of Honda's flat-six (F6) engine and expand the applications of the Gold Wing platform.
If the recent F6B was a big step away from the hard-core touring concept of the Gold Wing, the Valkyrie is an even greater departure. It gives up virtually all touring amenities in favor of a big helping of style and less poundage. But don't let words like "sporting" slip off your tongue just yet. It still brings a 750-pound claimed curb weight (full of fuel) and shaft drive with it. Nor is the engine hopped up or breathed on. Revised mufflers and a new airbox design give it a throatier call, but the engine and drivetrain internals are the same. It feels a bit punchier because it's carrying less poundage, but it isn't actually hitting any harder than Honda's other F6s.
But that is as it should be, in my view. The broad, strong power of the 1,832cc flat-six is the Valkyrie's most endearing quality. It makes power from barely off-idle, responding enthusiastically to the slightest tug at the two 40mm throttle bodies. You can purr along in top (fifth) gear at less than 2,000 rpm without lugging, then just open the throttle. The power flows seamlessly right past 7,000 rpm. With six cylinders singing, it actually sounds like it's spinning faster than that. You can carry a lot of rpm and let the exhaust announce your approach or shift up two or three gears and still have plenty of acceleration available when you ask for it. Shifts are smooth and fairly quiet, with nicely staged ratios. Five speeds are certainly enough for such a torquey motor, though more ratios are virtually always better, so we wouldn't object to a six speed. The light, manageable clutch cooperated with full-throttle departures, never heating up or becoming unpredictable. My only quibble with the drivetrain is that the shock absorbers it incorporates sometimes create a slight lash-like effect, winding up a bit when you get on and off the throttle. Other Honda flat-sixes haven't been noted for outstanding mileage, and there is no reason to expect this one to be, either. However, history says it will be reliable and ask for little maintenance.
Part of the engine's attraction is that it carries its weight relatively low, making the Gold Wing family more manageable than a taller engine might be when walking it around or back-and-forthing through tight meanders. Compared to the F6B, the Valkyrie chassis has been rearranged for slightly slower, more stable handling. The Valkyrie has one-inch-larger wheels than the F6B, with a 130/60R-19 tire up front and a 180/55R-17 on the rear. The 45mm cartridge fork is slightly longer, too, giving a third of a degree more rake with two tenths of a degree more trail. It also gets an extra three-quarters of an inch of wheelbase. The F6B is noticeably quicker to turn at low speeds, but that isn't to say that the Valkyrie was high effort or reluctant to turn. It takes a tiny bit more effort when making full-lock turns at parking-lot speeds, but nothing to remark on for a 750-pound motorcycle.
The Valkyrie remained calmly settled during fast cornering, except when encountering sharp-edged bumps. We didn't have a chance to mess with the preload adjuster for the single Pro-Link shock under the right side cover during our 100-mile test ride and so can't say that it would have changed the ride much. Rolling along a curving road, the Valkyrie is stable and predictable and easy to put where you want it. You could lean it deeper than the F6B before anything scratched pavement, due not only to the longer fork but also the repositioned footpegs, which are over an inch higher and slightly more forward.
We were pleased to find that the powerful dual four-piston calipers up front and two-piston caliper for the rear are not linked. We would have liked some adjustability for the front brake lever, however. ABS is a $1000 option (on top of the $17,999 base price), and available only with a black paint scheme. The ABS version also brings self-canceling turn signals, since that feature requires the same wheel sensor as the ABS, and adds four pounds, much it unsprung. Even without ABS, the brakes are strong and controllable, limited only by the tires and your ability to attenuate braking force precisely.
Although the saddle sits a quarter-inch farther off the road than the F6B's, the seat feels as though there is less padding. Besides being harder, the Valkyrie seat is narrower and sharper-edged than the F6B's, which seems significantly more comfy. Though the seat made the biggest difference in comfort, we also preferred the footpeg location on the F6B.
Without the fairing and dash of the F6B, the Valkyrie brings an entirely new and eye-ctaching instrument panel with a full LCD display that is big and easy to read in full, bright sunlight. You can even customize the greeting that scrolls across it when you first light it up. Honda has new standard left-handlebar switchology based on the layout created for the dual-clutch-transmission bikes. This puts the horn button in the middle of the housing, above the turn-signal switch, which drops to where the horn button used to be. During the initial couple of hours of the press ride, there was a lot of honking (it's a solid note) as riders tried to cancel the turn signals and found the horn button instead. If it's your only bike, you'll quickly adjust. If it's one of several rides, your riding companions may regard you as an annoying honky. All-LED lighting enhances its modern look. There are three colors: black, metallic blue, and dark red metallic. The black and blue versions black-out a number of components, including the engine, grab rail, and fork lowers, which are polished or painted a silver metallic finish on the red bike.
Overall, the Valkyrie shares unmistakable resemblance to the F6B, with its side radiators and low-in-the-haunches profile. Nonetheless, they are clearly different models. With the Valkyrie, you give up 90 pounds and $2,000 worth of wind protection, integrated luggage and surround sound in favor of a harder kick in the butt and large helping of attitude, in the form of leaner style and a basso profundo exhaust note. The Valkyrie is more fun when the road twists, but a bit less so when the ride is long.
Just as the F6B did, the Valkyrie takes the familiar bones of the Gold Wing and populates a new market subsegment. Whether you're willing to sacrifice the GW (or F6B's) long-distance capabilities for a more engaging, though still not hair-on-fire aggressive power cruiser, is up to you. No doubt Honda, still trying to determine exactly who the Valky will appeal to, will be watching the sales charts closely.
||l-c horizontally opposed six
||Aluminum twin spar
||Showa 45mm fork
||Showa shock adjustable for spring preload
||Dual Nissin four-piston calipers, 296mm discs with ABS
||Nissin two-piston caliper, 316mm disc with ABS
||130/60R-19 Dunlop Roadsmart
||180/55R-17 Dunlop Roadsmart
|Claimed curb weight
Honda builds a lighter, slightly meaner cruiser off the Gold Wing platform. But polite breeding is hard to keep down.