In deciding on my favourite bikes (ones I’ve actually owned or road-tested over a decent distance), I’ve placed the Honda Rune at the top of the tree. Five bikes are joint ties for third place (see Part 1), so I need to name my number 2 choice for second place, plus eighth, ninth and tenth.
I’ll return to second place later, but what comes eighth? That’s easy: the Honda GL1000 K2, for a particular reason, but also all the variations that came afterwards, right up to the current Gold Wing 1800. My own photo library is in Dubai and I’m in South Africa right now, so I’m a bit limited in the copyright-free photos I can access, so the photo here is (I reckon) a US-spec K1 model, but very similar visually to the K2.
Why the K2? Well, I tested one about two days after I laid down my own hard cash for a brand new BMW R100 “autumn special” with the S handlebar fairing and in that rather nice metallic green. That purchase, on 1 August 1979, was based on the enormous fun I’d had riding the new 1979 BMW range with seven other European journalists in California and the American south-west in February that year.
It was clearly a case of the scenery and the luxury of the whole trip influencing my judgement. We’d stayed a night in the Beverly Hilton, ridden the whole range of new Beemers for more than a week through California to Tucson, Arizona, with a brief side-trip into Mexico at Nogales for myself and Cyril Ayton of Motorcycle Sport. We stayed at a dude ranch, flew down the Grand Canyon just below the rim in a light aircraft and then out over the rim in a helicopter. We’d set off in the morning and ride at our own pace, keeping an eye out for the vast Winnebago motorhome that would have set off earlier and be ready ti serve barbecued steak and a cold beer at lunchtime. To this 25-year-old Irishman, it was exotic. The BMWs did feel wonderful, too, and I grew particularly fond of the RT and the T. I decided I’d buy one as soon as I could afford it, and the R100 autumn special was just within my reach by late July.
The Gold Wing K2, though, proved more to my liking. It was smoother, quieter mechanically, had more power and a better power delivery, and generally felt more civilised in every way. Adding insult to injury, it was £20 ($30) cheaper than my new BMW. I rode it back to my house in Singlewell, Kent, late one night from central London and remember writing that I had to fight the urge to keep on going to Dover, catch some hypothetical late-night ferry and ride on to greet the sunrise in France. That’s the effect it had on me. Sadly, it also meant that the BMW lost its allure overnight and never really regained it; I sold it within two years.
The Gold Wing (from memory, 36 years later) handled acceptably. I’ve ridden sharper-handling bikes, obviously, and no one would mistake it for a sports bike even by the standards of the day, but it handled well enough to meet my needs. I recall that it exhibited a slight weave at speeds over 120 mph, but so did almost all the heavy superbikes of that era. But in real-world use, it felt so right. So did the subsequent K3, and the GL1100 that followed. I always preferred the naked versions, but the fully faired Aspencade that I borrowed for a memorable ride from Los Angeles to Steamboat Springs was a pleasure to ride. In the desert heat of Nevada, however, the fairing merely directed all the engine heat on to my legs and made me year for the unfaired model again.
That 1982 trip was to research my book, called Gold Wing. Honda US kindly loaned me a brand new Aspencade, in a sort of brown/gold/bronze combination.Here’s a silver version.
I remember reading that it was available with a radio and a cassette player. I hoped I’d get the one with the radio-cassette, and brought an Eagles tape with me to play en route, but was disappointed to find mine had a radio only. That’s the sort of thing that gets referred to these days as a First World problem!
I remember reaching my destination, the annual Gold Wing Road Riders’ Association rally known as Wing Ding, in the ski resort of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It was summer now, and the town was wall-to-wall Gold Wings. I went to the hotel complex used as the event headquarters and was directed to the second floor of a multi-storey car park, as the ground floor was already full. The second floor was virtually empty, and I parked randomly in its vast expanse. When I returned to the bike that evening, I was amazed to find it surrounded by about 20 or 30 other Aspencades, all identical! The model was so new to the market that almost no one had had time yet to customise theirs, as is the norm for most Wing owners. Mine being a loaner, I had no idea what the licence plate number was, so the only way I could find mine was to insert the key in the ignition switches of several bike in the general vicinity: after trying about four or five, I finally found mine!
So yes, I have a soft spot for Gold Wings, always have, always will. The fact that the bike only made it into eighth place speaks volumes for all the others higher up the table, although the Rune is probably the ultimate Wing and it is in top slot, so justice is served.
Ninth place? The 1977 Yamaha XS750 triple. I’d read all the road test reports and decided that this was my ideal bike, two years before I’d ridden my first Gold Wing. Powerful enough for its day with 69 bhp, shaft drive, affordable, and with that special feel that only triples can deliver.
I loved that bike. It took me two-up to France, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland and served as daily transport in the UK for a couple of years. It was fun to ride, handled adequately for my needs and was comfortable by the standards of the late ‘70s. It was my first shaft-drive bike and I loved the hassle-free nature of no chain. Mine was in silver and blue and I remember being envious of my friend Keith’s larger model which was in a fetching shade of red. But during the time I owned it I was testing a lot of larger, 1,000cc bikes, and I knew I wanted the power and performance they offered. That led to the green Beemer.
What comes tenth, and what’s in second place? Read part 3, coming soon.