A Look Back At Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod

The bike that asks the question: Whaddaya think?

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
This concept bike was Honda's rolling research to get cruiser owner's opinions about this one-of-a-kind machine.Rich Cox

This article was originally published in the April 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Think of it as rolling market research. Anyone who attended one of the motorcycle consumer shows this winter has probably seen this motor­cycle in the flesh at the Honda exhibit. Unlike custom bikes, which are built to make a statement, this one-of-a kind Valkyrie was built by Honda Research and Development of North America to pose a question. Essentially, that question is: "What do you—cruiser owner, enthusiast and potential buyer—think and feel about this motorcycle?"

Honda recognizes that the various styles of cruisers on the market in 1999 are just the beginning. Walk down the street in Daytona Beach and you’ll see plenty of directions that cruisers can go besides those already on display in the showroom of your local dealer. One of the most prevalent non factory themes you’ll see rolling on Main Street every March is the street-rod or hot-rod style. It may not be in the form of a complete bike. Maybe it’s just the riding position or a wheel or some other component. But it is there, apparently gaining momentum every year. That’s significant because the bikes that show up at Daytona are often on the cutting edge of motorcycle trends. And among those who have taken notice are the people responsible for designing future Honda products.

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
Street rod/hot rod style inspired this concept.Rich Cox

As a result of that interest, Honda began exploring the street rod as a possible path the custom-cruiser market might take. The first concept bike built to give shape to the idea was based on one of the firm's 1100cc V-twins. After the arrival of the Valkyrie, which with its big, muscular 1520cc six-cylinder engine, better expressed the hot-rod concept, a new concept bike was created around that engine. That is what you see here.

The production Valkyrie is a bit of a hot rod already, and as a result many of the concepts from the standard bike were retained. That upside-down fork is an example. And obviously the engine is lifted almost directly from the Valkyrie. However, in the concept bike it has been fitted with six very serious-looking Keihin fuel injectors. It exhales through a pair of turned-out mufflers.

With its main backbone tubes drawing a line directly from the steering head to the swingarm pivot, the concept bike’s frame looks even more rigid than the already solid chassis on the current model. That big box-section alloy swingarm looks plenty strong as well.

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
Although the bike will run, it was built as a visual rather than mechanical concept, so we don’t know what the performance ramifications of those fuel injectors might be. We like the looks though.Rich Cox

This concept bike will run, but it wasn’t built for that purpose. It was created to draw reaction from customers, to gauge how viable the concept of a production street rod might be, and to hear comments about specific ideas and components that the bike shows off. That’s why it is making the rounds on the show circuit. If you see this concept bike at a show and have a strong opinion about it or some aspect of it, you’ll probably find somebody from Honda nearby who wants to hear what you have to say. And if you don’t make it to a show but would like to let Honda know what you think or feel about this machine, let us know by phone, fax or e-mail. We’ll pass the information on to Honda.

A couple of years before the Valkyrie made its debut in the first issue of Motor­cycle Cruiser, I was working at our sister magazine, Motor­­cyclist. We got a tip that Honda had asked selected riders to come out and sample a concept bike. Since the place was public, we showed up with our camera. The bike turned out to be a cruiser based on the Gold Wing engine. Although the Honda people on hand said it was just a rough prototype built to see what people thought, it looked far more finished than most prototypes we have seen. We speculated that it was headed for production, which turned out to be accurate. Of course, that was a prototype Valkyrie, and the production machine turned out to be almost unchanged from the prototype we saw that day.

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
One of the ideas on this concept bike we expect to see on a future production machine is the speedometer that is recessed into the handlebar clamp.Rich Cox

So what about this bright yellow Valkyrie concept machine? Does it appear to be something that Honda is likely to roll out with minor changes at the dawn of the new millennium as the 2001 Valkyrie Street Rod? We would be extremely surprised if that happened. One of the reasons this bike appears so sleek and clean is that it lacks many legally mandated components, like turn signals. That taillight set flush into the fender probably won’t satisfy the requirements of the Department of Transportation either. You also need annoying things like reflectors. However, that headlight shell, which reinterprets the shape of the current Valkyrie headlight in a slightly more streamlined manner, might find a place on some future Valkyrie rod.

Honda is also unlikely to produce a large-displacement motorcycle without passenger amenities, even if fitting them does interrupt the pretty lines of the machine beneath. I also suspect that this bike probably has less cornering clearance than Honda standards allow for a production street machine. A production bike would probably have to sit a little taller and maybe have its exhaust pipes tucked in a little tighter.

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
The concept bike does use some off-the-shelf aftermarket components, such as the oil filter cover. That coolant hose continues to be a visual distraction, however.Rich Cox

However, I can also find things that I predict will appear on future Honda cruisers that reach production. For example, setting the speedometer down in the handlebar clamp as done on this machine gives an original look that is as clean as a tank-top speedometer yet still provides the good visibility that Honda has demanded from instruments on its American ma­chines. Alloy swingarms have long been a fixture on sportbikes, and they would make sense and look good on a cruiser with a performance accent. And fuel injection seems inevitable with tighter emissions regulations looming. If it can be made to appear as mechanical and businesslike as the units on this machine, it will be right at home on a street bike with a hot-rod heart. Maybe they will even bring a horsepower boost, which would fit right in a motorcycle with a street-rod look to it.

So that’s the best way to look at this motorcycle, as a springboard for ideas. If Honda hears that people like the general idea of a true Valkyrie hot rod with even more performance, you can be sure that the company will push it along. If customers seem to be drawn to the performance look rather than an actual performance boost beyond the present Valkyrie, that is the direction the firm’s street rods will go. Or maybe Honda’s product-planning people will hear that you love or hate the profile, the riding position, the swingarm, the frame design, the wheels, the pipes, the side-cover treatment, or some other aspect large or small which this motorcycle brings to light or to mind. If demand for this sort of taillight styling is strong enough, maybe Honda designers can make it work on a future production bike. If you tell them that the street-rod concept is great but that you’d rather see it executed with a V-twin or a V-4, this motorcycle can lead to models like that as well. And if half the people who comment on the bike say they just have to have it, then we will see how close Honda can come and still make it legal.

Honda's Concept Valkyrie Street Rod
Although they clean up the lines, some aspects of this bike—like the flush-mounted taillight or the absence of passenger accommodations—probably won’t reach production.Rich Cox

“We want to explore all the paths the custom-cruiser market might take. The hot rod or street rod looks like a big segment,” was the way one Honda spokesperson put it to us.

Let those who ride decide.