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.


| September/October 2016



Under the Radar

Honda GL500 Silver Wing Interstate

Photo by Jerry Carter

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.





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