Gold Wing Design Story

The Honda Gold Wing is blessed with one of the most loyal customer followings found anywhere in motorcycling. Nine out of 10 Gold Wing owners would buy another Gold Wing, a resounding endorsement for the motorcycle that has defined-and redefined-long-distance motorcycling for a quarter-century.

The task of creating the next generation Gold Wing posed a unique challenge for Honda's design team. While almost all design projects take the measure of numerous competitors, the 2001 Gold Wing's designers faced daunting competition-the original designers of the GL1500. The integrity of the first 1988 GL1500 design was so formidable that the GL1500 ruled the world of luxury touring virtually unchallenged for 12 years.

What do you do with a motorcycle that, to most customers, is almost perfect already? And yet, Honda's passion for motorcycling demanded a new design that exceeded customers' expectations-including riders who had yet to taste the Gold Wing experience.

Should the team play it safe with an evolutionary design, giving the Gold Wing's loyal legion of customers more to love in the way of luxury and creature comforts? Or should they gamble with a revolutionary approach, bringing to bear a decade's worth of technological advances and lessons learned in motorcycle design to chart a new course in motorcycle touring?

In a corporate culture steeped in collective decision-making, the lack of early agreement provided a fertile environment that nurtured competing design concepts and brought forth the bounty of Honda's formidable R&D expertise. The result? The new GL1800 Gold Wing is both revolutionary and evolutionary, with class-shattering performance wedded to the most luxurious touring platform ever offered in a motorcycle.

What follows is a pictorial essay that traces the GL1800 Gold Wing's design story. It is a story that amply illustrates the adage: "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts." In the case of the beautiful 2001 Gold Wing, the final design is a passionate synergy of Honda's most talented people.

Design Story Outline

Concept Creation

Image sketches

1/8-Scale clay models

Final sketches & 3-D sketches

Parts modeling

Final Sketches & accessory planning

Full-size clay model

Mock-up clay model

Concept Creation

Honda's design teams from Japan and the U.S. seclude themselves to focus completely on the creation of the new Gold Wing concept. Numerous initial design sketches are created. The concept drawings vary widely as the group seeks to embody a design direction that emphasizes power, long-distance comfort and unsurpassed reliability. Soon, a development theme emerges for the new Gold Wing design: Revolution, not evolution.

The design group chooses Athletic to animate the development themed Revolution, not evolution, and thereby gives life to the new Gold Wing's design. Within this strong image the group identifies six design elements that support the design theme:

Prestige: High-class, upholding the Gold Wing's legendary tradition.

Comfort: Superb ergonomics balanced with all-weather riding pleasure.

Functional : A beautiful design that showcases class-leading controls and amenities.

High-tech, high-touch : The latest technology to bring the customer closer to the motorcycling experience.

Individual: A unique character that embodies power, fitness, strength, toughness and endurance.

Personalization: Easy to customize to individual rider tastes.

Image Sketches

Hundreds of sketches are eventually sorted into three key design sets and labeled Mechanical, Conservative, and Integrated. Mechanical design sketches feature the least amount of bodywork and expose the beautiful high-tech internals and frame. Conservative design sketches closely resemble the GL1500 design. Integrated design sketches create a flowing shape that covers the frame and mechanical parts of the motorcycle.

After numerous discussions and design meetings, the design group narrows their focus to two drawings from the Mechanical design set. The primary difference in the two design sketches is the area of exposed frame. To display the best qualities of the two design sketches, a design competition is begun between two subgroups. Utilizing 3-D drawings, each group creates a 1/8-scale clay model to further evaluate the two designs.

1/8-Scale Clay Models

The clay model competition begins one month later. A skeleton base (image 1/8-Scale Clay Model_A) serves as a platform for a clay model. These images show the finishing and final inspection of the clay model whose design covers the aluminum frame. Four months after the start of the modeling project, the two models are brought together for evaluation.

The competing design teams compare the clay models and discuss the reasons for their particular design. The team that creates the model with the exposed aluminum frame argues persuasively that the design best reflects the Gold Wing's powerful new engine and high-tech frame. The teams eventually reach agreement, allowing for a portion of the Gold Wing's frame to be exposed. The next order of business is the creation of 3-D sketches for the winning design.

Final Sketch & 3-D Sketches

The final dimensions of the 1/8-scale clay model are determined and confirmed. Now the creation of 3-D sketches is necessary to begin both pre-development testing and the actual development of parts and assemblies. Final 3-D sketches will also be used to further the development of accessory parts.

The development of the fairing cockpit, including the layout of all controls, is modeled with 3-D sketches. Once the final design is approved, a clay model is also created.

Parts Modeling

These images show the flow of design from a 3-D sketch of the instrument panel to a clay model of the same panel.

3-D sketches are utilized in many aspects of the design process. They greatly improve the speed and accuracy of development. 3-D sketches are utilized for the creation of mockups as well as CAD (Computer-Aided Design) analysis. Here, these images depict the process of creating 3-D sketches for the design of exterior parts such as the wheels.

Similarly, the engine design depicted in a 3-D sketch was realized in a clay model form.

Final Sketches & Accessory Planning

Personalization, one of the Athletic design elements, is realized by synchronizing the Gold Wing's development with Honda's accessory development effort.

Full-Size Clay Model

Designing the Gold Wing is a process unlike any other utilized on a Honda motorcycle. In some respects, it resembles the design effort required for an automobile. Clay modeling allows the team to carefully detail exterior and interior aspects of the Gold Wing, thereby improving its final production quality.

Several months after numerous 3-D sketches and clay model components are created, a full-size clay model is undertaken. At this stage, the surface finish is checked and factory team members provide input that further improves the accuracy of the 3-D design drawings with an eye toward simplified manufacturing and overall production quality. In the case of the Gold Wing, not only is an exterior clay model built, so is a complete interior model for the cockpit and instrument panel.

Here, a sales meeting between the design team and American Honda's top management checks the clay model and confirms the direction of the full-size clay design. While many detail refinements remain, an agreement is reached to proceed with a final clay mock-up model.

Mock-Up Clay Model

Several months later, the final clay mock-up is completed. The design team has made remarkable progress in just over a year, having completed two 1/8-scale models, a full-size clay model and a final clay mock-up, as well as the user surveys necessary to confirm the team's design direction.

One and one-half years before the Gold Wing's announcement, mock-up colors are evaluated by user surveys in Ohio and Southern California. Six months later, the design team and American Honda select final colors. A final user survey confirms the color selections.


The styling design story of the 2001 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing is a testament to the passionate dedication of each and every team member. It also speaks highly of a working environment that balances the contribution of individual designers with the collaborative commitment required of a team. In the case of the new Gold Wing, the result is a luxurious motorcycle with a truly athletic persona. For touring riders everywhere, let the revolution begin.

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