Sport/Touring Bike

                                      

HONDA GL 650I SILVER WING INTERSTATE

                            A RETROSPECTIVE

  Goldwing touring bike enthusiasts often like to gather in groups, occasionally even hundreds or thousands will flock together to socialise, more than fifty percent of them are probably riding solo, and this Silver Wing made for a beautiful ride if your riding down a lonely highway to freedom.  Easier on the pocket book and lightweight, the GL 650I weighted in 200 pounds lighter than the 1100 Interstate. 

  The story of the birth of the Honda GL 650I begins in 1978 with Honda’s introduction of the CX 500.  The CX500 came standard with an 80-degree v-twin engine, with four valves per cylinder, a compression ratio of 10:1, and the desire to reach 10,000 rpm.  Impressive ability!  A lonely camshaft set high in the block, necessitating a Hy-Vo chain with the ability to be adjusted manually, became common with the 650 Interstate.  The valves were adjusted by locknut and screw, situations British-bike enthusiasts certainly recognize. The possibly meaningless transistorized ignition paired well with large twin 35mm constant-velocity keihins.  Liquid cooled instead of air, the CX500 easily idled in traffic when the thermometer reached 100 degrees, and still looked so cool!  To top it off power routed through a five-speed transmission to a shaft final drive, making the CX500 a very tidy and problem free touring bike.

  A sturdy backbone frame connected to a 33mm telescopic fork in front, and a set of shock absorbers in back.  Add standard Comstar wheels with tubeless tires, a drum brake on the rear and disc brake slowing you up front.  The CX500 had 57 inches between the axles, boasted a 4.5 gallon gas tank and fully-loaded weighted a moderate 480 pounds.  Propelled by around 40 trustworthy horsepower at 9,000 rpm, most owners weren’t interested in the shake, rattle, and roll above 7,000 rpm, the point where the torque maxed out at 24 lb-ft.  The GL500 ran a respectable 14 seconds in the quarter mile spring, half a second behind the GL1000.

  The numbers of CX500’s sold were especially good in Europe, being that it was a very trustworthy and down-to-earth motorcycle for commuters, for motorcycle couriers and message services, for the conservative rider requiring hassle free touring, the tubeless tires were a profitable selling point for Honda. 

  Despite only luke-warm sales in North America, the CX500 proved to be an excellent template for later models.  Slap a slightly stepped saddle, smaller gas tank, and ‘presto’ a Custom model.  Now what?  Maybe the GL idea…merits a closer look.  So in 1981 the GL500 hit the pavement as the Silver Wing, sporting a tiny 15-litre trunk fitting in place on the rear sear for the off-to-work motorcyclist.  Along came the full touring model, the GL500I, I for interstate, with a fairing and larger removable saddlebags.  Add a frame mounted front fairing with an adjustable windscreen, a knob for altering the headlight while sitting on the GL500I, and the motorcycle world is never the same.  To make room to tightly fit saddlebags as well as improve the bikes steering, Honda went with a single shock absorber over twin shocks, but added the ability to increase the air pressure in the shock to add support.  They expanded the diameter of the new fork legs to 35mm, made them air adjustable, and then extended the wheel-base over one inch.

  Honda made small alterations to the engine, increasing the horsepower, but the bodywork and dry weight of 550 pounds stopped the quarter-mile clock at 15 seconds.  Not a concern, if you preferred velocity to relaxing comfort, you could fly down the road on a 12 second CB900F.

  It was at this time that motorcycle guru’s at Honda decided to make the CX a speed-demon motorcycle by attaching a turbocharger and fuel injection on the 1982 CX 500I.  So they modified the CX/GL500 to 674cc, compression ratio and redline were decreased a bit, producing around 40 lb-ft of torque according to Honda factory data.  The change to 650cc brought with it all the maintenance free aspects of earlier models, plus a few added features.  Including an automatic cam-chain adjuster, and the horsepower to run a 13 second quarter mile. 

  Unfortunately, sales for the 650 were small at the time; the motorcycle industry was going through a downturn.  Warehouse space was running our and companies were reducing prices beyond the bone.  Consequently the GL650I turned into a one-year bike, with extremely low-priced new 650’s available two or three years later.  Honda’s latest mid-size touring bike, the Deauville 650, hasn’t reached North American shores to date.  I wonder why?

Written by “Warren. J. Hayashi”

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