Photos by Kevin Wing
If you’re old enough, you’ll remember Honda’s tradition of naked ‘Wings goes back a long way; the modern Gold Wing traces its roots to the original GL1000, which was introduced in 1975 as a standard, fairing-less bike.
But over the years the Gold Wing got bigger with more plastic and it wasn’t until 1996 when Honda went back to naked and unleashed the Valkyrie, a big-bore cruiser that was a stripped-down version of the Gold Wing, using the ‘Wing’s 1,520 cc flat six engine.
To demonstrate why Honda would offer such a unique machine, it was accompanied by an impressive television ad that showed the bike performing some rather impressive high-speed, feet-up slides on a dry lake.
The bike was around for only six years, ending its run in 2003 with a final swan song in the form of the Rune, with outlandishly extravagant styling that included a trailing link front suspension system. It was never meant to replace the Valkyrie, which has since grown a loyal following, but was rather a limited edition styling exercise.
After the Rune, Honda abandoned the stripped Gold Wing exercise for nearly a decade, until this year, when the company reintroduced the 2014 Valkyrie.
This Valkyrie was designed to turn heads, and it does that job well, as I discovered at its press launch, held in Temecula, California last week.
The latest Valkyrie is again based on the Gold Wing touring bike, using its twin-spar aluminum frame and 1,832 cc flat six engine. The engine is unchanged, using the same unaltered five-speed transmission and shaft drive, but it has a retuned exhaust and airbox that are designed to produce a richer, deeper sound, especially when getting on the gas. Maximum output is claimed at 114 hp and peak torque at 123 lb-ft, though the latter arrives at just 4,000 rpm.
Chassis geometry has been relaxed even further than it already is on the Gold Wing, with the rake angle kicked out about half a degree to 29.5, trail increased to 114 mm from 109 mm and wheelbase stretched to a lengthy 1,707 mm from 1,690 mm.
Wheel sizes have also changed; now you’ll find a 19-inch up front and a 17-inch in the rear, both wheels up one inch in diameter compared to the Gold Wing, which gives the Valkyrie a bit more cornering clearance and lightens steering effort a touch.
Styling has, of course, been greatly altered, and although the Valkyrie is not as ostentatious as the Rune, it’s still much more avant-garde than the conservatively styled original Valkyrie. Two bulky side pods protect the side-mounted radiators, and the pods extend forward to either side of the fork, which itself is shrouded in a blacked-out nacelle.
This gives the bike a bulky front end that is supposed to mimic the stance of a charging bull, or so the sketches shown in the technical briefing demonstrated. I find it’s more akin to Spike the Bulldog of Looney Tunes fame. The LED headlight has a small peak that combines with the small instrument pod to provide a bit of wind protection for the rider’s torso.
At the rear is a new subframe that lowers the rear of the bike, as well as one of the largest fenders, by area, of any motorcycle I’ve seen. The rear fender alone probably contains enough plastic to dress one-and-a-half CBR250s.
Under the fender is a longer single-sided swingarm, which helps account for the added wheelbase, but unfortunately its stylish single-sidedness is somewhat lost due to the extended coverage of the massive rear fender and the large exhaust pipe. Oddly, from the rear the Valkyrie looks more like a scooter than a big-bore power cruiser.
There’s no luggage space on the Valkyrie. There’s a lock located on the rear of the left radiator pod but it unlocks the gas cap remotely, and a there’s mall storage space under the right side cover.
Regardless, the Valkyrie is a head-turner, and it looks particularly mean in blue, which features blacked-out trim. The only other colour available in Canada is black, though it has aluminum coloured grab rails, fork legs and engine covers and a chrome tank console. I think the black bike should have also been completely blacked out for the full gangsta effect.
Honda engineers took a minimalist approach to the cockpit, and you’ll find only basic information at the controls. The LCD display has a bar tachometer, digital speedo, dual trip meters, time and fuel level. On the left switchpod there are only three switches: a high/low beam switch, a turn signal switch and the horn button, and on the right-hand side there’s a kill switch, a starter button and a hazard switch – and that’s all.
There’s no ride mode selection buttons, no suspension adjustment doo-dads, nothing that’s not needed to ride the bike. Even the trip-meter buttons are old school, mounted on the gauge cluster itself. A Grom is not much simpler from the rider’s seat.
Suspension is kept simple with a telescopic fork and linked single shock, without much ability to change settings; the only adjustment you can make is via a remote hydraulic adjuster for rear preload, located under the left-hand side cover.
As is the norm with Honda Canada, only one version will be available in Canada, the $19,999 ABS model, which also includes self-cancelling turn signals.
Practicality is not in the Valkyrie’s job description. Swing a leg over it and you instantly realise this is one massive motorcycle. Yet despite all of the real estate it displaces, if you want to carry your travel essentials (other than the prerequisite smart phone), you’ll have to pack a backpack.
Lifting it off the side stand only confirms your perception of mass, and it’s one of the few motorcycles I can recall that feels long even before you turn a wheel.
The riding position is cruiserish-upright and at 734 mm (28.9 in.) the seat is low, yet it’s still a modest reach to get both feet flat on the ground because the bike has a rather portly midsection. It weighs in at 343 kg (754 lb) wet, and although it’s no lightweight, it undercuts the F6B by 43 kilos and the Gold Wing by 75 kilos. This allows you to really take advantage of the flat six’s seamless delivery of power.
Accelerate away and you just instantly become infatuated with the Valkyrie. Okay, infatuated is too strong a word, but like the nerdy girl you had a crush on in high school, the Valkyrie has an affable personality. The first thing you’ll notice is how planted and solid it feels once you get rolling. Its frame, after all, is over-engineered, having been originally designed to carry a Gold-Wing-sized load. The slight flex you feel on a Gold Wing is completely absent on the Valkyrie.
Despite its civilised road manners, it’s a blast just to roll back the throttle to its stop, which is an unusually long way around on the Valkyrie, requiring a grip reset two-thirds of the way around. This naked ‘Wing’s power is best served up at around 3,500 rpm, where regardless of what gear it’s in, it surges forward with astonishing potency and train-like, vibe-free smoothness. Engineers could have gotten away with making the Valkyrie a two-speed due to the engine’s broad, fat torque curve.
Steering isn’t light, but it is neutral. If you’re a habitual sport bike rider, you might experience some culture shock on this beast. The Valkyrie doesn’t turn so much as it deviates from a straight line. Winding along twisty roads is more of a subtle negotiation with physics, and the Valkyrie demands a steady, reserved approach to cornering rather than a forceful assault. It prefers a wide, constant arc through a turn rather than the frenetic cut-and-thrust line of a racer-boy bike. Take your time, ride on momentum, and you find yourself in a tango-like dance.
The Valkyrie does not weave, it does not wallow, it has zero tendency to wobble, and it can be cranked over surprisingly far before the peg feelers touch ground – altogether commendable for a bike this size.
I don’t really see this bike as a power cruiser or a muscle cruiser, but more of a bona fide hot rod. It’s the plus-sized version of a naked bike, meant for the occasional weekend romp rather than the long-term relationship. It’s a second, maybe even third bike for the affluent motorcyclist.
Its exhaust note is unmistakable, as it should be, considering the Valkyrie is the only flat-six cruiser on the market. It’s definitely a curiosity, but it has a certain appeal, as many of my friends have pointed out, though they were also fans of the original.
Perhaps the best indication of who’s interested in a Valkyrie was a guy who spotted us during a photo session and came in for a close look. He was a fan of the previous Valkyrie and has been waiting for Honda to reintroduce a stripped-down Gold Wing ever since. His interest was renewed when the FB6 was introduced, but he found it was still too big and bulky. He was completely enthralled by the Valkyrie.
The only bike I consider a direct competitor for the Valkyrie, and as distinct, is the Triumph Rocket III Roadster, and it’s had a longer run than the original Valkyrie. Honda doesn’t seem to mind taking chances to try to fill a very narrow market niche, which they’ve proven in the past to varying levels of success and failure (do I need to mention the DN-01?).
The Valkyrie seems like a gamble, and whether it stands the test of time, well, only time will tell.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2014 Honda Valkyrie F6C|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled SOHC flat six, 12-valve|
|Power (crank)*||114 hp|
|Tank Capacity||23.2 litres|
|Carburetion||Programmable EFI, 40 mm throttle bodies|
|Tires, front||130/60 R19M/C (63H)|
|Tires, rear||180/55 R17M/C (73H)|
|Brakes, front||Dual 310 mm floating discs, four-piston caliper, dual-channel ABS|
|Brakes, rear||Single 316 mm disc, three-piston caliper, dual-channel ABS|
|Seat height||734 mm|
|Wet weight*||341 kg|
|Warranty||Three years, unlimited mileage, transferable|