First Ride: 2003 Honda Rune review

Honda doesn't build £17,000 'custom' motorcycles. Honda doesn't create a design study and work 'backwards' towards a production machine. Of course, all of this was true before the Rune

Click to read: Honda Rune owners reviews, Honda Rune specs and to see the Honda Rune image gallery.

Manufacturing motorcycles isn't entirely about making money on products that sell in large numbers - part of it is about building a brand image. This is why Honda is involved in brand-strengthening motorsports activities to the tune of tens of millions of pounds a year. Those activities are intended to strengthen the Honda brand, but standing alone, they lose money.

The most effective way to draw attention to a brand, however, is to build an exciting product. A product that's different... even a bit outrageous. It might be easy to conclude that the Rune is nothing more than an image builder for Honda. Purely a 'loss leader', like a racing programme. It would be easy, that is, if the Rune didn't function as well as it does, because it's a marvellous motorcycle from a functional perspective, as well as a style perspective.

The Rune's 1832cc six-cylinder engine (derived from the GoldWing, but modified for even higher performance) is the heart and soul of this bike. Honda claims this massive power plant puts out more torque than any other production motorcycle engine. With six separate 32mm throttle bodies and a huge, 6.9 litre airbox feeding this angry beast, it also breathes more freely through a higher-flowing (and superb sounding) exhaust system.

With all that torque and horsepower (Honda isn't quoting power or torque figures), the Rune has that special, omnipotent feeling... sort of like a big-block V8 American engine in a lightweight car. Just a whiff of throttle sends the Rune surging forward, while a full handful of throttle makes it leap towards the next corner. Indeed, the six-cylinder engine is remarkably smooth and composed, and features a powerband a mile wide. Once above 30mph, you can leave the Rune in fifth gear and still have healthy acceleration on demand.

The Rune's chassis is a pleasant surprise. A very stiff aluminum diamond-shaped frame helps stretch the wheelbase to 1750mm, the longest in Honda's line-up. It also remains remarkably composed under pressure. Indeed, the Rune has one of the stiffest chassis available from a cruiser. The brakes are the largest ever put on a production motorcycle by Honda, in terms of total brake rotor diameter. Dual 330mm discs up front, and a single 336mm disc out back. Three-piston calipers in front work through Honda's linked braking system with a two-piston caliper in the rear.


The unique suspension of the Rune includes a trailing bottom-link front fork that transfers axle loads through pushrods and linkage to two upper shocks, one housing the main spring and one a sub-spring and damping system. The rear has a version of Honda's Unit Pro-Link rear suspension, like the new CBR 600RR. As you might expect, the engine is very well sorted out. The refinements added to the GoldWing power plant leave everything working smoothly and predictably, there is just more power, more torque, and more noise. With a motor like this, you need plenty of brakes.

The linked-braking system that works so well on the GoldWing is an asset on a 348kg machine, believe me. Braking power comes on very progressively, but you feel like you can haul the Rune down as quickly as its tyres will permit, in almost any circumstance. The two test bikes we had featured the two different handlebar options available, with one more rear-set than the other. The rear-set bar felt better cruising in a straight line, but the forward-set bar provided more confidence while cornering. The seat was comfortable, and, as I stated earlier, the rider is not subject to any annoying vibration through either the bars or the pegs.

Indeed, the flat six-cylinder motor prevents Honda from putting the pegs in the far-forward position found on many cruiser machines, but the ergonomic triangle (bar/seat/footpeg relationship) was comfortable overall, and lent the rider a good sense of confidence controlling the machine. The digital instrument gauge is easy to read on the Rune for two reasons. First of all it is very bright, and second, it is shaded by a deep hood that prevents glare from interfering with legibility.

While cruising on the freeway at up to 80mph, the Rune provided remarkable wind protection to the rider. I say remarkable, because the Rune comes without a fairing, and most cruisers send enough wind blast to your chest on the freeway that you are holding on for dear life. Something about the front end of the naked Rune minimizes the air pressure against your chest at higher speeds. It made travelling on the freeway much more comfortable than I expected.


In the end, the Rune was a lot of fun to ride. It almost goes without saying that it also attracted a great deal of attention from fellow motorists and pedestrians. Although the styling borders on outrageous, it is clearly attractive to a good number of enthusiasts. Honda was correct that the Rune pushes a lot of the right buttons from a styling perspective. We found out it also pushes the right buttons from an enthusiast's performance perspective as well.

1996: Oh my good God what the hell is this? Honda launch the F6C, or to call it by its more commonly known name, the Valkyrie. It's big, brash and uses the 1520cc flat-six GoldWing engine.
2002: Now firmly established and with a huge fan base Honda drop the Valkyrie. from it's range. But a prototype called the Rune using the new 1832cc 'Wing motor has been doing the rounds of American bike shows with Honda staff asking bikers their opinions on whether it should go into production.


Harley-Davidson V-Rod £14,095: With its first water-cooled cruiser Harley had to do something special. It did. The V-Rod looks fantastic, has loads of power and most importantly it's a Harley.

Victory Vegas £11,895: Only 40 of these American steeds will make it to the UK so exclusivity is guaranteed. Cool in a retro kind of way but a bit agricultural for most.

Yamaha Road Star Warrior £10,049: With bigger exhaust than a jumbo jet the Warrior has a menacing street presence. Only 100 in the UK it's a cruiser that also handles well.

Honda Rune

PRICE NEW - £17,000
POWER - 116bhp@5500rpm
TORQUE - 123lb.ft@4000rpm   
WEIGHT - 348kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 820mm   
TOP SPEED - 140mph
0-60     - n/a