It may seem odd for you to log onto my article and see a picture of an old-school Gold Wing. After all, the Lead Wing, as it came to be known, is about as far removed from the sorts of bikes that are normally discussed here as it is possible to get. Bear with me, however, it will (I hope) become clear.
Not long after I started riding I was posted to a school in Dapto, NSW. It didn’t take long for me to find that many of the parents of children in the school rode motorcycles. Most of them rode small commuter bikes as they were ideal for threading through the maze of commuter traffic that clogged Wollongong’s roads at every change of shift at the Steelworks. But speaking to the mum of one of my own students, I was pleased to hear that her husband also rode a bike to work but that it was a Kawasaki Z1. When I asked where he worked, she said that it was in one of the collieries up on the escarpment about half way between Wollongong and Campbelltown (Westcliff?) I remarked that that would be a tough commute given the often foul weather conditions that hang around the tops but she replied that he had been doing that for years and that he rode right through the year and on every shift he worked (day, afternoon, night). My admiration for Nick, a little, wiry guy, rose dramatically. It soon transpired that a friend of theirs also had a daughter at the school and that her dad also rode a Z1 to the same colliery every day he worked there.
Needless to say, a friendship was established quickly and even more so when they told me that they also rode up to Amaroo Park and Oran Park as well as Bathurst to watch the bike races. At this stage I was still a confirmed car racing spectator so the penny didn’t drop on that front for about another year.
Anyway, one day Ray turned up to school to drop his daughter and he was on his bike. However, it wasn’t his Z1, it was brand new, shiny yellow Honda Gold Wing! Needless to say, admiring glances were cast as well as more than a few jibes about him getting old and not being able to handle the power of the Z1 any more; you get the picture, I’m sure. Nonetheless, Ray stuck to his contention that, given the riding that he was doing, the ‘Wing was more suited to the task. And, it was his money, so who were we to criticise anyway?
One thing led to another and Ray agreed (foolish man that he was) to let me, a rank novice rider at this stage, have a ride of the Gold Wing. And what a ride it was. My current road bike was my original one, a little red Honda 350/4. Compared to it, the Gold Wing seemed huge, especially once I climbed aboard and sat in the plush seat. Everything had been suddenly supersized. Ray assured me that it was just like any bike and sent me off with the advice to have fun but be careful. The latter part was totally unnecessary but I wasn’t prepared for how quickly the first part happened. Almost as soon as I was on the move, the bike felt quite comfortable. I didn’t feel daunted by the size and I sat back and started to savour the experience. Yes, it wasn’t as nimble as my little bike, but, God, wasn’t it SMOOTH!! It was like riding a high-powered armchair!
My test ride was mercifully short. Though I could have enjoyed the mellow exhaust note and the liquid surge of power for much longer, in deference to Ray’s heart, I returned pretty soon and reluctantly handed it over. And, from that moment on, I was a convert. Despite the passage of years I never bought one, my riding path took me in other directions and, anyway, they were way too expensive. But I had less tolerance than what I had had for people who denigrated them figuring that, as is usually the case, such people had never actually ridden one.
Over the years I have always had a hankering to own one, but, as they developed further and further away from the original concept and MUCH further away from my style of riding, the idea was just that, an idea. An original 1975 Gold Wing was one of the proposed occupants of my Dream Garage and, from time to time, mention would be made of ‘Wings and my heart and my head would travel quickly back to that revelatory ride on Ray Lapham’s yellow jewel.
Fast forward to a Wednesday last September. A speedway friend of mine posted up a set of pictures on his Facebook page.
Accompanying the pictures was a text to the effect that the bike was for sale, he was selling it for a friend. Moments later (right place – right time) I messaged him back and asked how much. What he told me staggered me. As the years have passed the price of the original 1000cc bikes has risen dramatically. (There was a restored example on ebay at the time with a bid of $5200 with three days to go and a heap of people watching it.). Let’s just say that the price Rob told me was a fraction of that! Needless to say I went to have a look and immediately determined that this was way too good to pass up. It was substantially complete except for the exhaust mufflers and the seat. There was a huge box of spares with it as well as a hideous Windjammer replica fairing. The only departure from stock seemed to be that the disks had been drilled (a common practice for early Hondas whose stainless steel disks looked good, didn’t rust but didn’t work when they got even the slightest bit wet.)
What bits weren’t attached to the bike were in the box and I bought it on the spot. It has 77,000 kilometres on the clock and is suffering from neglect. The alloy parts have oxidised and some metal parts are rusty but subsequent enquiries have revealed that every single part for this bike can still be purchased new. It has a key, the motor turns over (by hand) and the key also opens the tank. Rob said that he thought that the guy might have the seat and exhausts and that he would check.
So, the next night I drove over and met Rob and the owner. No, the exhaust was gone, but the seat had turned up. It was in superb condition. I hauled the bike home in the Minibago and, when the current panic is over, I’ll drag it out and start making a list of what needs to be done.
And the best bit? According to its serial number, it is a genuine, original, 1975 model, the most collectible of the range. To say that I am a happy chappy is the understatement of the year. Oh, and the “prayer” part of my title this week? I’m praying that I can get it done!
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