Honda’s flagship Goldwing can trace its history right back to the GL1000 of 1975 – a bike built from a clean sheet of paper and one that smashed contemporary norms in many ways.
It featured a radical engine configuration, liquid-cooling when just about everything on two wheels used air and/or oil to disperse engine heat, dual disc brakes up front and an underseat fuel tank to mention just a few of the bike’s technical advances.
The team at Honda Japan was busy at the drawing board in the early ’70s. Full of success-driven confidence, the idea was to build a ‘grand tourer’ that was smooth and effortless in power delivery that would carry the ‘flagship’ moniker for Honda, all at a time when the brand was trying hard to follow the ground-breaking nature and sales success of its 750 Four. It needed a ‘hero’ bike and the GL was the focus. Like it or lump it, when Honda focuses, things happen.
The simple fact is this was about as far from the norm as you could expect from a manufacturer in the mid ’70s. The engine was a liquid-cooled, OHC, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder, displacing 999cc, and that’s just for starters! Toss in performance numbers of 60kW (80hp) at 7500rpm and a wet weight of 290kg and it’s easy to see why the bike caused such a stir – at least as far as press coverage was concerned. Unknown to the company at the time, Honda would still be building a bike of similar layout some 40 years later and the GL1000 would turn out of have been the smallest and lightest of them! This was the start of something very big indeed.
DARE TO BE DIFFERENT
Initial uptake was slow but the brave early adopters who could see beyond the GL’s techno-weird appearance were rewarded with a very competent mount. In fact, the stout frame was perfect for hanging things like fairings and panniers from – a cornerstone of the GL/Goldwing design brief as it became ever more refined.
The bike was all about making life easy for those aboard, coupled with the corporate desire at Honda for another category leader. The driveshaft took the fuss out of a long trip and the substantial engine capacity and physical room offered very relaxed long-distance touring for rider and passenger. It’s easy to see then why the Goldwing has gone on to represent the pinnacle of the luxo-touring category. Brand lineage will do that for a manufacturer.
“Honda’s ultimate touring masterpiece, as the 750 Four that preceded it, will take off on a trip all its own, pioneering a sophisticated concept yet untouched, but soon to be pursued by those destined to follow the leader,” wrote Motorcyclist in a quote picked up for the Goldwing brochure. Though clumsy in structure, you have to pay respect for its prophetic nature.
FIVE FOR THE ROAD
History shows more than a million Goldwings were built at Honda’s Marysville Motorcycle Plant in Marysville, Ohio, between 1979 and 2009, and production continues full steam ahead at Kumamoto, Japan, as we speak.
Five models were produced over that period including the GL1000, GL1100, GL1200 and the GL1500, which brought the most changes seen to the Goldwing series since its inception. There were also subtle model variations, but the main game is accepted to represent five models. The biggest difference was that the flat-four engine was replaced with a 1520cc, six-cylinder engine which remained horizontally opposed.
In 2001, the current-capacity Goldwing was introduced, representing the first new ’Wing in 13 years.
Displacement was increased to 1832cc and the engine was fuel-injected, making 88kW (118hp) at 5500rpm and 167Nm at 4000rpm. Dry weight was down to 363kg from the 1500’s 372kg, mostly achieved by constructing the twin-spar frame of aluminium.
A serious recall affecting the 2001 bike read: “On some motorcycles, certain frame welds do not meet manufacturing specifications. High loads created when riding on rough road surfaces or through potholes can cause the affected welds to crack.”
The welded area could break, resulting in rear suspension collapse or lower cross member separation, increasing the risk of a crash. There should be a sticker suggesting the bike has been seen and either fixed or passed as okay by a dealer. Things have been smooth sailing since production moved to Japan in 2009.
So, how does the bike handle? There’s no doubt the ’Wing takes a bit of getting used to. The simple fact is if you happen to drop it on the deck, well, you may as well hail a cab (or limousine for those that can afford a stretched version), because you’re not going to pick it up on your own. Notice those little crash bars? They’re there for a reason.
If you are going to drop it at low speed, the chances are you will do it early in your ownership, if that’s any consolation.
Once on the move the bike becomes surprisingly easy to manoeuvre and the controls nice and light. You’ll need to think about where you park it – it’s not going down any narrow laneway in a hurry.
The reverse gear might sound like a bit of a gimmick, but it is an essential arrow in the ’Wing’s quiver. Parked it nose first into a gutter downhill? It doesn’t matter how strong you are because you’re not going to wheel the ’Wing backwards uphill, simple as that.
On the road, it’s surprising just how quickly a ’Wing can be hussled when ridden in anger. The engine makes delightful loads of creamy torque so there’s no need to stir the five-speed gearbox much. It will pull from just about anywhere and this is especially nice when coming out of corners – simply use the predictable power to pull the bike upright.
Now seen as the undisputed king in the luxo-tourer category, the bike has gained that status by offering a long list of standard features. Depending on model year, that includes an AM/FM four-speaker stereo system, cruise control and electronically adjustable suspension (preload on the rear shock), heated grips, independently operated electrically heated rider and pillion seats, rider-to-pillion intercom system and reverse gear. There’s even an airbag on the Luxury versions!
You can have a CD stacker with MP3 adapter, pannier bags (to unpack or pack the bike’s integrated panniers and top box in seconds), driving lights and satellite navigation.
Added to this is the list of bits and bobs made by aftermarket operators, which has to be seen to be believed.
In short, you can get a chrome armrest with built-in cupholder for your ’Wing or, for that classy touch, you can go for a blue LED windshield surround. Of course, there are many more practical options available, but the list is endless. Check for yourself at WingStuff.com
While the whole luxo-tourer thing comes in for some derision from sectors of the motorcycle riding fraternity, – ‘why not just buy a car?’ is an oft-muttered question – for cutting out big distances in supreme comfort, only the BMW K1600 comes close to the ’Wing and its incredible list of accessories. Yep, they are big and bargey and even a little ostentatious, but the ’Wing belongs on the wide open road where it offers a hugely rewarding ride.
It’s little wonder the bike is a big favourite among Ulysses Club members and a first choice with the trailer-towing mob. Pillions will bow at the altar of your decision-making prowess if you buy a ’Wing because it’s the most comfortable motorcycle for pillions.
If you’re looking for supreme comfort, every conceivable bell and whistle and sports performance doesn’t interest you then the ’Wing is for you.
It has a proven track record for comfort and if paying upwards of $30,000 for a second-hand motorcycle doesn’t raise your eyebrows, this one comes with much to recommend it. Just remember: if you haven’t ridden a big luxo-barge like this, take a test ride before considering purchase. It’s motorcycling, but not as we know it.