Let's hop into the time machine and head back to 1972. Harley-Davidson, Moto Guzzi, and BMW were leading the way in the U.S. with motorcycles built for distance. Long distance riding was a newfound craze here and the 3 big manufactures mentioned above had jumped on the new trend early. Before the GL, there was no great option for a cruiser. The Harley option was high maintenance and high vibration. The Moto-Guzzi and BMW options were much smoother and more reliable compared to the Harley, but the high price point steered people away.
Three years prior, Honda released the SOHC CB750, but that couldn't compete with the current models built for comfort and distance. They hit the drawing board with the sole purpose of designing a long-distance motorcycle built around comfort.
Fast forward to 1975 and the release of the Honda Gold Wing GL1000. Honda did it! It was a purpose-built touring bike that swept the nation. What was originally intended to be a large sport motorcycle was quickly reworked into the touring king, and we're glad they went the direction they did. The 999cc flat four, shaft driven engine was the perfect platform. It offered smooth, reliable power while being a fairly quiet running bike. The folks behind the GL may not have known it at the time, but they changed the motorcycle industry for the better. More than 90,000 GL1000's were sold in the U.S. between 1975-1979, and those numbers kept climbing with the release of new GL models in the coming years.
Today you'll find the early Gold Wings in many forms, ranging from stock to stripped down cafe racers. These bikes have stood the test of time and continue to provide the comfort and power they were built to have back in the 70s.
We recently received a message from a vintage enthusiast and fan of Old Bike Barn with a compelling story and a few photos of a pristine GL1000. A few words stuck out to us when reading through the message "$500 Goldwing and Cross Country" after reading that, we had to know more. Without further ado, let's dive in!
Let's start with the basics, What’s your name and where are you from?
I'm Eric Group and I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I've lived here for about 15 years, ever since a I moved away to college. I grew up in rural Adams County, PA.
Give us the backstory on how you got into motorcycles.
I never really thought about getting a motorcycle until the end of my sophomore year in college. Rather than studying for finals, I picked up the motorcycle license instruction book from the local PennDOT and took my permit test. That summer, I signed up for the two-week safety course to earn my motorcycle license. On the last day of class, I showed up on my own bike. That bike became pretty much my only form of transportation, as my sister and I shared a car. All summer, I rode it to my part-time job, and I even took it on several 4-plus hour trips across the state to visit friends and to the beach. It was my freedom machine.
What was your first motorcycle?
My first bike was a 2003 Suzuki Savage LS650. I bought it 5 years old with just 2,075 miles on it. The Savage is an awesome bike to start with. It is as nimble as a 250, but with a 650cc single cylinder thumper engine. The couple selling mine also had a silver '02 Savage that my father ended up owning. He kept the bike wholly stock, while mine... not so much. After a year of prideful ownership, I finally did what all motorcyclists will do, and I stuffed it on some loose gravel coming home one night. After that, I considered selling the bike, but it was basically worthless in that condition. I started gradually fixing it up on the cheap. It became your basic "rat bobber": rattle-can flat black, eBay turn signals and mirrors, pod air filters, and a louder exhaust. Then I wrecked it again, and a few more times after that. I laid that bike over more times than I'd like to admit, usually doing something stupid. Each time, I rebuilt it a little differently. I was taking Tech classes at college, and I would use the metals lab to make various motorcycle parts. I still have the Savage, and it is my favorite.
You had mentioned to us you purchased a Goldwing for $500... Could you give us the backstory on the bike and how you came to own it for just $500?
In late 2015, I was toying with the idea of doing a cross country trip the next summer. I mentioned the trip idea to my father, but at the time, I didn't really have a bike to do it on. I had the Suzuki Savage, a Honda CX500, and another Honda GL1000 that I had turned into a cafe racer. Apparently, he brought up my plan for a cross country trip while hanging around the local shop. Someone there mentioned that his brother's-uncle's-sister's-
Were there any major issues that needed tending to?
Having owned another GL1000, I was pretty familiar with what I had gotten myself into. I bought the bike in February and was planning on driving across the country in June, so I wanted to go through every aspect of the bike to make it bulletproof. I did a proper long layup procedure to lube things and break the rings loose. I replaced the timing belts and tensioners with sealed roller bearings, got a new battery, regulator/rectifier, spark plugs, head gaskets, cam seals, valve seals, lapped the valves, and set the valve lash. The water pump had some play in it, so I replaced it with an aluminum impeller and a full front engine sealing kit and bolts from Randakk's Cycle Shack. I also rebuilt the carburetors with Randakk's rebuild kit. I cleaned the 20 year old gas out of the tank and removed rust from inside with homemade electrolysis, added new fuel lines and fuel filters. I flushed the cooling system and replaced the radiator hoses, changed the oil and the rear gear oil. I rebuilt the brakes, forks, and ditched the blown-out air shocks for a set of shorter Emgo shocks. All electrical connections were cleaned and greased, I replaced the dog-bone type main fuse with a blade fuse, and I soldered the connections for the stator. They have a habit of melting the connector block and taking the whole charging system out. Replacing the stator is an engine-out job, not something I wanted to have to do 1000 miles from home. I got high powered Dyna coils and replaced the points with a Dyna S electronic ignition for reliability. I even replaced the headlight and all six of the brake light bulbs with LEDs to reduce the load on the charging system.
There is basically nothing on this bike that I didn't touch, short of splitting the case open. I learned a lot about these bikes from the Naked GoldWings Club site NGWClub.com, Randakk's Cycle Shack, and GoldwingDocs.com. The experts there have helped immensely with giving advice and troubleshooting any problems that cropped up.
You also mentioned you have done 2 cross country trips on this bike, could you give us some notable road stories?
I was in my first year of teaching in 2016 and was joking around with a friend, who is also a teacher, about what to do with our time off in the summer. We started out planning to visiting friends in Virginia and North Carolina; then extended it to New Orleans; he had a friend in Tuscon, AZ; I knew someone in Los Angles and Denver, CO. The trip kind of grew on its own, totaling over 27 days and 13,000 miles from Pennsylvania to California and back.
We left in the middle of June. It was about the hottest time of year to try to do a motorcycle trip. The heat was just so miserably hot for us and for the bikes. Despite having replaced the water pump and flushed the radiator, the old Wing did like to run high on the temp gauge. That issue was accentuated by the heat in the South and Southwest. In Deals Gap, NC, I discarded the chrome radiator guard before tackling the Tail of the Dragon. Riding across Texas, I dumped water on the radiator while riding, dropping the temperature out of the red. Again, in Nevada, traveling across the Mojave Desert where the air temp was around 120F, water poured on the engine boiled off immediately. My buddy's Suzuki Boulevard s90 was an air-cooled v-twin. It fared better, but it would still have to be shut off sitting in traffic sometimes.
His bike also had a 3.5 gallon gas tank, which limited our range to about 150 miles. Driving through the Southwest, we had planned to top off the tanks before passing from New Mexico into Arizona, but the only gas station in Rodeo, NM looked to have been abandoned some years before. Sure enough, 25 miles from the nearest town, the Suzuki's tank went empty. Luckily, he carried a spare gallon gas can, and we were able to make it to the border.
After that first trip, we kinda caught the bug and wanted to do another one the next summer. By this time, my friend and I had both gotten a little more involved with our girlfriends/future wives, so we worked out a vacation where they could join us along the way. We would ride down the east coast, but this time the girls would fly down and meet us in Clearwater, FL where he had family, then we planned to continue on to Key West before heading back, over 5000 miles total. We followed a similar route south so that we would again stay with friends and family. In North Carolina, his bike developed a misfire and dropped battery voltage. It turns out that the stator was fried. Fortunately, we were staying with his grandfather, so he ordered parts to be shipped to the house. Rather than sit around for two days, we made a plan to rent a bike and head west to run on the Tail of the Dragon, then backtrack to repair his bike. After putting 500 miles on a brand-new Street Glide, we returned to change the Suzuki's stator in the driveway and were off again.
During those trips were there any issues you ran into with the bike?
The Goldwing was the most reliable bike on both trips. It never broke down or left me sit. It is no surprise, since these bikes set the standard for touring motorcycles. Even after returning home, I put Goldwing into regular service as commuter doing 400 miles a week.
We find when doing big cross country trips like that you tend to learn something, whether it's a roadside trick or even something about yourself. Was there any notable take away from your trips?
- Get up early. There were too many days I regretted wasting time by sleeping in or dawdling in the morning. When you start late, the traffic is worse, the weather is much hotter, and you don't have time to do all the things you want to do. Although you may only have 5 hours of riding planned, that will likely take 7 or 8 hours with stops for food, fuel, and sightseeing. It's a real bummer to drive 500 miles just to show up to a place 30 minutes before they close.
- Stay hydrated. You lose so much water through sweating. I used a camelback-type water bladder that fit into a compartment in the Goldwing's fairing so that I could drink while riding. I drank up to two liters of water every 150 miles. Also, ask at the gas station attendants if you can refill with ice and water from the soda fountains. Buying bottled water is wasteful and expensive.
- Bring snacks. Riding all day is exhausting, especially with the heat and traffic. We absolutely got "hangry" with each other, which is not how you want to spend the adventure of a lifetime. Things like beef jerky and granola bars that don't melt ,and you can keep withing reach while riding. I liked to pick up local delicacies like cracklins and cajun fried peanuts.
- Avoid eating out. Having breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a restaurant could cost more than a decent hotel room. Plus, each meal can take at least an hour. Try to book hotels that have a free breakfast or an AirBnB that has a kitchen or grill to make your evening meal while you unwind for the night. Fast food is inevitable, but when we did dine in, I liked to try some of the local flavor.
- Have a plan, but be flexible. We started with a general idea of where we were going and when but didn't have every stop figured out. Sometimes we would be booking a place to stay only a day or two out.
- Keep a journal. I kept track of dates, mileage, and costs, but I also wrote a little about what we did each day to go along with the pictures I took. It's great to read back through that journal now and remember how amazing of a time it really was.
We definitely recommend hitting the road and doing a big cross country trip. There are so many good roads and cool things to see across the country. What were some of your favorite stops along the way?
The Tail of the Dragon in Deals Gap, NC is a must for all motorcyclists. I thoroughly enjoyed scraping pegs, and sometimes exhaust, while throwing a 600 pound Goldwing around those tight turns. The Blue Ridge Parkway and Cherohala Skyway are worth visiting near there. Also in Maggie Valley is the Wheels Through Time Museum, a massive collection of early 20th century motorcycles and cars. The owner, Dale, will talk the ear off of anyone caught in his orbit and is likely to fire up an antique board tracker or ride by on a 1930s Indian. The Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, AL is an absolutely amazing place. I cannot say enough about how incredible it was. The scale and variety of the bikes in the building is beyond belief. I was happy to find a 1975 Honda Goldwing perched prominently on the top floor.
I really enjoyed the different scenery driving across the South and Southwest, seeing the change from forests to chaparral to desert to mountains. Riding through the mesas and canyons in Utah and over the Rocky Mountains should be on any cross-country bucket list. The Grand Canyon; Moab, Arches, and Brice canyon in Utah. Even just driving through the desert is an experience. There are so many other towns and sights worth visiting: NOLA; Galviston Island, TX; Tombstone and Bisbee, AZ; Really, every town has its merits if you take the time to explore.
What's next for you? Any big trips planned as fall begins to creep up on us?
No big trips planned for this fall. Covid has put a damper on any plans for this year. Next year I'll be getting married, and we are looking for a house. I do want to go West again, this time on a northern route through the Dakotas, see Yellowstone, visit friends in Seattle. I always wanted to drive old Route 66 across the US and ride the Pacific Coast Highway.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us Eric!