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1984-1987 Honda GL1200 Aspencade

  • Years produced 1984-1987
  • Claimed power  86hp @ 7,000rpm
  • Top speed 118mph
  • Engine 1,182cc (75.5mm x 66mm) liquid-cooled SOHC flat four
  • Weight 769lb (with half-tank fuel)
  • Price then/now $7,898 (1984)/ $2,500-$7,000

Honda’s Gold Wing was flying high in the 1980s. The second-generation GL1100 model became the first factory full-fairing Japanese tourer in Interstate and luxurious Aspencade versions. Sales were booming; and the made-in-Marysville, Ohio, Wing avoided Reagan-era import tariffs.

It is doubtful designer Shoichiro Irimajiri anticipated his 1974 shaft drive flat-four would evolve into the luxury liner it later became. The first production GL1000 Gold Wing was a sporty naked bike, but with many automotive features, like belt-drive overhead cams and liquid cooling — the first Japanese 4-stroke to use either.

It soon became clear that the GL was less successful as a sport bike, but was capable of comfortably eating up vast distances on fast roads. Before long, owners were fitting large fairings for weather protection — often the Windjammer from aerodynamics guru Craig Vetter. Honda got with the program in 1980, offering a factory installed fairing on its GL1100 Interstate. The package included a built-in stereo sound system, saddlebags and top box.

The even more luxurious Aspencade was launched in 1982 with a larger seat and more storage. Meanwhile, the other three Japanese makers were gearing up to siphon off some of Honda’s sales. First was the Kawasaki Voyager XIII, built around the monstrous KZ1300 inline six.

Then came Yamaha’s sophisticated Venture Royale V-four. And Suzuki’s GV1400 Cavalcade followed in 1985. Fortunately, the growing touring market meant there were enough sales to go round. As the pioneer and brand leader, the Gold Wing was the bike to beat — but engine-wise, the GL1100 was also the small bike in the bunch.

So for the 1984 season, Honda bored and stroked their flat four as far as they dared, to produce a 1,200cc unit with taller gearing to reduce noise and vibration at cruising speeds. Other improvements included a hydraulic clutch, hydraulic valve actuation, smaller diameter cast-alloy wheels for nimbler handling, and a stronger frame. The engine was also moved forward and canted upward by three degrees to improve weight distribution with a full load. But in the luxury touring market, a capable engine, competent chassis and reliability were pretty much taken for granted. For perhaps the first time in motorcycling history, the focus was not on performance, but on rider — and especially passenger — comfort. Power only needed to be, as Rolls-Royce used to say about their cars, “sufficient.”

The GL1200 was available in standard (no fairing), Interstate and plush Aspencade models, the last adding a digital LCD dash with combined AM/FM radio/cassette player (remember those?) and rider/passenger intercom. Passenger floorboards on the Aspencade replaced the Interstate’s footpegs, and the fairing incorporated a powered compressor for the air-adjust suspension and for tire inflation. Brakes were linked (the foot pedal also worked on one front disc), and turn signals were self-canceling. All this sat behind a new fairing integrated into the bodywork, together with two hard bags, a top-box trunk (with illuminated make-up mirror), passenger armrests and storage pouches. A digital voltmeter, CB radio and extra chrome trim were options.

“The whole package is now a unit, not an assembly,” wrote Cycle World in 1984. “Nothing rattles, wobbles, bobs or bounces.”

But with its ever-more sophisticated competition, was the Wing still the Gold standard?

In 1986, Road Rider magazine conducted a two-up, four-way comparo between the Wing and its Japanese competitors.

None of the bikes ran away much from the others, and the Gold Wing was consistently in the mix. Points of criticism centered on the seat (too narrow and too firm) and its “high speed washing machine” engine noise.

“When all was said and done,” they wrote, “the Honda … was viewed by the test team as the machine that pays the most attention to the intangible details … this bike has been refined to a point where minor nits rarely bring themselves to the owner’s attention.”

“It is an allrounder, a comfortable, stable touring bike that does everything well.” MC

Contenders: Alternative touring bikes to the Honda GL1200

Contender: Kawasaki ZG1300 Voyager XIII (1984-1986) and ZG1200 Voyager XII (1986-1989)

  • 117hp @ 7,500rpm / n/a /109mph / 109mph
  • 1,286cc (62mm x 71mm) liquid-cooled DOHC inline six / 1,196cc (78mm x 62.6mm) 16-valve, liquid-cooled DOHC inline four
  •  909lb (half tank) / 772lb (full tank)
  •  $8,299, $7,399/ $3,000- $7,000, $2,500-$7,000

Two very different engines powered the Voyager through the 1980s: adapting the KZ1300 six-pot motor allowed the Green Guys to dip their toes in the luxury touring marker without the development costs of a new engine. But in spite of digital fuel injection and selectable engine modes (revolutionary stuff for 1984), the dated powerplant was dropped for 1986. A new 1,200cc 16-valve inline four carved 137 pounds off the Voyager’s heft while offering similar performance. Said Cycle Guide of the XII, “It possesses that elusive combination of agility and stability, and teams it with an engine that provides a smooth, strong unbroken flow of horsepower with every twist of the throttle.” CG also chose the ZG1200 as their touring Bike of the Year in 1986.

Road Rider was less gushing in their 1986 four-bike comparo, “this machine breaks no dramatically new ground in the touring field; instead, it has taken the best of what has gone before.”

1985-1988 Suzuki GV1400 Cavalcade

  • 112hp @ 7,000rpm/115mph
  • 1,360cc (81mm x 66mm) liquid-cooled DOHC 82-degree V-four
  • 848lb (full tank)
  • $9,299 (LXE: 1986)/$2,500-$6,000

Suzuki was late to the luxury touring party and first to leave. Though shy of the ZG1300’s heft, the Cavalcade became the biggest and most ponderous of the class when Kawi’s slimmer ZG1200 arrived in 1986. And while the GV14 featured (in LX and LXE models) a similar wealth of mod cons and comfort features, it did add some of its own — especially for the passenger.

Three air pockets in the seat and backrest (with two for the driver) were adjustable with the on-board compressor; the passenger seat slid fore and aft; and the co-pilot’s footboards were angle adjustable.

Said Rider magazine in 1986, “The Cavalcade is an outstanding motorcycle for touring, with comfort, power, load capacity and luxury features that make it a new and distinctive choice …”

So the Cavalcade could hold its own and then some. But the luxo-market was already full of similarly competent cruisers, already with loyal followers. The Cavalcade was slower, heavier and more complex mechanically, so necessarily more expensive — pushing into H-D Tour Glide territory. By 1988 it was gone.


On the Market: 1985 Honda GL1200 Aspencade/ $2,599

Gold Wings from the 1980s aren’t too hard to find, but finding a really nice one is getting to be a bit more of a challenge. Ten years ago they were everywhere, but as they’ve become more and more affordable, it seems they’ve been treated with less care. We found two decent Aspencades in our search. The first was a 1984 with just over 70,000 miles on eBay, listed by R/J Performance in Ottumwa, Iowa, with a Buy It Now price of $2,495. The second is the bike you see here, which we found on Cycle Trader, listed by Mount Rushmore Motorsports in Rapid City, South Dakota. A 1985 model with just under 59,000 miles, it appears to wear its original paint. A few chrome bits like the brake pedal and some fasteners show some surface rust, but overall, at $2,599, it looks like a deal.

Published on Aug 7, 2020

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