Honda Valkyrie – Taking on the American V-Twin Cruisers

  • By: Emily
  • Date: 19/06/2022
  • Time to read: 8 min.

In 1996 the Honda Valkyrie was introduced to the Japanese giants line up. A motorcycle that was very much led by the US market in its design, style, size, the whole package was there to be a new big, muscle-flexing cruiser.

In the US it went by the name of the Honda GL1500C (Honda F6C elsewhere, Flat-Six Custom) and shared some commonalities, largely the flat-six engine, with the Gold Wing. 

Produced until 2003, the Honda Valkyrie had a steady run before disappearing into obscurity until some years later in 2014 when it reappeared as a Gold Wing redesign. 

Today we have motorcycles like the Triumph Rocket 3, Ducati XDiavel and the new BMW R18 that fits the mega sized unconventional power cruiser category. 

However, at the time the Gold Wing and subsequent Honda Valkyrie were pretty much on their own competing with traditional V-twins to be the best.

History

The Honda Valkyrie has the classic cruiser silhouette
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The Honda Valkyrie has the classic cruiser silhouette

The Honda Gold Wing is one of the very few motorcycles that are truly deserving of legendary status. Its longevity is uncontested and for it to have won over so many US bikers in the way that it did cements it as an icon. 

So it only made sense for Honda Motorcycles to build on what they had achieved with the Gold Wing and use the foundation in another platform. 

With extensive research undertaken focusing on the US, Honda started to put together designs for a big muscle-bound cruiser to take on the large V-twins Harley Davidson were producing. 

Makoto Kitagawa, head of the R&D department was commissioned to get on with building a cruiser using the Flat-six platform and he did just that. 

The all new machine would be manufactured in Marysville, Ohio at the Honda plant, which gave it big bonus points for those who appreciated American built motorcycles. 

Without a doubt some of the success of the Gold Wing was down to the fact it was built in Maryville. The American public loved this fact and those that otherwise would have only rode American bikes like Harleys chose to buy Gold Wings because of this. 

Using the flat six motor and transmission out of the Gold Wing, Honda made just a few changes to the power plant including the camshaft and a switch to six individual 28mm carbs which meant one for each cylinder. 

These changes increased power and torque, notably for the Japanese model a reverse gear was also included. 

The motor was a flat-six 1520cc, that was incredibly smooth across all five gears and rev range, the usability of the mammoth motor was staggering on its release.

A far cry from the expectations of lumpiness that the public expected based on their experience. Dare I say it, lumpiness was even expected from big Harley V-twin engines at the time, it was part of their nature and therefore charm right? 

The big motor was housed in a smaller chassis than that of the Goldwing, although smaller probably isn’t the right word given the enormity of the Honda Valkyrie. 

It was the motor that limited just how many changes the design team could actually make for the new model. 

The design was comprised of:

  • Wide, sweptback, handlebars
  • Mid-mounted pegs for a standard sit-up tourer position
  • Huge 20 liter fuel tank
  • Massive Showa 46mm inverted fork
  • Twin Showa rear shocks
  • Big tyres
  • Sweeping traditional full front and rear fenders 
  • Large headlight
  • Solo seat and passenger seat with backrest

Everything was oversized and formed an impressive silhouette. 

While the Honda Valkyrie was a huge motorcycle the center of gravity and seat height was low and well balanced which made it surprisingly stable to move around at slow speeds. 

However, it would be wrong to assume it is easy to move. It is flipping heavy and sudden movements are the enemy. Making a U-turn is a daunting task and should be undertaken with caution. Smooth, cool and collected needs to be your demeanor. 

If it all goes wrong, let the bike go, hope for the best and get some help, there is no way you’re winning the battle if the bike leans too far over. 

Provided you got some planning in, the bike could take a corner pretty quickly and it offered all the comfort you could need for long highway trips. 

A screen didn’t come as standard but it didn’t take long before Honda had a whole accessories package available so you could tailor it to suit your individual riding needs. 

The suspension soaked up all the bumps in the road but was firm enough to keep the bike stable at speed, when leaning and in corners. 

The Honda Valkyrie was released with an overall fit and finish of the quality you would expect from the company; thick paintwork, lots of chrome and attention to detail.

So, let’s take a look at how it performed on its release and whether it had the impact Honda wanted it to have.

Performance

To date the original in all its variants has gained a bit of a cult following, it is cemented in the history books of big cruisers and rightly so.

While it was eagerly anticipated by the press and public, it was likely doomed from the start and by no fault of its own. 

It was doomed simply because it was too good for what it was. 

Arguably the biggest let down was the fact it had no flaws. Big cruisers were expected to rattle above 65 mph, your bones were meant to shake. 

The Honda Valkyrie didn’t do that, there was no shaking, no vibrations, it was all absorbed before it got to the rider. 

The engine was considered to be a little too quiet, mellow and smooth for some, with little character. A charge Honda Motorcycles would face time and again.

For riders that were used to vibrating, thunderous, punchy, and aggressive motors, it just didn’t feel right, which is a bit of a juxtaposition given how well the 682 lbs (dry) monster actually handled. 

Maybe if it had been released today as a power cruiser, the performance of the smooth engine and overall ride would be accepted and appreciated, but at the time, it didn’t fit the remit of what a cruiser was meant to be, certainly not one that looked like a muscular hot-rod.

However, the sales didn’t reflect the media reviews of the time, in fact the motorcycle press were very impressed with the bike and would continue to be with the generations of the model that followed. 

The Honda F6C rarely goes wrong, ever. It is a beautifully made motorcycle, with lavish chrome, thick paintwork and an engine that can cover 100,000 miles with basic oil/filter changes.

MCN

 In the game of mega-cruiser one upmanship, Honda just played a very big hand.

Cycle World Magazine prior to its release

The Valkyrie Tourer was actually pitched up against the Yamaha Royal Star Deluxe and the Harley Davidson Road King in one CW road test and it came out on top yet again. 

Overall, the Honda Valkyrie had a pretty good run, and it was brought back again in 2014 for a year in a renewed format. 

However, it was definitely not the huge sweeping success Honda had hoped for, particularly when compared with the iconic Gold Wing. Today though it is somewhat of an institution favored by those looking for something different.  

Variants

There were several variants that went on sale:

  • Standard Model
  • Touring Model – Came with a windshield and lockable hard saddlebags
  • Interstate Model – Came with a fork-mounted fairing, larger fuel tank and a rear trunk for luggage
  • Valkyrie Rune – In 2003 the Rune was released as a limited edition model, with a bigger 1,832cc engine and more power, it was a purpose-built muscle-flexing power cruiser
  • EVO6 – This was a concept motorcycle from 2007 that could be used as a fully automatic motorcycle or as a six-speed manual


In 2014 the name was revived for production of a short two model-year run in the US. It was a complete redesign but used the bigger Goldwing engine. It was a futuristic design that was perhaps just slightly ahead of its time. 

Buying an Original

There are some Honda Valkyrie motorcycles still alive and kicking and ready to exceed 100,000 miles with ease. 

They are mostly to be found in the US with only the personal imports that made it to the UK, popping up from time to time like this one, listed for £5,995.  

Prices for an original sit at around $6,000 and the 2014 models sit between $10,000-$14,000. 

This touring model from 1998 has an asking price of $4,999. 

Unlike buying some older motorcycles, you do not need to worry so much about the big Honda in terms of it having high mileage. The engine is absolutely solid and will do as many miles as you want it too. 

As long as you check the bike over and it is in good condition then it should serve you well. 

Restoring One

If you have found a cheap Valkyrie and are looking at restoring it, the good news is there are plenty of parts online at reasonable prices for you to do so. 

Parts are more expensive than some other bikes but they are OEM parts available, so you would end up with a motorcycle built of original parts.

Accessory International is a good resource as is SunCoast Cycle Sports.

Are they a good investment?

Valkyries are holding their value, they are unlikely to soar in price but they also are unlikely to lose any value. 

A Valkyrie shouldn’t be considered a financial investment to make money down the line, but you would be getting a very good usable, touring cruiser that wouldn’t falter. 

Verdict

I firmly sit in the category of riders who appreciate the Valkyries and see them as an institution. I understand the cult following and why it is revered by so many. It is a damn cool motorcycle and a good one. 

The fact the bike was too good at the time to rival the big Indian, Victory and Harley Baggers was no fault of its own, so I would love to see a revival on the streets and at bike nights, it deserves its time in the limelight. 

Valkyrie
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