Origins Of The Rune - A View From The Top

As Vice President of the Motorcycle Division at American Honda, Ray Blank carries a full load of responsibilities that must surely seem endless at times. However, there are those special occasions when he can revert to being a motorcycle enthusiast, plain and simple. And the decision to move forward with the Rune was such an occasion, one that required as much heart for motorcycles as business foresight. Here, Ray Blank fills us in on some of those decisions and details that made the Rune a reality.

How did the idea of producing the Rune originate?

We were looking to take the original Valkyrie to the next level. When it was first introduced, this bike, which had been derived from the 1520cc Gold Wing, had a significant impact on the motorcycle market. The Valkyrie was the first genuine power cruiser, a custom-styled motorcycle that had plenty of muscle, great handling and long-distance touring abilities to go along with its good looks. It really expanded the notion of what a cruiser's functional capabilities could encompass, and in doing so the Valkyrie built an unusually strong following.

So we wanted to extend this concept once again and take another cutting-edge motorcycle into uncharted territory, establishing new directions that no other manufacturer had ever attempted. We wanted to set the bar higher than ever, erecting standards that no one else had yet imagined, while also exploding old limitations on what an original equipment manufacturer could mass produce.

Were there any precursors that contributed to the Rune's design?

Yes, of course. When our R&D department develops concept models, everyone within the company looks these things over very carefully, and the enthusiast within every person naturally tends to pick favorite elements and models. It's the same kind of reaction all motorcyclists experience when viewing a cool concept bike, but we can add the caveat-sometimes-of, "What if."

In this case, we looked back at the Zodia concept bike Honda introduced in 1995. It had a look many of us remembered fondly, largely because of the trailing-link front suspension system. With this idea still fresh in our memories, we asked the designers at Honda Research Americas (HRA) to include this look in a series of concept bikes based on the big-inch GL six-cylinder engine.

What was the result of that work?

The design that HRA called T2 proved to be a truly exceptional accomplishment. There was a strong positive reaction from within Honda circles. We then revealed T2 to the public, and their reaction was the same. The most amazing thing about this reaction was the overwhelming consensus from all parties that the entire T2 design should be retained as a whole; it wasn't just a few parts that struck people's emotions, it was the entire bike. So we decided to preserve the design through production as an intact entity.

How does that differ from typical product planning?

You have to remember that Honda's greatest strength is its engineering ability. Function, horsepower, performance, durability-a lot of very measurable qualities. But now here we were, championing the production of what was essentially a one-off custom special, a show bike with a whole set of gut-level aesthetic qualities that are impossible to measure.

The Rune concept is extremely extravagant, because it places the highest priorities on style rather than measurable science and engineering, and that created challenges during product planning. It is a very emotional product. But when a gut feeling is so strong, avid motorcyclists can communicate with one another on a different level. We accomplished a lot on this new concept after hours, at restaurants, just motorcycle guys talking to each other, scribbling on napkins, waving our hands around.

What was it that finally clinched the idea of producing the Rune?

A lot of people looked at the T2 and said, "Great bike, but it could never be produced." That's the kind of challenge that fueled this project. Honda has a long history of building improbable machines, and making them successful. The CB750, the Gold Wing, the RC211V-there is nothing conventional about these machines, and building them expanded Honda's capabilities. The Rune expands our capability in yet another direction, blurring the line between concept and reality, and pushing our production capabilities to new levels. In the end, that's what makes the Rune unique beyond its elegant design and styling.

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