by Troy Johnson
Not much was going on here at Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly in mid-February. Michael, Ken and I were loafing around the office playing solitaire on the computer network. Lee walked in around lunch time and began reading aloud from his tattered copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The protagonists had reached Bozeman, Montana when the phone rang.
I picked it up and had a short conversation with the woman on the other end. After hanging up, I made a quick phone call to Dan, and then sent Michael, Ken and Lee home to pack their riding gear.
The next day, we reassembled at the airport. Dan passed out fat packets of tickets that had been purchased with proceeds he had gained the day before by selling his Superglide and taking a second mortgage on our computer equipment. As we walked onto the plane he shook each of our hands and offered some advice, “Try not to crash this one.”
The flight the four of us had boarded was bound for Houston, there we would transfer to Memphis and hook up with a flight going to Kansas City. From K.C. we were to ride a commuter route to Lincoln, Nebraska where we would catch a plane chartered for Reno. In Reno a taxi would pick us up at the airport and drive us to Sacramento. From there it was a short flight to San Francisco. At San Francisco we would board a 767 and fly to Japan.
It wasn’t one of your better travel itineraries, but we had to take what we could with the limited time and resources.
Four days after leaving Minneapolis, we arrived in San Francisco. None of us were looking our best, but we were still in high spirits and the trip had been relatively uneventful. The biggest problem so far had been when my “Old Spice” bottle broke in my shirt pocket. We were on an airplane at the time and after a few minutes Ken, who was sitting next to me, became agitated and started to complain loudly. Michael switched seats with him.
We had a day to kill in San Francisco while we waited for two other groups from the midwest to catch up to us for the flight to Japan, so we spent the evening talking about what had brought us here.
One of the major Japanese manufacturers was working on a new high-powered heavy-weight cruiser. They had three prototypes and wanted some input from the heart of America. They had found M.M.M. because the recent explosion of new manufacturers had drawn their attention to Minnesota. Another three riders were coming in from a street dragging club based in Milwaukee and two more from a funeral escort service in St. Louis. This manufacturer had covered all the bases.
At the factory in Japan we were shown to our quarters (three tents in the paddock of the test track) and given until the next morning to settle in. Michael spent five hours and three thousand dollars eating his way through the menu at a local noodle shop. Ken was gone all night searching for a hamburger.
The next morning our three groups were engaged in a lively debate over whether it was tomorrow or yesterday (we had crossed the International Date Line) when three flat-black armored trucks pulled up to our tents.
The ground rules were laid out. There would be no photos, and we were not to reveal the manufacturer’s identity.
Spec sheets were passed around, and our eyes popped at the numbers: 852 pounds, 170 horsepower, 140 foot-pounds of torque…a V-8!
We watched a twenty minute training video on handling a bike with this tremendous power–“Use both brakes”, “Don’t let go of the throttle in corners”… The tape had to be rewound at one point when Lee’s snoring drowned out the audio portion during a segment on avoiding tip-overs when parking on asphalt. When the video ended Lee jumped out of his chair scoffing, “Yatta, yatta, yatta…let’s ride!”
They rolled the bikes out of the trucks, and we gathered around for a first look.
The Valdez was obviously built with the Valkyrie and the Boss Hoss in mind. The bike was long (69 inch wheelbase!), low and necessarily wide to accommodate the V-8 power plant.
The engine was an unusual piece of work. It had started life as a V-6 in the Ford Taurus SHO. That motor was downsized and two cylinders were grafted on. This ensured that the Valdez would corner the market with those riders who use the “pistons per pound” method when purchasing.
Unlike the small block Chevy used in the Boss Hoss, this engine was completely high-tech. It had dual overhead cams, Nikasil cylinders, computer-controlled multiport fuel injection, first tune-up at 100,000 miles…the works.
Everything on the Valdez was functional. The liquid cooled engine had no bolted on “cooling fins”. There were no extra plastic doo dads. The air scoops sucked air.
For those of you who cannot leave a bike alone, a full line of accessories had been developed. Even these were not without functionality though. One brochure described the “Streamliner” kit which includes a technician who will meet the purchaser at Utah’s Salt Flats and help with set-up.
Each prototype had a different two-toned paint scheme. I liked the “Frosty Melon & Smoked Salmon” combination, while Ken was partial to the “Saffron Blush & Nimbus Fluff”. Michael and Lee preferred the “Light Suede & Rawhide Chaps” combo. A few more colors will be added before the Valdez goes into production.
Riding the Valdez is more like piloting the space shuttle than a motorcycle. My first reaction was surprise at how nimble it was for it’s size, but then I touched the throttle, and it came off idle. My vision blurred as I was launched into the morning sun.
I managed to focus watery eyes on the tach as the needle hit 1300 rpm and the bike lurched into it’s power band. From here to redline at 9500 rpm the Valdez kept making more power. I felt the seams on my jacket start to give so I gingerly tested the brakes. They turned out to be exceptionally smooth and strong. I was extremely thankful.
Not one of us crashed that day. That is strong proof of the Valdez’ competence. There is really nothing like it.