Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen, something real crazy just rode into town…
The jaw-dropping Honda Valkyrie must be one of the most extraordinary sights ever to grace the highway.
Mere figures do little to convey it’s sheer presence; over eight feet long, weighing in at 682 pounds, a six-cylinder, 1520cc, six carburetor leviathan with 100 horse power and a five gallon tank.
Picture several acres of chrome and gleaming paint and an exhaust rumble like an earthquake and you still aren’t close to understanding what this thing is like in the flesh; If it were human and male it would be Mohammed Ali – a heavy weight champ floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee; if a woman then Marilyn Monroe; eye-winningly curvy and devastatingly beautiful. Above: Original Honda Magazine Advertising from 1996.
A Cruiser that thinks its a sports tourer (no, really)
I’ve never been much into cruisers, but this one changed all that. Sure it looks like a cruiser (albeit one on steroids) but it just doesn’t behave anything like one. Good handling? Check. Plenty of ground clearance? Check. Enough power to surprise a sports bike? Yup. Brakes? Certainly does. Suddenly the bike gets a whole load more interesting than just another gleaming metric Harley clone. The fact is the Valkyrie is blisteringly fast in a straight line (nudging 130mph), is all day comfortable and still loves the twisties. No one knows by what engineering miracle Honda managed this with something that hoves into sight like the Royal barge, but if the first engineer of the Enterprise could have seen one he’d know that you can change the laws of physics. The seaside: one of the Valk’s natural habitats
VRCC – One of the best owners clubs around
Before describing the ride, we’ll outline a brief history; but first a mention has to be made of the brilliant VRCC – one of the largest motorcycle forums in the world with offshoots in Europe and the UK. If you want to really know about this bike then start with these guys. Just click on their logo here to go right to their home page. We could not have restored the BBM Valkyrie without the help of their many friendly members.
The Valkyrie, Fat Lady or Dragon as she’s variously known, was born in the USA between 1997 and 2003 in the Maryville Ohio plant. She was the pet project of Honda’s Joe Boyd – known in the company as GL Joe, because of his love of Gold Wings. Not surprising then that the Valk is essentially a stripped down GL1500, some 130lbs lighter, and with an engine tweaked for more power.
Initially a basic ‘standard’ model and saddlebag-equipped ’tourer’ were offered, with the bells and whistle ‘Interstate’ arriving in 1999. The latter had a gorgeously bulbous trunk with integral rear lights, a fork mounted fairing, larger sized tank and built in stereo. The original Goldwing DNA was becoming more apparent.
Is that an engine in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
So what makes it so special? Well, aside from the fact that there cannot be many more grin-inducing sights than to open the garage door and see the outrageous gleaming beast standing there waiting, how about that mighty engine to begin with?
Paradoxically something that puts off traditional cruiser buyers
(its not a vee twin) is exactly what appeals most to riders of
naked bikes. The six is smooth, eye catching and has about as much grunt as a randy bull elephant. Based on the mill from the GL1500 Goldwing its been tweaked to increase power and torque despite the Valkyrie weighing it at 130lbs less than its tourer parent.
Fuel is fed in prodigious quantities into the cylinders’ thirsty mouths by no less than 6 carburetors. Transmission is via a five speed box and low maintenance shaft final drive. Unlike the ‘wing, the standard bike has a lovely exhaust sound (see video link below), not that this stops many owners from fitting non-standard pipes, most notably Cobra’s tasty six into six outfit.
The ride owes much to the engine. The boxer six keeps the weight low, providing a gravitational pivot around which the bike can lean, changing line with astonishing alacrity; left, right, left again, upright and away she goes, no need to change gear, just open the throttle and release the vast, flood of torque that’s held back like water behind the Hoover dam.
Left: Dragon at the Dragon’s Tail; A Valkyrie takes to the twisties at Deal’s Gap. Thanks for the picture goes to David Potts.
Engine mass also helps iron out the road – sheer weight creating a magic carpet ride, rather like an 1970’s Jag. Yet mass seems to disappear as soon as the wheels start rolling and weight does not lead to wallow. The frame is strong, and huge 45mm inverted front forks gives plenty of controlled travel. There is massive ground clearance (for a cruiser) and to get showers of sparks around corners you have to be moving seriously quick.
Twin rear shocks keep things in check at the rear, although most owners upgrade; preferred options being Progressives; either 440’s or 412’s are a common choice. Progress is swift and flowing; the unexpected coped with on the fly, leading to a relaxed and secure feeling for the rider. This is a bike that gives you huge confidence and with which you can build a relationship.
Speed is not generally associated with cruisers, something that canny owners gleefully exploit in traffic light Grand Prix against both two and four wheeled opponents. Harley spanking is a particularly favoured element of this sport. Perhaps its the huge rear tyre, grip aided by the bikes weight, perhaps the torquey motor; but the Valk shoots away from rest with indecent and wholly unexpected speed. At higher velocities, the bike will sit happily at 100mph on the motorway, and will pull strongly from there up to an indicated 130mph. Things get even more interesting when overtaking – most other vehicles being dispatched with merely a gentle twist of the grip; something in your way rapidly becomes just a speck in the rear-view mirrors.
The real joy of the experience though is how the engine note changes from a rumbly growl to the bellow of an awakened dragon somewhere between 4000 and 6000 rpm. A friend on a sports bike followed me recently on a 100 mile trip to Cheddar Gorge. Not only could he hardly keep up, but he almost wet himself laughing. The snorting engine he said could be heard half a mile behind and a two-foot flame had popped from the exhausts every time I overtook. ‘That bloody thing is alive!’ he remarked. I think he may be right.
There are many reasons why the Valkyrie makes a great tourer; gold standard reliability and large tank size helps, but mostly its about comfort and size.
The riding position was created by an accident of design. The engine forces back the position of the foot pegs, creating a more upright, tourer-style posture than you get with a traditional cruiser. Comfort is further enhanced by one of the best screens ever. It keeps the weather off but with no buffeting. If only they could all do it….
Pic Thanks to David Potts.
The miles roll away…
The bump and almost gear-change free ride on fast roads reduces rider fatigue, and a lack of serious vibration banishes the numb fingers and feet all too familiar to Harley riders. A common trick to demonstrate this is to balance a small coin on the engine and then start and rev it. It will stay put. The practical result is that you can go 400 miles in a day and still feel human at the end of it.
Right, Rick from the VRCC Forum (thanks for the pic, Rick!)
Luggage space is good, with the Tourer model coming with hard saddlebags and the Interstate adding a hard trunk. GIVI and other stuff will also fit. The F6C can take a fair weight, upper loading being balanced by the great mass of bike below.
The bike’s generous proportions also mean that its an excellent platform for fitting other experience-enhancing rider aids and creature comforts.
Travel in Style
The Valk has such long legs that you can go for many more miles in a day than on other machines. Comfy, smooth, relaxed. And what a way to travel!
Folks do love to add extras though. Common fitments include air deflector wings, seat rests, cruiser boards, extra lights and upgraded horn, the 546 watt alternator offering plenty of power for all electric toys.
Really serious mile munchers fit a belly tank or upgrade capacity by switching to the larger Interstate tank. More than a few upgrade suspension, with progressive front fork springs and beefed up shocks.
Pic thanks to manfromPorlock
Mods and Farkles
The Valkyrie must be one of the most fun to modify bikes ever made; there’s so much that can be done, from back rests to custom exhausts, screens and Baker Airwings to superchargers.
The bike does not come with a centre stand so many owners fit a beautiful chrome one made by RIVCO. Others like to add a fuel gauge (various options, including one made in the Netherlands than needs no drilling of the tank), and a temp.
gauge makes sense on a water cooled bike that, oddly, does not have one as standard.
I must admit to being obsessed with gadgets and this can be seen on Dolores, by own F6C, who has no fewer than 8 gauges including an oil temp one on the dipstick. These are: speedo, rev-counter, clock, voltmeter, water temp gauge, oil temp gauge, fuel gauge and, my own completely unnecessary favorite, an analogue gear indicator. Most are supplied by Motosens (Canada and Germany) and a couple are made by Joop, my Dutch friend.
Heated grips and clothing are all possible, as is entertainment via an add on on broad socket. The alternator can power a small town, so no need to worry about flat battery (Just to make sure, I keep mine hooked up to an Optimate). Some folks fit softer seats (See Ultimate Seats advertised on the Forum), but I’ve never had a problem with stock.
Bling, Bling and more Bling…
Bling is of course a major obsession with many owners; just about everything on the bike can be, and is, chromed, from brake and clutch reservoirs to side panels. On board drinks holders can be had and its even possible to have the huge hollow alloy wheels chromed. Reckon you’d need Ray-Bans after that one…
Many abandon all reason (me included) and really splash the cash, going for custom paint jobs (such as this tasty one here in blue flame from David Puckett (cheers mate) and extensive chrome transplants.
The Ownership Experience
It’s so hard to catch just how awesome this bike is in words…, but trust us; its truly great. Pride of ownership (crowds gather at stops) goes hand in hand with astonishing reliability. Mileages in the hundreds of thousands of miles are not unknown with little more attention required for the most part than oil and filter changes.
However, like all bikes there are a few bigger jobs that you do need to keep on top of in addition to the oil changes every 8,000 miles; an overhaul of the final drive unit, replacement of wheel bearings, occasional valve and carb checks and cleaning the starter switch are among these. Truth is though the lady has no serious vices… (although she does like a drink – see below) ..Just take care of her and she’ll take care of you.
So what do you really get? in a word, a trustworthy, reliable, comfortable glorious beast of a bike with first class build quality and durability that will put a grin on your face no matter what life throws at you. This is the Feel Good Machine. Every time you look at her, and every time you ride, you feel like a king.
Costs, maintenance and issues..
You also get something that does not break the bank to insure (around £195 fully comp with agreed value, age over 40, in UK) and has modest servicing costs. The two areas where money does get burnt (literally) are, predictably fuel and tyres. The tank is big, but use the horses hard and you can almost feel those jets of fuel squirting in from all 6 carbs. Consumption seems to vary widely, not only from rider to rider but also from trip to trip. Once I fell to an all time low of 25mpg – the next day it achieved a respectable 38. No idea why. Despite the high price of gas though, owners are philosophical; Just concentrate on the glorious exhaust sound and don’t think about it.
The Fat Lady is not perfect of course – some find the stock seat very hard, and many report that the front brake clunks. Most folks reckon the stock brakes are fine, but to me they lack feel and outright stopping power. I’ve uprated to EBC rotors, sintered pads and steel lines, not to mention replacement with OEM of all other brake parts. It’s better, but the technology still shows its age.
The transmission whines a bit and some say its clunky. I think you wouldn’t expect sports bike slickness and at least it’s positive. Not that much need for numerous changes once you are rolling anyway. I’ve found that things are improved a lot by using a semi synthetic oil.
Tires…and the Dark Side…
Tires are a subject of intense debate (for a full discussion see the VRCC forum) suffice it to say that softer compounds on the rear and a heavy throttle hand lead to predictably short life. Replacements aren’t cheap either, my last set of Avon Cobras (a favorite among riders) draining my wallet of cash to the tune of £350 fitted and my face of colour for several minutes. On the other hand, some folks achieve astonishingly good mileages with some brands and a few (those on the so-called ‘Dark Side’) even fit cheaper and longer wearing car tyres on the rear. Sounds crazy but it seems to work.
(SEE RICK’S ACCOUNT OF A RIDE ON THE DARK SIDE IN OUR TOURING SECTION)
Keeping her going…
Parts are relatively easy to come by thanks to a mixture of dealers still doing OEM (such as David Silver Spares in the UK) and breakers like Pinwall.
There’s also good old E Bay and of course the Owners Forum. One way or another you can always get the job done. However, prices of genuine breakers bits have gone through the roof recently. A set of rear hard bags can set you back up to £1,000 restored and re-sprayed, and a trunk about the same. Many fit more modern aftermarket replacements.
Bike prices are another matter. There’s no doubt that, recession or not, they are rising in real terms. A 1997 Valk in first class condition in the UK can cost between £6,000 and £8,000.
Late minters have been known to hit £10k. Prices in the US are more reasonable – you’d pay around the same figure numerically, but in dollars, and companies exist that will ship your baby out for you. There’s so much more to be said about the Valkyrie – its an astonishing bike. Nothing looks like it or goes like it. Ownership is addictive.
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