SilverWing Tales

Part 1 - What's a SilverWing?

By: Chuck Gardner

Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with motorcycles knows a GoldWing is Japanese Hog Heaven, but even experienced bikers return a blank stare when you mention a SilverWing.

Back in the late 1970s Honda developed a shaft driven, water-cooled, turbocharged bike which had a Motto Guzzi style perpendicular mounted V-twin engine. Those who rushed out to buy one quickly discovered that waiting for the turbos to spin-up and the power to kick it is not something you want to do when you are leaning into a tight curve at 100 mph, so this $10,000 was not very popular. (Note: For a detailed -- and far more accurate -- story about the development of the Turbo and CX please see this background story contributed by Eirik Skjeveland, of Norway.)

Not one to let expensive R & D and tooling go to waste Honda built and marketed a conventional street bike -- the CX500 -- around its radical -- for them -- 500cc water cooled engine. The CX500 was a moderately successful, albeit ugly, bike which is still popular with commuters. In 1981 Honda, seeking to cash in on the huge popularity of the GoldWing created a smaller version around the CX500 and in the process turned the ugly duckling CX500 into a swan; the Honda SilverWing Interstate.

Honda replaced the ugly rear spring/shocks with an internally mounted (i.e. invisible) air adjustable "ProLink" mono-shock similar to what they used on their motocross bikes, and added a second disk to the front wheel which also rode on an air adjustable fork. These two changes improved the appearance, handling, and braking performance. The "SilverWing Interstate" package consisted of full frame mounted fairing -- exactly the same as the one on the GoldWing -- and a very cleverly designed seat / luggage rack / saddle box arrangement.

The bench seat was split into two parts and the passenger half could be removed and replaced with a streamlined looking luggage box which was tapered so it was smaller at the top than at the base. This box was designed to open at both the base and the top using a clever two-way latch. You could easily access small items by opening the top lid and by opening the bottom it was possible to stow a full coverage helmet.

The saddle boxes were equally well designed, sculpted to match the lines of the bike and easily removable. The same locking latches which secured the passenger seat / luggage box also served as the rear support for these saddle boxes. The front support for the saddle box was a push button clip identical to a seat belt buckle. It was possible to mount or remove the saddle boxes in seconds by simply unlocking the rear catch and pressing the release button in front, and folding the front support arm out the way. The back of the box even had a spring catch for holding the support arm in place and there was a built-in handle which allowed the box to be carried like a suitcase.

The sum total of the innovative engine / powertrain and the cleverly designed luggage system was a small bike that looked good, performed well around town and for short road trips, and offered the storage space and convenience needed by a solo, suit and tie commuter like myself. The same type of integrated design can be seen on the Honda Pacific Coast Highway, but in my opinion Honda went too far on the PCH, completely disguising the fact there is a motorcycle underneath the plastic.

Like a Beemer, there was something comforting about having the cylinders of the SilverWing up in front, next to your knees. It was a great way to warm your hands in the winter too! Compared to my previous bikes, an 1968 BMW R60/2 and an 1969 BMW R50/2, the SilverWing had plenty of power, albeit at much higher RPMs. The SilverWing was in many respects more like a Beemer than its big brother the Goldwing in that everything on it was no-frills functional but extremely well engineered. That, and the fact I was able to buy a mint condition, year-old specimen for only $2,500, is how I came to own the burgundy 1981 Honda Silverwing Interstate which is now tooling around downtown Lumbambashi, Zaire.

To be continued: I owe my good fortune to a Harley owner