Powersports / Motorcycles / Custom / Rune / Interviews
HRA's Project Director Martin Manchester and Tony Schroeder, Senior Designer, reveal the Origins of the Honda Valkyrie Rune.
The Rune is such a radically different kind of motorcycle; where did it all begin?
MARTIN MANCHESTER: You probably remember the concept bikes that Honda developed. (T1 was first shown in 1999, and T1, T2 and T3 all appeared together in December 2000 at the Cycle World show in Long Beach, California.)
Well, the purpose of creating these bikes was to gather public input about future designs. We knew we wanted to take the flat- six engine in a new direction as a cruiser, and this process helps us to identify a new concept. We solicited input at the shows, and also in focus groups that we conducted.
What were the results of these studies?
TONY SCHROEDER: All of the T bikes drew very positive reactions in shows and focus groups. Riders with more conservative tastes liked the T1 direction, while the hot-rod crowd picked the T3. Those choices weren't really a surprise. What did surprise us was the huge majority that liked the T2 concept, which was the overwhelming favorite. What's more, we were surprised by the strong emotional attachment people had for T2, and their adamant pleas for every component to be left in place. Usually, people tend to gravitate toward individual elements, such as the six-into-six pipes on the hot-rod T3 bike, but with T2 virtually everyone loved all of the individual components as well as the overall concept itself.
MANCHESTER: Understand that these studies are much more than just a voting contest. The way people talk about the concept bikes and the thought they put into the analysis of individual elements is just as important in helping us arrive at our decision. People liked the freshness T2 offered along with a touch of retro, and the fact that it showcased the newest technology.
Talk about the newness of the T2/Rune design.
SCHROEDER: As designers, we had lots of freedom to explore uncharted territory. Our assignment was to look for future directions that would shape the market, not just continue existing trends. We wanted to develop a vision of the future, a future that included the cruiser market, but a performance cruiser that would take on a leadership role for the entire industry.
So how would you define this new design?
MANCHESTER: Our goal was to produce something new, something no one had ever thought of before. We wanted to create a fresh look, but one that would also serve as an engineering showpiece, a cruiser with a new level of performance and technology. And that wasn't easy to do, because anything easy has already been done, right? So T2 and the Rune were really designed to plow new ground.
SCHROEDER: This is a cruiser that transcends the chopper concept. We took the hot-rod image, then projected it into the future and melded those ideas into a new kind of motorcycle, one that simply can't be produced except by using the most sophisticated production methods available.
Don't you always have a free hand in all the designs that you work on?
MANCHESTER: (Laughing) Not like this project! For one thing, once we got the green light, we were told the price of the Rune would not be a consideration-that's never happened before! But again, the goal was to come up with an entirely new and higher standard for the entire industry. This was a very rare opportunity for us to actually create a motorcycle at the farthest limits of our imagination. We were truly living out Honda's corporate slogan, "The Power of Dreams." Here we were, taking a showbike all the way through to production.
SCHROEDER: It's important to realize this kind of opportunity doesn't come up very often. For once we didn't have to work around all kinds of constraints. Sure, there were lots of challenges because our ideas were so new, but there have also been lots of rewards. Of course, our ultimate reward will be to see the Rune on the street.
Was there ever any doubt you could take the T2 concept bike and put it on the street as the Rune?
MANCHESTER: There was one individual in particular we remembered all through the development process with the Valkyrie Rune. This fellow told us, "I really love this bike, the T2. I would buy this bike, just as it is, but I know it could never be done. It would be impossible even for a company such as Honda to build a bike just like this." He was convinced the T2 simply could not become a production machine. We remembered his statement during the entire production process, and we took it on as a huge corporate challenge: Let's make this bike look exactly like T2. And besides the machine itself, we really wanted the Rune to broadcast a bold statement about the technological capabilities Honda wields-we can do it. Now, take a look at the final Valkyrie Rune, and I think it's fair to say we achieved both goals.
It is rather mind-blowing that you could take a far-out concept bike, a non-runner, and translate it so literally into a production machine and in such a short time.
MANCHESTER: Yes, that was the challenge in doing the Rune-and it was a huge challenge. You see, our job assignment here at HRA is to push the limits of design, so we sometimes consciously cut corners on what we know are production realities or functional elements in a bike-it's just for show, after all, so we throw a lot of ideas out there. But suddenly we had a bike that people loved. They developed a strong emotional attachment and they didn't want to give up any of the T2's elements, such as the exhaust system, the single-sided swingarm that exposes the rear wheel, and the invisible rear suspension system. Changing these items to more conventional designs would have made production much easier, but now we had to retain them.
So now you have a groundswell of enthusiasm and support building up for the T2. What was the next step?
MANCHESTER: Early on, we met with Large Project Leader Masanori Aoki. Aoki was the natural choice for this project because he had also served as LPL for the GL1800 Gold Wing. We discussed the many challenges involved in creating this new F-6 1800, and the biggest issue we had to address was the muffler.
Really? That doesn't seem to be a big factor in a motorcycle's design.
MANCHESTER: The muffler on the T2 is very new, very different than anything else on the market. It's very short, to produce the desired visual effect, but that shortness limits the volume within the pipe- a crucially important element that must be engineered correctly to retain horsepower while remaining within EPA sound limits. So engineering had a very, very difficult task in coming up with an exhaust system that had the right look without sacrificing power.
So how was this issue resolved?
MANCHESTER: Well, first the engineering staff had a go at it. Now, understand that designers and engineers each use their brains in different ways, and that we seek solutions through different avenues. First, the engineers tackled the problem, and they tried to solve the functional issues using existing technology. Then they came back to us and asked us to revise the T2 sketches based on existing production capabilities.
So we revised the sketches according to the exhaust system they proposed, but we found these new pieces pretty much changed the entire look of the machine-it really wasn't the T2 any more. It added a lot of mass and we lost the forward-thinking look. So we had a big meeting to discuss how we would resolve these conflicting issues-there's a lot of give-and-take in the discussion and planning process at this stage.
At this point in his career, Aoki is a very experienced engineer. Before the GL1800, he had worked on the NSR250, so he's very familiar with innovation in engineering. Where another engineer might have given up because the problems were too large, Aoki just grew more determined to find the solution-and he did it very quickly.
Can you give us a brief highlight of the Rune's unique elements?
MANCHESTER: Well, the front end is very different, but HGA has been working on this for quite awhile; something like this was on the Zodia showbike, so we were able to adopt this work in progress. The T2 wheels were one-off units, designed by HRA. The production wheels will be cast, then chrome plated. The frame is aluminum; just like Aoki introduced an aluminum frame to the touring segment with the Gold Wing 1800, he has now introduced an aluminum frame to the cruiser market. The Unit Pro-Link gives the Rune the look that we needed, with no visible suspension pieces. And notice how clean the rear fender is; because LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) are so much thinner than bulbs we could maintain that flush-finish look. The largest departure we made was with the handlebar. The T2 bar was strictly for looks, and we knew then that it didn't have the proper riding ergonomics. The Rune retains most of the same look, but the bend has changed.
So how would you summarize all that you have done with the Rune?
MANCHESTER: I think there are three key points to understand about Honda and the Rune. First, the company had to have the courage and commitment to create a showcase machine. Call it guts. Next, Honda had to have the imagination to come up with such a unique design. You could call that brains. Lastly, Honda's engineers had to have the wherewithal to transform this concept into a runner, then into a full-on production bike. And that takes muscle, engineering muscle, and lots of it. The Rune is all about guts, brains and muscle.
SCHROEDER: The Rune really makes an impact on the motorcycle industry. It makes a statement about who Honda is, and reaffirms our position of leadership. For me personally, working on the Rune has given me a lot of inspiration-I'm really looking forward to the next project I work on because the Rune is proof positive that my company backs me up. Who knows what will come out next?