HONDA RUNES YOU
The first time that I saw the Honda Valkyrie Rune on the web, I thought that the company was joking that this, like so many hundreds, if not thousands before it, was just another exotic one-off concept bike, to be ridden by few (like the engineer or designer if it even had a working engine and components) and admired and dreamed about by the rest of us. But I was wrong. Happily. That such a creation could come from a manufacturer known around the world for Honda Cubs and the Fireblade, each the pinnacle of dependability, reliability and solid engineering, was even more remarkable. This bike was simply sensational and most impressive of all you could (if your wallet thickness allowed) go and buy one from your local dealer.
Needless to say I was straight onto the press department at Honda in Torrance, just south of LAX, to get my loan request in as fast as possible. Jon, Hondas ever-professional media Lord was charming and polite as usual, but I sensed that there might be a wait. So, for the next two months, I waited patiently, popping down to collect different machines over the summer that included the very excellent and probably best other cruiser around the VTX 1800 and also the 600RR, amongst other kit. While were on the subject, a word about the VTX; for such a large and long bike the VTX custom is a hell of a good ride. Well balanced and stable even when meandering around town in slow traffic, it not only instills confidence for both rider and passenger, it also has a great beast of a V-twin engine with bags of torque that will get you out of trouble in any situation. The test bike was, of course, fitted with standard Honda factory pipes, but Ive heard a few up at the Rock Store and I can tell you that its a fabulous chorus, much meatier than any Hog! The 600RR is great too and you can read my review from 2003 on TACH.
Back to the main protagonist and the concept of riding a bike for a week that looks like its come straight off the set of Flash Gordon. The first test was to navigate out of the Honda workshop! Its painted with a special protective paint that allows the bikes to be moved easily, but it also gives it the traction capability of sheet ice and as you know big, fat, fresh rear rubber and ice dont mix so well. With the workshop behind us, the ruby red Rune and I made a beeline for the 405 and the chance to see how this traffic stopper behaved on the freeway. You may have noticed that the Rune has a rather large and prominent front single chromed headlamp. Well that lamp doesnt just look aesthetically pleasing and illuminate the road brightly, it also doubles as a pretty efficient wind breaker. Up to 80 mph and the Rune and I are becoming acquainted nicely. You sit low, with your legs curled around the enormous gas tank, arms outstretched clutching the wide chromed handles. Its an impressive feeling being on the Rune, everything is big and cool, both to look at and to admire. The controls are all standard Honda and therefore excellent. But the engineers really have gone chrome crazy: the stuff is everywhere - even the indicator switches are chrome-like plastic. The rear shaft drive and suspension are fairly basic and no worse for that but the extra wide rubber does transmit every crease in the tarmac to your derrière. Windblast is limited and its more comfortable at high speed than the VTX or similar cruisers that dont have such a big front assembly creating a large hole in the air.
If you talk with Honda engineers and designers theyll tell you what a compromise the Rune is. The chromed radiator housing at the front of the engine is just one area where design won over engineering; for months engineers couldnt get the 1800cc unit to cool properly with this configuration. I think its one of the highlights of the bikes design - bold and beautifully sculpted. The rear LED light cluster is also an area that gets a great deal of attention and comments. No one has ever seen anything like this and the integration into the rear wheel arch is a pleasure to behold. So, where to take such a beast to measure reaction from a fickle Los Angeles designer crowd who think theyve seen it all before? I set off to Santa Monica airport. Built in the twenties, for many years it was the home to Douglas Aircraft Company. The famous DC3 first flew and was manufactured at the airport. Today the airport is for private planes only and used as a flight school. There is a great museum, and some big hangers that celebrities like Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld use to store their vast auto collections. Unfortunately neither Jay nor Jerry were available to admire the Rune, but I found the next best thing; a red carpet opening of the Los Angeles Art festival. It took me all of 30 seconds to persuade the valets and the policemen in attendance that this bike deserved special parking privileges. So onto the red carpet we went, parked beside the welcoming tables. The bike cop volunteered to guard it whilst I was adding to my nonexistent art collection. I think the women assumed I was famous LA biker boy George Clooney, although that only lasted till I removed my tinted ARAI helmet and their admiring glances realigned on the bike once more. For a bunch of fairly boring art lovers, they didnt half make a fuss of the designer bike. Numerous ladies asked for rides back into town and two fellas, who didnt even have licenses, asked to buy it, no doubt keen to be seen on the latest and greatest.
Fresh from my sensory assault on the west side I ventured down Sunset Blvd on a busy Thursday evening, for there was one person who I knew would really appreciate a visit. Mark, a fellow biker, and the guardian of the stupendously fashionable Skybar at the Mondrian Hotel took one look and insisted that I park it right outside the door besides the red ropes. I dont think that has ever happened to anyone before. In fact the last time I saw anything parked on the driveway it was the ex-Shah of Irans crimson Lamborghini Muira, now owned and driven by one Mr. Nicolas Cage. Ron, the back door manager, asked if he could sell it to the highest bidder whilst I got a soft drink. It was very tempting.
With the coolest spots in town conquered and the bike receiving thumbs up from truck drivers and kids all over, it was time to cruise. Anna, my girlfriend, who is a bikers dream pillion passenger, not just because she is gorgeous and has legs that make Julia Roberts look like an dwarf, thought she could sit on the rear of the single seat cushion and rest her shoes (I made sure they were soft) on the wide (chromed naturally) exhaust pipes. And so it was, two up and on our way to lunch on Pacific Coast Highway. With retuned Goldwing power, this bike goes so well its crazy. Even with Anna, the Rune wades through heavy traffic, and cruises with aplomb. To get the best balance, with this not so light and compact bike, I found it essential to use the rear break in town, Hondas linked breaking system allowing for far better front end stability. Moon Shadows awaited us as did, once again, the royal treatment from the valet team. Now I know what it must be like to be The President! He surely doesnt get any better treatment than a rider arriving on a Rune! Anna agreed and even said that in spite of there being no real seat to speak of she thought it was one of the most comfortable bikes she had been on.
With my week up, I couldnt resist one last test. Ferrari Beverly Hills have seen some impressive machines in their time, so I thought that sales manager and friend James Del Pozzo would enjoy a little two wheeled exhibit to spice up his show room floor. James at first assumed it was a custom made one-off. What movie is that from? he enquired. When I explained he could have a new Ferrari 360 or a Rune in every color and still have money left over for a Porsche 911 he nearly fainted.
How to sum up the Rune? Certainly for the money, you could have a 600RR and a VTX, or for that matter a well sorted Roadking or a Ducatti 999 for less dosh. But those bikes, great as they may be, are developments of standard production models, some of which go back a generation or more. The Rune is not a motorbike in the conventional sense. It may have all the trappings of a well-engineered production model and I have no doubt will be as reliable as one of its Honda Cub siblings, but it is so much more than that. Its a rolling mechanical artwork, something so special that it brings smiles and happiness to passers-by and fellow riders in the same measure, and that most likely costs a small fortune to develop and wont make Honda much in way of a return on investment. But that is the beauty of dreams. Designers sketch all day long, in charge of dreaming of future machines on our behalf and its a rare occasion that a designers dream actually comes to life. Well, this Rune is a dream come true, its definitely one of the most special bikes ever developed and let us hope that others will be allowed to follow. Keep your fingers crossed - the next few years could be vintage.
Arai helmets: http://www:araiamericas.com
Intersport Clothing: 1 800 416 8255.
Suggested retail price: $25,499; $26,999 with chrome wheels
Standard colors: Black, blue, maroon
ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled horizontally -opposed six
Valve arrangement: SOHC; two valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke, displacement: 74 x 71mm, 1832cc
Compression Ratio: 9.8:1
Transmission: Five speeds
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 68.9 inches
Dry Weight: 769.6 pounds
Front suspension: Trailing bottom-link; 3.9 inches of travel
Rear suspension: Single shock; 3.9 inches of travel
Front brake: 2, double-action 3-piston calipers, full-floating 13-in. discs
Rear brake: Double-action two-piston caliper, 13.2-in. disc
Front tire: 150/60R-18 tubeless radial
Rear tire: 180/55R-17 tubeless radial
Seat Height: 27.2 inches
Fuel Capacity: 6.2 gallons