HAPPY 40TH AND STILL COUNTING: Honda’s Gold Wing is still King of the Tourers in 2014. Image: Newspress
During this month (October 2014) Honda is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its Gold Wing touring-style motorcycle with the announcement of a ‘birthday edition' Wing. That’s a limited number and some will reach South African showrooms..
I well remember the announcement of the landmark Honda Gold Wing back in 1974, which seems more like 100 years ago!
'OUT OF THE BOX'
Just five years after producing their first superbike in 1969, the celebrated CB750 (the very same machine that sounded the death knell for British steeds) Honda once again thought “out of the box” by creating the first long-distance touring bike: the GL1000 Gold Wing.
Shaft drive, a water-cooled flat four engine, disc brakes all around – here was a touring bike that set standards of comfort and sophistication previously unheard of.
Factor in a low centre-of-gravity 19-litre fuel tank (the conventional tank sited ahead of the dual seat was in fact a dummy), the bike offered an entirely new twist to the definition of high-speed motorcycle touring.
That water-cooled four-stroke alone was to prove a unique selling point all those years ago but the novel ‘Wing’ back then could comfortably cruise at 160km/h all day long. The entire bike had a relaxed feel about it, at 120km/h the motor loped along at only 4000rpm.
Despite this (and despite the weight and bulk) the bike could still manage close to 200km/h, if pushed.
From standstill a 400m sprint saw a time of around 13 seconds, putting the bike in the same class as the rapid Kawasaki 750 Triple and even a Laverda Jota. Not bad for a machine that tipped the scales at 270kg dry (that means without a full tank of fuel, oils, humans etc).
HERE TO STAY
Many owners fitted additional touring equipment such as panniers and hefty fairings with built-in sound systems – the Wing would still managed to pull like a locomotive. BMW enthusiasts of the day who maintained their aged and staid twin-cylinder, air-cooled Stroke 5 machinery as being de rigueur, dismissed the Wing as a flash in the pan – but the Wing was here to stay.
Sales success came easily but the factory in Japan was considered too small to handle serious production numbers so, in 1981, the plant was moved lock, stock and barrel to the Marysville Motorcycle plant in Ohio, in the US.
Interestingly, sales from 1979 to 1999 surpassed a million, with engine sizes also increasing along the way, ie: 1100cc, 1200cc, 1500cc (six-cylinders for 1988).
A major innovation for that year was the addition of a reverse gear that revealed clever use of the electric starter linked to the transmission … the Wing was getting heavier and heavier to park.
In 2001 the GL 1800 came into being – the first new model in 13 years. It was fuel-injected but a considerably lighter machine thanks to an all-aluminium frame. Anti-lock brakes were optional; the engine, incidentally developed a car-like 97kW.
Some of the options available to avid owners were GPS, cruise control, heatable dual seat/handlebar grips, adjustable engine air vents (opened and closed by a lever found inside the fairing, and even a sound system that increased in volume through in-dash speakers the more one twisted the throttle!
Honda Gold Wing 40th Anniversary Model
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 4-stroke, 12-valve SOHC, Flat 6, 1832cc
Power: 87kW/167Nm, Electronic fuel injection
Fuel tank: 25 litres
Gears: 5-Speed, Shaft drive
Ground clearance: 125mm
Seat height: 740mm
Kerb weight: 413kg (421kg Airbag version)
Wheels/Tyres: (F) 18" 130/70; (R) 16" 180/60
Brakes: Linked, ABS