Steve Cooper looks into the origins and development of the bike that spawned a new genre
It’s genuinely debatable as to whether any other motorcycle has polarised riders quite as much as Honda’s Goldwing. Perceived by many at its launch as a wholly unnecessary answer to a question that no one had ever, ever, asked in the entire history of the motorcycle, few saw the point. Even in its target market, the US, few journalists grasped the veracity of the all-new design.
Over on this side of the pond the situation was exactly the same, with one leading magazine criticising the GL1000 for being little more than a two-wheeled car, along with other stinging epithets. Such was the level of poisonous invective, Honda responded by withdrawing all advertising from said magazine for a whole year. And the mighty Goldwing has split opinions ever since.
Back in early 1970, Honda’s motorcycle division had played second fiddle to the company’s burgeoning car division. Mr Honda and top-level staff were fully aware that if the company was to continue to grow as it had previously, it needed to diversify. Cars were a strategic part of the organisation’s future and key to its long-term survival.
However, taking skilled staff away from the various two-wheeled teams ultimately saw motorcycle development stagnate. The subsequent fall in global sales hadn’t gone unnoticed and Honda wasn’t going to sit back and just take a kicking. Their competitors in the bike world had rapidly caught up with The Big Aitch, and, in some areas, overtaken it.
Honda’s strategy for what came next can be variously described as brave, far-sighted, courageous or even lucky. Or, alternatively, it could just be one of the most stunning pieces of market research ever carried out – the creation of a totally new category of motorcycle.
In 1972 the decision was made at the highest levels to produce a motorcycle that would be “the king of kings”. This new machine would be the ultimate intercontinental, trans-state, mile eater. It would also feature, at its heart, a power unit unlike anything else ever launched in a series production motorcycle. With the concept given the title AOK the various teams came up with a water-cooled flat six approaching one-and-a-half litres. Capable of some 130mph and weighing in at more than a quarter of a tonne, it was readily apparent that
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