Mid-Size Touring and the Little Wing: 1981-1982 Honda GL500 Silver Wing Interstate

Comparing the Honda GL500 Silver Wing and its main competitors, the Moto Guzzi V65C and BMW R60/7.

Under the Radar

Honda GL500 Silver Wing Interstate

Photo by Jerry Carter

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Honda GL500 Silver Wing Interstate
Years produced:
1981-1982
Power:
50hp @ 9,000rpm (claimed)
Top Speed:
110mph
Engine:
497cc liquid-cooled OHV 80-degree V-twin
Transmission:
5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight/MPG:
534lb (wet)/46mpg
Price then/now:
$3,998/$1,500-$3,000

In the late Seventies, touring was hot. For 1979, both BMW and Harley-Davidson introduced motorcycles with frame-mounted fairings and hard luggage, the R100RT and Tour Glide, respectively. Honda embraced the concept wholeheartedly for their 1981 model range, reassigning the sporting 6-cylinder CBX to bagger duty to join the GL1100 Gold Wing Interstate as the brand’s premium touring duo. Those were both big bikes, so for buyers wanting something a little more modest Honda slotted the versatile CX500 V-twin drivetrain in a new frame to create the GL500 Silver Wing. Fitted with the same fairing as the GL1100, hard bags and dual front disc brakes (single disc on the base Wing) it became the GL500 Silver Wing Interstate.

No doubt the CX500 powerplant was repurposed with the intention of extending the shelf life of the late-Seventies engine. The unconventional 80-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin engine incorporated many interesting features: The alloy cylinders were cast in-unit with the main engine and transmission case and were fitted with “wet” iron liners; the pent-roof cylinder heads were twisted 22 degrees from the center line, keeping the intake ports inboard of the rider’s legs while still maintaining a straight path for gases; the four valves in each cylinder head were operated by pushrods and rockers, keeping the engine compact; and a pair of 34mm Keihin CV carbs fed the over-square cylinders running 10:1 compression, with transistorized ignition providing sparks.

The alternator sat at the rear of the engine and the clutch at the front — really — driving a 5-speed gearbox, which sat to the right of the crankshaft. Output from the gearbox was by shaft to the rear wheel. The power unit was a stressed member suspended from a new backbone frame, and Honda’s rising-rate Pro-Link rear suspension replaced the CX500’s twin shocks with a single air-assist spring/damper in front of the back wheel — leaving even more space for side luggage. The engine sat farther forward in the new frame, meaning longer intakes for the carburetors, a longer driveshaft and 1.5-inch-longer wheelbase. Front suspension was by air-assist fork, with both ends of the GL running on ComStar wheels fitted with 130/90 x 16-inch rear and 3.5 x 19-inch front tires.

Other differences (from the CX) included 35mm fork tubes (33mm), a 28-inch rake (26.5-inch), a 4.6-inch trail (4.1-inch), and a 250-watt alternator (170 watt). Added to the Interstate version of the Silver Wing were a fuel gauge, self-cancelling turn signals, an automatic petcock and a voluminous fairing. The removable side bags and the 28.5-liter trunk all operated by the same key. Unfortunately, the trunk fit over the passenger portion of the stepped dual seat, so the Interstate could carry a passenger or an extra cubic foot of luggage, but not both.

The extra weight of the tour package added a second to the standing quarter time, to 15.1 seconds at 83mph, in the same class as many 400cc twins of the time. “You’ll have to slip the clutch and rev the Silver Wing hard to get it to move through traffic,” wrote Cycle Guide, and use “a big fist of throttle to get up to highway speed.” Once at highway speeds, Cycle Guide noted “a lot” of engine noise reflecting off the fairing and noticeable vibration through the handlebars, footpegs and tank. But while performance wasn’t the Interstate’s strong suit, comfort was. As befits a tourer, the Interstate’s rising-rate rear suspension and stiction-free Syntallic-bushed front fork offered “a plushy ride,” said Cycle, adding that it “floats down the road like a ’75 Cadillac.” It was “Probably the softest suspension ever put on a motorcycle,” said Cycle World.

Not surprisingly, the soft suspension affected handling. Without extra air pressure, the Interstate had “as little cornering clearance as any Honda made” and “wallows predictably,” said Cycle World. But “at maximum air pressure, the cornering clearance is very good” and “still doesn’t hamper comfort, while preventing the rear end from bottoming.”

Cycle liked the Honda’s controls (“a delight”), smooth clutch and light throttle. “Brake-lever and pedal feel is superb,” its testers said, also noting the fairing’s effective weather protection, which created “a still-air pocket around the arms and torso.” Cycle Guide perhaps summed up the Interstate best. It was, they wrote, “a different kind of tourer ... As a concept, it’s nothing short of brilliant.” But with “a little more engine, the execution could be brilliant as well,” they added.

More power would come with the 1983 GL650. But the market for 2-wheeled mini-Winnebagos — if it ever existed — had faded away. MC


Contenders: Small-bore tourers

1982-1985 Moto Guzzi V65C
Years produced:
1982-1985
Power:
52hp @ 7,050rpm (claimed)/120mph (est.)
Engine:
643cc air-cooled OHV 90-degree V-twin
Transmission:
5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight/MPG:
447.5lb (wet)/53mpg
Price then/now:
$3,025 (1984)/$1,500-$4,500

Guzzi’s V65 “small block” engine was developed from the 500cc V50 and used a pair of 30mm Dell’Orto PHB carburetors to feed the 2-valve (rather than the fragile 4-valve Lario-type) Heron-head engine. The transverse engine drove a 5-speed transmission through an engine speed clutch to a shaft final drive. The dual cradle frame came with a detachable section to facilitate engine removal. As was the fashion, both the front fork and rear shocks were air-adjustable and carried cast alloy wheels fitted with 100/90 x 18-inch front and 130/90 x 16-inch rear tires. Brakes were single disc at the rear and dual disc at the front, with one caliper linked to the rear brake. A handlebar-mounted windshield and hard luggage were included.

Rider magazine’s tester found the V65C was “at home on smooth, sweeping roads,” preferring “long graceful arcs and steady speeds.” The chassis felt “tight and unified,” the linked brakes were “strong and predictable.” Downsides? The controls (front brake, clutch, brake pedal, throttle) were heavy and “archaic,” and “Bumpy pavement uncorks soggy dampers,” they said, and “two-up riding reveals the suspension’s limpness.” Rider’s tester concluded that while the V65C’s “mechanical oddities take some getting used to,” it had “a long lasting appeal. Some riders think of Guzzis as antiquated. I think of them as timeless.”

1976-1982 BMW R60/7
Years produced:
1976-1982
Power:
40hp @ 6,400rpm (claimed)/103mph
Engine:
599cc air-cooled OHV flat twin
Transmission:
5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight/MPG:
473lb (wet)
Price then/now:
$2,995 (1977)/$1,500-$4,000

In 1976, Road Rider’s tester took the new R60/7 for a 4,800-mile test ride. At almost every stop he was asked: “Why aren’t you testing one of them new 1000s?” While a 600cc twin had always been part of the “slash” series, the R60/7 would always be overshadowed by its bigger brethren, BMW’s R75 and R100.

All BMW big block “airhead” twins share the same stroke, so the R60/7 was otherwise almost identical to the bigger-bore bikes. But for the carburetors, that is: the R60 used simple round-slide Bings rather than CVs. These also showed noticeable wear after just 6,000 miles, according to Cycle, which made carburetion “a bit imprecise.” And while the little Beemer would cruise at 80mph, it took 5,500rpm (of the maximum 7,200rpm) to do so, giving Cycle’s tester some mechanical concerns, concluding, however, that “the basic smoothness of the little boxer engine will convince anyone that all is well.”

Cycle also found the front springs had settled after their long-term test, giving the R60/7 a ride that felt “somewhat harsher than any BMW we have sampled.”

Even so, they said, it was, in common with other Beemers, the “most supple and comfortable ride in motorcycling.” And as the engine shared most stress-bearing components with the 70 horsepower R100, they concluded that “the smaller, less powerful R60/7 ought to last forever … the R60/7 owner … won’t live long enough to wear the motorcycle out.” MC