The new fairing does an excellent job of directing air around the rider, but there is some bothersome wind buffeting coming off the top of the windshield. A taller windscreen should reduce this effect, but it will also make it impossible to look over the windshield, as we thankfully did, when it was packed with fresh snow. Direct airflow is amply kept off the rider everywhere but at the knees, lower legs and feet where air readily flows. These are the areas where you'll start to get cold when temperatures drop. Honda will offer some wind deflectors, though the items installed on one of the bikes we rode made no discernable difference.
Comfort is very much the same as with other Valkyrie models, which is to say very good. You can slump over in cruiser mode or sit up straight. The rear portion of the seat isn't high stepped like on the Gold Wing so it doesn't provide a lot of back support. Honda claims to have spent a great deal of time working on passenger positioning and comfort and it appears to have provided good results, though passengers complained of receiving the same buffeting mentioned earlier.
The Valkyrie's handling is right on, offering rather light and quick steering - even at high speeds. The chassis is rock solid and difficult to upset, even when we traversed a ridicules paved desert road with whoops. Even at an indicated top speed of 120mph we found a solid and controlled feel. The bike also settles in and rails around corners quite well and the suspension feels better than on other Valkyrie models. You don't really notice the suspension which means it's working well. For two up riding you'll want to increase the shock preload one or two positions. If you switch back to solo riding be careful, as just one position can throw the otherwise balanced suspension package off.
The term "power touring" comes to mind instantly upon twisting the throttle on the new Interstate. Pull the switch and the bike moves out now. It pulls very strong from the bottom, and especially strong from 4,500 rpm on up. The engine, in fact, continues pulling strong all the way past it's 6,500 redline. In fourth gear, this translates into speeds exceeding the triple digit mark. (our lawyers tell us never to say 100 mph) Fuel range is said to be about 204 miles to reserve (at about 70mph+) and about 250 to empty. The worst mileage we saw coaxed out of the big Valk, and we do mean the worst possible, was 27 to 30 mpg. The Valkyrie will readily burn fuel, but the large tank compensates well. We'll have to wait for a full road test to give you more accurate mileage figures.
The new full-featured audio system (no cassette deck, rear speakers aren't standard equipment) is overdone. In fact, it's even harder to learn than the unit on Yamaha's new Venture - though in a totally different fashion. Can you say too many buttons? Two days of riding and people still had questions on how to use the system. Though it takes too long to learn, it does offer loads of features and works very well if and when you get it figured out. The system even has an auxiliary setting which allows you to hook up a personal CD player or walkman type device (an RCA type plug-in is provided under the right side panel).
If you're wondering how the new Interstate stacks up against Honda's own Gold Wing, it's simple. Honda now has two standout mounts. The Wing is still the silky smooth, full coverage, long distance king. The Valkyrie Interstate is a hot-rod-like, full-featured, comfortable touring rig offering a bit less protection from the elements yet with rock solid handling. Though they're very different in their design and how they feel to ride, choosing which model to buy would be a very difficult choice for us. Honda clearly has another winner on their hands.
- Bill Wolf -