How a spider-webbed 1983 Honda taught me to just ’wing it

Kyle Smith

There are literally a dozen vehicles in my possession right now. That’s a problem. The most interesting part of this predicament is not how many of them don’t run, need parts, or are mothballed. No, the problem is that my current favorite is the one to which I show the least love. A clunker of a machine that asks for things, doesn’t get them, and continues to function anyway. The one-way relationship I have with the brown-over-brown 1983 Honda Goldwing that was initially purchased as a joke is unlike the dynamic I’ve had any other vehicle in my ownership, and it is now the most stable. How did we get here?

The ’wing is a big touring machine that had all the bells and whistles for the 1983 model year. The Aspencade badges on its side once distinguished this two-wheeled beast as the top trim, an object that deserved respect. Now those badges are filthy and nearly falling off. The seals on the luggage are crumbling and the engine seals are doing little better. “In rough shape” would be describing it kindly. The thing is, though, the Goldwing starts every time I turn the key and push the button. I did tires and brakes when I brought it home, so it’s safe to ride. So this bike gets ridden, unlike nearly everything else in the garage.

Goldwing in winter
If it’s warm enough to have the roads clear, I’ll ride. The big fairing makes even 35-degree weather tolerable. Kyle Smith

The Six Ways to Sunday race bike runs, yes, but it is a specialized tool for the time being. It only comes out for races and spends the rest of the time being prepped for the next event. The cars are both in various phases of “being worked on”—both run, but neither is safe to drive. The Corvair needs exhaust and the Model A needs … well, a lot more than that. The other random smattering of motorcycles all needs this or that, be it an oil change or fresh tires or complete reassembly.

Goldwing on lift
The one time this bike received service in my ownership. Fresh brakes and tires, and then it’s all about riding. Kyle Smith

Meanwhile, the Goldwing lurks outside in the carport, slowing becoming more of a spider lodge than a motorcycle. When I need to go somewhere and don’t want to look like a high-end plumber in my Red Hot Chevrolet Express, I throw on my helmet and take the Goldwing. The carb balance is horrible, which means that slow-speed maneuvers take concentration, and the whole thing is dirty enough that anywhere I park it, I assume folks think it’s abandoned. Yet I keep coming back to it.

The Goldwing model was always a bit of a joke to me. A lumbering behemoth masquerading as a motorcycle. It was a cult that was to be laughed at and never taken seriously. Then the realization arrived: If these things suck so much, how have they been selling for nearly 40 years? Maybe it was time to try one out and make up my own mind instead of laughing at jokes on the internet. Now I only wish I would have done it sooner.

goldwing right side
Kyle Smith

The damn thing is fantastic, even as junky as this one is. This impulse purchase is a pain to work on, and difficult to move if it’s not running. The color scheme writes its own jokes. Luckily, none of this matters once you’re perched atop the quilted seat. The ’wing carries its heft well, and if you know how to ride a motorcycle, this Honda belies its nearly 900 pound curb weight. Sure, I absolutely adored the new one when we tested it a few months ago out in California, but the real struggle in my mind on the flight home to Michigan was whether the broken heap in my carport was, in fact, really good. It is certainly better that its $450 purchase price insinuates. My ’83 possesses all the functionality I adored in the new model without being so over-the-top luxurious.

Maybe the love affair centers around the fact the bike is junky enough that I don’t feel bad about the spider webs and dirt that cover it. A while back, a friend was visiting. In the midst of shuffling projects, the ’wing got tipped in the driveway and crunched down on its right side. My friend was immediately apologetic—but I couldn’t do anything but laugh. Not only did the bike emerge from its tumble unscathed, I was completely unfazed as I watched it fall. Not being a parent, is this the feeling of watching your child fall knowing that they will get right back up and be fine? Sure felt like that.

goldwing on side of road
Kyle Smith

The bike is infinitely usable, too. The hard luggage might not be watertight anymore, but the set has carried its fair share of car and motorcycle parts from one place to another for various reasons. Running errands is a delight when straddling the flat-four engine. For every time I debate selling the bike or somehow sending it down the road, the argument returns to one simple feeling: It’s fun to have around.

Is it particularly cool? No.

Interesting mechanically? Not really.

Need a bunch of work to be really nice? Uh huh.

Fun as all get-out? ABSOLUTELY.

We should all have a vehicle like this, one that only brings joy and asks for very little in return. If you are lucky, that ride might fulfill more than this bare-minimum criteria. Who am I to ask for more than that, though? I should just ’wing it more often.

Prioritize fun over everything. It’s a lot more fun to not have to stress about the thing and just enjoy the ride. Try it sometime.

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    I had a 1982 Interstate that I road to work most days for over 12 years back when I lived in New Mexico. I purchased it for $2500 with 37,000 miles on it and sold it for $2000 with over 100,000 miles on it when I retired. I hated to sell it but did not want to pay to ship it back east. Seriously, everything that it had on it still worked, cruise control, AM/FM, auto reverse cassette deck, intercom, and CB radio. As you said, it wasn’t cool like a Hyabusa, but all it ever asked for, and got, was to be ridden, oil & filter change, brakes, tires & that was it. I could go on but all I can say is what a pleasure it was and what a fine example of Japanese engineering it was.

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