A Tale of Three Wings

Story by Graham Clayton, Glenn Roberts// Photos by Graham Clayton and Mondo Lulu
March 1 2013
Silver Goldwing Bobber

Tad McKillop’s Bobber Wing

Some 20 years or so ago, Tad McKillop bought a basket-case 1975 GL1000 Gold Wing for the price of a Thai dinner. The bike in question was acquired from a Honda mechanic friend who had pushed it too hard for too long, floated the valves, and consequently bent a few. Originally intending to rebuild the engine, McKillop’s friend had pulled the flat four and torn it down, but he never again found the time to work on it. He then purchased a new Wing, leaving his old bike to languish, all but forgotten. Much later, McKillop happened to see it and the deal was done.

McKillop completely rebuilt the engine, overhauled the bike, and then rode it – stock – for 18 years, putting in many a long-distance run. Then last winter, he felt a need to reinvigorate his ride. Having already built a few bobbers for friends (two Harleys and a Kawasaki KZ750), he found that they were great fun, so he decided to convert his Gold Wing into a bobber. The bobber had to be a lean, mean machine with a rolling weight pared down to around 210 kg.
While he initially considered extending the bike’s wheelbase, McKillop opted to leave it stock. The frame, however, would undergo major changes. These included creating a new, rigid rear end, cutting away some of the frame used to support the original, hidden fuel tank, then inserting a new backbone frame section to support a real, bobber-style gas tank. McKillop worked out the necessary angles and dimensions for the new frame sections in fairly short order, and after that, it was a matter of cutting the steel tubing and welding everything up. He used one-inch steel tube for the backbone, and put in extra gusseting on the front end to ensure that the frame had the desired rigidity and stiffness. The forks were retained, but they were fitted with Progressive Suspension springs and heavier-weight fork oil. The standard twin-disc front brakes were also retained, but the stock master cylinder was replaced with one from a CBR600. With its smaller-diameter piston, it yields both better feel and improved stopping power.

Balloon tires front and rear were part of the classic look that McKillop wanted. This entailed lacing up a 16-inch diameter, three-inch-wide Harley rim to the stock Gold Wing front hub, and fitting a 16 × 3-inch Henry Abe seven-star mag wheel at the back. The latter item, located on eBay, had been specially made for Gold Wings back in the 1980s.

Like a fair number of custom bike builders, McKillop likes to adapt parts from other bikes whenever possible. This keeps down the cost and can produce surprisingly good looks, to boot – more than a few of the new parts on the bobber are either original Harley-Davidson items or aftermarket bits made to fit Harleys. The saddle is a stock item from a 1975 Sportster, fitted with 4.5-inch chromed springs – and it delivers a surprisingly comfortable ride. The bike’s gas tank is a Mustang item made to fit a Sportster and painted with a pebbled finish. The image featured on the top of the tank is “Rat Fink,” one of Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s hot-rod cartoon creations. McKillop is a big fan of famous custom-bike builder Indian Larry, and his bobber creation draws on Larry’s influence.

The engine on McKillop’s bobber is stock, save for a slightly modified air cleaner set up to accept a K&N filter. A black cylinder on the right side of the engine, which is sometimes mistaken for a nitrous bottle, is actually a radiator overflow bottle fabricated out of a small fire extinguisher. The exhaust system, originally intended for use on a KZ750, was adapted to fit, but it was also modified with new baffles fabricated to enable the engine to breathe properly. The bike is definitely louder than any standard Gold Wing, emitting an exhaust note something like that of an old biplane engine.

The bike’s instrumentation is limited to a speedometer, oil light, coolant temperature gauge and a neutral indicator. A tachometer was felt unnecessary, given the type of riding planned with the bobber. Lighting consists of two over-the-counter, Harley-Davidson halogen driving lights at the front, and two small H-D turn signals converted to act as a tail and rear brake light. Total build time for this unique bobber was two months.

As for the riding position, McKillop says that it was a compromise, yet one that most people find comfortable. The handlebars – high-mounted, wide clip-ons – were another custom fabrication and seem to work well for both tall and short riders.

“Full up, with a fairing and bags, the bike would run all day at 85–90 mph on the highway, no problem,” says McKillop. Around town, the bike’s low centre of gravity makes it quite manageable, while on the highway it typically rolls along at a comfortable 105–115 km/h, so windblast is a non-issue. According to McKillop, the only time that the bike is not fun to ride is in the rain – the absence of a front fender, plus the bobbed rear fender, combine to make the experience “truly miserable.”

Given that the Gold Wing bobber is still a work in progress, this lone shortcoming should soon be rectified.

Greg Foresi’s Café Wing

A few years ago, Greg Foresi built this café-style Gold Wing to be an everyday rider and weekend play bike – something that he could jump on and have fun with whenever the mood struck him. Bought used as a project bike, the 1978 GL1000 has benefitted from a ground-up restoration, along with extensive, performance-enhancing modifications. The original build took four months, but over the past couple of years, Foresi has made a number of further upgrades and refinements.
Internally, the freshened-up engine is largely stock When Honda first introduced the GL1000 touring model in 1975, it was then the second-fastest streetbike built in Japan. Looking for more power, Foresi fitted the bike with a pair of dual-downdraft Weber 40 carbs, which were originally made for early Ferraris and Alpha Romeos. This was made possible by using Randakk custom manifolds, specially created for use on Gold Wings. Each carb was then fitted with a pair of screened, 4-inch aluminum velocity stacks. This performance modification, in turn, required the fabrication of two faux fuel-tank side panels with vertical inlets. To provide adequate clearance up the sides of the panels for the velocity stacks, Foresi used cut-to-fit PVC piping and a fibreglass repair kit.

The GL1000 now exhales through a pair of MAC headers fitted with megaphone mufflers. Foresi drilled eight half-inch holes into each megaphone’s performance baffle so that the bike could breathe better. The end result is dyno readings of 78 hp and 60 ft-lb. of torque.

The Gold Wing’s transmission is integrated into the engine and employs a shaft final drive with a gear ratio suited for highway riding. Wanting a peppier Wing, Foresi overcame this limitation by fitting a sidecar gear set made by a company in Chicago for ’78 and ’79 Gold Wings, which yielded a 3.70 final-drive ratio – and much better overall performance.

The frame was left stock, save for the removal of some of the unnecessary brackets; however, the suspension required considerable upgrading so that the Café Wing could be ridden more like a sportbike. This was achieved by fitting the relatively spindly stock forks with Progressive Suspension springs, 15-weight fork oil and a Markland fork brace. Sorting out the rear end entailed fitting a pair of high-performance Progressive Suspension shocks with lighter springs.
Having boosted the power output and handling potential of the bike, the next step was to improve its stopping power proportionately, so that it could be pulled down from speed safely. This was achieved by fitting a master cylinder with a smaller, 14 mm piston (versus the stock 17 mm), which improved brake feel and also allowed stronger two-finger braking. Foresi also drilled out the front rotors, which reduced the bike’s unsprung weight by 1.8 kg, and in the rear, he fit custom brake pads.

Foresi next turned his attention to the bike’s ergonomics. The stock twin saddle was replaced with a Corbin Gunfighter solo seat that gave the back of the bike a sleeker look, especially after the tail section was painted white to match the rest of the bike. This also prompted Foresi to shorten the rear fender by 11 cm and remove the standard taillight. The latter was replaced with a streamlined pair of taillights from a 1959 Cadillac.

Initially, the bike was fitted with a low-rise handlebar, but this detracted from the sporting look of the bike. Foresi installed a clubman handlebar, but this was not compatible with his original foot pegs, and the ergonomics were all wrong. This problem was solved by custom-fitting a pair of Tarozzi rearset foot pegs.
Foresi originally ran his bike with Honda Comstar wheels painted white, but he decided that spoke wheels would look more ’70s-period café. He then fit spoke wheels from a ’77 Gold Wing to get the desired look; however, at the front, this meant finding a solution for the speedo drive, which wasn’t compatible with the bike’s 1978 speedometer. This was a major challenge, but the necessary parts to make the conversion were sourced from Wingovations in Scotland.
By this point, the bike was largely the way that Foresi wanted it. He sourced a nine-inch National fly screen to provide some wind protection at speed, and attached a wire-mesh headlight protector, the oldest part on the bike, originally designed for use on a 1952 Jaguar.

Other finishing touches included the addition of an onboard stereo (after all, this is a Gold Wing), with speakers located in the space previously occupied by the standard air filter. Foresi says that he can’t really hear the sound system that much when he’s riding, though it drives people riding beside him nuts.
How does the bike perform? Foresi says that it runs great; it’s smooth and tractable, has plenty of oomph when needed, runs effortlessly at 120–130 km/h on the highway, and is a really nice handler on sweeping roads. After a few hundred kilometres in the saddle, his only problem is occasional sore wrists. Foresi has equipped his bike with a throttle-lock mechanism that allows him to flex his hands from time to time while underway. Most of his rides are well below 300 km, so this isn’t a problem for him; besides, he also has a 2006 Gold Wing for longer rides.

How does Foresi feel about his custom Wing? “Pleased with the outcome,” he says. So are others, apparently. The Naked Gold Wing Owners Club (NGW), an international club for owners of early, un-faired Gold Wings, voted Foresi’s bike their “Naked Gold Wing Bike of the Year” for 2012. A just reward for a job well done.

Paul Dutra’s Anti-Bling Wing

Silver Goldwing BobberI think it’s safe to say that when Paul Dutra picked up this Gold Wing, it looked different than it does here. Long-time Motorcycle Mojo reader Tom Moreau had owned this 1975 Wing since ’76, and for 10 years he enjoyed over 60,000 miles on it. He had grown attached to it, but setting aside the sentiment, Tom moved on to another bike, and the poor Gold Wing sat dormant in the corner of an airplane hangar for five years, naturally deteriorating as all good mechanical things do over time.

Watching it suffering a slow demise in that dusty corner, Moreau realized his Wing deserved a better ending. He didn’t want to see his faithful steed of so many years turned into scrap metal, so he asked yours truly if I knew of anyone who could give it a new lease on life; he just wanted it to go to a good home, and hopefully enjoy the open road again. Paul Dutra came to mind.

Moreau and Dutra talked, and in no time the Vetter Windjammer III fairing and Krauser bags were off, the triple tree clamps were loosened so the bike could be lowered on the forks, and once it looked like it would fit, the Wing was stuffed into the back of a Dodge Caravan for the trip to its new home.
Dutra takes a solo ride from his home in Southern Ontario to Los Angeles, California, every year; the previous summer, he rode a 1980 CB750 Café Dragster that he built. So why not ride the project at hand for his next trip?

Dutra’s initial thought was to bling the Wing as a café-style hot rod with candy metal-flake paint, throw a bunch of chrome at it and stitch up some nice, 18-inch laced wheels with chrome hubs, but time and budget weren’t on his side. Paul picked the Wing up in February, but by the time he got it on the chopping block, his scheduled departure to L.A. was fast approaching. He was pressed for time, with only a few weeks to complete the teardown and rebuild.

For those unaware, the Gold Wing doesn’t have a fuel tank in the traditional location; what looks like a gas tank is actually an air box and storage compartment. The fuel is stored under the seat, and that isn’t conducive to the café look that Dutra was going for, so this was the first thing he addressed. One of the problems he faced was the lack of a traditional backbone to mount a gas tank to. The other problem was finding a fuel tank that would mount on the Wing, and ensuring that it had enough capacity to feed the flat, four-cylinder, 1000 cc engine for extended periods of travel. He tried a number of different tanks, but settled on a rusty five-dollar tank from a Kawasaki KZ550 that had been sitting outside for 15 years.

After welding a new petcock into the side of the tank and knowing that the fuel system was complete, he moved on to the rear of the bike. He continued to chop the frame until there was none left, and then began to bend tubing for the right look and the proper ergonomics that would make him comfortable enough for the many hours needed to make it to SoCal and back.

Dutra easily lowered the front by raising the fork tubes in the triple trees. This left enough room at the top of the fork tubes to mount Tomesselli clip-ons at a comfortable height, but the major hack-and-slash at the rear end meant the original shocks were far too tall for the slammed look he was going for. Dutra chose 11-inch shocks for the rear.

He could see the end of the build in sight, and by now the bike had its own personality and was named El Guapo (loosely translated it means “the handsome one”). Hoping to attend a Thursday bike night and El Guapo’s maiden voyage, Dutra enlisted the help of friends Tim and Vinnie to lend a hand with some finishing touches.

Dutra’s first test ride was only two days before his scheduled departure to the west coast, and he found that once on road, the rear shocks were rubbing. New shocks were back-ordered and scheduled to arrive on departure day.

With no time to spare, Dutra got to work when the new shocks arrived, cutting and rewelding the mounting locations needed to fit them. After another quick, one-hour shakedown ride, Dutra slung a backpack over his shoulders and set off, chasing the sunset.

Dutra and El Guapo made it to SoCal and back in nine days, and Tom was able to see his old friend on the road once again.


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