By Steve Saunders
I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me; "You ride a Goldwing. I thought they stopped making them in the 1980's". Well folks, Honda are still making them in the 21st. Century and for anyone who thought otherwise, read my version of the history of the Honda Goldwing motorcycle.
The Honda Goldwing motorcycle first saw the light of day at the Cologne Motorcycle Show in October 1974, as the flat-four cylinder, 999cc GL1000 Gold Wing and was released to the world for the 1975 model year. While this first production version of the now famous Goldwing was ultimately deemed to be a success (it was after all the birth of a legend), it's place in the world of motorcycling was not entirely cast in stone at the beginning. Part of the reason for this was the fact that the GL1000 didn't really fit properly into any particular motorcycle class, even though it was officially tagged as a tourer. Weighing in at 584lbs dry, it was far too heavy to be called a sports bike and the upright sitting position also helped to kill of any such sporting pretensions. The rear coil spring suspension wasn't up to the job of handling all the weight when the rider was pushing it through heavy going, such as the winding country roads that all bikers love (at least occasionally) to tackle. The total absence of touring kit fitted as standard didn't help the official touring image either, Honda didn't make their own saddlebags and trunk available for the GL1000 until it's last year of production in 1979, in spite of promising to do so in 1975. A Honda fairing was not even an option until the GL1100 Interstate was released in 1980! Honda's claim that the GL1000 was a tourer must have rang hollow in the ears of many owners keen to have their machines kitted out for the job. It's almost like the design team had a picture of what they wanted to make, but no clear idea of where to fit it once it went into production. More than one GL1000 owner has told me that their early impressions from the press reports was that Honda seemed to be more concerned with emphasising the outright straight-line performance of the beast, and cementing it's role as a proper touring motorcycle seemed to be of secondary importance at the time. One has to bear in mind that Honda (and all the other major motorcycle manufacturers) were trying to develop many models in the 1970's, this being the biggest boom time for motorcycles ever, period. This was a time when everyone and his sons bought motorcycles and paying attention to the needs of different types of riders (cruiser types, racers, commuters, tourers etc.) must have been very difficult during those hectic days.
Nevertheless and in spite of all the confusion about the Goldwings role in life, the GL1000 proved to be a very reliable motorcycle, quite capable of going very long distances without missing a beat and almost immediately the aftermarket fairing & pannier suppliers started to cater for the requests of those who wanted to use the GL1000 for more than just popping down to the shops or Sunday morning posing at the local meet. This is what finally gave the Goldwing it's place in the motorcycling world, it really became a touring motorcycle because it's owners shaped it into one and Honda, always keen to keep an ear to the ground, listened to what the customers wanted (just as well too or they might have killed the Goldwing off before long, not least because expected sales of the Goldwing in the first year of production were less than 10% of what Honda had predicted) and started planning the next incarnation of what has turned into a legend in the world of touring motorcycles.
In the meantime, 1976 saw the standard GL1000 unchanged, apart from a badly needed grease nipple on the driveshaft. A limited edition LTD model was rolled out alongside the standard model and the LTD had some nice badges, pinstriping, a better seat, flared mudguards, gold coloured wheels and spokes and some more nice but otherwise unimportant cosmetics, all at a fairly hefty extra cost of course. The LTD version of the GL1000 was only available for that one model year.
1977 saw the first tentative model changes based on customer feedback to Honda (hands up all those who can remember filling out those early questionnaires at rallies) and the Goldwing got higher handlebars with neoprene grips, dual contoured saddle and chromed heat shields on the header pipes. Chromed upper engine mounting brackets were a nice touch. More importantly, the steering head bearings were now tapered rollers instead of quick-wear & seize ball types. Front & rear engine and rocker covers were now thicker and this was designed to reduce noise, but no-one really noticed. The fuel tank had an internal coating applied to prevent rust.
Smaller carburettors, shorter valve timing and increased spark advance in 1978 were designed to give the GL1000 increased roll-on performance in top gear, which translated into slightly less top speed but more torque, which apparently is what the long distance rider needed. The camshafts were severely detuned in order (along with the carb revisions) to improve low speed performance. It's generally accepted that these well-meaning changes really blunted top-end performance, while doing very little good for the low-end.
The fuel, coolant temperature and voltage gauges were fitted to a pod and mounted on the tank, which made fitting a tank bag rather difficult, but few really objected as they looked good. The awkward but functional kick starter was omitted this year (the broken ankle brigade may have sparked fears of litigation) and the troublesome wire wheels were replaced with five spoke Comstars, although they didn't fare much better in terms of longevity. Gone was the worry about rusted or loose spokes on wire wheels, now owners were fretting about cracked rims and loose rivets on the Comstars. The stepped saddle was introduced this year and has been a feature of all Goldwing models ever since. A fully chromed exhaust system which didn't rust as fast as the earlier painted ones, rear indicators moved from the frame to the rear mudguard and shocks with much welcomed and long overdue two-stage damping (in addition to longer forks & springs) completed the picture. The beast still handled like a brick when pushed hard, in spite of the new FVQ (often called fade very quickly) shocks and the better forks. The new exhaust made the machine sound livelier and the smaller mufflers allowed easy access to the clutch, which was just as well as this was a problem area on the GL1000 in those days.
1979 saw big discounting on GL1000's as the replacement model was eagerly anticipated and the last remaining numbers of the original (quite large numbers too and new GL1000's could still be sourced from storage for several years after production ceased) could be had with some minor changes in the shape of a then very cool looking CBX style tail light with two bulbs, rectangular indicators and brake fluid reservoir and black brake and clutch levers instead of the previous unpainted alloy ones.
This last year for the GL1000 was an opportunity to lose some of the excess weight and regain some of the performance the model had lost in previous years (particularly in 1978), but alas a final opportunity to remedy some of the more persistent GL1000 problem areas was lost and the cosmetics were the only areas attended to at the end of the decade. Thus the Goldwing continued it's slide down the credibility scale until the 1980 model year. Honda managed to keep the lid on the replacement for the GL1000 until the last possible moment. To this day and to their credit, Honda are probably better at keeping secrets than the CIA or the KGB etc. The GL1000 bowed out at the end of it's production cycle a bit less powerful and slightly heavier than the first models at 604lbs dry.
The GL1100 was announced for the 1980 model year and this time Honda got it right. This was the first ever Japanese mass produced motorcycle to roll off the production line fully kitted out as a proper touring motorcycle. Full fairing, trunk and panniers on the Interstate model (the unfaired model was called the GL1100 Standard), all at a time when injection moulding for motorcycle plastics was in it's early days and to Honda's credit, the quality, fit and finish of the stuff was first rate. The new frame was stiffened considerably to cope with the extra poke and the not inconsiderable extra weight of the Interstate. The bigger 1085cc engine was still a flat-four, but gave more torque and also ran smoother and less truculently than the previous model, due in no small part to the smaller carburettors and electronic ignition. The suspension was air assisted and this greatly transformed the handling and comfort of the beast and inspired much more confidence when the going got a tad aggressive, in spite of the weight increase of the dressed models to 672lbs. The forks could take between 14-21psi of air, the rear shocks 29-42psi. The Standard model weighed 18lbs less than the last GL1000's, which showed how more modern production methods could be used to reduce weight by using more in the way of lighter plastics for parts like mudguards, dummy tank etc.
Motorcycle magazines immediately gave the new machine the thumbs-up and customers all over the world hassled their dealers for a machine that Honda couldn't kick out of the factory quick enough to meet the demand. Even in the USA, bikers who were used to the home grown tourer in the shape of the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide were gobsmacked at the new standards of reliability set by the Goldwing. The big Honda went and stopped very respectably for such a beast, kept all of the engine oil actually inside the engine instead of all over the ground and it's reliability meant that the Goldwing rider didn't have to fill the luggage space with repair tools every time the machine was taken out. The GL1100 was the Goldwing that the original model should have been, but the faithful had to wait since 1975 for the opportunity to get their hands on this magnificent machine.
1980 was a big year for Honda Motorcycles in other ways too. In May the first Goldwings started rolling off the production line in the new plant in Marysville, Ohio, USA. This was a very clever and well thought out move by Honda, creating jobs for Americans to produce their flagship motorcycle in the USA would see the Goldwing (and by association other Honda products) more widely accepted in the biggest consumer market in the world.
For some time now, Honda had been producing accessories for their own motorcycles, under the imaginatively thought out Hondaline brand name. For those who weren't satisfied with the already comprehensive kit on the GL1100, Hondaline had such luxuries as a full radio/cassette, CB radio and lots more bits at exorbitant prices that didn't seem to deter customers one bit. Honda knew that the typical Goldwing rider was past the first flush of youth and probably had his mortgage (or most of it) paid off and had cash to spare for the luxuries that a younger rider would rather forego in order to feed his children, keep the wife content and maintain a roof over their heads. The aftermarket suppliers too were quick to adapt to the new challenge (no doubt they all knew that the Goldwing was here for the long term) and before long one could buy countless accessories for the Goldwing, from many suppliers eager to meet demand and fill the large gaps that Honda had left. This pattern has been repeated for every Goldwing model ever since and the GL1100 is the machine that really saw the Goldwing accepted as the ultimate tourer, a title that the Goldwing has held more or less unchallenged since then.
1981 saw some minor tweaks and improvements, such as a reshaped saddle which was slightly lower than before. As on the 1980 model, the saddle could be adjusted forward and back by about 40mm, but this time with a press of a lever instead of the previous fiddling with Allen keys. The saddle on the Goldwing has probably seen more changes than any other area of the machine over the years. Almost yearly there are subtle changes to the shape and foam density and no matter how much effort Honda put into this area, there are always plenty of people whose rear-ends don't quite fit comfortably enough. The rear shocks could now take up to 57psi of air, this being the limit for the rest of the GL1100's production life. Orange & Gold pinstriping this year, a scratch-resistant windshield and better instrument shielding to stop unwanted reflections on the windshield all showed Honda were keen to refine the beast. Saddlebag liners were available from this year as well, at extra cost.
The 1982 GL1100 had some major improvements in the new Aspencade. This machine had an electrically operated air pump for the suspension, accessed from the top of the dummy tank, instead of the previous tyre valve setup (retained on the Standard and Interstate) which required the rider to either keep a manual pump handy or go to the local garage to pump up the suspension. Two-tone paintwork was applied to the Aspencade and all the GL1100's got smaller wheels (18" front, 16" rear) and twin pot brake calipers. The wheel rims were now wider (2.5" front and 3"rear) to allow for wider tyres on all models and self-cancelling indicators were fitted to all models from 1982. All GL1100's from 1982 got neater crash bars which replaced the previous shin bashers (although the new ones weren't perfect either) and dual piston brake calipers all round. The Aspencade also got vented stainless steel discs, two-tone seat and trunk pouches, the Clarion type 2 AM/FM stereo radio, digital dash, CB radio (US machines) and a clock. The stereo, CB radio and air pump are available as options on the Interstate.
1983 was the final year of production for the GL1100 and Honda didn't disappoint, even though the model was being replaced the following year. All models got flatter footpegs, the passenger ones being slightly adjustable. The Aspencade now had eleven spoke aluminium wheels instead of the previous troublesome Comstars (which were never really able to cope with all the weight), had the suspension pump controls mounted on the handlebars just below the dash and finally got linked brakes which were much welcomed by the Goldwing community. The Aspencade now had an LCD dash with advanced (for the time) features. The choke lever was now operated by thumb on the left handlebar. Anti-dive forks (TRAC) helped considerably to reduce wallowing. Changes to the gearing saw better fuel economy, a shorter first gear made the machine faster off-the-line but top gear acceleration was now a bit more sluggish. Changes to the forks helped prevent bottoming-out and stronger springs in the rear shocks meant that the bike could be ridden without any air in them, although this wasn't always entirely wise, especially when travelling two-up. The self-cancelling indicators had some improvements to make them more reliable and the seat was redesigned to give the passenger more room. Locating the trunk both higher and further back gave even more space for those passengers who were never completely happy no matter how much Honda improved the Goldwing. The standard had been set for future Goldwings and whether you loved them or not, everyone knew that the beast was going to get bigger and more luxurious as time went on. The Aspencade now tipped the scales at over 700lbs! Comfort and size were the criteria from now on. When the replacement for the GL1100 was announced, this time there was no major discounting of prices on the last of the outgoing model. Dealers had no trouble shifting existing machines and there was no panic in trying to offload them. A far cry to just four years back. Interestingly, this has been the case with the arrival of new Goldwing models ever since and reinforces the belief that the GL1100 was the machine that rubberstamped the Goldwings seal of approval with long-distance riders all over the world. There is no doubt in my mind that the GL1100 was the make or break Goldwing, a repeat lukewarm reception by the buying public for this model (similar to that experienced by the GL1000) would surely have seen any further development of the Goldwing stopped at this point.
The GL1200 arrived for the 1984 model year and continued the trend set by it's predecessor. Competition from Yamaha's Venture (which many motorcycle magazines compared to the Goldwing) no doubt hastened the development of the successor to the GL1100 and the GL1200 was Honda's answer. There was the unfaired Standard, the dressed Interstate and the top of the range Aspencade, which had the Type 3 audio system. New, stiffer frame with major improvements, bigger and more responsive 1182cc version of the flat-four engine with bags more torque and hydraulic valve adjusters, better suspension and handling were the main attractions on the new Goldwing. A hydraulic clutch was another first for a Goldwing. Carried forward from the previous Aspencade were the now even better air suspension controls and linked brakes, and the new Aspencade had a more advanced audio system and upgraded LCD dash. The front wheel was a rather unusually small (for such a large machine) 16" and this gave the steering a very light and quick feel. The styling of the plastics was more aggressive than the GL1100, the fairing, trunk, panniers and lights all had a more squarish brute look which was evident on many motorcycles and cars for a while in the eighties. The flowing lines of the previous model were not quite as subtle on the GL1200, but the integration of the luggage was much better now because there were less gaps and spaces between the panels and much more efficient use was made of the available storage space. Four 32mm CV carburettors managed to give better response with a light feel, without the need for accelerator pumps. The GL1200 was the first Goldwing to drift away from the common Honda "parts bin" approach and most of the parts fitted to a GL1200 were unique to that machine and not fitted to any other Honda motorcycle. Hondaline could supply you with a CB radio and other fripperies considered essential by many owners of the new machine. The aftermarket suppliers had a field day, small cottage industries had sprung up everywhere to feed the habit and the vast range of chrome goodies, backrests, lights etc. available for the Goldwing rivalled that which could be had for Harley-Davidson owners.
1985 saw Honda drop the Standard unfaired Goldwing. Since the introduction of the GL1100 Interstate, sales of the unfaired versions had slumped dramatically and in spite of the predictable whining and howls of protest from the aftermarket fairing and luggage suppliers, this was the beginning of the era when accountants really did have a big say in marketing policy, so the Standard was unceremoniously put down by Honda. Alongside the Interstate and Aspencade, Honda brought in the GL1200LTD for this year only. The LTD had computerised fuel injection, auto levelling rear suspension and a sophisticated trip computer. The fuel injection, while not entirely without it's faults in the real world, transformed the GL1200 into a real animal which made the carburettor models seem sluggish in comparison. The LTD was only available in two-tone gold/brown. From 1985, GL1200 alternator capacity was increased (though still not by enough to cater for all the accessory lights that owners usually fitted) and the ignition pick-up coils were mounted at the front of the engine instead of the rear. An altered top gear made for smoother cruising in top and the fairing had better ventilation.
1986 saw mainly cosmetic changes to the Interstate and Aspencade, the LTD was replaced by the SE-i, which came in Pearl White only and had little over the LTD except for Dolby noise reduction on the Panasonic Type 3 audio system (the Aspencade got the same audio treatment), an uprated 500 watt alternator, a slightly better seat (which was also fitted to the Interstate and Aspencade) and different badges. The SE-i had ballooned out to over 770lbs. Many people who had bought the supposedly unique LTD the year before felt cheated by what looked like another LTD in the shape of the SE-i in a different colour, the general feeling being that Honda were just cashing in again this year. An Aspencade badge on the saddlebags of the SE-i didn't go down too well with buyers who wanted their own unique Goldwing to be distinct from the "lesser" models. The carburettor models were back to 30mm CV's with accelerator pumps, although it made little noticeable difference to the riding experience.
The final year of production for the GL1200 was 1987 and there was little change. No doubt Honda were saving the major surprise for the following year, although the Goldwing faithful had been expecting the rumoured "Super Goldwing" for the current model year. The SE-i was gone and the Interstate and Aspencade got a much plusher saddle, the best on any Goldwing to date. The Aspencade now had cruise control and trunk mirror as standard, and the lower cowl (oil filter cover as Honda called it) and side vents seen on the SE-i were now fitted to the Aspencade. Colour-matched riders footpeg accents with a nice chrome trim were also fitted to the Aspencade this year. The final drive and differential had been made much smoother and quieter and this translated into less chucking and jumping at trundling speeds. All of these improvements meant that the 1987 models were the quietest and best sorted GL1200's to date.
After a false start the previous year, the long awaited GL1500 finally hit the buying public for the 1988 model year. This of course was a major new model and totally redesigned from the ground up. The GL1500 now had a silky smooth flat six cylinder engine of 1520cc and a reverse gear, real news for touring motorcycles in those days. This was the first mass produced six-cylinder motorcycle to have a reverse gear and was more in line with the intentions of Honda's 1470cc six -cylinder prototype M1 of 1972. The M1 had been an engineering exercise to see what could be achieved with the available technology of the day and it is possible that the GL1500 engine designers drew some inspiration from the earlier work. All new bodywork on the GL1500 almost enclosed the whole machine and the single key operation of the trunk and panniers, as well as the bodywork design on which not a single screw or bolt could be seen, showed that the Honda designers had spent a lot of time on this bike. They had in fact started work on this machine the same year that the GL1200 was launched! The GL1500 was the quietest Goldwing yet, from the engine to the exhaust note. The traditionalists complained that it looked, sounded and rode too much like a two-wheeled car and indeed riding it gave one a feeling of being insulated from the road. Of course, anyone who traded up to a GL1500 from an older model Goldwing soon adapted to the new machine and I doubt if many GL1500 owners were inclined to offload the new machine for a previous model after riding the six cylinder monster. Monster it was too, in weight as well as size and the first year GL1500 was a colossal 793lbs, although riding the thing was so easy that it felt lighter than the GL1200. The saddle was the most sumptuous yet and was quite capable of carrying the most ample of rear ends for long distances in comfort. Air assisted rear suspension was fitted to the new machine. All of the switchgear, lights, indicators etc. had been designed specifically for the GL1500 and there was none of the all too common "parts bin" approach that was evident on other Honda offerings of the day.
1989 saw the ever popular Wineberry (not identical to earlier versions) colour return. The nice 1500/6 badge on the rear of the right saddlebag was lost forever, otherwise nothing major to report.
1990 saw some decent revisions, when the GL1500SE was placed alongside the GL1500. The SE had two-tone paint, trunk spoiler/light, windscreen vent, lighted handlebar switches, adjustable passenger footboards and foot warmer vents that looked better than they worked. All this extra kit on the SE could be yours for about 15% extra cash over the cost of the stock GL1500. Camshaft and carburettor modifications that year helped to eliminate chucking at trundling speed and the trunk and pannier lids were made to fit better in order to keep water out. Rear wheel to drive flange changed from 6 spigots to 5.
1991 saw the arrival of the Interstate, which was now the basic model. The Interstate was 40lbs lighter, due to the lack of reverse gear (no, you couldn't fit one later on folks), cruise control and on-board air suspension compressor, more basic sound system and passenger footpegs instead of boards. Interestingly, Honda lowered the seat height of the Interstate by almost an inch by skimming some of the foam, but didn't do so with the other models. Speaking of other models, the previous GL1500 was now the Aspencade. There was also an Anniversary model (for the 10th anniversary of Goldwing production in the USA), which was available in two-tone gold/brown.
In 1992, the Interstate got a slightly better specified audio system but no other real news to report then. This and the following couple of years were not exactly a time of inspiration for the Goldwing, although there was some refinement of the model. Perhaps the GL1500 design team can be forgiven for using up all their imagination on the initial model, leaving little in reserve for future improvement.
1993 didn't see much change either, the SE getting the CB radio (previously an expensive Hondaline accessory) as standard. The cruise control now took it's reading directly from the camshaft, which made it more responsive and from now on the 1520cc engines all had needle roller bearings in the rocker arm pivots. Small improvements like this went a long way and tied up the loose ends.
The following year, 1994 was no different, apart from the usual new colour options and it is testament to the design of the GL1500 that Honda could get away with no major modifications for so long. The GL1500 was so far ahead of the competition in design and specification that it was still selling like hot cakes. Indeed, the Goldwing was Honda's second best-selling motorcycle in the USA in 1994. Nevertheless, the Goldwing community was becoming impatient for change and the presence of Honda folks at major US rallies this last year handing out questionnaires was an indication that something new was at least being thought about.
Finally, the 1995 model year saw some real change. On the surface, new 20th. Anniversary badges, a new chrome screen garnish, slimmer side panels to make it easier for the short legged to get their feet down and some other styling refinements looked like not a lot had changed. But under the surface Honda had managed to make the suspension both lower and stiffer and this improved the handling no end. Also, with some foam shaved from the saddle, the SE and Aspencade were now 40mm lower than before, which finally made them the same height as the Interstate. These changes gave the Goldwing a new lease of life, although there were many who had expected major changes, like better brakes or fuel injection.
The next two years saw no more real changes apart from the Interstate being discontinued in 1996 (not too many folks mourned it's passing either), but by now we were in the early age of the Internet and with many Goldwing web sites and homepages springing up all over the world there was a huge following eagerly seeking out information on a possible replacement for the now rather middle-aged GL1500. A recall to have the bank angle sensor replaced was announced this year and applied to all GL1500 models back to 1988.
1997 saw the SE's lower underbelly panels colour matched to the main panel colour, helping to make the Goldwing look more streamlined. Symbols instead of text on the handlebar switchgear made it easier to read them no matter where you came from. Some important but invisible changes inside the engine were carried out too. The clutch was stronger and some of the components from the Valkyrie engine (main bearings, piston & ring sets, valve springs, con-rod bolts) were now shared with the Goldwing. The Valkyrie final drive was fitted to the Goldwing as well, as was much of the gearbox which gave marginally cleaner and smoother shifting. Not many folks noticed the difference, myself included and I happily rode my new '97 SE for three years oblivious to the differences until I started doing a bit of research on the different model changes.
1998 saw quite a few cosmetic differences, nine in fact. The Aspencade and SE got a new clear plastic headlamp and clear indicators (these were only on the American market models though, Europeans were fobbed off with the old lights and indicators), white faced instruments, new fishtail type exhaust tips that altered the exhaust sound, two-tone saddle with better back support for the pillion passenger, new rocker covers with "1500" gouged into them instead of the previous classy logo strip (which had previously been gold plated on the SE's), a skimpier engine guard (the older one would have hidden the ugly new rocker cover if it had still fitted) and badges that looked more aggressive than before. These cosmetic changes gave the ageing GL1500 a much sleeker look, although such things as the rear lighting setup and flat looking rear-end were beginning to look a bit fussy in the new age of curves and flowing lines.
These changes were carried through to 1999 but by now everyone was awaiting the much anticipated new Goldwing, which had been rumoured for the last three years. Nevertheless, the recent cosmetic changes to the Goldwing were sufficient to keep sales up (no doubt aided this last couple of years by a buoyant world economy), in spite of such mouth-watering hallucinations of a possible 2000cc eight cylinder Goldwing with auto-transmission, or try the one about a V6 2.5 litre replacement with six speed transmission (I know a few rumour-mongers who had red faces a couple of years later). The power of the rumours was very strong and there was always someone who knew someone that had a relative who drank beer with a buddy employed in the Goldwing plant who put the headlamp bulbs in the GL1500 and this guy was sworn to secrecy but... Thus the fever spread and those of use who lived through the time saw it all, the fake photographs doctored so easily by Photoshop gurus and posted on the Internet by members of a now very computer-literate public, the fake postings on web sites and in magazines etc. It was all good fun though and kept us all guessing for a long time. Surely the new model would arrive for the dawn of the new Century?
Disappointment for the 2000 model year and we saw the GL1500 enter another new year alive and well. This was not what was expected for the Goldwings 25th anniversary. The only differences were that Honda had dropped the unpopular white faced instruments (back to black for 2000) and the SE got chromed rocker covers. There was also a nice 25th anniversary badge.
The long awaited new Goldwing was announced in April of that year and the GL1500 finally stepped down after an almost unheard of thirteen year reign at the very top and an increase in weight to almost 820lbs. Most of the other pretenders to the throne didn't fare so well, the Yamaha Venture and Suzuki's Cavalcade had both competed against the GL1200 but the GL1500 had killed them off in short order. The only real threat to the Goldwing in recent times had been the BMW K1200LT, but Honda were about to answer this and set the standard once again with the GL1500's successor.
The GL1800 was finally announced for the 2001 model year, and in fact it was correct to say it arrived in time for the new Millenium. The official unveiling had been done the previous August and in an age where people could hide small cameras the size of a button on their person, it's a miracle how Honda managed to keep pictures of the new Goldwing a secret for so long. Honda should really be put in charge of national security in Japan! They managed to keep a lid on things right up to the last minute.
Honda had managed once again to completely redesign the Goldwing from the ground up. Everyone and his dog knew that Honda couldn't simply continue to make their flagship tourer heavier as the engine size got bigger. Over the previous thirteen years, most magazine test riders agreed that the GL1500 had been pushing the limits of what they called the "performance envelope" and common sense suggested to Goldwing riders that if the next Goldwing couldn't at the very least maintain the weight of the GL1500, then the end of the line had already been reached. With this in mind, Honda built an all new aluminium frame which comprised only 31 parts, compared to the previous models 130 and the new frame weighed 25lbs less than before. The new frame was much stiffer than before (a 77% increase in torsional rigidity and 119% increase in lateral rigidity) and combined with an engine both bigger at 1832cc's (118 bhp and 125 lb./ft. of torque) and 4lbs lighter than before, this meant that the GL1800 weighed 40lbs less than the GL1500. The frame was produced by Kaiser Aluminum and was designed in conjunction with Honda of America Mfg. in a project that started in 1998. The frame was produced in Kaiser's extrusion plant in London, Ontario and from 2000 they started supplying the extruded sections of the GL1800 frames to the Honda plant in Marysville, Ohio. Honda technicians welded the sections together manually. In April 2002, Kaiser won the Transportation Category award of the 2002 International Aluminum Extrusion Design Competition, for their efforts on the GL1800 frame project.
Anyway, back to the main subject before I go off track too much. The whole look of the Goldwing had now changed from big comfy tourer to a more sporty long distance machine designed to appeal to the younger rider as well as existing Goldwing owners. Big news also was the inclusion of fuel injection and the option of ABS brakes, long overdue on the six cylinder monster. Slightly slimmer bodywork dragged the design into the new Millennium, yet Honda had managed to make the seat much bigger and this time there was enough pillion space to swallow the rear ends of even those requiring XXXXL pants. The seat height and diameter of the wheels remained the same as before, but the tyres were wider and for only the second time on a Goldwing they were not supplied by Dunlop, but Bridgestone. Honda's efforts resulted in a machine that went and stopped far better than most people had dared to hope and riding it gave the impression that it was far lighter than the GL1500, rather than a mere 40lbs. Magazine test riders all over the world heaped praise on the new Goldwing and it was no longer a machine for Goldwing bashers to ridicule. The general consensus was that the GL1800 was much more practical than before and was a motorcycle that many (and younger) riders would use every day, rather than saving for use only at weekends. Available colours for 2001 were Illusion Red, Black, Pearl Hot Rod Yellow and Pearl Apollo Blue.
The Hondaline department, now very slick and efficient, were not caught napping this time. The marketing of accessories was helped by wide use of the Internet, as well as brochures and magazine adverts. There was a staggering 51 items available from Hondaline for the GL1800, far surpassing any effort made for previous Goldwings and they were available right from the time the GL1800 hit the dealers showrooms. Indeed, it was now possible for a Goldwing to become a bottomless pit for those who had the cash to spend on Hondaline accessories and the aftermarket suppliers had to take a deep breath and look very hard to find spots to fill this time and over the coming months there was a drip feed of items made available, rather than the usual flood.
2002 saw no major changes. The GL1800 was too new to do more than tweak here and there. Three new colours were introduced (Pearl Sunburst Orange, Stream Silver and Illusion Blue-also known as Pearl Chromium Purple) alongside Black, Illusion Red and Pearl Hot Rod Yellow with Pearl Blue being dropped after only one year. The Goldwing was still available with or without ABS brakes. The full Hondaline range of accessories was available and the aftermarket to their credit had managed to add many more bits and pieces to their product ranges. The high price of the Hondaline stuff no doubt gave lots of scope for the competition. A recall during the previous year saw the pulse rotor being replaced on many models and the kill switch on lots of models had to be fixed too, so Honda seem to be on top of things. Anyone who didn't like the GL1800 could still buy GL1500's new (year 2000 models) from many dealers, there were lots of them still in crates. They were now selling at up to 10% more than when they were still in production and of course this is because the GL1800 was much more expensive to buy.
2003 arrived and the GL1800 continued to be improved on. No major model or name changes, the ever popular Candy Red (different shade to the GL1500, the new colour was called Durango Red) made a welcome return this year. Stream Silver, Black, Pearl Hot Rod Yellow and Illusion Blue were retained. Another orange colour was introduced, this time a darker Jupiter Orange. The early CD player problems appeared to have been fixed and the Bridgestone tyres that cupped and wore out at worryingly low mileages have been replaced by Dunlops. The overheating issue that affected some GL1800's was now being attended to with the US Service Bulletin 13. Announced in September, a US recall for certain VIN numbers to inspect and repair/strengthen the lowest crossmember of the frame was of more significance for some owners. A European recall for this issue in early October indicated that the problem was more widespread than it seemed earlier in the year. Only one GL1800 was affected by the frame recall in Ireland. Some bike magazines reckoned that this made the GL1800 the most recalled motorcycle that Honda had produced to date! For some reason, the windshield now had two sliding bolts instead of four. The rumour mill had started to grind into action again, with reports of a possible Aspencade and SE addition in a year or two. A huge range of aftermarket accessories was by now available for the GL1800, alas at the expense of the GL1500 and older models. Every year sees available accessories for older Goldwings sink without a trace. It's always about money folks, and it seems the minute a particular model becomes a bit old, the accessory manufacturers ruthlessly cull the available goodies. Only three years after the demise of the GL1500, almost 50% of the accessories for this machine had disappeared from the big name catalogues (I notice this because I collect the catalogues), even though there are more 1500's on the planet than any other Goldwing. By summer of 2003, the last of the 2000 model year GL1500's seem to have been sold and searching the dealers for one out of the crate was now a waste of effort.
2004 arrived and we got the '04 models that were available to U.S. dealers from July 28th 2003. The rest of the world has to wait for the start of each year to get that years models, but the Americans get to sample them months before the rest of us. The fact that Goldwings are all made in the USA accounts for this. No major changes this year either. Lighted handlebar (long overdue) and radio switches and a vent in the windshield were about as exciting as it got. The rear brake calliper got a heat shield between it and the exhaust muffler. The audio system was modified internally, mainly to cure a problem with the CB mute circuit now working properly.
New colours in the shape of Flare Red (which had a different pattern on the saddle material and different badges), Kelly Magenta, Pearl Challenger Brown and Titanium. For some odd reason known only to Honda, Magenta was cancelled almost immediately after dealers got the 04's so there should only be a few hundred available (collectable perhaps in the future) and Arctic White had been added to the line-up instead. Candy Red and Black are retained for this year. Rumours of a slightly redesigned lower fairing (for the 2005 model year) to accommodate new radiator fans or a modified cooling system had been doing the rounds on the Internet forums for some time now.
The 2005 Goldwing models were announced on September 8th 2004. For the Goldwings 30th anniversary the only noticeable changes were anniversary badges and key and some new colours. Under the skin however, the GL1800 frame had been considerably strengthened in the lower crossmember area. This was to end the possibility of the frame cracking in this area. Colours for 2005 were Pearl Yellow, Arctic White, Metallic Silver, Dark Gray Metallic, Bright Blue Metallic and Candy Black Cherry. Flare Red, Pearl Challenger Brown and the ever popular Candy Red were casualties this year and Black (which had been available on all GL1800 model years since it's release) was also dropped. The Silver and Pearl Yellow bikes get the same saddle pattern as the Flare Red had in 2004 and there was a different opening ceremony on the display of all 2005 models as well. The rumoured cooling system changes were unfounded and already the talk was of changes for 2006, with the possibility of an SE model being the favourite topic among those disgruntled Goldwing faithful who expected more than just new badges for the 30th anniversary of Honda's flagship touring motorcycle.
The 2006 model was announced as usual the previous September. This time there were some big changes and refinements. First glance revealed a re-designed dash and larger front and rear speaker pods, but the changes went much deeper. The GL1800 for 2006 came in four variations, which caused confusion for many buyers at the time. The first was with the Premium Audio package, which had six speakers and an 80 watts per channel external amplifier. The Gold Wing Audio/Comfort package model added (in addition to the audio package mentioned) heated grips and a heated saddle (separate controls for front and back) and warm air flaps in the lower exhaust cowls similar to those found on the GL1500SE. The Audio/Comfort/Navi package added a flash-card based GPS system to the other options, GPS being a long overdue and welcome addition, although it wasn't available on European models for 2006. The top of the line model was the Audio/Comfort/Navi/ABS package. In a move that didn't go down well with loyal Goldwing customers, this meant that you had to buy the most expensive version to avail of ABS brakes. An airbag system was promised during the 2006 production run. In reality, this meant that we seen airbags in September 2006, for the 07 model year.
Other changes included larger radiators and cooling fans, better rubbers between the engine guards and exhaust cowls, new rear trunk and saddlebag lights (the saddlebag lights won't fit pre 2006 models but the trunk lights will), facelifted meter panel and instruments, and bigger rear speaker pods. Many of the wiring connector blocks are smaller and neater automotive types and are a departure from the traditional Hitachi types. Colours for 2006 were Topeka Gold, Challenger Brown Metallic (Titanium), Cabernet Red, Arctic White, and Black was back for 2006 as is Pearl Challenger Brown. Hondaline hadn't been asleep during these changes either. Several new items were added to the already long list of wallet-draining goodies. These included a small trunk rack, nice round exhaust extensions and little speaker pod armrests. Many accessories (Hondaline and aftermarket) for the 2001-2005 models either won't fit the 2006 models, or need adapted wiring looms to plug into the new machines.
September 2006 saw the 2007 line-up rolled out. Four variations of the GL1800 as in 2006, but changed once again this year, so buyers needed to be awake when deciding which model to go for. The Premium Audio package for the base model stayed the same. The Audio/Comfort model now had the Sat-Nav included. The Audio/Comfort/Navi model now had ABS brakes and the top of the range model was the Airbag model, which also had the Audio/Comfort/Sat-Nav/ABS. This means that ABS was now available on the top two models for 2007. Cabernet Red was carried over from the previous year. New colours were Billet Metallic Silver, Crucible Orange Metallic, Nebulous Black and Dark Blue Metallic.
Two GL1800 variations were available for Europe for 2007. The Sat-Nav and Airbag was included on the GL1800 DeLuxe model destined for Europe market that year and this model also had ABS brakes and the Audio/Comfort package. The basic GL1800 model for Europe came minus ABS, Sat-Nat or airbag.
The 2008 Goldwing model information was released earlier in the year than the traditional September and we had all read the fine print while the summer was still young. Models are the same as for 2007 and new colours are Pearl Alpine White and Candy Caliente Red. Cabaret Red was retained for this year and Challenger Brown Metallic (Titanium) and Gloss Black were resurrected after last years absence.
The lineup for 2009 wasn't particularly big news, even though Honda threw a few more gadgets at the now long-running GL1800. Much bigger and not very welcome news was that Honda were pulling production of the Goldwing back to Japan, after 27 years of production in the USA. It's fair to say that the 2010 Goldwing will be made in Japan and of course speculation is rife that a new Goldwing will be unveiled next year as the new location is retooled, presumably for a new model.
Anyway, back to the 2009 GL1800 models. The Sat-Nav maps have been updated to NT maps this year. The unit now took SD cards and the NAVI graphics were improved, making the display easier to see. New to the Goldwing is a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and XM radio. The TPMS is fitted to all models and an indicator flashes when tire pressure is 10 percent low and it stays on when pressure is 20 percent low. XM radio is now available on all Sat-Nat models. This XM radio system also carries the ability to provide real-time traffic and weather info, for a monthly fee. The Goldwing Airbag model is top of the line and includes the Premium Audio, all-new TPMS, XM Radio, Sat-Nav and ABS brakes. The Gold Wing Premium Audio/Comfort/Sat-Nav/XM/ABS model also has the TPMS and XM Radio, only the airbag is absent. Next is the Audio/Comfort/Sat-Nav/XM Radio model. The Audio/Comfort is the base model once again. Colours (six) for this year are Pearl Hot Rod Yellow, Candy Black Cherry, Mesquite Brown Metallic, Monterey Blue Metallic, Pewter Silver Metallic and Columbia Blue Metallic.
The Goldwing 2010 lineup was more of the same. Those expecting a replacement for the now nine year old GL1800 were in for a dissapointment as Honda probably used existing stock badged as 2010 models to buy time, while the new factory in Japan could be preparing for production of a new Goldwing. Five colours for 2010 and these are last years Pearl Yellow and Mesquite Brown Metallic, Candy Caliente Red resurrected from 2008, Pearl Glacier White. Nebulous Black Metallic makes a welcome return after a long absence.
For the 2011 model year.... well actually there will be no Goldwing model at all for that year. But fear not, Goldwing production hasn't ended, it's just been stalled while the production plant is moved from Marysville USA to Kumamoto in Japan. American Honda announced their plans at the 2010 Wing Ding in Des Moines, Iowa. Apparently Goldwings will be made in Kumamoto during 2011 for the 2012 model year. Anyone wanting to buy a Goldwing for the remainder of 2010 and 2011 will have to buy one of the many unsold 2010 GL1800 models. The fact that Honda moved all the tooling for the GL1800 to the new plant rather than scrapping it after ceasing production of the current model indicates that the 2012 may well be the same basic platform. Time will tell and we will probably have to wait until mid-2011 before Honda reveal their plans for the 2012 model.