Ruffian Honda Goldwing cafe racer

The Ruffian – Dirk van Rees Honda Goldwing GL1200

Some motorcycles lend themselves very well to customisation, but I wouldn’t consider the Honda Goldwing to be one of them. It’s a gargantuan tourer powered by an ungainly 1182 cc liquid-cooled flat-four. It weighs almost 800 pounds, is covered in a mass of bodywork and is about as long as your average dairy cow. Fortunately, my opinion doesn’t stop people from having a go.

Custom Honda Goldwings are a rare sight on these pages. So you can bet that when one makes the cut it’s something special. Take for instance this ’84 Honda Goldwing GL1200 by Dirk van Rees in the United States.

Custom Honda Goldwing

Dirk’s life on motorcycles started at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the Goldwing. As a boy during the early ’70s, he rode minibikes. These were eventually replaced by modified two-stroke triples in his teens. And by the year 2000, he was piloting a fully customised v-twin. In 2016 Dirk’s son Kase had also developed an interest in customising vehicles and the pair started working on both 2 and 4 wheeled projects together.

This Honda Goldwing GL1200 is the third motorcycle Dirk has completed. It was purchased off Craigslist in good running order and with a mere 27,000 miles on the clock, but it was the configuration of this particular Goldwing model that attracted him to it. “I picked the GL1200 because it is a carburettor engine and the engine block is particularly attractive. The focus of this bike is the flat-four motor which is a piece of art,” he says.

Ruffian Honda Goldwing cafe racer

As well as looking great the flat-four found in the ’84 GL1200 was particularly special. In 1983 Honda’s arch-nemesis, Yamaha, introduced the Venture XVZ 1200, a V4 powered tourer with its sights firmly set on knocking the Goldwing off its huge perch. The following year Honda hit back with the Goldwing GL1200, a redesigned and reengineered bike that would leave the Yamaha, and every other potential competitor, in its dust.

With the ’84 Goldwing GL1200, Honda increased the engine capacity by 100cc. They focused heavily on rideability and low-end grunt which resulted in more horsepower, torque and class-leading acceleration. They also added a hydraulic clutch and hydraulic valve adjustment which meant the GL1200 was essentially maintenance-free; a selling point that was sure to appeal to the high mileage riders at which the Goldwing was aimed.

Ruffian Honda Goldwing cafe racer

Dirk’s goal with this project was clearly not to pay homage to the Goldwing’s lineage or restore the bike to its original condition. He wanted to transform it into the kind of motorcycle that got his heart racing. This wasn’t a performance-focused build though, with this bike it was all about drastically changing the Goldwing’s appearance and there’s no denying that’s exactly what he has achieved.

Dirk’s approach to building isn’t overly technical. There’s no sketching, 3D modelling or Photoshop work. Instead, he visualizes the outcome by spending evenings staring at the bike. Then after mocking up a few ideas using parts in his workshop or taping cardboard templates to it, he dives in headfirst.

Ruffian Honda Goldwing cafe racer

After the teardown, Dirk took to the Goldwings chassis with a grinder. He removed most of the rear half, including the original twin shock mounts, to make way for a bespoke setup he had in mind. He also cut away the factory supports beneath the original tank to make way for a custom backbone and added a tail hoop to accept a new seat.

The stock fuel tank on the Goldwing GL1200 isn’t what it seems. Instead of carrying petrol, the tank is hollow. Lifting it reveals a convenient storage space and allows access to the bikes airbox. The filler at the rear of the tank directs fuel to a canister beneath the seat. As clever as all that is, Dirk had other ideas for his Honda.

The transformation began with the removal of the faux tank, airbox, under-seat fuel tank and fuel pump. This was all then replaced using a modified ’78 Honda CB550 fuel tank fitted with a Pingel valve. Since the airbox doubled as a mount for the throttle and choke linkages he fabricated a custom assembly to actuate the carbs. The airbox was then dissected and the carb inlet mounts repurposed to allow the fitment of K&N pod filters.

Ruffian Honda Goldwing cafe racer

Another of the radical changes on Dirk’s Goldwing GL1200 is the bespoke suspension. Both of Dirk’s ideas for the front and rear suspension were ones he hadn’t seen done on a Goldwing before. As a result, they became the most challenging aspect of the build.

At the pointy end, he’s done a complete front end swap using a set of 2014 CBR600RR inverted forks. The forks went into the frame with fresh bearings and an extended and strengthened stem. In the rear is another unconventional idea that once again uses CBR600RR components. With the rear of the frame, including the shock mounts, gone, Dirk converted the rear to a monoshock setup. To achieve this he welded a mounting bracket onto the frame beneath the seat. It’s designed to accept both of the CBR shocks since one wouldn’t be enough to carry the heft of the Goldwing. He then welded a boxed section onto the driveshaft to hold the lower half of the shocks and to strengthen the whole assembly.

Dirk admits the work on the front end has drastically changed the Goldwings handling. Low-speed turns have become a real challenge, but once the bike is moving it handles well. As for the rear, the modern twin shocks have been a complete success.

Custom Honda Goldwing

After plenty of testing the Honda’s SOHC flat-four showed good compression so Dirk left it essentially untouched. He did however perform a range of general maintenance tasks such as rebuilding the starter clutch, replacing the hydraulic clutch actuator, installing a new stator and a Ricks voltage rec/reg to ensure its reliability. He’s also added a Lithium battery, new ignition coils and wires and replaced the timing belts. The only change in performance comes from the addition of pod filters and the fitment of a pair of aftermarket mufflers on the modified stock headers. A complete carb rebuild and synchronisation ensured that everything ran as it should.

As for the rest of the bike, there’s no shortage of custom tweaks and additions to complete the GL1200’s radical new look.

There’s a new wiring harness and it’s hooked up to a Motogadget m.Unit. Dirk also went with a digital Motogadget Motoscope Pro gauge which adds a bit of high tech luxury to the cockpit. The clip-on handlebars are by Apex and they’ve been fitted with 2-inch risers to keep the ride comfortable. The controls and mirrors are generic eBay finds and all the brake lines have been upgraded to custom Venhill alternatives.

Lighting consists of an LED lamp at the front and fork-mounted LED turn signals. In the rear are LED brake and turn signal strips which are built into the frame hoop and around the license plate. Dirk also trimmed back the timing belt covers to show off the engines valve cam sprockets which add an intriguing moving component to the engine. To achieve a more visually appealing finish, he’s even relocated the rear brake calliper.

Custom Honda Goldwing

The new paintwork was yet another task Dirk completed himself. The engine, chassis and wheels have all been refreshed in either silver or black, but the standout here is the vibrant blue he’s applied to the bodywork.

“I have my own spray booth made from a converted tool shed,” says Dirk. “I used a urethane base and urethane clear on an epoxy primer. I buy my paint from TPC and shoot with an HVLP gun except the clear which I shoot with a compliant gun.”

The final step of the transformation was the christening of Dirk’s creation. As a homage to a race-winning horse he admired in the ’70s Dirk has named the bike Ruffian. The 16.2 hands badge on the fuel tank refers the horses’ height and the bold Ruffian lettering on the Pirelli tyres are decals that were custom made by

Dirk’s Ruffian is about as unconventional as they come. Its design is unorthodox, it’s unashamedly brash and it’s a visual feast of abnormal alterations – but despite all that, his custom Goldwing GL1200 has me grinning from ear to ear.


Check out the TFL Bike video below by Dirk’s son Kase to see the Ruffian in action.

Custom Honda Goldwing