Honda held the press introduction of its new Valkyrie in southern California on roads often selected for sportbike launches. Twisty. Aggressive. Technical. Beautifully paved. Roads, it seems, an engineer created solely for the enjoyment of motorcyclists, and all within 90 miles of the congestion of Los Angeles. Not tremendously long but length and satisfaction, as they say, aren’t mutually exclusive.
It’s sportbike Valhalla here, but is the Valkyrie a sportbike? No, far from it, but it’s definitely the sportiest member of the suddenly burgeoning Gold Wing family. We were surprised last year with the arrival of the F6B in it’s re-envisioning of the 13-year-old Gold Wing. But if the knife taken to the F6B seemed dramatic, the nipping and tucking of the Valkyrie would be considered legendary even by southern California standards.
The body of the Valkyrie is, if not svelte, a muscular revision of the comfort and luxury endowed Gold Wing. It is more a re-creation than a re-envisioning. Gone is everything but the chassis, engine, five-speed transmission and shaft final drive, but what a chassis! What an engine! The results are effective. Shedding 44 kg from the F6B and an amazing 76 kg from the Gold Wing, it’s the kind of weight loss that will put a spring back in your step.
Like a man seeking elevation in a hot air balloon, Honda jettisoned almost everything unnecessary in the creation of the Valkyrie. If it didn’t play a crucial part in propelling the bike forward, it was deemed irrelevant.
Even a few items that might have been useful were tossed into the blue to get the Valkyrie prepared. A quick list of the recently departed: saddlebags, top case, arm rests, stereo, navigation system, intercom, buttons by the hundreds, windshield, dual headlights, heated grips, heated seats, cruise control, linked brakes (we will come back to that one) and in the case of the US-spec bike, ABS. A small digital unit displaying the basic functions has replaced all the instrumentation of the other bikes. It’s clean, compact and incredibly easy to read even in direct sun. Functional: appropriately the theme of this bike.
To call a 341-kg motorcycle a pure riding experience may seem to be a stretch but the Valkyrie is as pure a riding experience as you will find in the Gold Wing family. To Honda’s credit they envisioned a very specific niche for the Valkyrie and while that niche may compromise other aspects it highlights exactly what Honda feels to be the bike’s strengths.
Amid all the unloading only a couple features are added to the Valkyrie. A 19-inch front wheel with 310mm dual discs rather than the 18 and 296mm discs found on the Gold Wing and the F6B. A traditional tubular handlebar replaces the pullback bars of the Gold Wing.
The other feature is noise. While far from earsplitting, the Valkyrie isn’t the whisper quiet of the Wing. Sitting in traffic with five Valkyrie companions the sound of a performance cam with a heavy bass note was actually coming from the bikes rather than the pickup truck alongside. Inoffensively loud to be sure but loud enough to draw a little attention and enhance the aural experience for the rider.
Why is the Valkyrie the sportbike of the GL family? Because of mass, or rather the lack of it, but also where the mass has been removed. The centre of gravity of the Valkyrie is the lowest of the three models. The seat height is 731mm but unlike the other two GL models passengers aren’t encouraged and only minimally accommodated (seat and grips for the passenger are easily removed). The Honda logo emblazoned on the centre of the big six-cylinder engine sits only 355mm above the pavement and all top-heavy accessories, including your passenger, are gone. The bike is heavy but it doesn’t feel big when you are on the highway either figuratively or literally. Gone is everything in front of you. Where the Gold Wing and F6B stretch out in front of the rider, the Valkyrie is abruptly abbreviated beyond the small instrument panel. The slightly wider tubular handlebars, and the larger 19-inch front wheel encourage more enthusiastic cornering which is also aided by the clearance provided by footpegs that are set slightly higher. The pegs will scrape but odds are you are trying to do that. Are the twisting canyons and sinuous mountain climbs going to be the natural habitat of the Valkyrie? The bike can accommodate your leanings to an extent but it isn’t a true sportbike, of course. However, what you may lose through the corners is made up in the straights, no matter how short.
The Honda Valkyrie embraces the hotrod philosophy: a big engine in a light body. The 1832cc, flat-six engine was designed to accommodate a much heavier load and here it really shines. A Gold Wing with luggage and a passenger is easily going to weigh 136 kg more than a single rider aboard the Valkyrie. The torque of the motor provides effortless and immediate acceleration and it always seems at hand. Riding on and off the larger brakes or with only engine braking are equally effective means of negotiating the curves.
If you like burnouts, and Honda even promotes a little tire smoking in their promotional material, this is one big bike that will make the effort user friendly. Bertrand Gahel, our intrepid contributor and rubber-shredding connoisseur, found ample opportunities to explore the grip of the rear tire though various sections of California highway.
Due to the near 50/50 weight distribution, he remained more or less linear in his experiments. Although it would have required expensive further engineering, credit Honda for not widening the 180-rear tire on the Valkyrie from what is found on the Gold Wing and F6B. Fatter rubber may have been aesthetically pleasing and genre appropriate but it would have interfered with the Valkyrie’s core purposes.
In a trial by fire, in what might be more of the Valkyrie’s true environs, following a day in the canyons, we tackled the freeway to find we timed it just right to hit the tail end of LA rush hour traffic. The traffic is infamous and we were going to explore it from far south to north of the city. There may be 10 freeways taking traffic away from the Los Angeles core (wherever that may be in this sprawling metropolis) but every one of them will be absolutely full of traffic.
Motorcycles and carpools (two or more occupants) get their own lane to the far side of the four, five or six lanes of traffic. To get there from an on-ramp requires being assertive. The Valkyrie’s easy abundance of torque allowed the quick occupation of various 10-foot spaces that appeared in traffic as we “froggered” across the freeway.
The car pool lane itself is a commitment. Those in it are supposed to stay in it, which means you have to be going at least as fast as the traffic behind you, which in LA’s rules of the road was at least 75 mph—unless it was five mph. At 75 mph you begin to miss both the big fairing of the Gold Wing and the small one of the F6B. As soon as 80 mph flicks up on the speedometer you are holding on tight as the full force of the windblast and the slightly wider bars of the Valkyrie begin to show their limits of comfort.
But comfort at this point isn’t a top priority. It is concentration and peripheral awareness. Freeway riding in LA. Slicing here, dicing there. But why not make it a little more interesting? Lane splitting. It’s legal in California. It’s legal at 65 mph with a Hummer 12 inches from your left mirror and an Escalade 12inches from your right. The traffic is a nightmare. Nobody walks in LA—because they are all stuck in traffic. Anything to alleviate that congestion just a little is appreciable and encouraged if a little nerve wracking to the uninitiated.
As a motorcyclist you never trust anyone in a car to do what they are suppose to do—it’s best practices. But at 60 mph in traffic riding the striped line you barely have time to focus on the cars you are passing beyond processing presence, trajectory and space between them. I was sure at times I would grind a mirror like a scraped footpeg but on the side of a tractor-trailer. However, the Valkyrie proved to be compact enough. It may not be the first choice for an initiation into LA lane splitting but it easily held its own. Appreciated was its stable platform, ease of getting out of situations and predictable braking. Other bikes and presumably experienced LA commuters would roll up the stripe behind you waiting for you to move over—I am sure I saw the lane splitting of a lane splitting. How many bikes can fit on one yellow stripe?
To their credit drivers seem to respect the right of motorcycles to split lanes as they would move over to the left of the carpool lane if a group was riding through, except when they could not. Which were moments you needed to be on high alert as the room to split the lane would suddenly narrow dramatically. It helped that the leader of our group was riding a Gold Wing, which had the effect of a bow of a ship spreading the waves of traffic on either side. The Valkyrie survived without any unintended further weight loss.
An offshoot of the weight loss campaign enforced on the Honda Valkyrie is that the bike also lost a lot of price from the Gold Wing ($10,000 in fact). At $19,999 in black or blue, the Valkyrie represents an extraordinary value for a proven engine and chassis, which is much of what a Gold Wing rider is paying for anyway.
You may miss a few of the amenities of the Gold Wing but the Valkyrie isn’t intended for the long haul. The drawbacks are those that you would expect from a stripped bike. It isn’t as comfortable as the Gold Wing with its more aggressive ergonomics so the touring potential, especially without that windshield, is going to be limited. In Canada all Valkyries will come equipped with ABS even though it will be an option in the US. Getting the ABS model is the better choice. What the Valkyrie does not come with in Canada is Honda’s excellent linked braking system, which is on both the Gold Wing and the F6B.
Brake control is excellent but any added advantage especially on a bike the size of the Valkyrie would be beneficial. With energetic riding we saw about 175 miles to the slightly smaller tank of the Valkyrie.
Honda didn’t have touring in mind for the Valkyrie as the company has two other bikes that fit that profile. Even though the Valkyrie is within the GL family and has the same aluminum frame and outstanding six-cylinder engine, it really is a completely different bike than the other two.
The F6B is an obvious extension of the Gold Wing while the Honda Valkyrie could easily stand alone as a unique motorcycle based on a legendary one. No, it is not a sportbike like those carving California’s canyons, but neither does it feel out of place when pressed to tackle those roads at a far more energetic pace than its siblings. And within the urban jungle the machine’s relatively lithe proportions make it far more effective. It is a niche for sure, but a very well fulfilled one.
– John Molony Canadian Biker (2014)