Honda Gold Wing

Updated October 2020

The Honda Gold Wing has been for years the world’s most famous touring motorcycle, and for many of them the best, according to the critics. But when the GL1000 was first introduced in 1975, without any of the gadgetry or all-encompassing fairing that makes the bike instantly identifiable, it wasn’t clear what purpose the new bike was meant to serve; the thing it would eventually evolve into was almost completely unforeseen. Developed by Toshio Nozue (also responsible for the CB750), Honda simply described that first Gold Wing as “the ultimate motorcycle,” all yours for $2899.

1974 Honda Gold Wing GL1100

The original was too heavy (647 pounds fully fueled) and too slow (80 horsepower) to be a performance bike, and it was too big (60.5” wheelbase) to be considered a standard. Honda billed it as a “do-it-all” bike, but by the end of 1975, Honda Gold Wing owners understood exactly what the bike was meant for – comfortable long-distance riding.

What set the Honda Gold Wing apart from other motorcycles was its liquid-cooled, flat four-cylinder engine and shaft drive, the smoothest, most efficient engine to ever power a motorcycle. Launched without a fairing or luggage, Honda Gold Wing owners themselves began to define what the evolution of the bike would be by affixing Vetter Windjammer fairings to their ’Wings. Honda noted this commonplace addition and in 1980 produced the GL1100 Gold Wing in both standard and fully-faired versions.

The 1980 Honda Gold Wing Interstate was the first motorcycle to feature a fully integrated color-matched fairing and luggage, along with a longer wheelbase, electronic ignition, increased fuel capacity, and lighter weight. Also for the first time, an optional stereo-intercom system. On May 1, 1980, Honda opened its $50 million, 260,000 square-foot USA production facility in Marysville, Ohio, to produce Gold Wings.

1982 Honda Gold Wing GL1100

Two years later the luxurious Honda Gold Wing Aspencade (named after a popular GW rally) was launched with a long list of standard equipment including an on-board air-compressor for adjusting its suspension. Beginning its role as a showcase for fresh Honda tech, in 1983 the GL1100 debuted unified braking and Honda’s advanced Torque Reactive Anti-Dive Control braking system (TRAC).

In 1988, the Gold Wing’s flat-Four boxer engine grew two more cylinders to become the all-new flat-Six GL1500, an engine architecture it’s stuck with ever since. The new 1520 cc engine was smoother and more powerful than ever, the new bike also brought an improved transmission, increased fuel capacity, a stiffer chassis, improved brakes, and comprehensive fairing. Also helping move the large Gold Wing was another motorcycling first – an electrically-operated reverse gear. The GL1500 Honda Gold Wing enjoyed a 13-year run, with various upgrades along the way, and halfway through that run, in 1996, the Marysville plant turned out its one millionth ’Wing.

Honda Gold Wing GL1800

2001, the year of the Space Odyssey, brings a thoroughly redesigned GL1800, now with a fuel-injected boxer Six displacing 1832 cc. There’s a stiff new racing-inspired aluminum beam frame, optional ABS braking – and 20 patents for technological innovations. This Gold Wing enjoyed a 17-year run, updating along the year’s with such features as in-dash GPS in 2006, a heated seat and handgrips, and a GL1800 with the world’s first motorcycle airbag, also in 2006. In 2009, Gold Wing production was moved from the Marysville, Ohio, plant back to Japan, but Honda still produces cars in Marysville, as it has done ever since it built its first Accord in 1982.

This is the 2018 Gold Wing, which does not have a trunk like the Gold Wing Tour does. It’s still an awesome touring bike, but it’s also a bagger, just what all the hep cats want.

In 2018, Honda semi-reversed the direction the Gold Wing had been travelling these last 43 years. While it had grown ever-larger and heavier with the passing of time and begun to be perceived as a motorcycle for, ahem, mature riders, for 2018 the new Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour got seriously downsized and up-sported. The new bike lost something like 80 pounds while gaining power and fuel efficiency via an all-new 24-valve boxer-Six with Unicam SOHC heads derived from Honda’s MX bikes.

Front fork tubes were replaced by a double-wishbone suspension, which Honda claims transfers 30% less bumps to the grips. A 40% reduction in inertial mass also translates into easier steering, and the newfound ability to move the front wheel closer to the engine led directly to the best, most confident-handling Gold Wing ever by far – not that any of them were ever not surprisingly sporty.

Throw in upgraded electronics, an available 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) for completely clutchless shifting, and the latest, 6th-generation Gold Wing takes up right where the first touring ’Wing started out 45 years ago, at the top of the touring bike class.

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The Honda Gold Wing has long held the title of world’s best touring motorcycle, but when the GL1000 was first introduced in 1975, without any of the gadgetry and protective fairing for which the bike is famous, it wasn’t clear what purpose the bike was meant to serve. The original Honda Gold Wing was too heavy (635 lbs. fully fueled) and too slow (80 horsepower) to be a performance bike, and it was too big (60.5” wheelbase) to be considered a standard. Honda billed it as a “do-it-all” bike, but by the end of 1975 Honda Gold Wing owners understood exactly what the bike was meant for — comfortable long-distance riding. Thus the touring bike was created.

What set the Honda Gold Wing apart from other motorcycle was its liquid-cooled, flat four-cylinder engine — up to that point it was the smoothest engine to ever power a motorcycle. Launched without a fairing or luggage, Honda Gold Wing owners themselves defined what the evolution of the bike would be by purchasing and affixing Vetter Windjammer fairings to their Gold Wings. Honda noted this commonplace addition and in 1980 produced the GL1100 Gold Wing in both standard and fully-faired versions.

The 1980 Honda Gold Wing Interstate was the first motorcycle to feature a fully integrated color-matched fairing and luggage. Two years later the Honda Gold Wing Aspencade (named after a popular Gold Wing rally) was launched and made standard equipment such as the stereo, built-in intercom system that was optional on the Interstate as well as introduced new components such as an on-board air-compressor for adjusting the Aspencade’s suspension. The GL1200 Honda Gold Wing of 1984 was more of an evolution than a revolution for the Gold Wing line. Honda constructed a naked version for the first year of the 1200 but it was dropped for 1985 and a naked Honda Gold Wing would never be produced again.

2012 Honda Gold Wing

In 1988 the GL1500 Honda Gold Wing was launched and, like the original Interstate model, it set a new benchmark for what a touring motorcycle could be. A horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine displacing 1520cc powered the new Gold Wing. With a 66.9” wheelbase and weighing 876 lbs. full of liquids, the new 1500 Honda Gold Wing was larger and heavier than the GL1200, but the new bike handled better. Also helping move the large Gold Wing was another motorcycling first, an electrically-operated reverse drive.

The GL1500 Honda Gold Wing enjoyed an incredible 13-year run with various upgrades until being replaced by the GL1800 Honda Gold Wing in 2001. Still utilizing a flat, six-cylinder engine but with an increase in displacement to 1832 cc, the new Gold Wing’s biggest difference over the previous model was the use of an aluminum, sportbike-esque frame. In 2006 the GL1800 Honda Gold Wing was the first production motorcycle with an airbag.

From 1981 to 2009 Honda Gold Wing models were constructed at Honda’s first U.S. plant located in Marysville, Ohio. More than one million Honda Gold Wing motorcycles were produced in the plant’s 30-year history, before Gold Wing production was moved to Japan.

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