The Origins of GWEF
(The GOLD WING EUROPEAN FEDERATION)
Some Facts and Some Thoughts
GWEF Chairman (1989-2001)
What is GWEF?
GWEF is a federation of national Gold Wing motorcycle clubs in Europe. These clubs are made up of owners of the Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. The national purposes of these clubs has been captured at the international level in the Constitution of GWEF, whose first two objectives are:
- To promote international contact, friendship, activities and information exchange between Gold Wing clubs and riders.
- To encourage others, by example, to strive for and to attain high standards as motorcyclists and to promote and establish the Gold Wing and its rider as an example of all that is worthwhile about motorcycling.
These few words capture the whole essence of Gold Winging. First of all, we are motorcyclists. Second, the Gold Wing and its riders are something special. Third, that special quality takes the Gold Wing and its riders beyond borders. It takes us beyond languages, beyond cultural differences - to share a common interest not only in a motorcycle but also in its riders. We ride a motorcycle that can take us from one end of Europe to the other with ease and comfort – just with a twist of the wrist. Our Gold Wing motorcycle is a passport to new experiences. We become ambassadors of motorcycling. We become ambassadors of our own countries. Most importantly, however, by sharing the lives and worlds of others we learn more about ourselves.
The Birth of the Gold Wing – and Gold Winging
Obviously, the origins of GWEF go back to the birth of the Gold Wing motorcycle and the establishment of Gold Wing clubs in Europe. The Honda Gold Wing made its first public appearance, as the GL 1000 K0 model, at the Cologne motorcycle show in October 1974. It became available on the U.S. and European markets in 1975.
Its reception was mixed, particularly in Europe. Honda had tried to produce the "Ultimate Motorcycle". However, apart from some technical innovations to increase smoothness and reduce torque reactions in the final-shaft, little was new in the Honda. Four cylinders; one litre capacity, the flat-four "boxer" engine configuration, disc brakes, etc, were all to be found in other models – indeed, with some of those features being found in the first decade of this century. What was unique for the new model was that these were all combined in the one machine. So, what is the ultimate motorcycle? That can be as poorly defined now as then. The British have a saying: "There are horses for courses." Honda has raised a thoroughbred horse. It just had to find the best course to show its breeding.
Certainly, the GL 1000 belonged to the newly developing class of superbikes. It had the engine capacity of a small car, the engine power and torque of a middle-class car, the maximum speed of a sports car, the standing-start acceleration of a racing car – and a weight of about a quarter of a ton. This was no Vespa! But to riders used to short wheelbase British or Italian twins weighing less than 200 kg, it was no sports machine either.
Americans have no problem in heading for a distant horizon without national borders in between. American motorcyclists now found the ideal machine for doing that. The Gold Wing! But European riders also made this discovery. Europe was being unified. Travel was easier. Booming economies meant that individuals could explore their own continent – and others, too. (North America is not the only place with endless highways. From Lisbon in the West to the borders of Asia in the East is nearly 4’600 km (2’900 miles), From Helsinki in the North to Palermo in the South is 3’860 km (2’400 miles). There are a lot of countries and cultures in between!)
So, the Gold Wing began its life as a legendary mile-eater. Not only that, Honda machines had an undisputed reliability. Riders could undertake extensive journeys without having the store of spare parts or a diploma in mechanical engineering that British and Italian machines needed. That thoroughbred horse had found its course. It was, and is, the ultimate long-distance tourer.
The Birth of National Clubs
Perhaps more than any motorcycle before or since, these qualities of the Gold Wing gave a focal point for those qualities of motorcyclists that we share and appreciate so much – the camaraderie. Gold Wing owners were soon organizing rallies and forming national clubs. The first European gathering of Gold Wing riders was in Holland, when 140 Gold Wingers from various countries met in May, 1978 at Heel, near Roermond. That first Treffen was soon followed by one in Lungern, Switzerland in June, 1978 and in Zierenberg, Germany in September, 1978. (The Dutch and German word for a meeting or rally is "Treffen". That first event in Holland established the tradition of calling all international Gold Wing rallies in Europe "Treffens".)
Obviously, ‘many tyres were kicked’, many discussions about the Gold Wing were held at these Treffens. Common interests were explored. So, it was a natural step to crystallize the interest in the Gold Wing and the camaraderie into the formation of national Gold Wing clubs or Interest Groups. History has it that the world’s first Gold Wing club was the Gold Wing Road Riders Association, formed in June, 1977. However, the GWRRA did not hold its first rally, or Wing Ding as the Americans call their meetings, until September, 1979 in Phoenix, Arizona.
That first Gold Wing Treffen in Holland in 1978 obviously got Europeans into gear. The first European club, or Interest Group, was formed in Switzerland, on 11th June, 1978. (The Swiss club just published a list of Wingers with at least twenty years of membership. This says a great deal over the loyalty of Wingers – and about the motorcycle they have stayed true to for two decades.) One week later, on 17th June, a ‘Circle of Gold Wing Friends’ was formed in Germany. The French club was formed in July/August, 1978 and the Dutch formed the Gold Wing Club of Holland in September, 1978.
Still based on the GL 1000, the next couple of years saw the formation of more national clubs: in Belgium in June, 1979; Denmark in September 1979; in Great Britain in May 1980. For the 1980 season, the Gold Wing developed into the GL 1100 – and more clubs were formed; Norway in September, 1980; Austria and Sweden in the Winter of 1981/2; Finland in 1983; Italy in January 1984. Honda launched a further development of the Gold Wing for the 1984 season. This was the GL 1200. Still further clubs were set up in Europe; Luxembourg in Winter, 1984/5; Ireland in April, 1985; Spain in May, 1985.
The last development of the Gold Wing took place in 1988, when the original four cylinder engine was extended to six. The engine capacity made its biggest increase to date by going up to 1520 cc. By now, the Gold Wing had long been a fully dressed tourer, a development that started with the GL 1100 Interstate in 1980. It not only had the fairings and luggage that the first Gold Wing riders had mounted themselves but it had sophisticated air-assisted suspension and a device for reversing. This had indeed become necessary. All that additional equipment and engine size had its price – in weight. That first 1975 GL 1000 ‘boxer’ tipped the scales at 265 kg dry. The 1988 GL 1500s entered the ring at 381-403 kg. Later models went above 405 kg.
This development of the motorcycle was paralleled by a continuing development of European club life. With support and advice from GWEF and its member clubs, Wingers in Portugal formed a club in 1993/4. With the opening up of Europe towards the East, a small group of enthusiastic motorcyclists was encouraged to form a Gold Wing club in Poland in 1996. A similar group of dedicated Wingers established a Gold Wing club in the Czech Republic in 1997.
The Birth of GWEF
Already at that first meeting in the world of Gold Wingers, in Holland in the Spring of 1978, Wingers from several countries participated. The Gold Wing caused miles to shrink, it dissolved borders, it was a machine to crystallize that friendship and love of contact of motorcyclists. The international participation in Gold Wing events became the hallmark of these riders. As can be guessed from the development of clubs described above, each eager to stage Treffens, the international programme of events soon began to fill the European riding season.
In 1982, this led to informal co-operation on a calendar of events. However, there was more to co-operation than in events. Although the unification of Europe was accelerating, there were still different road traffic laws in the countries. Technical expertise for servicing and maintaining Gold Wings was spread across the Continent. A readiness to help fellow Wingers with difficulties was also widespread. Sharing of this information called for some sort of central, co-ordinating body.
So, at Coo in Belgium on 5th March 1983, those earlier steps towards a European organization were formalized into the Gold Wing European Federation. Represented were (in alphabetical order) the national Gold Wing clubs of Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Holland and Switzerland. Norway also was represented by proxy. The records are not clear about how or when, but already one year later, in 1984, the clubs from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden were represented in GWEF. Luxembourg, Ireland and Spain followed in 1985. These fifteen countries formed the core of GWEF until Portugal, Poland and the Czech Republic joined GWEF in the 1990s.
The principles of GWEF were established in that formative year of 1983. Although there have been some changes, the spirit guiding GWEF has remained unchanged since being set up by those pioneer Wingers and clubs nearly 16 years ago. Perhaps for the Secretary of GWEF and me, the most important principle is the sovereign status of the eighteen Member-Clubs. There is an American expression to describe this aspect of GWEF. It is an ‘Advise and Consent’ organization.
On joining GWEF, a national club agrees to accept GWEF’s Constitution. At its Committee Meetings (usually two each year) the so-called International Representatives of each national club meet to advise about and discuss issues and problems. They make decisions by simple majority voting. By accepting the Constitution, they consent to realize those decisions at their national level, as far as their national situation allows. GWEF has no power over these clubs, except social pressure. (Of course, repeated violation of GWEF principles could lead to the expulsion of a national club.) The three Officers of GWEF, the Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer have no executive power. Apart from the casting vote of the Chairman, they have no voting powers. They are there to fulfil the majority wishes of the GWEF Committee
Back in 1982/3, there was a loose connection to the American GWRRA. It was even discussed whether GWEF should become a European chapter of that organization. However, the Europeans went in a different direction. GWEF followed the pattern of its Member-Clubs. These were run on a purely voluntary, unpaid basis. The Member-Clubs chose to retain their sovereign national status rather than surrendering this to a pan-european organization. The GWRRA became a professional organization, primarily representing the whole of North America. One can only guess why this should have been so. Perhaps the European motorcyclists were more independent spirits than others. Perhaps they want a framework, but one that is informal. Perhaps they prefer dedicated amateurism to dedicated professionalism.
Around 1987, a group of Wingers left the GWRRA to form the Gold Wing Touring Association. It seems that they wanted less business-oriented, non-profit-making club. Within months, there were discussions about linking GWEF and the new GWTA. It was concluded that there was no basis for establishing formal links. However, the way was paved for informal co-operation.
This bore fruit in 1991/2. Then, the current Chairman joined the GWTA National Director, Bud Morris, and Gary Ingram (the current General Secretary of the British Club) to organized a tour of the Western United States by 37 European Gold Wings and 68 participants. This was a great success. Many lasting individual friendships were established. A return tour of GWTA members to Europe was arranged by Jürgen von Bloh of Germany, as were other US tours for Europeans. However, it became harder to maintain official contact when the GWTA management changed. Again, the reasons for this were related to different ways of thinking
One reason, from the European side, was that our GWTA colleagues could not understand that European infrastructures differed from American ones. Also, there are differences in motorcycling and Gold Winging. It is dangerous to generalize, but some of us have visited America and participated in Gold Wing events. Others have shared European rides with American Wingers. One notices several things.
European Wingers seem to be more individualistic. They love socializing, but not so much on the road. They also seem to ride harder, faster and longer. This might be because Europeans, at least in the 1980s, tended to be younger. Riding patterns may result from differences in traffic laws. (Even today, many speed limits on European rural roads are higher than on U.S. highways. It was suggested above that the Gold Wing is not a sports machine. However, it is surprising how skilled riders can ‘push it through the canyons’. This does not seem to be the transatlantic Wing style.)
Many European Wingers, particularly from Scandinavia, regularly ride over 2’500+ km (1500+ mi.) to attend an International Treffen – a Treffen lasting only 3-4 days. They then ride 2’500 km home. To attend the Easter Treffen in Belgium, they often have to freight their Wings out of the metre-high snow. But once out of it, they ride! (No self-respecting Winger would trailer his Wing all the way to a Treffen.)
Another difference is between European Treffens and American Wing Dings. American programmes seem to be full of daytime activities. During the day, Europeans mostly plan their own programmes – exploring the particular corner of the world where the Treffen is held - and its people. The main organized programmes are in the evening. This is when European Wingers get together. Later, they go back to their tents – for Treffens are based on camping. Local organizers may provide accommodation lists, but it is up to the individual to arrange this. Only a minority takes advantage of this. After all, if you have to ride back to a hotel you cannot drink and you usually have to leave just when the fun is starting.
When it came to organizing tours within Europe, Americans from the GWTA could not react to the European need to have long planning times. During the height of the European tourist season, it is just not possible to find modestly priced hotel accommodation at group tariffs for, say, fifty people at two to three months notice – not for one night, and certainly not for 14-20 nights. Such things have to be negotiated up 8-9 months in advance – by voluntary effort. The same goes for ferry connections, etc.. This means having a definite commitment on participant numbers at these early dates.
All in all, we can share our love of motorcycling with American Wingers, but so far our worlds are too different to allow any permanent, formal relationship to be established.
GWEF is characterized more by its informality and liberal structure, arising out of the fully voluntary nature of European club managements. First, a national club applying for membership to GWEF must present a formal Constitution. This must allow for regular democratic elections of its governing body or committee. All club involvement requires a heavy load of voluntary work for the club to function. Individuals should not gain from this. Therefore, a national club constitution must also exclude the possibility of people earning or making a profit from club activities, except in the course of a normal business relationship providing services to a club. This is an important principle in GWEF. No one is paid for their GWEF work, though the Secretary and Treasurer are reimbursed for their GWEF-business expenses. No one is paid for club work at the national club level.
A national club must also appoint its International Representative (IR) to GWEF. The IR must be a full voting member of the national club committee. The IR is then fully informed about his or her national club policy and can speak for the national club at GWEF meetings. He or she also represents GWEF at national club meetings. Back in 1983, it was decided that the most common language was English. This became the ‘business’ language of GWEF. This means that all IRs should be able to communicate in English – even if it is with a little help from his friends on the Committee. However, in 1983, the Gold Wing Club of France suggested that all Final Ceremonies at International Treffens should be in multiple languages. Since then, these Ceremonies are conducted in English, French, German, often Dutch/Flemish and, if it is different, in the home language, of course. Many clubs have extended this. They circulate their Treffen publicity material in several languages.
Another important principle is that only one national club from any one country may be represented in GWEF. It works on the principle of ‘one country, one vote’. A small club such as Luxembourg, with a few dozen members, has the same voice as, say, Sweden with its nearly three thousand members. (Here we follow the precepts of the European Union or the United Nations. However, no one has more rights than another because of military and/or economic power. No one has a veto right.) Almost without exception these clubs were the first to be founded in their home countries and they were the first ones to show an interest in international contacts and in GWEF.
There are countries that had or have more than one Gold Wing organization. Amongst these are Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. This is a potential dilemma for GWEF, if it wants to pursue those objectives set out in the first paragraph. We would like to embrace as many Winging organizations and Wingers as possible. However, if one country provides, say, five clubs to GWEF, decision-making could be biased in one cultural direction. GWEF wants to stay internationally balanced. On this issue, therefore, it believes that the various clubs should seek unity at the national level and be in GWEF with one voice and one vote. It does not wish to be a platform for differences within a country. Another principle related to this is that national clubs should not ask what GWEF can do for them, but show what they can do for GWEF, for European Winging.
Member-clubs have agreed to three other traditions. First, they offer some recognition of the participation of other GWEF-club riders in their International Treffens. Although the nature of these awards, the GWEF Nations Awards, is not specified, they are usually cups or trophies. The rank order for these is determined by taking the air-kilometre distance from the pre-determined centre of a country to the Treffen locality, multiplied by the number of Wingers from that country inscribed at the Treffen. All other awards are at the discretion of the local organizers. Again it is traditional to offer longest distance awards for gentlemen and lady solo riders and for sidecar riders. Also the oldest and youngest rider are usually rewarded. However, none of these are binding. Further, such awards are not restricted to members of GWEF clubs.
Second, access to the main sites of GWEF-recognized international events is restricted to Gold Wings. The only exception is when an immediate family member rides a machine other than a Gold Wing. However, they must inscribe together with a Gold Wing rider. Cars, campers and other four-wheelers are not allowed. There are several reasons for this. First, the Treffen is for Gold Wing riders. Second, because of space limitations and security risks of moving vehicles, only motorcycles are accepted on site. If people arrive on other motorcycles or with other vehicles, they may inscribe and participate in the weekend, but their vehicles must stay outside. Most organizers provide a ‘parc fermé’ for these.
Finally, GWEF-clubs send a copy of their national club-magazines to all members of the GWEF Committee. In this way every IR is fully informed about Winging matters in all other countries. Further, each club gives an open permission to the others to reproduce any material appearing in its magazine, but only when acknowledging its source.
The Structure of GWEF
As stated above, the structure of GWEF have changed little in the fifteen years of its existence. The posts of the three Officers, Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer are subject to (re)election every two years. Eligible for these posts are any full members of any national Gold Wing club belonging to GWEF. The only restriction is on the Chairman. To reduce any potential conflict of interests, the Chairman of GWEF may not belong to the Committee of any national club. (However, with the current Chairman being an Englishman resident in Switzerland and belonging to the Gold Wing Clubs of Ireland and France, that is unlikely to arise!) The eighteen IRs vote on these nominations.
When GWEF was founded, the first Chairman of this European organization was an American living in Germany. However, within a short time this post was taken over by Jean-Luc Bostyn from Belgium. The secretarial work was conducted by the Englishman, Steve Holbrook. From Spring, 1984 until the end of 1989, these two conducted the official work of GWEF. They were clearly instrumental in guiding and developing the structure of GWEF.
At the end of 1989, the then Officers felt that they had fulfilled their responsibilities and were ready to hand over the running of GWEF to others. Further, the Committee saw the need for a Treasurer. In December 1989, they therefore elected the current Chairman, that Englishman with a mixed pedigree, the current Secretary, Alex Lemoyne from Belgium and Lorenz Eyssen from Germany as Treasurer. As Chairman, I am the first to recognize that the Secretary does the most work and the Treasurer carries the most responsibility. Perhaps it is that responsibility that limits the voluntary service that someone can offer. After Lorenz resigned to devote himself to his heavy responsibilities in the German club, a lady Winger from England, Ann Forster, brought her professional expertise to difficult post. Recently her work was taken over by another lady rider, Kris Maryns from Belgium. This page of history illustrates that the international nature of GWEF is carried through into its elected officials.
It has become standard practice for the GWEF Committee, the eighteen IRs and the three Officers, to meet formally twice a year. The first meeting is at the first Treffen of the year, in Belgium at Easter. The second is at the last Treffen of the year, at the beginning of September in Luxembourg. Of course, much discussion goes on throughout the riding season when riders meet at international Treffens. Old-fashioned telephones, new-fashioned faxes and e-mails are regularly used between Committee members. Even a very old-fashioned letter occasionally passes hands! With this closeness of communications and with the closeness of spirit and interests, those Committee Meetings last only about three hours each. (It has been suggested that we sell our ‘know-how’ to international and political organizations. After all, for eighteen countries to discuss and decide upon issues in six to eight hours annually, we must have some secret. On the other hand, perhaps motorcyclists should take over the running of the world!)
The modest funding of GWEF and its operations comes from two sources. First, national clubs pay a fee for each of their full members. The basis is 21 Belgian Francs (about $0.60) for each one registered. There is, however, a sliding scale, so that the larger clubs pay progressively less for their greater numbers of members. (This sliding scale was introduced when the GWEF Officers found that they were receiving too much money to fulfil the requirements set by the Committee!) The second source is a levy of 21 Belgian Francs for each Gold Wing registered at events belonging to the recognized GWEF calendar. (We shall soon have to change our currency to Euros!)
The Services of GWEF
GWEF annually provides all clubs with GWEF membership cards for their national members. (Some clubs even use these as their national membership cards.) These confirm a rider’s GWEF-affiliation. They enable riders to get much cheaper inscription rates at GWEF-recognized events.
Every year the Secretary publishes a GWEF Help Guide. This lists the telephone numbers of a group (usually 30-40) of multilingual Wingers spread over each country. They are prepared to act as contacts when a foreign Winger runs into problems on his trip. There is also a summary of the major traffics laws, (here you should read "speed-limits"!), business hours and breakdown services. According to a common format there is also a list of standard phrases that a rider in trouble might need, such as: "Where is the hospital?" (Although the Gold Wing is a thoroughbred, we do not include the phrase, "My horse has lost a shoe."!) This Help Guide is one of the major expenses for GWEF. We have not yet succeeded in making it self-financing with advertisements from all the Member-Clubs.
GWEF also supplies clubs with direction signs for the routes to events. These are in the GWEF colours of blue and gold. They provide a ready identifier for tired riders seeking their way to an event.
As Europe moves towards integration, traffic laws, vehicle construction and use regulations, etc. are being unified. However, the bureaucrats in Brussels rarely attend to the rights and needs of motorcyclists. They usually propose the lowest common legal denominator from the various legal systems of the E.U. member-states. Therefore it is important for riders to have their voices heard in the corridors of power. Although many national clubs support riders rights organizations in their own countries, GWEF decided that it was honour-bound to defend riders rights at the European level. GWEF therefore contributes financially to the work of the Federation of European Motorcycle Associations. This is a very successful and skilled defender of riders rights and it has won many battles for European riders. One success is getting the use of motorcycle trailers accepted in some countries.
Although the GWEF Nations Awards recognize the participation of clubs at international events, GWEF also recognizes an individual rider who pursues the aims of GWEF. This is with the ‘GWEF Super Tourer Award’. Any rider who participates annually in at least four international GWEF events can receive a year-patch and diploma confirming his international activities. He receives an additional card with his membership card. This is stamped at each inscription and sent to the GWEF office at the end of the Treffen season. There is also an annual ‘Tour Award Trophy’. This goes to the national club with the highest percentage of registered members gaining a Super Tour Award. This tends to favour the smaller clubs that do not rank highly in the Nations Awards.
The GWEF Office is also the collecting point for all local information. The Secretary collates this and distributes this to each Member-Club. The greatest volume comes from Treffen publicity. It was noted above that GWEF respects the sovereign rights of its member-Clubs. It therefore does not interfere with the local organization of Treffens. Obviously, organizers have to provide sufficient camping space and sanitary facilities. Apart from that, the national clubs are free to provide what they wish. However, there is one strict rule regarding the publicity material. This should state exactly when and where the event is to be held. Also necessary is a full description of what is provided for what price.
GWEF should not dictate on this. We recognize that independence of motorcyclists. They are well able to read information, to assess what is being offered and to decide themselves whether they want to undertake the trip or not. Such complete information is then published free in the magazines of all the other clubs. As a counter-service, the club then publishes free the event publicity from the other clubs. From his home magazine, every GWEF Winger then knows what is going on in the whole continent. (By the way, because GWEF and many clubs encourage family participation, schoolchildren (up to the age of sixteen) are admitted free to GWEF events.)
One final point also has to be mentioned. Although motorcyclists are very social, good-natured people, very occasionally someone steps over the limit of acceptable behaviour. If this occurs at a foreign event, host clubs may have little redress. This is not so in GWEF. If someone behaves far outside normal, social standards, either at the event or in public, event security officers can expel the perpetrator from the event. The circumstances may be reported to the person’s home club. This can result in a formal warning. If the deed is very serious or is repeated in spite of warnings, the rider can be expelled from his own club, expelled from GWEF and banned from joining another GWEF-Club. Home clubs wish to protect their reputation abroad. All of us want to preserve the fragile reputation of motorcyclists in the eyes of the public and press. Through GWEF, other Member-Clubs support each other in this. Those high standards as motorcyclists and citizens are important. (Fortunately, this rule has been invoked only once in fifteen years – a proud record when eighteen countries representing about 15’000 riders are involved in so many annual events.)
All of these factual matters, however, do not capture the essential spirit of European Winging and the role of GWEF. The main function of GWEF should be to provide an almost invisible framework for organizers to set up international events. It informs Wingers about these. It spreads information about Wings and Winging. Most of all, it should help Wingers to do what motorcyclists like doing best – having good rides, meeting old friends, making new friends and having special memories of all of these – in every corner of the culturally rich Europe. We are eighteen countries joined in a common purpose. At home, the 15’000 of us speak one of thirteen languages and innumerable dialects in our families. Travelling throughout Europe and the world, in the family of GWEF we speak one – that of motorcycling on a Gold Wing.
© T.G. White
4th January 1999
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