Some cruisers have huge engines, others have luxurious rider accommodation, then there’s the acres of chrome and polished alloy to consider.
Decked out like Elvis in Vegas, the Valkyrie has a 1500cc, six cylinder motor from the Gold Wing, huge saddles for rider and pillion, tons of accessories and options, plus it actually goes around corners - no really, it does!
Before you judge the Valkyrie on its appearance, then fall about laughing, just try riding this thing for a day. It is quite simply, the most capable high speed cruiser on the market.
The location was not exactly ideal. I was riding the F6C Valkyrie, Honda’s enormous new cruiser. This was a bike built in America for Americans. It was created for urban posing and gentle touring; a bike designed to shine when throbbing slowly down Sunset Boulevard or loping lazily along Route 66.
Yet here I was on the fearsome Isle of Man TT circuit, riding the wrong way down from the legendary Mountain less than an hour before the road was due to close for the day’s racing. Crowds were already forming on the bends - Bungalow, Verandah, Gooseneck, Waterworks - made famous by racers’ exploits on fast, light, high-revving competition machines.
And the amazing thing was that, far from resenting the huge, heavy bike I was riding, I was enjoying every minute aboard the F6C. On the straights the Honda purred along effortlessly, its flat-six engine delivering vast amounts of low-rev torque - and a neck-straining burst of acceleration when required.
And despite the comfortable ride, the Honda was no embarrassment in the corners either, its handling, braking and roadholding proving more than good enough to encourage a quick pace on the drop down into Ramsey.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, because the GL1500 Gold Wing from which this bike is developed has long been converting skeptics with an ease of use that belies its vast size. The concept of a Wing-based cruiser was logical, given America’s current enthusiasm for this type of bike, the GL1500’s huge popularity over the years, and the success of other faired machines - from the CBR1000 to Ducati’s 900SS - that have torn off their shirts to create naked roadsters.
Harley-Davidson’s influence made it almost inevitable that, like Yamaha’s Royal Star (whose recent launch hastened the appearance of the F6C), the Honda would embrace the all-American style of high bars, big fenders, fat tyres and lots of shiny chrome. But when Honda’s engineers began the project back in 1991, they were determined to build a performance cruiser stamped with the Japanese marque’s own identity - and that meant adapting the flat-six engine that had been introduced to the Gold Wing three years earlier.
Once the format was confirmed, the stylists pulled no punches in their attempt to make the Valkyrie the most impressive of the cruiser bunch. (Its US-market name is F6 Valkyrie, after the battle maidens of Scandinavian mythology, but in most markets the bike will be called only the F6C, standing for Flat 6 Custom). The huge six-pot powerplant dominates the bike’s look, its copious chrome backed-up by more on the rounded headlamp and the pair of stylishly flattened silencers (inside each of which are three individual tailpipes).
With its 71 x 64mm bore and stroke unchanged from those of the Wing, the F6C has a capacity of 1520cc that makes it the biggest-engined cruiser of them all. The 9.8:1 compression ratio remains but the SOHC motor gains hotter camshafts, which operate conventional screw-and-locknut valvegear instead of the GL1500’s hydraulic valve lifters.
As well as the new exhaust system, whose six-into-six layout is designed to boost midrange output, this bike has six 28mm Keihin carbs in place of the GL’s pair of 33mm units.
The result is a maximum power output of about 100bhp - hot stuff by cruiser standards - and a peak torque figure of 96ft.lb at 4250rpm. That is down on the Wing’s 111ft.lb maximum, but makes even Yamaha’s V4-engined Royal Star (which manages 74bhp and 83ft.lb) seem almost feeble by comparison. The grunt is delivered to the back wheel via a five-speed gearbox with lowered ratios, and shaft final drive.
Unlike the rubber-mounted GL motor, the new six bolts solidly into a tubular steel frame that uses a narrower-gauge top tube than that of the Wing, and which holds a conventional (instead of under-seat) fuel tank. There’s nothing remotely narrow about the front forks, massive upside-down units whose 45mm diameter stanchions are thoughtfully protected by stone-guards.
A pair of chrome-covered, preload-adjustable shocks hold up the back end of a bike which, at 310kg dry, is 5kg heavier than the Royal Star. You can’t help noticing all that weight when heaving the Valkyrie (if I’m allowed to call it that) off its sidestand, but at least the front part of the stepped seat is low enough, at 739mm, to allow most pilots to put both feet flat on the floor.
Riding position is similar to that of the Wing, with footpegs identically placed and quite well forward, and the raised handlebars slightly wider and further pulled-back. The ignition is below the tank on the right; the engine fired with a muted throb and only the merest hint of vibration.
Like most big cruisers the F6C was far more manoeuvrable than its spec sheet suggests. The bike’s low centre of gravity, conservative steering geometry and long, 1689mm wheelbase combined to give a solid feel that made trickling through Douglas traffic a breeze. Those wide bars helped give reasonably light steering, too, and the Honda had enough lock to allow an easy feet-up U-turn in the road.
THE SHOW’S NOT OVER UNTIL THE FLAT SIX SINGS
The Gold Wing’s electronic reverse gear has been omitted, though, so you’d have to be careful where you park. Much of the big bike’s user-friendly feel was due to its engine, which is just about the most flexible powerplant ever suspended between two wheels. (In my experience the only lump to out-torque it is the 3.5 litre V8 Chevy of the gargantuan Boss Hoss, which is more of a curiosity than a serious motorcycle.)
The Valkyrie has so much low-down grunt that it barely needs a gearbox at all. I often found myself short-shifting into top at just 2000rpm, and when requested the big six pulled without complaint with just 20mph and 800rpm showing on its pair of white-faced clocks. Acceleration at such speeds was inevitably gentle, but the F6C didn’t have to be revved much harder to show a very decent turn of speed.
Despite the mild hot-rodding, the engine revealed not the slightest hint of a power band. There was just a strong, seamless, almost totally smooth build-up of momentum that sent the Honda surging forward harder and harder. Apart from the need to grip those wide bars with increasing pressure to combat the wind, the Valkyrie made it all seem so effortless.
Most riders will doubtless be mainly interested in fairly gentle cruising, and the big six was certainly well-suited to that. Top gear is almost an overdrive, allowing 70mph cruising at below 3000rpm, at which point the F6C felt supremely relaxed and long-legged. The five-speed gearbox seemed almost excessive, given that once moving I could almost just have selected top and forgotten about changing gear until I next came to a halt. But the Valkyrie lived up to its billing as a `performance cruiser’ too. When I made more use of the gearlever and kept the tacho flicking towards its 6500rpm redline, the six really stomped along. On the way down the Mountain it was still accelerating at over 100mph, and would happily have held such a speed for hours - or until the fuel ran out. A 20-litre fuel tank is not big for a large and rather thirsty bike, but most riders should manage over 120 miles on a tankful.
If the engine’s performance was impressive, the fact that the Valkyrie’s chassis encouraged me to use it was even more so. Sure, this bike is a lazy, laid-back cruiser containing enough metal for two race-ready RC45s. The F6C’s size, wheelbase and steering geometry all conspired against aggressive riding, and I had no desire to try and keep up with the pair of hard-ridden sports bikes that flashed past on the way down the mountain.
But the Honda’s frame was strong enough to cope with all the weight, and its suspension was good enough to make quick cornering not only possible but enjoyable. With 130mm of travel up front and 120mm at the rear, the Valkyrie is firmly suspended by cruiser standards, and it also has a useful amount of damping at both ends.
That meant it gave a slightly less plush ride than the average Harley, jarring just a little on bumps that softer-sprung bikes would barely have noticed. But it also meant that the six could be banked into a bend with real confidence. Dunlop’s D206 radials aren’t the company’s stickiest tyres, but they gripped well enough and are certainly wide - the 180-section rear is as fat as most superbike tyres, and even the 150-section front isn’t far behind.
Ground clearance was generous by cruiser standards, the F6C’s folding pegs touching down first, long after solid parts of Yamaha’s rival Royal Star (not to mention most Harleys) would have been digging in dangerously. And the Honda’s braking was up to the job, too, thanks to a pair of 296mm discs gripped by two-pot calipers up front, plus a slightly larger rear disc that required a heavy boot on the lever.
I’ll admit to having approached the six with fairly low expectations, assuming it would simply be a bigger, heavier, more ostentatious and less practical variation on the familiar cruiser theme. But the F6C, which is due on sale in September at about £12,000, is a much better bike than that. It blends distinctive looks with a smooth, powerful, supremely flexible engine and a remarkably competent chassis. Honda set out to build a giant cruiser with the performance to match its size - and that’s exactly what they’ve done.
Engine..........Watercooled, SOHC 12-valve flat-six, cc 1520
Transmission..........Gear primary, 5-speed box, shaft final drive
Front suspension..........45mm inverted telescopic; 130mm wheel travel
Rear suspension..........Twin shocks, adjustable for preload; 120mm wheel travel
Brakes..........front Twin 296mm discs with twin-piston calipers
Rear..........316mm disc with twin-piston calipers
Tyres..........front 150/80 x 17 Dunlop D206 radial
Rear..........180/70 x 16 Dunlop D206 radial
Fuel capacity..........20 litres
Current price..........£9,500 approx