Sitting on the USS Eisenhower in the Med during the fall of 1983 I decided that I wanted a motorcycle. I liked the idea of a fairing and saddle bags but I’m too short for a Goldwing. I could just touch my toes on both sides of the Silverwing so in April 1984 I bought one and got a Motorcycle endorsement on my license.
Lot’s of good memories from this bike and a few sour ones.
The GL500 Silverwing was a variant of the CX series motorcycles. It was a mid-sized touring bike based on the CX500 engine. Its liquid cooled V-twin drove the rear wheel via a low-maintenance shaft drive on the right side of the bike. The saddle bags were easy to remove. The trunk could be swapped for a passenger seat.
Overall it was a fun and reliable ride. It served me for a little over 88,000 miles over 6 years. I replaced it with another Silver 1982 Honda Silverwing in 1990 that had about 20,000 miles on it. (I’ll talk about that bike in this post because I don’t have any photo’s of it to support a separate post.)
Between purchasing the bike and my discharge from the Navy in May 1985 I rode most weekends all over the Tidewater area of Virginia and North Carolina. One of the nicest rides was on the Colonial Parkway between Jamestown & Yorktown
First extended ride was a day trip down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with some of my shipmates. First parking lot drop was in the parking lot where I took the CJ7 photo in my previous post (on the day I took that photo).
Shortly after I bought the bike we took a Caribbean / North Atlantic cruise (Lisbon, Portsmouth, Brest) to participate in the festivities marking the 40th anniversary of D-Day. The primary purpose of the cruise was so that we (the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower) would be visible over President Reagan’s shoulder as he talked about General Eisenhower.
Before the D-Day anniversary celebration we made a port call in Portsmouth England. Our Liberty Launches were docking next to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. It happened that we were there the day that Queen Elizabeth came down to Portsmouth for the grand opening of the Mary Rose Museum.
Queen Elizabeth. Portsmouth England
After that cruise and a weeks leave, on July 2nd I finally got to take the Motorcycle Safety Course that was required to get a permanent base sticker on a Motorcycle. I’d already put about 1800 miles on the bike and was feeling like a reasonably accomplished rider. On July 4th I stood duty. On July 5th I submitted a chit to request reenlistment. On July 6th I got the day off as compensation for having stood duty on July 4th. I rode up to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. I decided to go back to the ship by way of Warwick Blvd because I wanted to stop at the Red Wing Shoes store to buy a pair of boots with better ankle support.
That was a fateful decision. As I rode through Newport News a pickup truck ran a stop sign and I went down. I bounced a few times on my left knee, damaged the patella and put a small tear in my ACL. This was the beginning of the end of my Navy career. The reenlistment request was not approved and I got to experience Military medical care.
Not knowing that the Navy would pay for a civilian Emergency Room I had the ambulance take me to the nearest military hospital (Langley Air Force Base (AFB)). They took an X-Ray of my knee and sent me back to my ship without looking at it. Navy protocol was that if the ship was in port a sailor that needed to be confined to sick bay should be sent to the Navy Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. I’d been sent back to the ship by the Air Force Hospital so they didn’t send me to the Navy Hospital. A few days later we pulled out of port for a dependents cruise. When we came back in I was still confined to sick bay and they finally sent me to the Navy Hospital.
The following spring when they offered me a medical discharge I took it, applied for admission to the University of Arizona, sold the CJ7 and bought a 1968 Dodge A100 Van (next weeks chapter).
The minor accident in the CJ7 occurred the day I was moving off the Eisenhower into limited duty housing at the hospital. A couple of months after the CJ7 accident a Navy lawyer contacted me for a statement. It turned out the police had found the (Air Force dependent) pickup truck driver. He admitted to running the stop sign and leaving the scene of the accident. Even though I had his paint on my helmet they didn’t cite him. As fate goes he was insured by the same company as the owner of the Toyota that hit my CJ7 and I drew the same adjuster. The insurance settlement covered a fair portion of my first two years of college.
After my discharge I decided to spend some time traveling. I headed down the East Coast to Key West.
If you look closely at the photo you can see the two accessories I added. The first is a set of engine crash guards. The second is an extension frame that let me have the rear seat and the storage trunk installed at the same time.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks I rode up to Illinois, down to Mississippi and up to Missouri. A couple of days before I got to Missouri I found out that I’d been admitted to the University of Arizona and decided I was going to leave the bike with a Navy buddy who lived in Jefferson City.
Northwest of Cape Girardeau there’s a really great motorcycle road, Missouri Route 8. I drove it headed northwest toward central Missouri. Shortly before the road enters Saint James there’s a sweeping left turn. I got into the marbles on the shoulder and decided to step off the bike rather then run the risk of hitting one of the half dozen or so vintage Mustangs in the driveway in front of me.
Missouri Route 8, aka the view with 25,000 miles on the odometer
The photo above is not the curve I failed to negotiate. It wasn’t any sharper, I. just entered it too close to the edge.
I left the bike in Jefferson City, flew back east to get the van, picked up the bike and headed to Tucson. I sold the van shortly after arriving in Tucson to a lady that was moving to Las Vegas and needed to transport her Harley.
For most of my time in Tucson the Silverwing was my primary transportation.
It served me when it snowed
And when it was hot.
I took several cross country trips during my time in Tucson.
In August 1987 my sister took my father to Washington DC for his birthday to see a Klezmer Music show at the Smithsonian. I rode up from Tucson to surprise him.
When my brother got out of Boot Camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center I rode up to see him and got knocked off the bike in Normal, IL just down the road from the factory that Rivian is now using. At the time it was being used by the Chrysler – Mitsubishi joint venture Diamond Star Motors. The insurance adjuster suggested that I could fix the fairing by plastic welding and then the damage assessment would be low enough that he wouldn’t have to total the bike.
Christmas of 1988 I rode to Oakland, CA by way of San Diego with my roommate. We hit snow Christmas Eve in the mountains along I-8 and ended up calling his mom to come up from San Diego to get us. He drove me back up into the mountains the next day to recover the bike. When I got to Oakland there was an ice storm. By this point I was proficient at balancing two wheels on slippery road, but it was still nerve wracking.
In August 1989 I decided to go to Edwards AFB to see a Space Shuttle Landing. I said above that this was a reliable ride. This trip is the one time the bike let me down. It was probably induced damage and not truly a reliability or maintenance issue. Pulling out of a gas station in Needles, CA I brushed the rear hub of the drive shaft against a curb. It looked fine so I kept going. 140 miles later, a little after 5 pm (on a Saturday), I reached the exit for Barstow, CA. As I took the exit I downshifted and hit a false neutral. I shifted back into the gear I’d been in and it still wasn’t pulling. I coasted into the gas station across the highway from the bottom of the ramp, borrowed a phone book and called up the local Honda Motorcycle dealer. I caught the mechanic just as he was headed out the door (for a one week vacation).
He came across town with a trailer, dropped me off at a motel and came in the next morning to work on my bike. It turned out that the drive gear in the rear hub was completely stripped. I must have knocked the seal loose when I brushed the curb.
If any of you have ever made that drive you know that there is nothing between Needles and Barstow. If I’d downshifted at any point in between that’s where I would have stopped.
By 1989 that drive shaft assembly was unobtanium unless you lucked into one in a salvage yard. My luck held. The shop had recently bought a parts bike (front end damage) with a good drive shaft assembly. He had me back on the road by noon (on Sunday) at a very reasonable price. I missed the 6:37 am Shuttle landing but I still had my ride. I wouldn’t actually manage to see a Shuttle landing until STS-49 (Endeavor’s first flight) in May 1992.
In Dec 1989 I graduated from college and moved to Los Angeles for my first professional job (Rockwell in Downey, CA to help deliver Endeavor). Shortly there after I dropped the bike in a parking lot on the Pacific Coast Highway. The lot wasn’t level and by the time my foot reached the ground the bike had too much momentum. The fairing was beyond repair so I started looking for a donor bike. Within a week I found another Silver 1982 Honda Silverwing for $800. I sold the original bike for $400. Not a bad upgrade. I put about 10,000 miles on that bike before deciding that my luck was going to run out if I kept riding in the LA basin.
Living in LA I had changed my criteria for a close call on the bike to I actually made contact but I didn’t go down. That fall (1990) I had three within the span of a couple months. In late Aug I was leaving Dodger Stadium when a BMW stopped short in front of me and I hit his rear bumper. Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend I was coming back from Las Vegas on I-15 when the car next to me drifted into the right rear corner of the car in front of me. I squeezed between the car in front of me and the concrete median just before the car behind me slammed into him. I’m not sure there was actual contact but the gap I went thru was narrower then my saddle bags when I aimed for it. The next day as I was headed home from work my handlebar got caught in the wheel well of a lifted 4×4. A few weeks later I saw an ad for someone buying Goldwing’s, Silverwing’s and Interceptor’s to ship to a courier service in Ireland. I sold the bike for a little more then the original purchase price which would count as a profit if you ignored what I spent on deferred maintenance when I bought it.
I was done with motorcycles, but the summer of 1992 shortly after I bought my second boat (possibly a future dockside classic) I was looking at an outboard for my tender and the seller had a 1983 Honda Silverwing. The improved GL650 model. I bought it, but after watching it sit in the marina parking lot for 3 months while I chose to sail instead of ride I sold it.
Very nice! I have a picture of myself in that very spot in Key West! Those CX’s were reliable as a anvil, still to this day would love to find a turbo version!
At first I wondered how you put nearly 90k miles on a motorcycle, but you showed me how. It seems so many bikes get low use and have low miles for their age, but you really used this one.
Quick math says that I rode the first one in 24 different US states and 2 foreign countries (Canada & Mexico on the same trip)
Great story, and great bike! I have a soft spot for the GL/CX 500 Hondas. Twenty five years ago I rode one cross country:
Then 10 years later I got a CX500 when I needed a cheap motorcycle. I enjoyed them up to about 80km/hr. Faster than that did not enjoy how high the engine revved. Of course being a Honda it could do 7000 rpm all day, but I really wish Honda had added an overdrive 6th gear.
I’d like to find a CX650 Eurosport, but they are a rare and pricey item these days. Looking last night on MarketPlace I spied a GL500 in the same rootbeer color as my old one, for only $1,000. No thanks, been there done that twice.
You sure did get good service from you CX’s, thanks for posting this.
The 1983 I briefly owned was that root beer brown. Did the one you spot on marketplace have a fairing? If so post a link.
Here it is, Mississauga is a Toronto suburb.
That is so tempting, but probably spells D*I*V*O*R*C*E if I even suggest buying it 🙁
That’s a $teal at that price ! .
My uncle had a CX500 when they first appeared he rode it for years apparently good bikes and my mate I bought my Superminx from gave one away to an enthusiast recently, neither were the hotrod turbocharged version.
You make it sound like riding from Tucson to Washington DC is a short afternoon ride that’s decided on during a late brunch at the corner taqueria… 🙂 Clearly an Iron Butt candidate there, most motorcyclists never get anywhere near 100k total miles in a lifetime before giving it up, let alone on just one motorcycle.
I remember in college needing parts when my motorcycle interfaced the tarmac and experiencing the wonder of motorcycle salvage yards (or salvage warehouses really). At the time it would seem every college town had one, nowadays they seem harder to find but ebay magically picked up that slack.
I never realized the Silverwing was only a 500. Plenty of motorcycle really, just like in cars the power levels and engine size “requirements” of motorcycles seem to have increased exponentially over the last few decades. I mean there’s nothing wrong with a liter-bike or a 1200 or larger but it’s unlikely to be needed or even exploited by the vast majority of riders.
What’s unusual about the CX engine is that it has pushrods, not overhead cams. That seemed rather retrograde at the time, but because of the way the cylinder heads are “twisted” (off angle), that was the pragmatic solution. Not that it kept it from revving; its redline is 9650 rpm.
It developed a sterling reputation for durability and reliability.
I was a college student. The trip to DC and on to Niagara Falls was a spur of the moment decision. So was the trip to see my brother when he got out of boot camp.
Interesting stories; glad you survived, and I can see why you decided to quit. Your story reminded me why I never took up bikes again in LA after having two in Iowa. Well, I did use to ride my ten speed down Century Boulevard to work and back. That was pretty crazy too!
I lived at the traffic circle in Long Beach and worked straight up Lakewood in Downey. My 10 speed Schwinn Bicycle, my car and the bus took about the same amount of time to traverse the 10 miles. The traffic was heavy enough and the lights stayed red long enough for the bicycle to makeup for it’s slower travel speed. If you counted the time finding a spot and walking in from the lot the car was the slowest way to get to work.
Nice to hear someone else enjoys Klezmer Music ! .
If your Pops is still with us, find him a copy of “Notes From Below” .
Indeed the CX500 and derivatives were stellar bikes .
A high school chum bought one of the first in our area, I got to sell it after he killed himself because he was gay and I was about his only friend (different times) .
In 1990’s my best bud asked me to teach him how to ride and help him find a Motocycle, I found a pristine garage kept one owner CX500 for $350 . it was brown of course .
His -only- criteria was “CHROME FENDERS !” and low co$t, I tried to explain this meant he’d probably not enjoy his first bike but you know gang bangers.
Anyways, he decided he didn’t like it so my son bought it and WOW ! I had no idea a tall bike like that could handle so well . (I’m a Cruiser, he’s a Racer) .
Lots of good memories, we were lucky as many failed the alternator and you didn’t take the alternator off the engine you took the bike off the alternator .
I image many of us younger riders often took off for a ride and didn’t stop for a few days, I used to love all day riding, can’t anymore although I’m still riding .
Los Angeles certainly is dangerous to ride in but they’ve not managed to kill me yet .
The CX500 and GL500 were an interesting idea for a low maintenance daily use motorcycle but in the market of the 80s sold like warm beer in July. Honda of St. Johns in Portland Oregon was still selling leftover Silver Wings in the mid 90s and a friend had an 81 GL500 bought new in 93. His was the “naked” version with no fairing or bags so it was more of a CX500. They were popular with riders in New York City because they were unpopular, so inexpensive to buy, cheap to run, undesirable to steal and the water cooled engine was good in traffic. Honda was willing to try a lot of stuff in those days, some successful like the CBR600 and Gold Wing Aspencade, some flops like the GL500 and PC800