Interview with Masanori Aoki.


As Large Project Leader (LPL) on the Valkyrie Rune, Masanori Aoki was challenged to make a personal and professional odyssey of sorts. Originally a specialist in Honda sport bikes, Aoki brought to bear those high-performance tricks of the trade while designing the new-generation Gold Wing, the GL1800, which has more sporting appeal and ability than most people ever imagined possible.


Armed with such an intimate knowledge of F6 design and production, he was called upon to work his engineering sleight-of-hand once more with the Rune, producing a machine the likes of which has never been attempted. How did Aoki accomplish that task? That's exactly what we asked.


Usually new models begin with an engineering design, but the Valkyrie Rune design was created from an HRA prototype model. Has Honda ever done this before, starting with a styling model?


There were some production machines that started with styling models but the Rune is the first model that reproduced the original design fully and faithfully.


What other vehicles did the Rune/T2 mock-up remind you of?

Because the Rune/T2 mock-up is a new design with a full measure of originality, no other motorcycles come to my mind. When I think about automobiles, however, it brings the images of American cars from the 1940s and 1950s.


What did you think as an engineer when you were first assigned to create a running replica of a styling design? Did this process seem backward?


To be honest with you, I thought it would be impossible to mass-produce the product without changing the styling design. It was just too radical of a design. And yes, as an engineer I thought the process was completely backward; we've never seen anything like this before.


With the sport bikes you've worked on and even the GL1800, you probably began the projects with a certain engineering mindset. How did you approach the Rune assignment, which was styling oriented above all?


Since there were no distinct function or performance goals that had to be met, we were free to focus on capturing the styling and design from the mock-up. That included all elements such as the location of the front and rear tires, and the location, position and dimension of the engine.


To that end, we had to spend a significant amount of time creating a clay model to maintain the original design. Also, we had to incorporate 11 new technological and production methods to achieve our goals-that's a significant amount of new production technology.


Was it easy for you to relate to the Rune/T2 from the start, or did you have a time when you finally embraced the concept in full?


Honestly speaking, when I first saw the T2, I said to myself, "Are we really going to produce a motorcycle like this?" It was pretty wild looking. But when I attended the Cycle World motorcycle show held in Long Beach and saw the reaction from the customers on a first-hand basis, I completely grasped the concept.


We were hoping that the T1 mock-up would be most popular because new-model development had already begun based on the T1.


Frankly speaking, people at the show who saw the T2 mock-up expressed a most unusual degree of excitement. In fact, the customer response was so strong it was difficult for many Japanese to understand such enthusiasm.


The T2 was nearly four times more popular than any of the other designs-far and away the overwhelming favorite. I remember how one person even said, "I will bring $30,000 in cash, so please sell it to me right away."


How did your experience with the GL1800 help you with the Rune project?


During the development time I spent in preparation for the GL1800, I learned how Americans enjoy riding motorcycles.


The Rune has similar aspects such as "enjoying the appearance" and "enjoying the exhaust sound" besides the more measurable aspects of a motorcycle such as accelerating, stopping and going around curves.


Our understanding is that the Rune exhaust system was one of the more difficult challenges to overcome. Why was this so, and how did you solve the challenge?


The styling design had already been decided, and the short length posed a potential problem with exhaust pipe volume.


Also, we wanted the Rune to have a distinctive exhaust sound that was a reflection of the bike's visual image. So we had to design a unique silencer, and we changed things in the exhaust collector.


Also, to achieve the complex shape of the muffler end cap, we employed the lost-wax casting technique, a manufacturing method typically not used in the motorcycle industry.


But when I look at the production version of the Rune, I can smile and know that all the work was worth it in the end.


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