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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

GL1100

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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 for them. 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.

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