How The Honda Gold Wing Has Stood The Test Of Time

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You don’t have to look very deep into the techniques and inspirations of almost anything contemporary to see the influences of the masters before them.

Look closely at the works of contemporary artists, and you’ll see concepts and ideas inspired by masters such as Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Monet.

If you listen to riffs, chord progressions, and arrangements in modern-day rock music, you’ll hear the pioneering musicality of Beethoven, Mozart, and Bach.

And if you look closely at your brand new touring motorcycle, you’ll see concepts and designs which started with the Honda Gold Wing.

Back in the 1960s, I’m pretty certain that designer Shoichiro Irimajiri didn’t know he was about to change history when he put together his team of engineers.

But change it he did as he and his team began the revolutionary concept of creating a Grand Tourer that would change the way we tour forever.

Honda Gold Wing timeline 1/2
Honda Gold Wing timeline 2/2

1974 Honda Gold Wing

honda in red and black from 1974

Oddly enough (despite the literary crescendo above), the GL1000 Gold Wing wasn’t quite the success you might expect.

The SOHC shaft-driven engine (the first of its kind out of Japan) had oodles of torque and was buttery smooth. And whilst the performance was good for a bike that weighed 295 kg, it wasn’t scandalously quick or exciting.

It wasn’t really referred to as a touring machine, either! The brochures and literature only fleetingly used the word ‘touring.’ It also lacked a screen, panniers, or a fairing. It was, for all accounts, a naked bike.

That said, Honda’s decision to miss a trick meant that entrepreneurial folk across the globe began producing aftermarket touring accessories. And as a result, touring riders everywhere started to enjoy the GL1000 on the open road.

Over the next four years, the bike remained largely untouched – bar a few marginal performance and graphic updates.

But by 1980, things were about to change with the Honda touring bike.

1980 Honda Gold Wing GL1100

honda insterstate 1980

In 1980, the Gold Wing received its first major update. And as a result of these updates, the new Wing took on the resemblance to the one we know and love today.

As you can tell by the name, the bike received a displacement increase to 1,085cc. And thus a name change to GL1100.

Not only this, but Honda acknowledged the bike’s capacity for touring and introduced the GL1100 Interstate. A full-dress touring machine complete with panniers, a top box, a full fairing, and even an optional sound system.

I can almost hear Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ as we speak.

1984 Honda Gold Wing GL1200

Honda Gold Wing 1984

Pioneering landscape photographer Ansel Adams passed away in 1984, along with Motown legend Marvin Gaye. But it was also the year of Honda’s next big update in the GL series.

Honda increased the displacement again, from 1,085cc to 1,182cc. Subsequently, another name change was in place, and the GL1100 became the GL1200.

Along with the increased displacement, Honda also added hydraulic valve adjustment, a 16-inch front wheel, and a suspension upgrade to produce class-leading steering.

12 months later, in 1985, the Gold Wing received further updates to commemorate its decade-long tenure at the forefront of motorcycle touring. These included fuel injection, cruise control, and auto-levelling rear suspension.

By this time, everything about the bike had increased from the original Honda Gold Wing specs – including engine displacement, power, weight, length, and equipment. 

But the Gold Wing was coming to a plateau. With weight becoming an issue (and the chassis taking as much as it could handle), a major update was necessary to progress the model.

1988 Honda Gold Wing GL1500

honda in blue from 1988

In 1988, classical music’s larger-than-life tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, gained a world record for receiving 165 curtain calls for his performance of Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The crowd applauded for a total of 1 hour and 7 minutes!

Back in Japan, Shoichiro Irimajiri was busy releasing a tuneful heavyweight of his own via the new GL1500.

Shoichiro had wanted to put a prototype six-cylinder engine in the original GL over a decade ago. But alas, it wasn’t to be.

Fast-forward 13 years and the GL is now powered by a 1,520cc six-cylinder engine – the way it was supposed to be all those years ago.

As the Wing grew in popularity, it also grew in stature. And with weight becoming a contentious issue, Honda added a reverse gear – a concept that would allow smaller riders to reverse the Wing out of a parking spot.

From now until 2001, the GL1500 stayed largely the same. Minor updates included gold-trimmed models for the 20th-anniversary models of 1995 and some minor updates to the drivetrain and suspension.

2001 Honda Gold Wing GL1800

Honda Gold Wing from 2001

At the turn of the millennium, we’d all gotten over the potential doomsday promised by the Y2K bug. And our hangovers.

We’d gained (and subsequently lost) the Spice Girls. Emma Watson had been born – later to become Hermione from Harry Potter.

And Miley Cyrus had entered the world – before annoying everyone to death by destroying it with a metaphorical wrecking ball.

But out of Honda’s factory in Marysville, Ohio, a new Gold Wing with a massive 1,832cc six-cylinder engine was rolling off the assembly line.

Whilst retaining the flavour of the GL line, this new Honda Gold Wing 1800 had seen a complete re-design – upwards of where the rubber meets the asphalt.

In fact, the design and technology that went into the bike was such that Honda applied for no less than 20 patents.

Thanks to the extensive use of aluminium and dedication to weight reduction, Honda’s gram-shaving mission meant the new GL saw an increase in engine size and power whilst weighing marginally less than the GL1500.

This 1800 big six became the legend that is today’s Gold Wing. Because despite its sheer mass, the engine is brimmed with torque that brings effortless power and acceleration.

But it gets better. The newly adapted frame (and the infinitely improved suspension) meant the Wing was nimble and agile in the twisties whilst being fast and planted on the straights.

In terms of full-dress tourers, this new GL was revolutionary. It was unprecedented. And Honda continued to better it by adding minor upgrades over the years.

These upgrades included an in-dash navigation system in 2006, an airbag, heated grips, heated seat, and satellite radio. And in 2012, another design upgrade saw increased weather protection and an increase in luggage capacity.

2012 Honda Gold Wing F6B

hond f6b from 2012

In 2012, Honda tried something new in an attempt to capture a new audience in the touring market.

The F6B (Flat 6 Bagger) was a stripped-back machine and menacing-looking. On the plus side, it was a whole lot lighter.

But on the negative side, the reason it was lighter is that Honda had stripped away the top box and creature comforts, such as the sat-nav, cruise control, and airbag.

That said, the 1800cc engine had remained the same. And with a 28kg weight reduction, this made the F6B a performance-inspired Wing.

2018 Honda Gold Wing GL1800 (to present)

Honda Gold Wing in black from 2018

In 2018, we saw Honda move the bar once again. With incremental changes over the last few years, the 6th generation Wing saw an increase in power, a reduction in weight, and better fuel economy.

Opulence was added to both the driver and pillion seat to make for a more spacious ride.

But Honda wasn’t finished yet. The 6th Gen model saw a 7-speed DCT box added to the line-up paving a new way in luxury, two-wheeled touring.

2022 Honda Gold Wing

2022 honda in blue

In the 10 years since the F6B, Honda has continually added to (or removed from) the GL’s spec sheet to make it better, lighter, more fuel-efficient, and sleeker. 

How The Honda Gold Wing Has Stood The Test Of Time

As mentioned at the start of this post, it’s somehow unthinkable that Shoichiro Irimajiri picked up his pencil in 1974 and believed we would still be talking about his creation 47 years later.

Yet as we approach the 50th anniversary of the Gold Wing, we are! But why? What is it about the Wing that has spawned over 40 years of success?

For me, it’s a mix of quality mixed with care. Honda has continuously improved and bettered its design. And this is evident in the numerous bike awards of the years where the Gold Wing either wins (or comes close second) every single year.

And that’s not to mention the hundreds of Honda Gold Wing 1800 reviews each year that praise it.

In the 70s, it was clear that the GL was becoming a touring motorcycle. So Honda adapted it by including quality luggage, a full fairing, and the option of running a stereo system.

In the mid-80s, significant improvements were made to the steering and handling, whilst adding cruise control and improved suspension.

As the 2000s rolled along, the Gold Wing was given an 1,800cc engine, and modifications to assist with the weight – such as a reverse gear.

And now, in the 2020s, the introduction of a 7-speed DCT box takes luxury riding to a whole new level. This includes 3 DCT models and one manual model in the repertoire of Honda touring motorcycles.

Add to this an engine lifespan of 250,000 – 400,000 miles, and you’ve got a truly legendary, full-dress touring machine that will probably last longer than you will!

Okay, maybe it won’t outlast you. But it outlasted the Spice Girls – and that’s good enough for me!

Images via Honda


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