Mother of All Cruisers

by Lee Meyer

Oh, boy! Another mega huge cruiser to ride. This one is Honda's biggest bigness, the Valkyrie. The machine we acquired for today happens to be a Touring model with windshield, hard bags and all. You really have to see one of these beasts up close and in person to appreciate the size of the Valkyrie. I mean it is just really, really large. You will also see tons of chrome and a fancy two-tone paint job &endash; Honda did a pretty good job with the fit and finish here. The bike is put together very well.

Unlike the other cruise vessels, the big Honda idles with a purr. Driving this bike gives me a very automotive feel. It sounds and acts like a car. Hit the gas in first gear, and the Honda leaps high into the air like my old Plymouth drag race car. Honda needs to get a handle on this hyper shaft drive "jacking".

Power and acceleration in the lower gears is pretty good for a mammoth like this, but I thought highway speed power was only fair. This is probably because of gearing &endash; less than 3000 rpm at 70 miles per hour. The huge windshield may have something to do with this, as well. The Valkyrie pushes gobs of air with this windshield. This puts the brakes on the bike's gobs of torque.

That's not the only reason I would pass on the windshield if I were to step up to the plate, plunk down the greens and buy a Valkyrie. Here is the deal. This beast makes a ton of heat, and the shield creates a vacuum in its wake sucking engine heat up in front of you where it sits baking you alive. I thought I was going to wither and die after riding for 45 minutes in a jacket and helmet on a warm day. The shield also causes tons of buffeting at highway speeds for some riders.

All this can be avoided, and you get that nice cool breeze blowing on you, just by saying no to that big, expensive shield.

The Valkyrie is a pretty nice ride. With that big engine and all that power it is basically the Mother of all Cruisers. It's priced pretty reasonably when compared to the other top-of-the-line cruisers. The king of excess proves to be almost a bargain.


Wagner Would be Proud

by Victor Wanchena

With strains of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" rolling through my head, I dropped the bike into gear and slowly rolled out of Metropolitan Hitching Post's parking lot. I turned onto the boulevard, straightened out the bike, and laid on the throttle. In just a four seconds I was flying along at over 60 mph, feeling like the king of all I survey. That's right folks, I was riding the Honda 1997 Valkyrie Tourer.

Honda first revealed the Valkyrie prototype in 1994 to get a feel for the public support for the model. Some wondered if Honda was showing they had good sense of humor, but most people were enthusiastic about the idea of performance minded cruiser. The response was positive enough for Honda to go ahead with production, and they released it mid 1996 as an early 1997 model with the tour edition coming along in 1997.

This bike is big. Other bikes might weigh more or have a longer wheelbase, but from the wide handlebars to the fenders that stretch for what seems like yards in front of and behind you, this machine wins for the biggest feel. The seat height is only 29.5 inches, but vertically challenged riders beware. The width of the bike may cause problems.

Unlike other big-bore cruisers of its genre the Valkyrie backs up its size with power to match. How much, you ask? Honda claims 101 horsepower and 101 foot pounds of torque measured at the rear wheel. To break the magical 100 horsepower mark Honda applies some traditional hot-rod tricks to the venerable 1520cc Gold wing six-cylinder motor. This includes six carburetors instead of two, threaded valve adjusters in place of the Goldwing's hydraulic valves, performance oriented cam and ignition timing and a much freer flowing exhaust. All the motor tweaks on a basic motor design that has been proven on the Goldwing gives performance numbers that are miles above any other cruiser and actually enters the sport bike realm. A 12.5 second quarter mile at 103 mph, top speed 114 mph, and four-second top gear roll-on mean fun for you but could raise eyebrows if Johnny Law happens to witness your enthusiasm.

The transmission is a five-speed setup that shifts with a slightly notchy feel, but I suspect that once worn-in it smoothes out. Final drive is an ever-faithful shaft drive. The buttery-smooth motor combined with good driveline setup make the bike glide along with little vibration well beyond normal highway speeds. The Valkyrie can quickly deceive you by rolling as smoothly at 45 mph as at 75 mph. In fact the first 15 miles I rode were in 4 gears only. It wasn't until I counted up-shifts that I realized that there were 5 gears.

Those performance figures come despite weighing in at 744 pounds with an empty tank and having a wheelbase of 66.5 inches. The Valkyrie shines in comparison to those in its class, namely Big-Twin Harleys and the Yamaha's Royal Star, especially in the handling department. This is where riders will really appreciate the Valkyrie's fine suspension components. The 45mm inverted fork built by Showa is compliant enough for small road irregularities but firms up under hard braking and in tighter corners. The rear is suspended by a conventional twin shock setup, which is just plain stiff when riding solo. They transmit even small bumps through the rear of the bike, though they soften a bit when riding two-up. Apparently when Honda designed the suspension they expected you ride with a friend on back more often than not.

With its stiffer suspension, the Valkyrie does get excellent cornering clearance -- far better than anything else in the cruiser segment. Nary a foot peg touched down even when riding at a good clip. The brakes were very strong and thank God for that, since a solo rider and some gear could easily exceed 1000 pounds. I doubt if you could get a stoppie out of the beast but 60 to 0 stops should be in the 125-foot range.

When it comes to styling the Valkyrie is either loved or hated. The deeply valanced fenders, the white-face gauges, the abundance of shiny bits, and smooth bulbous lines evoke a certain vintage nostalgia, while the cast rims and inverted forks suggest a modern refinement. Personally, I thought it was very attractive and found myself glancing at glass store fronts trying to catch my reflection just to see how good I really looked on it. With the bold styling and an eye-grabbing red and white paint scheme I had strangers approaching me every time I stopped questioning me about the bike. Don't get me wrong. I like all the attention but would probably go for a less brilliant color.

The basic difference between the standard model and the Valkyrie Tour is the addition of hard plastic saddlebags (which are painted to match the bike), a windshield and a passenger backrest. These items tack on $1,700 to the suggested list price of the standard, which is $12,799. Are they worth it? Well, if you do much long-distance riding they are. The shield protected my ample frame with very little buffeting and would do wonders on a rainy day. The bags are watertight and could hold enough gear for a long weekend ride. The backrest would be appreciated by passengers.

Now, I only have two complainants about the bike. First, the large radiator out front sends a lot of hot air onto the inside of your legs, which becomes bothersome on hot days. Second, the ugly black horn was hung out on the crashbar like an afterthought. It was out of place considering the high level of finish on the bike.

Still, it is really all about how much fun it is to ride. If you want a sport bike or a raked-out cruiser, this is the wrong bike. The Valkyrie is in its own class. Call it sport-touring-cruiser or retro-styled-standard. Either way, it's a big, nimble bike that likes to be ridden fast.

I enjoyed my time riding the Valkyrie immensely and would love to run it flat out across Montana or grab a shaving kit and clean shorts for a trip nowhere in particular. It has great possibilities as a touring machine, and it's good-mannered enough to ride around town. Stop in at your local dealer and take a look. But be careful. You may be surprised how comfortable it feels and how good it would look in your driveway.