It’s impossible to be indifferent toward Honda’s 2004 Valkyrie Rune. Whether you love or hate its styling, it’s impossible to ignore. There you stand, looking down at its overwhelming presence, searching for all-encompassing adjectives. Some immediately come to mind: Massive. Enormous. Exciting. Grandiose. Ostentatious. Extravagant. Daring. Encountering the Rune for the first time, most people view it in stunned silence. People cross parking lots to get a closer look. Pedestrians gape. Truck drivers’ heads swivel. All with good reason. The Rune is awe-inspiring. If you’ve read any of the accounts about the Rune’s development in this and other motorcycle magazines, you know it is a tour de force, envisioned by the designers inside Honda’s R&D inner sanctums, then built in what amounted to an exercise in chutzpah by Honda’s management. Who would have believed a mass manufacturer would build a lavishly custom motorcycle like this with slim chances of recouping its costs? At $24,499 or $26,999 per copy (depending on whether you must have chrome versus non-chromed wheels), the Rune is priced beyond the means and appetites of many. Then, too, the Rune is likely to be a scarce machine in 2004—about 1200-1500 units will roll off the Marysville, Ohio, production line. While Honda’s accountants are undoubtedly scowling, a lot of other folks at Big Red are bursting with pride at this brazen triumph of the possible over the improbable.
So how does the Rune ride? Very well, as it turns out.
Although the sheer size and heft of the Rune is imposing, it’s surprisingly easy to handle. Despite its 103-inch overall length—two-and-one-quarter inches more than a GL1800—the Rune maneuvers quite well around parking lots. It weighs about 30 pounds less than an ABS-equipped GL1800, and the rider sits a full two inches lower—at 27.2 inches above the roadway. At the first intersection’s stoplight, this rider’s reaction was, “Whoa, who raised the pavement?”
The seating position is quite upright and comfortable; mercifully there’s no feet-in-the-stirrups, boots-arrive-first seating, nor any archaic floorboards. (Good thing, as one quickly starts filing down the foot pegs as soon as the roads become interesting, ah, curvy.) One’s boots rest on the pegs just under the gleaming valve covers, and although the 6.2-gallon fuel tank is broader than most people’s shoulders, the Rune’s slim at the waist, so there’s no need to be bow-legged. There are two options for the wide handlebars: forward-set or rear-set (50mm closer to the rider and 20mm lower). I rode both variations with little preference; my contemporary from Cycle News, Blake Conner, who had spent the weekend digging postholes, preferred the forward-set bike with its more upright stance.
Photo courtesy American Honda Motor Company, Inc.
The wide solo saddle was comfortable all day, soaking up most road imperfections. The single-sided swingarm Unit Pro-Link rear suspension is firm—hit a bump hard and you know it, yet you’ll appreciate the knowledge that the huge rear 180/55R-17 radial is back down on the road pronto.
Blake and I both had high praise for the outlandish-looking training link front suspension. While it certainly is an attention grabber, it also does an admirable job of shortening the machine’s wheelbase for responsive maneuverability. And while the Rune is not as nimble as a sport bike, it carved some of the canyon roads above Malibu just fine, thank you very much!
Technophiles can brag about the trailing-bottom-link front fork assembly’s origins from the Zodia concept bike of 1995. Though for a time Honda designers considered this set-up as part of the VTX concept, it was scrapped as too costly for the VTX, whose price tag had to come in under $15 grand. The Rube Goldberg-looking mechanics of the Rune’s front end transfer suspension loads through two push rods to a pair of linkage arms; these actuate dual shock absorbers mounted outboard of the steering head and headlight. (The right shock does the springing; the left one does the damping.) Garden-variety riders like me will appreciate the efficient absorption of all chuckholes and rain grooves; there’s absolutely no front-end dive when braking vigorously.
vSpeaking of the Rune’s braking system, it’s a combined system utilizing dual full-floating 330mm discs with a Nissin three-piston caliper up front, and a single 336mm disc with two-piston caliper in the rear. Squeeze the front brake lever and you apply pressure through two outer pistons of the front caliper; add pressure via the brake pedal and you add in both pistons on the rear disc and the third up front. However, if you mash down on only the rear pedal, an in-line delay valve smoothes application of the front caliper center pistons, a measure of forgiveness if needed. I really liked the Rune’s brakes; they performed with satin smoothness, bringing over 900 pounds of hurtling Rune, rider and fuel to a safe and secure stop every time the mid-morning L.A. freeway traffic went from 70 to full stop (as it seems to do quite frequently for no apparent reason).
Mountain roads and freeways aren’t the Rune’s only playground, though. Cruisers are most at home prowling the streets and boulevards, and on these grand streets the Rune imparts a sense of elegance all its own. From the rider’s position, the distinctive chrome hooded headlight extends wa-a-a-ay out ahead; I imagined this must be the feeling of driving a long-hooded Deusenburg. Just beyond your wallet’s bulge, the baritone exhaust solo is marvelously rich and authoritative, mellowed through six-into-two dual exhausts with the Rune’s signature triangular tailpipes. It’s a heady note, a concerto of power delivered through a gleaming French horn.
Power indeed. While the Rune is the newest recipient of the GL1800 engine, it’s no mere transplant. This 1832cc flat-six draws its fuel-injected mixture through six separate throttle bodies, with two valves per cylinder. The engine has been tuned up to produce 100 rear-wheel horsepower and 100+ foot pounds of torque. Wrap your fingers around the large-diameter rubber and stainless handgrips and savor the sensation of immediate performance from any point in the power band. Unlike the fully faired Gold Wing, when you accelerate briskly to double-brisk speeds, your helmet and shoulders are pressed firmly back by the onrushing wind. This is visceral, heady stuff, indeed.
On the morning we rode the two Runes shown in the accompanying photos, the weather was unseasonably cool and misty. As we ascended ever higher in the Santa Monica Mountains, the mist became drizzly fog. All I could see of the Rune ahead of me was its pinkish red LED taillights just beyond reach. I half expected a wizard from Lord of the Rings to materialize from out of the mist.
Instead of Gandalf, however, what appeared before us was the Rock Store, a favorite hangout for Southern California motorcyclists. We pulled onto the parking lot and took a break. This pause was part photo opportunity, part time for quiet admiration. There’s so much to look at with these machines, your eyes just keep wandering, lingering over the details.
The Rune is a photographer’s nightmare. Attempt to photograph from any angle and your reflection appears in your viewfinder. Nearly every surface is mirror-finish chrome or deep, reflective paint. Because you’re mesmerized by what you can see, you tend to overlook what you can’t see. Most hoses and wires are concealed; the few visible lines wear stainless steel mesh exteriors, adding to the overall look of artful utility.
Supporting the clean lines and open view of the road ahead, the designers have recessed the instruments into a non-glare readout on the tank. On those rare occasions when you want data, a mere glance downward reveals the speedo, fuel gauge, tripmeter and odometer. As with many cruisers, a tachometer is deemed superfluous; to tell the truth, I never missed it.
A bit of searching reveals the key-operated release for the saddle for access to the battery and helmet hanger. Speaking of the key, it contains a microchip for the Honda Ignition Security System. Try to start the engine with anything other than the proper key and the system disables the engine’s ignition system, greatly reducing the possibility of theft. A concealed lever locks the steering stem with a piston; turn the key to On and the system unlocks.
The concept, design and eventual commitment to design the Valkyrie Rune is a story unto itself. Many interests inside Honda championed different viewpoints. As one Honda insider told us, “The decision to retain the solo seat concept was a struggle of Biblical proportions.” Yet despite the struggles, the melding of the aspects of the T1, T2, T3, T4 and Zodia concept bikes into a single expression of motorcycle art has been achieved despite all odds. As your eyes drink in the Rune’s massive tubular radiator, its obscenely exposed frame and engine, and its rakish Neo-Retro styling, you have to admire the dedication of all stakeholders, from the designers to top management, to maintaining the purity of the Rune from concept to production.
The decision to own a Rune says something about the few who can and will buy one. These are individuals who accept that the ownership of something unique and rare often has a high price tag. Indeed, for those willing to make the investment, Rune ownership will also involve the owner’s time and commitment.
If you are one of these lucky ones, count on many, many late-night hours devoted to polishing the Rune to perfection after each ride. And every time you fire up that wonderful engine, settle down on that wide, solo saddle, and point that massive chrome headlight down the street, this bike will require a commitment to riding it well and caring for it with devotion. In return, the Rune will guarantee such a satisfying experience when you’re in its company that you’ll regret it as each ride comes to an end. Would that all motorcycles could evoke these feelings.
GUESS WHAT !!!
I found the magazine you are looking for at our Texas home. I am on a borrowed computer to post this (don,t do computer and the cell phones don't work good here at our Texas home either...by choice!!) to let you know I found it. Please PM me your address so when I get home (Arkansas home) Friday I will get your address and mail the magazine to you.
I once owned a Rune myself S/N ending in 365. Still have the Factory / Dealer framed advertisement picture on my wall, that I got in 2005 from a dealer that was going out of business. Beautiful bike!!!!