The Fantastic Flat Four Revolution that Redefined Motorcycle Touring

You have to hand it to Honda. After the 1969 cb750, many manufacturers would have sat back and simply made multiple versions of the same thing; and to be fair, Honda did with 350, 400, 500, and 550 fours appearing in the early to mid-1970s, but the behemoth that was and is Honda were beavering away in the background on a yet another epoch maker.

Honda GL1000 - worlds best touring bike

The Japanese were wholly responsible for the late 1960’s explosion of motorcycle sales in the USA. As the British manufacturers lost grip so did that of the Japanese tighten and their "democratization" of two-wheelers meant a window opened for reasonable (wealthy) riders rather than black leather-clad rebels – you met the nicest people on a Honda after all.

So, what next to augment American (and increasingly European) sales? "The world's best touring bike" of course. Borrowing from their massive car division, Honda took an automotive approach adopting a flat four "boxer" configuration with cylinders laid horizontally in pairs one behind the other. Water-cooling was chosen for reliability and quietness plus a very car-like timing belt and shaft drive were adopted.

By late 1975 a team of engineers guided by Shoichiro Irimajiri were ready to unveil the GL1000 at the Cologne Show in Germany. Irimajiri was the logical choice as he had designed both Honda Grand Prix motorcycle and F1 car engines.

The benefit of the characteristic and instantly recognizable engine’s low center of gravity was matched by a dummy fuel tank with fuel held at a lower level feeding four carburetors – we were not quite in the era of fuel injection yet. In fact, the first "Wings" had traditional wire-spoked wheels and rather conventional (almost old-fashioned) instruments but that did not dampen the enthusiasm for a machine that weighed in at a not inconsiderable 273kg when launched for the 1976 season.

To mount what was to all intents and purposes a car engine in a motorcycle is a gamble and those like Münch that tried previously sold in handfuls. The slick, assured, and expertly styled Goldwing offered the ideal cocktail of "shock of the new" combined with "best of current technology" and sold in thousands. In fact, its various iterations have now achieved well over half a million sales and climbing. It took a brave person to suggest a bike should be named after the company logo but the legend that the Goldwing has become justifies entirely the boldness of the decision.

For Goldwing restorers, however, there is no risk or gamble. Simply log onto the CMS website and gaze at the largest inventory of GL1000 and 1100 spares currently available to keep enjoying your fantastic flat four.

issued: Monday, January 15, 2024
updated: Monday, January 15, 2024

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