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s a kid, my dad took my brother and me to motorcycle dealerships practically every weekend when the weather was poor. It being a golden era of AMA roadracing, and being devoted race fans, we naturally gravitated toward sportbikes. “Win on Sunday, sit on it on Monday” was our motto. Yet, I would always sneak over to a Gold Wing to admire the array of buttons and cubbies and imagine myself going on some round-the-world expedition. I think at that point I thought “explorer” was still a viable job option.

Craig Rodsmith on his custom X-Wing
In this series, we’ll explore classic, custom, and modern versions of some of our favorite motorcycles. One model three ways. Here, we take a look at the original Grand Tourer, the Honda Gold Wing. Above, Craig Rodsmith on his custom X-Wing.Grant Schwingle

The Gold Wing taps into a vision of motorcycling held dear by many. Who says you can't ride a motorcycle and bring half your wardrobe, sit in "the most comfortable seat in the house," listen to your favorite music, and bring your partner along for the ride? While some of us appreciate the asceticism of motorcycling, the Gold Wing insists it's not the only way.

The stereotype is that the Gold Wing is an old man’s bike. It’s a great bike, and even if the stereotype has some truth behind it, who cares? I want to be a lifelong motorcyclist, riding long into my golden years when all my peers have settled into evenings of playing shuffleboard and drinking peach schnapps before bed. I fully intend to age into Gold Wing ownership. I guess that makes me a Gold Wing “Rider in Waiting.” Owning a Wing will be confirmation that things have gone alright in life.

“Explorer” is off the table, but at least there’s hope I’ll be a codger with a Wing.

Here are the original, the custom, and the modern versions of the bike that proves we could all learn a thing or two from our elders.

The Classic: The Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

Honda GL1000 Gold Wing
The 1975 Honda GL1000.Cycle World

Aside from being the first production liquid-cooled four-stroke motorcycle from Japan, there wasn’t anything too revolutionary about the 1975 GL1000. While a flat-four engine, a shaft drive, and roomy ergonomics bespeak a touring bike to today’s consumer, when Honda unveiled the GL1000, it didn’t come with saddlebags, a wind-blocking fairing, or a windscreen. It wasn’t expressly a touring bike—heck, there wasn’t really such a thing in 1975—but it was, as Cycle dubbed it in its ride review, “The Gentleman’s Choice.”

Kind of a dubious description for a motorcycle, don’t you think? I mean, that description sounds more apt for the name of a product far less vaunted than a motorcycle. For example: “Cigarillo Golds: 100 percent Turkish Tobacco…The Gentleman’s Choice.” Or “Royal Trouser Guards: houndstooth incontinence garments from Savile Row…The Gentleman’s Choice.” Or “Leisure Times Malt Liquor: Forty ounces of bad decisions…The Gentleman’s Choice.”

The Wing would get its due, however. It was obvious from the start that Honda was on to something with the GL1000. At the time, it was one of the quickest machines around, recording a sub-11-second quarter-mile time that was only bested by the mighty Kawasaki Z1.

When the aftermarket became flush with Windjammers and touring accessories, Honda took note. In 1980, Honda introduced the GL1100 Interstate, complete with touring cases, full fairing, and an optional stereo system. It cut a silhouette not entirely dissimilar to today’s Wing.

The original GL1000 was the progenitor of the touring category. Yes, you could tour on any motorcycle, but the Gold Wing said, “Wouldn’t you rather sit back in a bolstered seat, put on some Kenny Rogers, and ride to the furthest Golden Corral?” The Gold Wing…The Gentleman’s Choice.

The Custom: Rodsmith Motorcycles X-Wing

Rodsmith Motorcycles X-Wing
Rodsmith Motorcycle’s custom GL1100 X-Wing.Grant Schwingle

Craig Rodsmith has garnered a lot of acclaim over the last couple of years, and like all his builds, his 1979 GL1100 Gold Wing—transformed with stunning hand-formed bodywork—exemplifies why he’s earned every bit of it.

Rodsmith acquired the bike after a friend brought it to him for some minor custom work. His friend lost interest in the project, so Rodsmith purchased the bike with the notion of using it as a shop bike. Just something practical to tool around on, in other words.

“I'd owned one many years ago in Australia,” Rodsmith says, “and always thought they were a little underrated. They're reliable, inexpensive, parts are readily available, and they have quite respectable power…and gobs of torque.

“Originally I just intended to make a new ‘tank’ cover and maybe a seat, but as I often do, I got a little carried away.”

And by carried away, Rodsmith means, he tore the whole thing down, ultimately shedding 250–300 pounds.

For starters, Rodsmith built an underseat fuel tank (complete with sight glass), all-new bodywork, drilled the brake rotors, made covers to hide the original Comstar wheels, and topped it off with his own bespoke headlight. A new air filter and a modified exhaust system with Cone Engineering mufflers help the flat-four breathe.

underseat tank
Check out the sight glass in the underseat tank and the blue leather saddle.Grant Schwingle

Rodsmith says the revitalized Wing is smooth and surprisingly nimble. “It’s almost like riding a small locomotive,” Rodsmith adds.

Maybe the Gold Wing isn’t the most obvious candidate for customization. It’s certainly not a dime-a-dozen CB. But the X-Wing is so flawlessly executed that Rodsmith makes it look perfectly natural.

“I built it for myself on a whim almost. No real inspiration; it just sort of “became what it is,” Rodsmith says. Only someone of Rodsmith’s talent could pull it off so convincingly.

At the moment, Rodsmith is working on his third commissioned project for the Haas Moto Museum in Dallas. And that’s not all.

rodsmith 2017 xwing
That’s a Gold Wing?Grant Schwingle

“I have a few other personal builds I'm working on at the moment: another Ironhead café racer and another loop-framed Guzzi—kind of a naked version of my Dustbin with a supercharger.”

You won’t have to remember to keep an eye out for them when they’re unveiled. At this point, the Internet has a Rodsmith-shaped corner that will bring them to you.

The Cutting-Edge: 2018 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour
2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour.Cycle World

Is it fair to say that the Gold Wing is Honda's flagship motorcycle? At $26,700 for the Touring model, it pretty much has to be, right? CBR die-hards and racing enthusiasts may balk at that, but the Gold Wing is a brand onto itself with legions of faithful riders. And judging by all its tech, it also seems like it's Honda's platform for testing out new directions.

The sixth-generation Gold Wing received a massive update for 2018: It’s lighter, more compact, and has more tech (probably) than many Honda cars. Apple Car Play? Check. TFT display? Check. Available DCT transmission? Check. “Double wishbone” front end? Check.

The Wing’s luggage and fuel capacity may have decreased, but Honda’s research suggested that many Gold Wing owners use their bikes primarily for two-up weekend trips. It’s a gamble but Honda’s betting that sacrificing some capacity for the sake of a more compact machine will broaden its appeal.

2018 and 2017 Honda Gold Wings
The ’18 Wing and the ’17 Wing side by side.Cycle World

At 883 pounds (wet) the Wing—though around 70 pounds lighter than the previous generation—is basically two motorcycles’ worth of metal. But the Wing characteristically carries its weight well. True to form, in the right hands, the Wing can drag peg all day and keep pace with much more performance-oriented machines.

Maybe by the time I age into Gold Wing ownership, it’ll weigh 140 pounds less, it’ll shed the old guy image that callow bike writers foist upon it, and it’ll have good-sized bags again.

Maybe Honda will have a V-4 superbike by then too. But that’s another story.