Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Little Wing

1981 Honda GL500 Silverwing interstate

I was looking for another motorcycle after being out of biking for about 12 years when I bought this Interstate.

I was looking for a used Goldwing, about an 82 or 83, and most of the ones I had seen were high mileage models. I had almost purchased an 82 Goldwing in Red Deer and had talked the dealer down in price but did not have a chance to take a good look at the bike or test ride it, when I returned the following Saturday to inspect the bike better, the salesman told me the bike had been sold. OH well I thought, thats what I get for being lackadaisical about the purchase.

I returned to the dealer a couple of weeks later and the same bike was back on the sales floor with a higher price tag on it. I guess they had considered my offer and thought it to be too low and took the bike off the floor, only to return it with a higher price. I had checked periodically and the same bike is still sitting on the sales floor one year later.

I had seen this Silverwing in Camrose earlier and liked it, lower mileage, good price and in excellent shape. Since I was pissed at the Red Deer dealer anyway, I dropped in one day at the Camrose dealer while I was on a trip to Edmonton with a friend and purchased the little wing. $1,500. dollars of Canadian cash and I was a biker again, felt good. A few days later with my old beater of a helmet I had the same friend drop me off in Camrose to pick up the bike.

Being nervous after those many years of non-riding I felt a little apprehensive about riding and headed straight into the residential area to practice up a bit. Five minutes of riding, starting and stopping did the trick and I felt confident enough to hit the main roads and tangle with traffic.I rode the bike home, about 100 miles, on a hot sunny day. I did the speed limit still trying to sharpen my biking skills riding without incident, only having a couple of road hogs close in fast from behind and pass too close for my liking. It's been over a year since I bought the bike but I can still fell the heat of the sun, road and engine as I road that day. The Silverwing has a V-twin engine but is mounted so the heads stick out the sides next to the riders knees, a small pain in hot weather riding but a pleasure in the cold.

It was in September that I purchased the bike and so I had a limited amount of riding before the snows of winter came, but I managed a few small trips to familiarize myself with the bike. The previous owner had mounted forward footpegs, extra driving lights and added a cycle sound radio mount complete with radio and speakers. The tires were wore out, with the back one being completely void of any tread and the front one was cupped badly. The paint was good on the fairing trunk and bags showing only little wear and tear, but the seat had some minor tears, and the fairing mounted mirrors were replaced with handle bar mounted vibrating useless cheapoos.

In the spring I replaced the tires with a set of matching Bridgestones, had the seat recovered, threw away the cheapoo mirrors and bought some expensive replacements from the Honda dealer. And the first thing that I usually have to install is a cigarette lighter, for me smoking and riding go together. Am I worried about getting cancer? Hell NO, I ride a bike, smoking is a minor matter in the grand scheme of things.I also bought some Harley floor boards, manufactured some mounts and threw away the pegs. Much more comfortable riding with floorboard rather than the stock pegs as you have more range for foot positioning.

The replacement mirrors were another matter entirely. Although the replacements which were identical to stock mirrors looked a lot better mounted on the fairing rather than the handle bars, the mirror surface had a flat surface and a tint to them which I did not like. I did manage to find a set of OEM mirrors at a swap meet. In swapping out the glass I managed to break one and now have an original clear convex mirrror on one side and an ugly, flat, tinted on the other side. Oh well more swap meet hunting should resolve the matter.

The next project was to make and install a tow hitch to the bike. I had a Gold wing before and towed a small cargo trailer and wanted the same setup although lighter to match the bike. With the help of some non biking friends with access to a welder, cutting torch and some ingenuity we managed to come up with a decent looking hitch.

One draw back that I thought the bike lacked was protection for the lower legs and feet. Although the fairing, which is identical except for the lowers is the same used on the Goldwings of that era, provide good upper body protection the bottom is quite open and breezy. I fashioned a couple of curved alluminum pieces and attached them to the existing lower fairing. I tested them in some rainy and snowy weather and they proved to be good and give the feet more protection from the elements. It could be another matter when the warm weather rolls around but they are only secured by two bolts apiece and take only seconds to remove.

The bike is an off shoot of the Honda CX 500, and was only manufactured for two years as a full dresser 500cc model and in 83, they bumped it to a 650cc. It has about 45hp and is a high revving son of a gun. At highway speed 100kph [60mph] it revs at about 5700 rpm. This can be a little disconcerting to some but after you get used to it, it becomes quite natural and the little bike will go all day at hiway speed plus with out a problem. The higher revving engine delivers a lot of torque and the bike is quite responsive. I had alway liked the look of the bike and had a CX500 previously that I had added a fairing to and tried to make a touring bike out of it. The bike had ample power and I managed to cross the USA and Canada twice before on the old CX500. People who say you need a big bike to go touring on are filling you with BS, after all many others have toured with much smaller and made out quite fine.

If you are in the market and see one of these bikes for sale and wonder how good it is, buy it, you won't be disapointed. They are reasonably priced, nimble to handle, have loads of power and the engine is all but bullet proof. And there are a lot of resources on the internet which include a lot of happy owners.


Anonymous said...

If you have any pictures of the hitch on the cx500 i would like to see them. i have the same bike and i would like to see how easy/hard it would be to do. so can you send them to '' thanks.

Anonymous said...

I believe you have struck onto one of the secrets of enjopyable motorcycling - low costs.
By choosing and riding 20+ year old machines you have no financial worries and you still get the joy of riding. Your 1500 bucks for your CX500 gives you just as much pleasure as a 35,000 Gold Wing.
I am a GREAT fan of older cheaper bikes and presently own 5 of them!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the tire specs for a 1981 Handa GL500 Silverwing? I bought one for $500, and under 15,000 miles! The only problem is that the tires are so worn that I can't even make out the information to buy a new set.
Thanks, Dan

Ian said...

Hi, I am quite happy to now include myself in the elite group of older silverwing owners ( I pick mine up on the 28 june 2008). I am trying to find a good source for manuals, parts, etc. If anyone has any suggestions, please e-mail me at . I live in Surrey, BC, Canada.


genea said...

Hi, about the tires... I recommend the following tires:
Front: Metzler Laser ME33 110/90V19
{is a little softer rubber so wears a little faster but gives about 10 MPH or so cushion, should you hit a curve a bit faster than you intended... saving some skin and such}
Rear: tough to beat a very reasonably priced and good mileage:
Dunlop Elite 491 MT90H16
I have put about 40K miles on my GL500I with this combination and have been really happy with them.. previously used Metzler ME88 90/16 on the rear, but the Dunlop is cheaper and actually lasts about as long, and seems to stick to the road as good or better. just my 2 cents.
Whilst I am at it.. when not in a ridiculously hot climate like Yuma, AZ, do yourself a favor and if you need a battery get a YUASA.. I got 7 years out of two of those, doesn't matter down here, as ANY battery is good for maybe 2 years due to the extreme heat in summer. But when I get moved back to Washington in a few months.. I will be back to Yuasa's again. And though I have a few other newer bikes, and had a 1984 GL1200, there is no upgrade from a GL500 unless it is an 83 GL650. I like the 81 over the 82 as it doesn't have the damnable electric fan and the temp switch in the radiator that both are sore spots... but just spins the fan all the time off the crank.. simple is better.
Enjoy your riding..

Steve said...

I just bought an 81 Silverwing and would like to email with other owners. Is there an online chat/group that any of you knows about?

Gord Hume said...

Hi there, I'm building a hitch for my 1977 CB750A and would love to see your hitch plans. My email is if you still have the plans.

Thanks very much, Gord Hume