Sunday, December 15, 2013

Naked Wings

For motorcycle buffs my age or younger, the words "Gold Wing" evoke an image of a pair of happy retirees, possibly towing a trailer, meandering towards the horizon on a gigantic two-wheeled conveyance sporting every wind-blocking, heated, ventilated, electronically-connected comfort feature one could put on a motorcycle without it falling over. Near-half-ton luxobarges with a reverse gear and only one cubic foot less trunk space than my BMW Z3, the Gold Wing is practically the type species for "plushbottom touring bike".

So it's always a surprise to see an O.G. 'Wing in the wild: A bare-knuckle musclebike with a kickstarter for its 1,000cc liquid-cooled flat-four, it was one of the apex predators of the UJM era, a sort of ur-V-Max.

Red plug wires make it look snappy, and may be good for an extra tenth in the quarter.
All that power meant it could push a fair load of saddlebags, passengers, and fairing through the air, and Vetter sold a ton of Windjammers for them. Thus it was probably only a matter of time before Honda followed where the aftermarket led and turned it into a purpose-built touring bike.

(All this history is, incidentally, why I thought the Valkyrie Tourers were just the funniest examples of a marketing department chasing its own tail that I'd ever seen.)


Sevesteen said...

I've got a 78 Goldwing, with Vetter fairing and Bates bags. I like the look better than the newer Goldwings where 7/8 of the bike is hidden behind plastic panels. (I feel like that about most bikes that aren't trying to look like a Harley). I like naked 'Wings, but I like the comfort and convenience of luggage and a windshield.

I see the Valkyrie Touring as closer to that look--more of the bike parts showing rather than body panels, but with luggage.

Old NFO said...

I don't actually remember ever seeing one... But I've been out of the bike world since the mid-70s... Apparently the first year of the GL.

Overload in Colorado said...

They're doing it again with the F6B, a bagger version of the Gold Wing with no top box and a cut down windshield. Some owners then install a taller windshield for better protection..

Gewehr98 said...

Still hankering for a Valkyrie Rune, but in the meantime, I run yellow plug wires on my Shovelhead Harley.

Back in the day, I remember leftover CHP Kawasaki KZ-1000s getting stripped down and repurposed as CAFE racers, too. They probably boogied pretty well...

Paul said...

The original Gold Wing came out in 1973 and did not have any kind of bag or fairing. By 76 they had more parts on them than the civic. I looked at one in 74 and bough a 360 instead. Glad I got it or the resulting wreck would have killed me had I had a gold wing. Those thing where fast. Just did not interest anyone but the touring group, which is why Honda made them a 2 wheel car.

That was when the fastest ting on two wheels was the Kawasaki KZ950. Now that was a fast bike.

At the time I wanted a Norton, not that I could find one.

Now the guys thing anything under 2 liters is small. Progress.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the CBX, which was the epitome of the UJM:

Joel said...

I believe that's the first Wing I ever saw without all the gingerbread. Are you sure it's legal?

Tam said...


They didn't have bags from the factory until '79 or a fairing until '80. They were released in the US as a '75 model; the one in the picture is a '77, IIRC.

Tam said...


I've ridden a CBX. It was... interesting.

Anonymous said...

I've never owned a motorcycle, and I'll never get one as long as I'm fighting Northern VA traffic, but the general styling of UJMs speak to me. I really like the GoldWing in the pic you posted.

I also like the quasi dual-sport or enduro bikes that are similarly styled.


Steve Skubinna said...

I once saw a GW fully loaded in Singapore in the nineties, and wondered what good it was where your whole country was about fifteen miles north to south and thirty east to west.

I suppose you could cross the causeway to Malaysia and tour up there, but the roads in most of SE Asia just don't seem that appropriate for long distance cruising. If nothing else it would give you bragging rights where most motorcycles displace less than 250cc.

jdunmyer said...

In 1975, I bought the first G.W. that my dealer got in. Added a Windjammer, Lester alloy wheels, bags, and a few other trinkets, drove it for about 45,000 miles. Got bored and sold it in about 1985, but I loved that bike. It looked like a fat hog, but would really go when I flogged it. The later ones were tuned more for the touring crowd, so weren't quite as quick.

Scott J said...

*sigh* bikes. I've always been sort of interested but I don't think I'll ever be able to bring myself to own one.

I've spent my life surrounded by people (starting with dear old mom) that planted just enough fear in my head to keep me from really going after one.

I've heard it all: "deathtraps", "bike riders = organ doners in the ER", "two kinds of riders, those that have been down and those that are going down" and so on.

The only riding I've ever done was spending a day on a friends Honda Rebel. I rode it around his subdivision most of the day until I got comfortable and then decided to venture out on a main road.

That's when I discovered with my big frame on it the max speed was about 45 on a flat surface WFO. I got tailgated by a 1970's era Impala. It was terrifying.

I think I'll stick to roadsters instead. Maybe if I strike it rich I'll get something like an Ariel Atom.

Tam said...

Scott J,

Even with very large humans piloting them, a 250 Rebel should easily attain freeway velocities. Something was wrong with that bike.

Kristophr said...

Raises hand ...

I own a blue 1982 GW.

Naked except for a good saddle, a set of leather bags, and a blue Memphis Shades windscreen.

It's like riding a locomotive. All sorts of power, poor brakes, and it doesn't turn very fast.


Anonymous said...

Gold Wing's are much like the over accessorized AR's out there.

I've owned my fair share of bikes over the years and I'm a member of the over the handlebars acrobatic crash team, no broken bones or hospital visits but it was sheer luck that prevented that.

I still own a pair of 73 RD 350's and a 73 Honda CL450 but I'm getting to old to really appreciate what they are capable of.


Paul said...


They didn't have bags from the factory until '79 or a fairing until '80. They were released in the US as a '75 model; the one in the picture is a '77, IIRC.

Well, all I can tell you was there was a used on in the show room when I bought a 73 360 and that was the fall of 74.

Murphy's Law said...

Back in the late 1980s, I created a touring bike out of a 1982 GS 1100e because I was planning a cross-country trip and a co-worker was selling one cheap. (He dropped it once and his wife made him sell it.) It came with a pair of soft-side saddle bags and I put a fairing on it and some Gold Wing handebars to let me lean back a bit. Then I headed out for a month on the road, from Detroit to Seattle and Vancouver, BC and back. 7,000 miles in 28 days and that bike would still hit 160 with all that stuff on it (Got stopped in Montana for doing 156mph, but that was before speed laws were enforced on the state highways so I just got a warning.) Great bike and great times, and a week after returning from the trip without a scratch, a woman broadsided me at an intersection a quarter mile from my house and totaled the machine.

Skip said...

TT and flat track on 40 inchers back in the day. Been spit off the high side more than a few times.
Rode desert, trials, hill climbs,motocross, but never on the street.
Only one friend killed on dirt.
Eight on the road.

Borepatch said...

Scott J, my Rebel will do 70 on Georgia 400, and has a little left - but not much. The problem is that the bike is very light, and so the wind buffeting is pretty unpleasant.

I use it for scooting around town, where it's great. Maneuverable, great gas mileage. No bags, so bring a backpack. It's the opposite end of the spectrum from a Gold Wing.

Uncle Jay just found a Hellcat which looks like it would keep up with that naked Gold Wing.

Tam said...


"Well, all I can tell you was there was a used on in the show room when I bought a 73 360 and that was the fall of 74. "

Our memories can sometimes be faulty. The bike wasn't even shown to the press until the Cologne Motorcycle Show in October of '74 and didn't go on sale until 1975.

This is easily verifiable with a google search.

Tam said...

An example of how I noticed my memory can be faulty.

DaveFla said...

I sold my '78 GL in 2010, following a few years in which the annual insurance costs and my preference for the 2004 Buell's delights led to an average of about $75/ride. It was a Vetter bike, and I added air deflectors; June touring with a perforated jacket was actually enjoyable. I miss that big ol' thang...

Blackwing1 said...

I left a long comment from home when I got all excited seeing your post...and forgot that frickin' Safari on the toy computer won't let me post comments in Blogger.

My first 'Wing was a naked 1983 1100, and the guy who bought it new (in 1985; there were a lot of un-sold bikes in '83 and '84) added on the Hondaline fairing, lowers, hard panniers and trunk. That's nice, but since each one was individually keyed, the clump-o'-keys necessary was pretty darned big. I bought it from him in 1987 with just under 3,000 miles on it; he had spent far more time polishing it than riding it.

My wife and I put on more than 105,000 miles on that beast. We must have looked like the Clampett family going down the road, with sleeping bags and mattress pads tied to the panniers, and the tent tied to the top of the trunk. All we'd have needed was Granny in a rocking chair on top and a cast-iron frying pan dangling off the rear.

I bought my first new bike ever when I went into my dealer to pick up an oil filter, and saw a brand-new 1500cc, 6-cyl, 1995 sitting in the shop being set-up. "Who's bike is that?", I innocently asked. "Yours, if you want it" said the malicious dealer. That thing was a pig. Worst handling 'Wing EVER. We still put 110,000 miles on it.

Took a 2008 for a test ride, and immediately made a deal. 1800cc, fuel-injected (finally), and the best handling full-up touring bike ever made. Handles more like a sport-tourer, plenty of get-up-and-go, and comfortable for long rides. We've done 1,100 miles in a single day on this bike.

Yup, it's got seat heaters and grip heaters, and we supplement those with Aerostitch electric vests. It's also my daily commuter, and those giz-widgets allow me to ride early and late in the season. Usually 9 months of the year, which here in Minnesnowta isn't bad. My last day this year was the day before Thanksgiving (after which we got half-a-foot of snow and temperatures with the highs in the negatives...I'm crazy, but not stupid).

I've acknowledged for the past 25 years that I ride a geezer-bike. But I started doing that long before I was a geezer, simply because a ginourmous bike like that looks really teeny-tiny out in the middle of Montana. I see no reason to be uncomfortable while doing what I love.

Can you tell from my nom-de-comment what color they've all been?

Jim said...

Blackwing, like you I came to the GL stable in my earlier years.

I was all of 22 years old in 1983, when I bought my first, an '82 GL-1100i Interstate. Midnight Blue. Put about 60k miles on that one, then in '86, I found a screaming deal on a '83 Apsencade with less than 700 miles on it.

Logged about 127k miles on that one, and it was my only ride of any kind for over two years. Got promoted at work, and had to sell the bike to fund a car (BMW 320i), as a car was required for the job.

Then in 91, I bought a NOS '89 Wing (there was only one model in 88 and 89, no Interstates or Aspecades those years), and piled 160,000+ miles on it, before trading it in for five screws in my left ankle.

Twenty four year-old kid with driving record from hell, pulled out from my right from a gated parking lot, and stopped dead in my lane while waiting for an opening to turn left in the oncoming lane.

Well, with heavy traffic in the oncoming lane, I could not swerve left, and that FENCE around the parking lot he'd just pulled out from? Didn't want any part of that cheese grater, either.

So, just stayed on the brakes hard, dropping from about 54 mph to somewhere around 20 at impact.

Totaled his Honda CRX, just as bad as it did my Wing. And, I didn't know then, that a 200 lb man could even fit under a CRX?

Punk already had 2 major injury accidents and 11 major moving violations on his record. He was on his mom's insurance.... was amazed (but thankful!) that the insurance handn't dropped him!

Stereotype, you ask? Why, do all Vietnamese drivers do that?

I dunno, but THAT one did!

Anyway.... I yearn for another 'Wing. And if you think that a GL is just a two-wheeled Winnebago.... watch this one in the twisties!

All in all, including all the bikes I've owned before I got bit by the GL bug.... I've enjoyed the sights of 39 U.S. States from the saddle.

I don't regret a single mile or scar. Same with the years I spent living aboard my late, lamented sailboat (thanks, Hurricane Ike!)... wouldn't trade those times for the world.

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Scott J said...

You know, I just remembered a relative of a friend has an old Triumph gathering dust in a basement.

Wonder if I could talk them out of it for cheap (or even "just get it out of your way")?

I bet you folk would happily be my support system for getting it going and conquering my fears :)

LCB said...

I'm riding a '99 Honda Shadow. I love me bike, but my significant other can't ride behind me for more than an hour or two without pain setting in. She refuses to learn to ride her own

My preference would be a Harley Electra Glide or Kawasaki Vulcan.

But for some reason she loves the look of the GW. And since the whole idea of a bigger bike is for her comfort...she may get the final say. :-)

Randy said...

Here is a site that has a bunch of unfaired Wings. Some are pretty cool.

Blackwing1 said...

Jim (of the Sunk New Dawn):

I had to work my way up from dropping littler bikes (with the exception of the very first one, a '71 Triumph Bonneville), dropping them as I went. I've dumped all of the 'Wings at one time or another, sometimes very embarrassingly. One of the first things I've done with the new bike is to put junk carpet on the floor of the garage, and gently as possible lower the bike onto it. Then pick it back up. Just to be sure that I can if I have to.

Note to others trying this:
Pick that bike up slowly...because once it's over center it WILL pull you right over the top of it. Watched somebody else do that once, and vowed never to be that silly myself. Plastic is expensive.

Sevesteen said...

As for picking up a Goldwing-- My 78 came with an 81 parts bike that I practiced on. Surprisingly easy.

Jim said...

Picking up a dropped 'Wing is relatively easy. Lifting a dropped ego can hurt.

Sadly, after my 'Wing tore the front end of that CRX off, there wasn't any point for anything but a wrecker to lift it.

Cosmetically, it wasn't so bad, in fact, the CRX was worse. But, the frame and forks were DOA, and that was that.

Oh yeah, and the kid was the classic "but I didn't see him". With my two headlights and two fogs running full blast, he must've thought he saw the sun coming up?

Sunk New Dawn
Galveston, TX

Tam said...


"Oh yeah, and the kid was the classic "but I didn't see him". With my two headlights and two fogs running full blast, he must've thought he saw the sun coming up?"

...and I had the high beam running on a teal-and-pink Suzuki at high noon on a CAVU summer day.

Like studies have shown, people only actually see what they are looking for. If they are not looking for motorcycles, there is a large percentage of people who simply won't _see_ them, no matter what visual cues riders try to give them.

Much like the guy in the gorilla suit in that famous video.

JavaMan said...

Not a GW, but an SW. Another crazy guy stopped and didn't turn left until I was about oh, 30 feet away. Then decided he really wanted to turn left. In front of me (of COURSE he didn't see me). As I was doing 50-55. Clear skies, dry pavement. Owned the bike 2 weeks.

After they scraped me an the bike off the pavement I got 13 screws and 2 buttress plates in the left knee (to hold the tibia together), and a 250 mm nail and 4 screws in the left arm. (I always tell people I have a member of a rock group in my arm. hint - do the conversion)

Oh, and 20 days in intensive and another 8 in a "skilled nursing facility"

I miss it sometimes. Especially when the sun is out and the temp is just right. Which where I live is about 2 days out of the year, thankfully. But I wouldn't ride anything smaller than a GW if I was going to ride. And I'd probably paint it neon something or other.

But, until I have the daughters college paid off... it won't happen.

jeff said...

Repsol Goldwing, because why the hell not.

I blame the long winters up here in the PNW.

Will said...

Saw my first, and only, cafe racer GW in FT Lauderdale in the spring of '76. 1/4 fairing and rearsets. Sitting in the back room of a bike dealer. Never saw it running.

I was following a group of bikes on some very twisty back roads in the hills above the ocean north of Santa Cruz about '96-'97. One couple had his-n-hers GWs. She ran her bike while standing on the floorboards. She was dragging her floorboards and really hauling ass. Very impressive exhibition of skill. She was having a lot of fun running with sport bikes.

LCB said...

Like studies have shown, people only actually see what they are looking for. If they are not looking for motorcycles, there is a large percentage of people who simply won't _see_ them, no matter what visual cues riders try to give them.

I have to admit...if I think about it too much I begin to wonder if I'm nuts for riding. But the ocassional sunny 85 degree day makes up for it.