The BEST model year for a Gold Wing? That’s a difficult one – since there are really no bad years for the Gold Wing. But realistically, you have two models (generations) to choose from – the GL1500 or GL1800. Which model is “best” will be based on personal preferences and budget. While either model is a very capable long-distance touring machine – there are significant differences, that will appeal to your likes and needs.
For most riders, the GL1800 is an all-around best choice. The GL1800 was introduced in 2001, so it may be the only choice if you have any concerns about the absolute age of your motorcycle.
Having said that – there is also a significant issue with the GL1800 – the potential for the frame cracking. Apparently, a process step was missed that resulted in incomplete welding in some areas of the aluminum frame design. However, there is a lifetime recall & repair program in place from Honda. It is also highly likely that the used GL1800 you are looking at has had this repair done, or inspected to verify all welds are good (read on for how to verify the repair). For those who would rather avoid any frame issues, a 2005 or newer GL1800 will be the choice. Also, if you do a lot of stop-and-go, commuter style driving then a 2006 or newer, with bigger radiators and fans, is a better pick.
The focus of the re-design resulting in the GL1800 had the intention of making it a sportier machine. This single design factor leads to a less cushy ride, but also provided better handling and engine performance. It is definitely a tradeoff compared with previous straight up touring designs.
The all-new aluminum frame has significantly more strength and is 25 lbs. lighter than the traditional tubular steel frame it replaced on the GL1500. Rigidity was boosted substantially, contributing to sportier handling dynamics. The driveshaft is contained in a single-swingarm design, this makes rear tire changes very easy and fast, similar to a car. This bike comes with a reverse gear to assist when you are getting out of a difficult parking position.
The engine was of course increase in size, fuel-injected and solid valve lifters used. This resulted in 118 HP and 120 ft-lbs. of torque, a noticeable gain over the GL1500. ABS brakes were an option, but they were bundled in a pricey options package. In 2007 the first airbag was an option on this motorcycle. The GL1800 is heavier then the GL1500, but it feels less top-heavy due to its design.
The 2009 model was the last to be manufactured in the USA. After 27 years the Gold Wing’s production line was moved to Japan. To date, an amazing 640,000 Gold Wings of all model types have been sold! The GL1800 has the same reputation for reliability that all previous Gold Wings have earned. Overall, a great choice.
GL1800 Frame Cracking
GL1800 introduced the all-new aluminum frame (similar to that fond n the CR series of motocross bikes).
The defect was reported in 2001 thru mid-2004 production models. The root cause was likely a manufacturing error, not in the frame’s design. Also, Honda offers a lifetime recall and repair program.
To be sure, take the VIN to any Honda dealer and they can check and confirm that the repair or inspection was completed, or not. Bikes that have had the repair were stamped on the VIN plate with a round punch mark (not the definitive method). Bottom line – verify recall & repair with Honda.
Considering a GL1500?
The GL1500 will appeal to riders looking for maximum comfort and better for riders with shorter legs. It uses the improved flat 6 engine design, similar to the GL1800. While it gained about 65 lbs. over the GL1200, the redesign made the center of gravity lower, so overall it felt lighter than the previous GL.
The GL1500’s engine uses hydraulic tappets, making it run quieter. Since hydraulic tappets are self-adjusting this eliminates another maintenance requirement and expense. As with the GL1800, an automotive-style alternator is externally mounted – making any service less complicated. The six-cylinder engine produces 100 HP and 110 ft-lbs. of torque, a noticeable gain over the GL1200.
All GL1500’s, other than the Interstate model, have a reverse gear.
The GL1500 was in production from 1988 thru 2001 – so there are many still on the road. Asking prices are generally lower due to relative age, but still with lots of useful life left.
Compared to the GL1800 however, the GL1500 will feel more top-heavy, has older style carburetors (versus fuel injection) and doesn’t handle as well overall, especially at slow speeds. While the frame is the traditional tubular steel variety, it is sturdy and no cracking issues have generally been reported.
Some Potential Shifting Issues
There have been reports of missed gear shifts (1st/2nd) and popping of 4rth gear. Bikes with this issue may have floorboards and a heel-n-toe shifter installed. Over time and with rough shifting, made worse by stomping on the heel of the shifter can cause transmission wear. To test drive the motorcycle in each gear, while giving is a good amount of throttle – if it pops out of gear, you have an expensive problem.
To prevent further wear consider installing a shifter shaft brace, made for the GL1500. This corrects a design flaw by adding proper support for the shifter cross shaft. It makes shifting much more solid and precise. A high-quality shaft brace is sold by – GL 1500 Auxiliary Shifter Pivot
What about Previous Gold Wings
GL1000, GL1100, GL1200
Certainly, there are older GL1000’s thru GL1200 models out there and some in great shape, with lots trouble-free miles left on the clock. However, the last GL1200 was produced in 1987, so you are getting well into vintage motorcycle territory with this choice. A nicely maintained specimen of this vintage could fill the spot for a rock-bottom budget ride, or even provide some nostalgia factor – especially fitted with a Craig Vetter’s iconic Windjammer fairing. This generation of Gold Wings employs the extremely reliable flat 4 engine design that was introduced on the original 1975 Gold Wing.
It wasn’t until the GL1100 that Honda produced a full-blown touring machine, with saddlebags and full fairing. GL1000 was only available as a “naked” motorcycle. The ready platform presented by the GL1000 spawned a significant aftermarket industry.
Accessories Worth Paying for…
Gold Wing owners love to add accessories, but how do you account for them when considering a used bike? First consideration – most accessories are typically a very personal choice. A good rule to follow – if you would not add the accessory yourself then it adds minimal value to the price you are willing to pay. Some accessories are actually just replacements for worn stock items and should be viewed that way.
Also, accessories depreciate much faster than the motorcycle itself.
For example, a 2006 base model Gold Wing, equipped with a sample range of aftermarket add-ons, such as chrome disk covers, heated grips, CB radio, etc. has the retaining only a 20% to 25% of their original list price. And this doesn’t include the cost of installation, shipping or taxes originally paid. In comparison, a 2006 base Gold Wing would retain up to 33% to 45% of its original value (MSRP), while accessories on the same bike would only hold 10% to 15% of the original cost.
In some cases, add-ons can even be a negative – for example, if you do not like bling, the item fit your dimensions, or possibly it’s a very low-end product. In these situations, if the seller has the original stock item that’s a bonus. Some research is required also to recognize quality brands by name versus low-end knock-offs. As with any purchase inspect and verify the accessory is in good working condition – especially true for electronics.
When evaluating take accessories as bonus items, that generally add relatively minor amounts to the overall asking price.
The 10 Year Rule
Just be aware when buying used – shops and dealers may have a policy against working on an older motorcycle, some call it the “The 10 Year Rule”.
It seems that certain motorcycle repair shops have a strict limit of only working on bikes 10 years old, or newer. Presumably, this is due to legal issues around servicing and be liabilities or based on general experience with older machines. It might be a regional issue or even an urban myth.
I have never run into it over the decades of riding. But check with any shop you may need to take it in for service, especially if it’s a Honda dealership. Parts availability is not as a big concern – but to be safe have a quick look online just to be sure standard parts are available and reasonably priced.
While there’s a lot of great value to be found in a well maintained, used Gold Wing – you must first evaluate what you need and will be happy with – before you go shopping. And as always, how well the motorcycle was cared for, in addition to models and vintage that fit your needs is key to finding the best Gold Wing for you.
Gold Wing Model Overview
GL1800 – 2001 to present
- 118 HP and 120 ft-lbs. of torque
- Curb Weight – 799 lbs.
- ABS, GPS, Air-Bag options
- More torque & HP than a GL1500
- Aluminum frame (2001 – 2004 potential frame cracking)
- Ergonomics – better for long legs
- Better low-speed handling, lower center of gravity than a GL1500
- Passenger better protection (wind buffeting)
- Harder on tires, front and rear than GL1500
- Rear tire changes easier single-sided swingarm
- Solid lifters & fuel injection
- 2005 and newer, no frame cracking issues
- 2006 had bigger radiators, slow speed overheating problem
GL1800 MANUALS – hardcopy
- CLYMER or HAYNES Repair Manual Amazon
- CLYMER or HAYNES Repair Manual eBay
- HONDA Factory Dealer Service & Parts Manual eBay
GL1500 – 1988 to 2000
- 100 HP and 110 ft-lbs. of torque
- Curb Weight – 794 lbs.
- More torque & HP than a GL1200
- Softer ride, than GL1800 or GL1200
- Lower center of gravity than a GL1200
- Stable and heavy great in the wind
- Top-heavy compared to GL1800
- Hydraulic lifters & carburetors
- Reverse via starter motor (not on Interstate)
- Passengers prefer this model for comfort
GL1500 MANUALS – hardcopy
- CLYMER or HAYNES Repair Manual Amazon
- CLYMER or HAYNES Repair Manual eBay
- HONDA Factory Dealer Service & Parts Manual
GL1200 – 1984 to 1987
- 94 HP and 77 ft-lbs. of torque
- Curb Weight – 728 lbs.
- Integrated alternators – costlier to repair (1200, 1100 & 1000)
- Engine refinements & cosmetic changes
- CLYMER GL1200 Repair Manual, 1984 – 1987 (hardcopy)
GL1100 – 1980 to 1983
- 81 HP and 65 ft-lbs. of torque
- Curb Weight – 683 lbs. Aspencade, 589 lbs. “naked” bike
- Minor cosmetic changes
- Full touring model introduced
- GL1100 Repair Manuals (hardcopy)
GL1000 – 1975 to 1979
- 78 HP and 61 ft-lbs. of torque
- Curb Weight – 602 lbs. “naked” bike
- Stripped down, no touring accessories from Honda
- GL1000 Repair Manuals (hardcopy)