THE MOTORCYCLE CHOICES WE MAKE: As motorcycle riders, we have a lot of choices as to which bike(s) to call our own. As we use our checkbooks to vote for our favorite bikes over the passing years, we are either moving towards an idealized “best” bike, or simply trying something new.
Since every motorcycle is a compromise of many factors, the increasing selection that manufacturers have been offering over the years allows a motorcyclist to seek one that best represents each rider’s personal preferences. (And that doesn’t even take into account any customizations a rider engenders to make a bike more his/her own).
At any given time, I’ve always found myself keenly interested in a handful of other bikes, all in addition to whatever I’m currently riding. Further to that, I’ve always maintained a passing interest in a much larger field of bikes. (In other words, I like all kinds of motorcycles).
HONDA GOLDWING – ALWAYS AN ANOMALY
However, one bike has always been somewhere on my radar screen, albeit as somewhat of an anomaly to me: The Honda Goldwing.
The very first GL1000 that came out in 1975 (which was in production until 1979), caught my interest because of its shaft drive – which to me was a logical feature for any long-distance bike and there were not many in that era.
Although that first Goldwing did not have the saddlebags, fairing, and all the bells and whistles normally associated with a Wing, it was a HUGE bike – for the time. I don’t recall too many 1000cc bikes back in the mid 70s.
I did get to ride a GL1000, and I certainly didn’t dislike the bike, but I’d say it didn’t capture my imagination. To me, in that time period, it seemed an exercise in excess. (I mean a 750cc back then was a big bike).
It was a few more years before the Goldwing came on my radar screen in a more pronounced way.
GOLDWING: ON-BOARD AIR COMPRESSOR!?
I was on my first coast-to-coast motorcycle tour in the early 80’s. The trip itself was truly a life highlight, but one minor side note that caught my attention was all the Goldwings I observed across the country. They were by far the most popular “touring” bike among the riders I observed and/or chatted with that were actually riding long distances.
However, I should note there was a geographic exception: the several hundred miles around Sturgis, South Dakota, on that same trip, was ruled by any kind of Harley (like every year since it was started in 1938). But of course that’s a reflection of that famous annual rally….
Anyway, the GL1100 “Aspencade” had just come out from the Midwest (Honda started manufacturing Goldwings in Ohio in 1981 until 2009, when they moved Goldwing production back to Japan).
That bike had everything – and more!
I recall somewhere out in America speaking to a Goldwing rider who was telling me all the accessories his Goldwing came with, in addition to the standard full fairing and saddlebags. I was impressed as he pointed out the AM/FM Radio, floorboards, and CB Radio. But when he told me that it had an onboard air compressor to adjust the suspension, I made him repeat it. Once again, the thought of “exercise in excess” entered my mind – and yet I was amazed at the thing. (Although I could not envision ever owning one).
On the other hand, the bike was famous for its smooth, long-distance ride. Now, that was very appealing to me!
Of course since then, the Goldwings have gotten even bigger and just in case you’re of the type that considers there could never be too many accessories or gizmos on a motorbike, realize that the multitude of goodies that comes with, or are options on the current GL1800 (airbag anyone?), are only a starting point. Over the decades, the aftermarket to provide Goldwing accessories has become an entire industry in itself.
Although Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha, have in the past, attempted to emulate Honda’s success, they ultimately withdrew their offerings. The only other bikes in its category are the BMW K1600LT and the Harley Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
I’ve watched the Goldwings evolve over the years with some interest. Not only because of all the excess, but since I’m a long-distance rider, I still continue to see the national highways and byways well-represented by Goldwings. I’ve also been impressed by its longevity. ANY motorcycle that can last for this many decades (its world debut was in Germany, at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in October 1974), when so many models only last a handful of years, needs to be recognized as truly remarkable. And I wish it many more years of continued success.
I still consider the bike an exercise in excess, but warmly embrace and respect it as a vital and important part of the motorbike world.
And although I may very well end up buying a Goldwing mysef at some point, I would be much more inclined to do if Honda would consider making a Goldwing “light” version, by going back to 1000cc and stripping off everything except the saddlebags and fairing, to make their famously smooth motorbike appealing to those who prefer a simpler style of touring bike. But in the modern era of “bigger is better” and “faster is the master,” my inclinations would probably be deemed “old fashioned.”