What Will Fail On Your Goldwing?
(reprinted by permission GoldwingDocs.com June 2015 newsletter)
The Goldwing, being a Honda, is one of the most reliable, bulletproof motorcycles that money can buy. It's not at all uncommon to find Goldwings with more than 100,000 miles on them that run like new. There are many Goldwings with more than 200,000 miles on the clock, and the engines are still running great. This is possible with little more than basic maintenance - regular oil changes, and the occasional valve adjustment. Other motorcycle owners have engines that need to be rebuilt at 50,000 miles - particularly air-cooled V-twins. Tell these owners about your 35-year-old Goldwing that just turned over 250,000 miles, and has never required much more than an oil change - and they will shake their heads in disbelief.
That said, our Goldwings are incredibly complex machines, with especially large and complex electrical systems, and despite the superior Honda engineering, there are some "weak spots" here and there - things that just wear out over time. This past month we have seen an incredible influx of new Wing owners on the web site, and a lot of them are either asking what they should look out for, or they already have one of these commonly discussed problems, and are looking for information on how to fix it.
I thought I'd try to cover some of these common failure items, along with supplying links to the site where each of them has been discussed. There's also a catch-all topic for some that I haven't thought of, and that people have added: Common Goldwing Failures. Some of the items cross multiple models, and some of them are specific to certain types or even years of Goldwing.
So with that, I give you: Common Goldwing Failures
There really isn't much wrong with the Goldwing engine design, as evidenced by the longevity of the engine in everyday use. There are three things that stand out - none of which are involved in the core engine operation:
Starter sprag clutch: The four-cylinder Wings utilize a one-way sprag clutch to engage the starter motor to the engine. When the engine starts, and begins to spin faster than the starter motor, it automatically disengages the starter motor. It does this by way of tiny little rollers, held in place with even smaller springs. Unfortunately, this area of the engine receives very little oil circulation, so if the oil is not being changed often enough, sludge tends to build up and foul these little sprags. The end result is a starter motor that spins, but does not engage and crank the engine. Fortunately there is a simple, easy and cheap fix.
Water pump: This is not so much of a weakness as it is a wear item. Water pumps will fail, it's just a matter of time. When the water pump does fail, it lets you know by leaking oil or coolant out of the "weep hole" on the bottom of the water pump housing. I have seen more than one instance where a misguided owner "fixed" this problem by jamming a screw in the weep hole, or by closing it over with epoxy. The correct way to fix it is to replace the water pump.
Timing belts: Again, this is a wear item, not really a weakness. All Goldwings except the GL1800 use timing belts to rotate the cams (the GL1800 uses chains). Because modern engines are of the interference type, should a timing belt break, it will cause fairly significant engine damage - and can completely destroy an engine if you're unlucky. If you have bought a new-to-you Goldwing and don't know when the timing belts were last changed, the time to do it is NOW! Read more: How to replace your timing belts
Cruise and Sub filters: Not necessarily a problem, but GL1500 owners have two filters on their bike that they often have no idea exist: the cruise and sub air filters. Over time, these often neglected filters turn to dust, allowing unfiltered air into your cruise control and air injection systems.
Hyvochain Rattle: The four-cylinder wings connect the engine crankshaft to the transmission input shaft with a massive, multilink chain. At low RPM, particularly under heavy load, this chain can rattle, and the sound is horrific - it sounds like a bag of marbles has been emptied into your engine crankcase and are rattling around in there. Fortunately, the fix for this is quite easy, and costs nothing!
Transmissions overall in Goldwings are beefy and strong: they have to be, in order to handle the massive torque generated by the Goldwing engine. As such, they don't feel like finely tuned instruments, they are more clunky and truck-like in their operation. However, with the advent of the six-cylinder GL1500, a weakness emerged in the shift forks, particularly the shift fork that engages the fourth and fifth gears. With wear, particularly the kind of wear brought on by resting your foot on a heel/toe shifter, the shift fork can develop difficulty in shifting between fourth and fifth, resulting in worn dogs (the "teeth" that engage the gears). The fix for this, replacing the shift fork and fourth and fifth gears, requires a lengthy and expensive engine and transmission teardown. With the use of the beefed-up Valkyrie engine starting in 1997, this problem all but disappeared. Luckily, there is a simple diagnosis for this problem.
The GL1500 transmission problem explained
Testing for the GL1500 transmission problem
GL1800 Transmission: Transmission troubles cropped up again with the GL1800, albeit much more rarely and seemingly on a random basis. Similar to the GL1500 shift fork failure, but not related to any one cause that has yet been figured out: GL1800 transmission complaints
GL1500 Shift Shaft: The GL1500 has a very poorly designed shift shaft, where it dog-legs around the exhaust headers. The end result is a tremendous amount of pressure applied to the shaft bearings every time you move the shift lever with your foot, eventually causing slop and seal failure. There is an aftermarket shift shaft pivot available that fixes this problem quickly and easily.
Again, with proper maintenance, the drivetrain on all models of Goldwing is really quite bulletproof. regular changes of final drive gear oil and lubrication of final drive and driveshaft splines will keep your drivetrain operating at peak performance for the life of the bike. The only real wear item is the universal joint - and this can normally be detected as a clicking noise under load, or a clunk noise when letting off the throttle. If left too long, the universal joint can completely self-destruct.
Virtually all of the problems with the fuel system can be traced to bad gas, ethanol, or a bike that has been left sitting too long. Carburetors have tiny pinhole-sized jets - particularly the idle jets - that clog easily if anything other than pure gasoline is sent through them. Fuel pumps on four-cylinder Wings can fail when their rubber diaphragm is attacked by ethanol. The same can happen with the rubber diaphragm in the vacuum-operated petcock. Carburetor slides need to move extremely easily and in concert with one another, to feed fuel evenly to all of the cylinders.
Clogged Gas Cap: A common complaint is a bike that will lose power, particularly at higher speeds, after a certain amount of time. If the bike is left to sit for ten minutes or so, the problem fixes itself...until it happens again. This can often be linked to a clogged gas cap vent - and left unrepaired, the vacuum can become so strong that the fuel tank collapses! The fix for this is cheap, and quite simple.
Off-Idle Hesitation: By far the biggest problem from the factory was the off-idle hesitation present in 1988 and 1989 GL1500's. There was a recall from Honda to remedy the issue, but many bikes did not have the fix performed, and now that the recall has expired, they are still exhibiting the behavior. We have a user that spent a great amount of time researching the issue on his own 1988 GL1500, and managed to solve the problem.
Proper maintenance of the braking system, primarily in terms of regular flushing and bleeding of brake fluid, will go a very long way to preventing problems with your brake system. The same goes for the hydraulic clutch found on GL1200 and later Goldwings, which uses the exact same type of master/slave system.
Blocked Return Ports: By far the biggest problem with the brakes in all Goldwings is unintended lockups caused by blocked return ports. When the return port in the master cylinder gets clogged, the brakes can't release, resulting in locked wheels. This is both simple to prevent (flush your brake system regularly), and simple to fix.
GL1800 Brake Recall: The GL1800 has ongoing issues with its complex braking system, where brakes will be engaged without the rider doing anything - this is the subject of a massive recall by Honda. Unfortunately, the original recall did not solve the problem, and many people are left with continual braking problems with their GL1800's, while Honda tries to figure out the root cause of the issue.
Rear Brake Pivot: Four-cylinder Wings have the rear brake pedal rotating around a pivot attached to the frame. After years of neglect, this pivot will rust, freezing the pedal in place, or making it very difficult to operate - sometimes sticking down and locking your rear brakes on! The fix for this is quite simple, and will last for years.
GL1800 Frame Recall: Only one model of Goldwing has a problem with frames, and it's a big one: 2001-2004 GL1800's, with their new technology aluminum frame, experienced cracks due to a design flaw. In some cases, the frames broke completely. This was subject to a recall, where the affected frames were reinforced with welding, however not all of the affected bikes were fixed, and as a result this problem still crops up from time to time. Fortunately Honda re-engineered the frame once the problem arose, so this problem is limited to earlier GL1800's only.
Clutch Bushing: Most models of Goldwing with hydraulic clutches use a rod seated in a bushing in the lever. This rod pushes against the piston in the clutch master cylinder. The brass bushing in the lever wears out over time, causing the clutch to become more and more sloppy. If left too long, the rod will wear completely through the bushing, and punch a hole in the lever, at which point the lever needs to be replaced. Replacing the bushing is a quick and easy job.
Switches: An achilles' heel of all Goldwings is the switchgear. With so many electrical features, there are a lot of switches, and they wear out. Ignition switches wear out and cause the bike to suddenly shut off unexpectedly. High beam and starter switches wear out and cause your headlights to stop working without warning. And on the GL1500 - and especially the GL1800, pushbutton switches get stuck in place, and can't be turned off. Lastly, the reverse control on the GL1500 has a switch that seems to fail more often than any other switch on the bike - so much so that Goldwing online store Cyclemax keeps them in stock!
GL1500 Cruise Lag: The cruise control GL1500 often develops a lag, where it takes several seconds to actually engage, or make corrections to speed. This is fixed with a simple adjustment that takes only a few minutes.
I saved the best for last: our Goldwings have massive, complex electrical systems, and things can and do go wrong. Often it is "modifications" made by clueless previous owners that cause the problems - an example is the picture to the right: this is all the aftermarket wiring added to a GL1800 by a previous owner, after it was pulled out by the new owner. However, Honda can definitely take the blame for a lot of the problems.
GL1500 LCD Failure: This is becoming more and more common as GL1500's age, and it is disturbing: The LCD display lamination fails, causing a large dark spot to begin to appear from one side. Once this has begun, there is no stopping it, and there is no way to fix it - it must be replaced, and replacements are not cheap.
Stators: Four-cylinder Wings use internal stators to generate power to run the bike and charge the battery. These stators are bathed in engine oil, and are under heavy stress. As a result, they can and do fail - particularly on the GL1200, which seems more predisposed to the problem. You can sometimes predict the failure, and perhaps postpone it however. Replacement requires removing the engine. Some people choose to install aftermarket external alternators, like the Poorboy Conversion for the GL1200, or a homebrew conversion on the GL1100.
Stator Connectors: The connectors Honda used for the stators on four-cylinder Wings are undersized and fail regularly. They will overheat and melt, which can cause your stator to short out and fail, or worse, your bike to catch fire! If you have a four-cylinder Wing and the connector has not been removed and bypassed, you should do it immediately.
Alternators: Just like the stators in four-cylinder Wings, the external alternators in GL1500 and GL1800 Goldwings are under heavy load - and this causes failure sooner than you would expect. Many owners choose to replace their OEM alternators with high-output aftermarket alternators. Unlike the stressed OEM alternators running at maximum capacity, these aftermarket alternators are loafing most of the time, and as a result tend to last much longer - along with the added benefit of supplying full voltage at idle, and allowing the addition of high-current aftermarket accessories like lights and heated clothing.
Neutral Diode: This diode on four-cylinder Wings gives up the ghost after a number of years - a giveaway is when the neutral light comes on every time you squeeze the clutch lever. Replacing this failed diode fixes the problem.
Loose Battery Terminals: The battery terminals seem to work loose on a regular basis. Symptoms are a battery that is fully charged, allows the radio and accessories to operate, yet won't crank the engine.
Bad Grounds: Goldwings are fond of developing bad grounds. These can manifest themselves as perplexing problems that seem completely unrelated - for instance, the radio stops working, but turns on when the left turn signal is activated. The GL1800 has frame grounds that are coated in paint, leaving the bolt threads to carry the current. Four cylinder Wings often have the ground strap from the battery become loose at the frame.
Relays: GL1500 and GL1800 Goldwings are absolutely packed with relays: small electromechanical switches. These relays seem to fail with alarming frequency, particularly on the GL1500. A failed relay can leave you stranded - but replacement is cheap and easy.
Pulse Generators: With the exception of early GL1000's, which used points, the engine computers of our Goldwings use pulse generators to detect the position of the engine crank. Over time, and with exposure to repeated heat cycles, these pulse generators fail and must be replaced. Symptoms are a bike that quits when it is hot, and magically fixes itself once it has cooled off.
Spark Units: Four-cylinder wings have two spark units (part of the ignition system) mounted near the top front of the engine. Whatever potting compound Honda used during manufacturing tends to turn to black goo 30 years later, and leaks out of the units. The fix is simple and cheap, and doesn't require replacing any parts.
7 Volt Regulator: Most of the GL1000 and GL1100 (and the 1984 GL1200 Standard) Goldwings use a 7 volt regulator to operate the fuel and temperature gauges. When both gauges begin to fail at the same time, it's usually this regulator that has in fact failed. It's simple to fix, and the replacement should last much longer than the original.
Starter Relay/Solenoid: The starter relay on four-cylinder Wings does have a limited lifespan - when it fails, it either causes the bike to not start at all, or it sticks on and runs the starter continuously - even when the key is shut off. There is a temporary fix, but replacement is in order.
Rider Ed Article
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Senior KS District Educator
How to get your bike ready for the riding season
(Goldwing Docs March 2016)
Spring is just around the corner, on the odd warm day you see bikes on the road - it's time to think about getting your bike out of its Winter hibernation.
With any luck, you did a proper winter preparation on your bike, and it is in good shape, almost ready to ride.
The first thing I like to do each spring has nothing to do with the state of the motorcycle at all, and more to do with the state of its rider: I pull out my bike's owner's manual, and read through it. Honestly! After 30+ years of riding, I have found that every single year, I manage to forget at least one thing about my bike that reading the manual in the spring reminds me of. Whether I forgot it over the winter, or it just slipped my mind sometime in the past year, it never fails - and as I get older, I'm quite sure the number of things I forget will increase. Give it a try!
Other things to check: registration and insurance. Has it lapsed over the winter? Get it in order before riding season begins!
Fuel: My bike typically sits for between 3-4 months in the winter. I use fuel stabilizer in a fresh tank of fuel when it goes away for its winter nap, and when Spring arrives, that fuel is typically still in good shape. I will however make a point of burning through that first tank relatively quickly, so that it doesn't sit around longer than it needs to. If you live in Alaska and your bike is put away for 6 months, you might want to first drain the fuel before starting.
Battery: My bike sits connected to a Battery Tender Jr. all Winter long - as well as pretty much anytime it's parked in my garage. Doing so keeps the battery running for many years. If yours has not been connected all winter, or if you removed the battery, get it charged back up to top condition and reinstall it. If you have a wet cell, make sure all the cells are topped up, and top up with distilled water if they are not.
Tires: Air up the tires to the correct pressure (you did read your manual, right?) and give them a good inspection for cuts, worn areas or other damage.
Oil: You don't need to change your oil and filter, because you did it when you put the bike away for the season, RIGHT??? If it slipped your mind, do it now before riding.
Other Fluids: Now's a good time to go over all the other fluids, just one more time. Check your brake, clutch and coolant levels. Check the oil level, just one more time. Check for leaks - oil leaks, brake or clutch fluid leaks, coolant leaks. Look at the bottom of the water pump, there is a small hole there that might be leaking oil or coolant. If you see a few drops of coolant there, don't panic - Goldwings commonly leak a bit of fluid over the winter with cold temperatures. If the leak disappears once you start riding again, you have nothing to worry about.
Cleaning: If your bike collected dust all winter, now's the time to clean it up, to start the year fresh.
Lights: Click the ignition on and check that all of your lights are functioning - headlight (including high beam), running lights, turn signals, brake lights, dashboard lights.
Rider: You have not ridden for a few months, so keep in mind your riding skill and instincts are not going to be what they were a few months ago. Riding well is a perishable skill! Take it easy for the first few rides. Go without a passenger. Check your brakes. Ride out to an open parking lot and practice some slow speed riding and turns. Get your confidence level up to where it was at the end of the previous riding season, and then hit the open road! I like to keep my first couple of rides relatively close to home, to deal with any problems that might have cropped up mysteriously over the winter months.
Roads: The roads are not going to be in the same condition as they were last fall. Winter cold, water intrusion and copious salt use cause potholes and cracks in the pavement - some large enough to cause a crash if you were to hit one. In remote areas without curbs, the edges of the asphalt can crumble due to water undermining the substrate underneath them, so stay away from those edges. Salt, sand and gravel put down on roads over the winter is still there, making roads hazardous and slippery. Especially watch the insides of corners, where it tends to collect - and where you can least tolerate a loss of traction!
Cars: Drivers are not used to seeing motorcycles on the road, and they are definitely NOT looking for you! Keep a sharp eye out, make yourself visible, stay out of their way, leave yourself an out, and assume that the driver is going to do the worst, most stupid thing possible.
Ten Things All Car & Truck Drivers Should Know About Motorcycles
(From the Motorcycle Safety Foundation)
1. Over half of all fatal motorcycle crashes involve another vehicle. Most of the time, the motorist, not the motorcyclist, is at fault. There are a lot more cars and trucks than motorcycles on the road and some drivers don't "recognize" a motorcycle, - they ignore it (usually unintentionally).
2. Because of its small size, a motorcycle can be easily hidden in a car's blind spot (door/roof pillars) or masked by objects or backgrounds outside a car (Bushes, fences, bridges, etc.). Take an extra moment to look for motorcycles, whether you're changing lanes or turning at intersections.
3. Because of its small size, a motorcycle may look farther away than it is. It may also be difficult to judge a motorcycle's speed. When checking traffic to turn at an intersection or into a driveway, predict a motorcycle is closer than it looks.
4. Motorcyclists often slow by downshifting or merely rolling off the throttle, thus not activating the brake light. Allow more following distance, say 3 or 4 seconds. At intersections, predict a motorcyclist may slow down without visual warning.
5. Motorcyclists often adjust positions within a lane to be seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, and wind. Understand that motorcyclists adjust lane position for a purpose, not to be reckless or show off or to allow you to share the lane with them.
6. Turn signals on a motorcycle usually are not self-canceling, thus some riders (especially beginners) sometimes forget to turn them off after a turn or lane change. Make sure a motorcycle's signal is for real.
7. Maneuverability is one of the motorcycle's better characteristics, especially at slower speeds and with good road conditions, but don't expect a motorcyclist to dodge out of the way.
8. Stopping distance for motorcycles is nearly the same as for cars, but slippery pavement makes stopping quickly difficult. Allow more following distance behind a motorcycle because it can't always stop "on a dime."
9. When a motorcycle is in motion, see more than the motorcycle - see the person under the helmet, who could be your friend, neighbor or relative.
10. If a driver crashes into a motorcyclist, bicyclist, or pedestrian and caused serious injury, the driver would likely never forgive himself/herself.
Share this information with family and friends. Be pro-active and do your part as a motorcyclist to help make our riding environment safer.
Rider Coaches and Seminar presenters. All are willing to give of their time to assist you with your training needs. You only have to ask!!!
Rider Coaches: Bill Tucker, Rick Stevens, Bob Brown.
Seminar Presenters: Bill Tucker, Rick Stevens, Doris Schoeck, Carolyn Stevens
Medic First Aid by teams: Bill Tucker, Jack & Doris Schoeck, Steve & Terri Bockhaus