Forget everything you know about scooters. Forget how nerdy they can be. Forget that they're toys. Forget that they're not for "real" motorcyclists. Now come with me, and let's check out the 2008 Honda Silver Wing, one of the coolest scooters on the planet, a tool for the biker with an open mind. The 2008 Honda Silver Wing carries a base price of $8,099 ($8,599 as tested with ABS), along with a one year/unlimited miles transferable warranty. Let's ride.
If you're as old as I am (and some of you must be), you probably remember the last time Honda delivered a Silver Wing to our shores. From 1981 -- 1984, the Honda GL500/GL650 wore the silver wings as a lesser cousin to the highly successful Gold Wing tourer. The GL500 was somewhat of an underpowered flop, and the GL650 never really gained traction in the marketplace. But the name "Silver Wing" begged reuse, and it has found a worthy home on the FSC600 (the official alphanumeric name for the scooter).
I'd define a scooter as a two-wheeled motorized vehicle with a clutchless transmission, hand controls only (no foot controls) and a step-through chassis. Most scooters feature integrated, long footboards. You can name exceptions -- scooters without a step-through, motorcycles with automatic transmission and no foot controls -- but this is a review, not a legal brief. Give me a break. The Silver Wing adheres to my definition of a scooter, and blows up the concept in the process.
The Silver Wing doesn't look like a scooter from the front or from the rear. With a rider aboard and underway, it doesn't even look like a scooter in profile -- the rider's legs hide the step-through, presenting one continuous mass. Full plastic bodywork disguises Silver Wing's bones -- scarcely a hint of the full steel frame is visible to the naked eye. The components that do peek out are intriguing bits of suspension hardware -- more on that later.
With its bulbous front and rear protuberances, Silver Wing looks like what would happen if a Hayabusa mated with a praying mantis.
Seat of the Pants
Some textures and materials onboard are a little on the plastic side -- the spots where my feet dragged across the step-through were showing wear on my test scooter, and will need attention to keep looking good in the future. In contrast, the chrome and metal bits, like the big muffler, sparkled with rich quality.
Silver Wing's 29.7" seat height gave me the option of swinging a leg over (early in the day) or using the step-through to mount in a more sophisticated fashion (later in the day). The tall-ish height shouldn't be an impediment to shorter riders -- you'll be able to slide off of the seat into a standing position in the step-through to get both feet securely on the ground at a stop when necessary. The broad flat seat is well-cushioned, and comfortable enough for all-day riding. The passenger pillion is slightly elevated above the rider's perch, and is also broad and comfy. Even with no backrest, my wife felt secure and confident on our rides together.
Without adding any accessory trunks or panniers, the Silver Wing can swallow an amazing amount of cargo. I am afflicted with a condition known as "Melon Head," requiring me to wear a size XXL helmet. I always wear a full-face model. Even my enormous lid fit in the Silver Wing's underseat storage area -- along with a second, size L full-face helmet, two fabric riding jackets, two pairs of riding gloves and a pack of gum. The official specs say that there's 55 liters of storage -- I can't visualize "liters," but I can tell you that Silver Wing could easily handle 80% of the toting needs for my daily errands.
On the Road
I took the Silver Wing out for rides at every opportunity during my two-week test period. I even took it on the Los Angeles freeway system -- and much to my astonishment, it turned out to be one of the best freeway bikes I've ever ridden. It starts with power -- hidden under all that plastic is a 582 cc parallel twin-cylinder engine with fuel injection, double-overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Honda doesn't release power figures, but I believe that the horsepower is close to 50 and torque close to 40 lb-ft, based on internet buzz and empirical evidence. What that means is that the 551 lb Silver Wing easily out-accelerates most cars (and many motorcycles), and has the ability to cruise at freeway speeds, which can reach 80 -- 85 mph in our area.
If the Silver Wing were an old-fashioned scooter with tiny wheels, that would be a terrifying thought. But with a 14" front/13" rear tire and great aerodynamics, Silver Wing is dead stable at speed. In California, we can legally share lanes with other vehicles, which means that in slow or stopped traffic, it is legal to ride between the lanes. Silver Wing's slim profile, upright riding position and maneuverability at low speed make it an ideal lane-splitter.
When the road turns rough, the Silver Wing's suspension does a great job of smoothing things out. Though the 41 mm hydraulic fork up front is not adjustable, the rear dual hydraulic shocks have a five-position preload adjustability. I was set up in the middle position, and never touched the preload during my rides, even when I carried a passenger.
I still prefer the manual clutch, foot shifter and foot rear brake of a conventional motorcycle, but I have to admit that Silver Wing's setup works fine. Just twist the right hand throttle and go, no clutch needed. Let off the gas, and engine braking helps slow you down. If you need to stop faster, the right hand brake lever controls the front brake's outer two pistons, and the left hand brake lever controls the rear brake and the front brake's center piston. At a stop, there's no tension in the system, and trying to rev the engine at a stoplight will make you jump into the intersection. Once you adjust, it's like the difference between driving a car with a manual transmission and driving one with an automatic. You may prefer one over the other, but each has its virtues and drawbacks. The automatic felt just right for the Silver Wing.
I never thought that I'd be a candidate for scooter ownership, but after spending two weeks with a Silver Wing, I am seriously considering buying one. There's one thing that will hold me back from buying a new Silver Wing -- and that's price. $8,599 will buy a wide variety of motorcycles, new and used. There's even some choice in the land of big scooters, with the Suzuki Burgman 650 and the Aprilia Scarabeo 500 leading the pack.
I may hunt for a used Silver Wing, since it has been essentially unchanged since its introduction in 2001. I won't give up my motorcycle -- but I just might have to add a big scooter to the fleet. And it might be a Silver Wing.