The head-turner that makes me smile

 

I had a couple of months back in South Africa for work, mid-March to mid-May, which meant I got to ride some of my bikes on those relatively deserted roads of the Western Cape once again. Living as we do one kilometre down a dirt road, getting out was dependent on the state of that road. To start with, it was bad – really bad. Deep ridges across the road, potholes everywhere, courtesy of the massive logging trucks that use it as a shortcut.

The V-Strom could cope, just – even the rugged double-cab Nissan N300 bakkie protested at times. The two sports bikes really didn’t want to know; their suspension just wasn’t designed for that sort of treatment. Neither, for that matter, was the Rune, its rear end sensitive as it is to even poorly surfaced Tarmac roads. I was even more worried about stone chips damaging its largely unblemished paintwork.

Then, after a few days, the guys with the road graders came and smoothed out the worst of the bumps, the sun was shining, and suddenly all the bikes were viable. Guess which one got ridden, almost exclusively? The Honda Rune. It just feels so right.

The engine is far from the largest on a modern bike, and very far from the most powerful. Yet it’s powerful enough, it’s wonderfully smooth, and it sounds great. The riding position is very relaxed, and the view from the saddle is unique: that long tank, the intense, deep chrome of the handlebars and instruments and switchgear, and the beautifully crafted chrome headlight poking forward four feet in front you.

The fact that 100 kph (62 mph) feels like a supremely comfortable cruising speed may be a turn-off for many riders. There may have been a time when I too would have dismissed as “past it” any other rider who felt that 100 kph was a satisfactory rate of progress. But it has the advantage of reducing your chance of speeding tickets and on the Rune it just feels good. So does 120 and 130, so all is not lost.

I recently placed this custom flat six at the top of my list of all-time favourite bikes, and riding it in recent weeks merely conformed that status. If you ever have a hankering after a really relaxing cruiser that impresses the hell out of you every time you lay eyes on it, then try a Rune. If you like Valkyries, you’ll love it.

The fact that it turns heads everywhere you go could be deeply irritating after a while, but so far, for me, it isn’t. I got stopped in one of the frequent, random police roadside licence checks that are part of life in South Africa, and the young female officer asked me to park the bike and walk home so she could have it. Police officers who crack jokes! Then she walked around it slowly, came back and said “I love your bike – but I hate your number plate” (it might be just a tad smaller than regulation size).

An old guy (well, about my age) walked over another time and asked if he could take a picture for his son, who owned a Panigale. Two women, probably in their early 40s, saw me walking toward it in a DIY store car park and asked: “Is that your bike?” Since it was the only bike in the place and I was wearing a bike jacket and carrying a helmet, it seemed a silly question, but that’s the Rune for you – a conversation piece.

Time for a special mention for Star Panelbeaters in Knysna. They did an excellent job respraying my black Ducati SportClassic after its tank-slapper incident last year – the final step in restoring it to virtually as-new condition. I asked them if they could try to polish out some very small surface scratches visible in the top coat of the Rune’s tank. Not sure how they got there – they may have been there before I bought it. Star said they’d give it a shot. They set to with the finest wet-and-dry emery paper I’ve ever seen, then added a thin white paste to the area and buffed it with a power polisher. The result was amazing: scratches gone and the tank immaculate once more. Thanks, guys!

The only casualty of that wretched dirt road – apart from the small truck that rolled off it and on to its side in the ditch near our house – was the Ducati. There has been a hairline crack for a while in the plastic left rear indicator stem, where it joins the tail-light assembly, and in just one trip down that dirt road on the way back from the spray shop the crack simply broke right through, leaving the flasher dangling by its electrical wire. Annoying rather than disastrous, but indicative of how rough that dirt road can be. Happily, it’s scheduled to be tarred next January.

Next planned road trip is the Valkyrie through the UK and across to Austria in July. Can’t wait!

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