"No one called to tell you that your bike isn't ready yet?" The service manager said, looking apologetic. I knew I should have called before making the two-mile walk to pick up my 2013 BMW R1200GS Adventure from the shop.
"We had to order a part and we'll have it ready tomorrow." He could see my disappointment. "I tell you what, you can take my GS if you want, I have another bike I can ride home, or… You can ride the Rune. " Without hesitating, I went for the Rune.
I'd seen the 2004 Honda Valkyrie Rune cruiser parked in the lot and secretly marveled at its obscene proportions. Looking more like a full custom (or concept bike) the Ultra heavy cruiser bulges, long and low, and drips with chrome and lacquer-black paint. To a "function over form" BMW snob like myself, the 811 lb beast with its 68.9 inch wheelbase and 27.2 inch seat height looked utterly unrideable. Yet somehow it's grotesqueness demanded I try. I could tell my like-minded motorcycle-elitist friends it was the only loaner they had. It would be like a joke bike, leaving my "refined" taste and sensibilities untarnished, veiled in suit of smug irony.
Settling down onto the reclined riding position, I hefted the monster from its side stand and brought the 1832cc, horizontally opposed six-cylinder motor to life. The low rumbling from the pipes sounded more like a 5.7 liter Mopar Hemi engine than any motorcycle I'd ever heard, let alone ridden. Blipping the throttle rattled my skeleton with intimidating bass. I did my best to not look terrified as I maneuvered the impossibly long motorcycle out of the parking lot.
The service manager's parting instructions rang in my head as I prepared to pull out into Los Angeles rush hour traffic: "You have to use the rear brake. Watch the turns so you don't scrape the pegs and PLEASE DON'T DROP IT. They only made this bike for a year-and-a-half so parts are REALLY EXPENSIVE."
Feeling less than encouraged, I let out the clutch, eased on the throttle, and pulled out onto Santa Monica Boulevard.
With my arms stretched forward at nose level and hands clutching the bulbous grips, my feet missed the pegs the first time I rolled off a stop. Being accustomed to the more "practical" posture afforded by my BMW motorcycle, it took three or four stoplights before my feet would move forward to the foot pegs as opposed to the place below where they were "supposed" to be. Being eye-level with people in cars was equally strange. When you're aboard the Rune, I soon discovered that everybody looks at you.
Once the leviathan got moving however, something cool began to happen. Its frightening, clumsy parking lot manners disappear in the rearview mirrors. The improbably huge motor launches you forward with more power than I dared to use. Away from the stop and go annoyance of city traffic, the scale-tilting mass of the motorcycle seemed to melt away, and somehow, the reclined cruiser position started to make sense. Thirty minutes of saddle-time and I found myself settling further back into the machine, stretching my arms and feet further forward.
Pointing the front wheel toward the Hollywood hills, I snaked up a twisty canyon. Mindful of the low clearance, I was surprised to find that the Rune actually handled pretty well through the corners. Sure, there was no knee dragging, or crossed-up supermoto moves to be had aboard the super tanker-cruiser, but steering response was predictable and the bike felt much lighter then it was. The wind felt different against my body. Rather than trying to lean against the force, or tuck under it, I sat back and let my body scoop it up. The engine rumble also had a hypnotic effect. Getting on the gas hard off the line laid a smoking strip of black rubber on the pavement.
High above Los Angeles on Mullholland road something happened—something that wasn't supposed to happen. I've always thought that cruisers were completely impractical, chrome-dipped parade machines for fez-wearing Shriners to wheel out for local Fourth of July parades, or silly bikes for "bikers" to tirelessly polish ahead of annual pilgrimages to Sturgis. Motorcycles are supposed to have purpose, right? They should carve canyons, or gobble up rough trails, or be capable for long-haul touring machines. The Rune is none of those things, so did I find myself having such a good time riding it? Like taking a much deserved biker beat-down, the mega-cruiser stood up to all my snobbery and motorcycle-biased prejudice and punched it in the face. The Rune delivered a riding sensation I had never experienced before. It wasn't like making a pass on the track, or conquering a remote mountain trail, but it did make me feel good. The Rune gave an honest riding experience, born from its showy massiveness and grunt, and it brought a smile to my face. While for different reasons, it was the same smile nonetheless I get from riding other bikes.
Now, I'm not about to trade in my Gor-Tex adventure suit and racing leathers for a pair of chaps and a leather vest, but the next time I see a someone thundering down the road on a cruiser, I'll know. I'll remember my day on the Rune and the fun I had riding that "ridiculous" motorcycle.
All Photos: Jim P. Downs © 2015
This post was written by Jim Downs.