Balance. That’s the word that springs to mind after some prolonged riding on the 2011 Honda Silver Wing. In a category — scooters — that seems so compartmentalized, the Silver Wing is something that aims to transcend pigeon holes. And, depending on your point of view, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.
A lot of scooterists want specialization from their ride. They want a grocery getter. They want a sport-tourer. They want a commuter. They want a lifestyle accessory. And so the permutations of scooters produced by various manufacturers cater to those tastes, wants and needs.
And that makes life rough for the riders who want it all. Searching for a do-anything machine can prove maddening in a world of specialization. It’s a little like trying to find a good general practitioner when you’re hunting for a doctor; all you come up with are docs with rarified pedigrees.
Fortunately, Honda’s Silver Wing answers that call for a scooter that is as happy on a long road trip as it is making the daily commute. And maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Silver Wing has picked up a number of fans over a decade for its blend of power and practicality.
Let’s start with the first half of that blend when looking at the 2011 edition of the Silver Wing. In terms of power, a 582cc liquid-cooled parallel-twin with DOHC (four valves per cylinder) and EFI sits at the heart of the Silver Wing to deliver smooth and steady power. This yields nice off-the-line acceleration and enough power to give you confidence that you can escape any uncomfortable situations that might develop on the road.
Flying around Southern California’s network of freeways, that 580 was awake and ready for action — you twist, it goes. Blasting past drivers that were rolling chicanes holding up traffic and other highway and interstate obstructions was effortless and seemed second nature to both rider and scooter. During regular freeway cruising, the Silver Wing felt entirely happy sitting at 70 mph or so for long periods of time. The parallel twin just keeps humming below, like an appliance.
In fact, I often felt like the Silver Wing was made with the freeway in mind, because the scooter delivers a full-package experience on the freeway. That smooth, steady, always-there power was complemented by terrific, rail-like handling. I chalk that up to the fore and aft suspension. Up front you’ll find a 41 mm hydraulic fork with 4.7 inches of travel, and in back dual hydraulic shocks featuring five-position spring-preload adjustability and 4.5 inches travel.
The result is a surprising level of stability at higher speeds, which adds to the overall confidence and enjoyment of the ride. The rider doesn’t have to constantly look ahead to pick lines through bad pavement and the like, and can instead concentrate on the important things, like what’s happening with traffic up ahead. About the only time you do feel the pavement is when the road truly gets rough, but even then, the motorcycle-like amounts of shock travel soften any blows and keep you on track.
Braking is the big deal on the 2011 edition. This year’s Silver Wing offers a combination of both ABS and dual braking. Both fore and aft you’ll find single 276 mm discs with three-piston calipers. While I wish that a scooter with a 550-pound curb weight would have twin discs up front, I have to give props to the scooter’s overall braking system.
And I call it a system for a reason: How you apply the brakes determines how the pistons actuate as part of the overall dual braking scheme. Squeeze the front and two of the three pistons engage. Squeeze the back and the third front piston kicks in along with the rear pistons. It sounds completely unnatural, but the result is stopping power that feels both natural and predictable. Most importantly, it brings those 550 pounds to a quick, surprise-free halt.
Given that you’ll probably spend longer stretches in the saddle, I have to give big points to Honda for the Silver Wing’s seat and riding position. Riding position on maxi scoots is a major pet peeve of mine. I’m not a huge fan of the legs forward, hunkered down position that is almost forced on riders of larger scooters. I much prefer to be on top of a ride, rather than in it. But the Silver Wing gets it right. The seat height and position were perfect (at least for me) and with an adjustable backrest, I didn’t find myself searching around for a good position, like I do on a lot of other sloping, scooter saddles. For two-up riding, the pillion portion of the saddle is equally generous and flip-out footpegs ensure the passenger is in position that is comfortable, yet still stable for the pilot.
Also a generous fixed windscreen paired with aerodynamic design provides good protection from the wind. It’s also worth noting that the Silver Wing seems less affected by crosswinds, as well. I’m not sure why that is, because the Silver wing appears to have just as much bodywork as any other maxi scoot, but even through strong gusts from the side, the scooter felt firmly planted on the pavement.
From a utility perspective, the Silver Wing’s under-seat storage offers 14.5 gallons of trunk space, which provides more than enough space to house your helmet and riding gear when you're parked, and a bag and your lunch when you’re headed to work (or some grocery bags if you’re hitting the supermarket).
On longer trips you might find the trunk a little limiting due to its stepped shape. The more flat portion at the rear of the trunk space steeply slopes down in such a way that it makes longer items hard to fit. For instance, testing it out with some camping gear, I found that after stowing my ultra-light sleeping bag and tent/bivvy I was running out of space and realized I’d have to sling my daypack of clothes and small items I was hoping to fit in the trunk over my shoulders, instead.
Jutting behind the seat is a mount for a top box for more storage. It fits the scooter’s lines well, and my only complaint is that I wish it had some kind of spot where one could fit a bungie cord or two in order to strap down odd items and use that mount as a rack.
Up on the front, you’ll find no standard glove box on the Silver Wing. Instead there is a shallow compartment on one side for smaller items such as shades or toll road cash, and on the other is a much deeper, narrower compartment for fitting … a 40-ouncer? A halibut? It’s an oddly shaped space that seems perfect for loaves of bread.
Styling-wise, the Silver Wing is pretty much the same Silver Wing before except this time you can get it in any color, as long as it's black. Admittedly, the 2011 Silver Wing’s black livery is particularly attractive when complementing the rest of the package — it’s a look that works well — but couldn’t Honda offer at least one additional color?
But maybe an extra color would be a half measure. What I think a lot of prospective Silver Wing owners would truly jump at is a new look. The current Silver Wing look is a good one. I like its long, swoopy, aerodynamic lines, but it’s time for an update. The Silver Wing GT 600 found overseas offers some more aggressive styling, and perhaps that could be a direction the scooter’s design will go in. Suffice it to say that the scooter needs an update.
The other question mark I have is the Silver Wing’s $9,099 starting price. For me, that seems a little steep for a scooter that, while powerful and with excellent handling, has yet to receive a fresh look and lacks some of the extras that would instantly demand a top asking price. That said, I think the Silver Wing’s crafty linked braking alone is worth additional money.
All in all, the Silver Wing has had more than 10 years to hit its stride, and it’s a confident stride at that. With solid handling and a beefy powerplant paired with good utility, the bike delivers a balance that is often hard to find. If you’re seeking a do-it-all maxi scoot, the Silver Wing should be on your short list.
AUTHOR BIO: A career magazine editor and journalist, David Kopf has been an avid scooterist since the age of 16, and continues to ride, repair and restore scooters. He is the founder of one of the oldest continuously running scooter clubs in the United States, and has served as the program manager for the Motorcycle Industry Council’s Aftermarket Committee. It if has a step-through frame and small wheels, there’s a good chance that he wants to ride it.