Balance. That is the word that best defines Honda's Valkyrie flagship cruiser. Painstaking refinement that crafts wide-spectrum motorcycles is a Honda hallmark, but the Valkyrie is exceptionally versatile. Although its roots in the full-boat Gold Wing tourer lead many to anticipate a bloated, cumbersome motorcycle, the Valkyrie belies its size. It handles more nimbly yet more steadily than most other brands' cruiser-line leaders, but it retains the comfort and stateliness of the full-dress motorcycle out on the open road.
The Valkyrie's claim on power-cruiser status is almost as much visual as it is mechanical. The big, liquid-cooled, opposed-six bulging from the engine room isn't designed to flow with the cruiser mainstream, but it isn't intended to be ignored, either. As with any good hot rod, the engine is the centerpiece of the machine. Six cylinders, six chrome-capped carbs, and six headers heading for two pipes sharing six outlets make sure no one but the absolutely uninitiated will mistake this for another me-too V-twin. (An aside: Every Valkyrie we have tested has brought at least one query of "Is that a Harley?" Onlookers haven't a clue what they are viewing, but they've been told Harleys have big impressive engines and this machine definitely fits the bill.)
Knowledgeable types look at all the hardware serving the engine and know it's not just for show. The power hungry begin to salivate. Horsepower is definitely on the menu. It's not quite as hard-hitting as the explosive motivation of the V-Max, but you can easily light up the rear tire coming away from a stop if you get aggressive with the throttle and clutch. Power delivery is also more linear than the Yamaha, without the surge of V-Boost to keep you awake as the tach needle swings toward redline.
Although it's hardly what you'd call pokey, Honda's six won't hurtle you through a quarter-mile in less than eleven seconds the way the V-Max can. In fact, recent Valkyrie test motorcycles make noticeably less power than first-year versions. These days, you have to be pretty sharp to launch the Valkyrie hard enough to get it down the quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds. Honda says nothing has changed, but dynos and seats of pants say otherwise.
Even if the motor has lost some of its edge up top, it still makes great power from below 2000 rpm right up to the 6500 redline. Carburetion is precise and responsive, and uninterrupted by abruptness or flat spots. You can burble around town with minimum slippage from the light, smooth clutch with the throttle barely cracked; plenty of acceleration is just a twist away.
And, you know it's smooth. The horizontal design cancels vibration before it gets started. Counterrotating components, such as the alternator, prevent any torque reaction when the throttle is blipped. The engine's exhaust note definitely speaks of performance; not the low-key, lots-of-sound-little-fury cadence of a big twin but the quick-revving, hard-running rhythm of a high-performance engine.
The engine mates to an equally flawless drivetrain. The clutch is light and, unless flogged long and hard, smooth in take-up. The five-speed shifts smoothly and there is no lash as power makes its way through the final drive shaft.
The Valkyrie is long. That 66.5-inch wheelbase means additional mass, which slows it down. The length stifles wheelies too. But it also makes more room for rider and passenger. In comparison with the Valkyrie, the V-Max feels almost cramped. The saddle is long and wide, and stays comfortable for many hours on the road. Passengers like it too.
Some riders complain about the footpeg location, and if it doesn't suit you, you can't do much except add highway pegs. The placement of the engine means you can't move the pegs forward. The handlebar is slightly high and wide for long stints at highway speeds, but a windshield remedies this comfort flaw. With that addition, the Valkyrie makes a great tourer and Honda has, in fact, derived two traveling machines from this starting point. The Tourer is the same machine with windshield and hard bags added, and the new Interstate gets more extensive mods in addition to its luggage, stereo and windshield.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is how well this giant of a machine handles. Few cruisers can keep pace on a twisty road. Carefully selected steering geometry makes the steering responsive without compromising stability, and the suspension is topnotch. It even has generous cornering clearance. This all comes together in a package that is quite a bit of fun to ride when the road begins to throw turns at you. Although the reach to the ground is longer than the distance of some other big bikes, the Valkyrie is easy to handle at low speeds where you are barely balanced. Braking keeps up with the weight and speed of the bike, providing superior power and control.
Two flaws, in the eyes of some potential buyers, are the unique style of the engine and the cobby appearance of some components in the engine bay. We were also sorry that our big, bad musclebike came in black over a sort of pale pink that looked like it had been lifted from some dorky early '80s luxury car. It makes this hot rod look like it's trying to be a family sedan.
Although it's included in this Power Cruiser section because of its musclebike status, the Valkyrie's all-around excellence has already distinguished it in other venues. A year ago it grabbed the lion's share of votes when we compared the flagship cruiser models of eight manufacturers. The Tourer model has twice been the favorite when we compared it with other baggers. No matter what you ask it to do, the Valkyrie quickly makes its way to the front of the pack.
High Points: Great power, excellent handling and brakes, terrific long-haul comfort.
Low Points: Some styling quibbles, engine design restricts footpeg location.
First Changes: Add a windshield ; Replace some of those poorly styled components (lower radiator hose, passenger pegs, etc.) with aftermarket pieces.
Muscle, schmuscle -- the Valkyrie brings a touch of class to the musclebike crowd. No bike in this group can top the overall competence of this Honda; its sheer beastliness will whip them in almost any category. I hate to admit it (since I wasn't too keen on the bike at first), but this behemoth has really grown on me over the past year.
My initial, cringing reaction to the pneumatic styling of the monstrous front end and overstuffed engine compartment has slipped into quiet appreciation of the smooth efficiency this bike delivers to the rider. Bitchin' brakes, agile handling and comfortable ergos combine to coax a dopey grin out of anyone lucky enough to put in some good miles on this saddle. This is a bike that crosses over into many categories. If there's a road trip in our immediate future, the Valkyrie will be mine.
Out of all of these musclebikes, I've spent the most time on the Valkyrie. Fortunately, it has consistently been one of my favorite cruisers. Yes, the Valk has nonstandard cruiser styling, which tends to upset some traditionalists. (A plus in my book.) Yes, 600-plus pounds is a lot of weight to move around at low speeds, but you never notice the heft once you're traveling faster than five miles per hour. Besides, the exhaust note stirs my heart every time I hear it. The well-sorted suspension makes riding twisty roads a kick in the pants, despite the bike's weight. And the riding position is great for daylong trips -- without a windshield. What's not to love about this bike?
My only quibble with the Valkyrie is the horsepower rot that seems to have plagued each new model-year's bikes. I'd love to see the grunt of the original Valks return to the boulevard.
What kudos can we heap on the Valkyrie that we haven't already applied? The motorcycle is simply awesome. Ask it to do anything and it delivers with style and grace -- and it still has something left in reserve.
So the buyer who just has to have a V-twin like everyone else will pass it up, and it will be wasted on someone who only rides 1000 miles per year. But if a bike looks best to you when it's blurring the scenery, the Valkyrie is King Cruiser.
1999 Honda Valkyrie 1500
Suggested base price: $12,799
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Black/orange, black/silver, yellow/ivory, add $300
Standard warranty: 36 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed six
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve; threaded adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1520cc, 71 x 64mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Carburetion: 6, 28mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.5 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.833:1
Wet weight: 739 lb
GVWR: 1133 lb
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Overall length: 100.2 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 6.0 in.
Seat height: 29.1 in.
Wheels: Cast, 17 x 3.5 in. front, 16 x 5.5 in rear
Front tire: 150/80R-17 Dunlop D206, tubeless radial
Rear tire: 180/70R-16 Dunlop D206, tubeless radial
Front brake: 2, single-action, dual-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 12.4-in disc
Front suspension: 43mm inverted stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 4.7 in. travel, adjustments for spring preload
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal (.9 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 34.0 in.
Inseam equivalent: 33.8 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 546 watts
Battery: 12v, 24AH, maintenance-free
Forward lighting: 7.0-in. headlight, running lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, tachometer; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, low oil pressure, sidestand
Fuel mileage: 30 to 42 mpg, 35.9 mpg average
Average range: 190 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2990
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.2 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.93 sec., 104.0 mph