2012 Honda Gold Wing GL1800 ABS

Tour Test Review

The typical day ride, especially on a luxury-touring motorcycle such as the new 2012 Honda Gold Wing, is like a snapshot. Sure, it’s worth about a thousand words, roughly the length of my Ridden & Rated review of the bike in the last issue. I based it upon a few hours on a 2012 Wing in March. To get the whole picture, though, you really need to spend several days bonding with such a fully featured motorcycle.

In May, American Honda gave us the perfect opportunity—a five-day excursion it nicknamed “Planes, Trains and Motor­cycles.” Our series of adventures would begin with a night on the Auto Train, said to be the longest passenger train in the world, which carries cars, motorcycles and their pilots non-stop from Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), to Lorton, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.), and vice-versa, avoiding 855 miles of manic Interstate 95. Upon arrival in Lorton we would gear up, my wife Genie riding shotgun, and ride the entire length of Skyline Park Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping for the night first in Roanoke, Virginia, then Asheville, North Carolina (at no less than the Inn at the Biltmore), and finally Knoxville, Tennessee, before reluctantly surrendering the motorcycles and flying home.

It was a grand plan, painstakingly arranged and organized to the last detail, and even though pouring rain on the first day interfered with our goal to ride the entire Blue Ridge, we still put more than 700 miles on the new Wing, including Skyline Park Drive in Virginia, the Great Smoky Mountains Expressway and Highway 129 in Tennessee, a.k.a the Tail of the Dragon. The rain even had a benefit—I can state unequivocally that the Gold Wing’s four storage pockets, trunk and saddlebags stay dry inside, even in a northeastern frog strangler…though my underwear did not.

That’s the kind of reliability and functionality that Gold Wing enthusiasts expect in the bike, from the luggage to the smooth power of the 1,832cc flat-six to sporty handling that belies the fueled-up ABS model’s 910 pounds. By now everyone knows that the bike’s manufacture has moved from Ohio to Japan, sparking rumors that an all-new Gold Wing was imminent.

According to Honda, though, the limited changes in the new 2012 design were decided upon before the move, its upgrades and styling improvements responses to customer input. Said Ray Blank, senior VP of American Honda’s motorcycle division, “When we first knew that we were going to transfer our production for Gold Wing to the Kumamoto factory in Japan, we did a couple of years of extensive research to try and discern what it is that customers would like to have, if and when we developed a new Gold Wing, thinking that perhaps we would delay a little bit longer and bring that one as a first model out from Kumamoto. After all of that research, we basically were told from customers, ‘We want the same thing.’ You know, some people said I’d like to have 2,000cc, or some people said I’d like to have some different feature or this or that, but fundamentally they said don’t change the layout, don’t change the engine—we want to have a flat six, we want to have luxury touring but we want a bike that handles like a sportbike. So when we took a look at all the research that was done, we said, what can we do more than what we’re doing right now except to change those areas that were the strongest requests.”

One can imagine that the cost and complexity of the move to Kumamoto impacted the degree to which the 2012 model was changed as well. Now that they’re unpacked and cooking-up 2012s, though, Honda says it is working on model years 2014-2016.

In addition to last month’s Ridden & Rated on the 2012, volumes have been written on previous GL1800s in this magazine, including a long-term review of a 2010 model in June 2011 and a full test in April 2009 of that year’s model, both of which are on our website at ridermag.wpengine.com and largely still apply. What about those customer requests? What’s new and how does it work?

Most apparent is the bodywork and luggage, which has been streamlined in appearance yet holds about 7 liters more, for a total of about 150 liters. Each saddlebag lid will close with a full-face helmet and more inside now, the trunk still holds two, and two can be suspended from the helmet locks under the trunk when parked. Two-up riders carrying two sets of raingear, sweaters, cameras, clothing, shoes, etc., will still benefit from adding a luggage rack on the trunk; the factory accessory requires installing the optional spoiler/ brakelight (the Gold Wing’s second best-selling accessory after the CB radio). The fairing and passenger pockets are handy and the new locking pocket on the tanktop of non-airbag models is cavernous and useful (though I’d like a hinged lid on it instead of the removable one, which like the gas cap, needs a place to go when you take it off).

Rider and passenger seat comfort has been enhanced with new foam and cover material, and I found the combo quite good for all-day riding, as did Genie. The rider’s handlebar-footpeg-seat relationship is armchairlike yet provides great bar leverage, and the repositioned lumbar support allows larger riders to slide more rearward. Passenger grabrails, backrest and flip-up floorboards are equally well thought out—I couldn’t wrestle a single complaint from my copilot, who has been on enough motorcycles to know what works and what doesn’t.

Honda had the foresight to bring the Gold Wing Large Project Leader, Yutaka Nakanishi, from HGA in Japan and Styling Leader Asao Itaya from HRA in Torrance along for the ride. Quizzed about the bike’s slightly more nimble handling, Nakanishi indicated the combination of new fork bushings with less friction and Bridgestone tires sourced in Japan with longer life (and subsequently less turn-in resistance) are the primary contributors. I also had a chance to talk to Itaya at length about the bike’s new bodywork, which not only looks good but quite clearly enlarges the pocket of still air around the rider and passenger, particularly below the waist. In the cool weather the lower fairing vents left off this model weren’t missed, yet I still used the center windscreen vent quite often. Genie experienced less buffeting from the waist up, too, particularly when I raised the manually adjustable windscreen all the way, but even with it down we had no trouble conversing over the intercom with our J&M headsets (preinstalled in a pair of Arai RX-Q helmets).

Among the customer requests for the new Wing was a sound system and GPS navigation on par with “what you would find in a Honda car.” So now a new USB port in the trunk that displays the connected device as well as the 1⁄8-inch male jack in the fairing pocket can be used for auxiliary input (e.g. an iPod, MP3 player, radar detector or even a flash drive) to the four-speaker, 80-watt per channel system, which also has AM/FM; CD with an optional changer in the recessed trunk compartment; XM Radio with NavTraffic and NavWeather (for a monthly fee); and intercom. Although the bike’s speakers sound great at low speeds they begin to lose effectiveness above about 50 mph with helmets on, so it’s best to take advantage of the built-in jacks and connect a pair of headsets such as the J&Ms we used. In addition to easy full-duplex conversation over the intercom, the integration with the optional CB radio, sound system and Navi GPS, traffic and weather is complete and automatic. Genie was even able to use earplugs with her headset (because I needed some additional volume) though the optional passenger volume control should probably be standard. We found the new SRS CS Auto circuitry in the 2012 sound system improves upon the old “ambience” effect, creating more of surround sound experience and richer bass, especially in headsets.

For the Navi’s part, it’s improved with more resolution, quicker updating and rerouting and has a Lane Assist function now. The biggest change to it is the addition of a second SD data card that allows you to create and upload routes to/from a computer and share them with other riders (as common .gpx files).

Overall, the Gold Wing experience remains comfortably luxurious, with ample power and grunt for two-up, fully loaded performance, and handling far better than most riders interested in the rest of the Wing’s features need or desire. Two-up, with the bags about half-full, it averaged 38.8 mpg on the highway on regular fuel, for a range of about 240 miles. In cold weather, the still air pocket behind the fairing, heated grips and seats, and closeable foot warmer vents keep you warm. Genie and I passed the time on the interstate playing “Guess the Artist” with the XM radio—I would switch among the dozens of music channel types until I found a song I thought she might know, then she would try to guess the name of the band or artist without looking at the display (and she’s really, really good). Parking the large bike is simplified by the electric reverse, which even two-up and loaded will back it up a moderate incline, and tire pressures are monitored with a two-stage warning system.

Sure, it would be nice if future Gold Wing models weighed less and had more cornering clearance to keep up with new competition, but I’m not convinced the vast majority of Wingers out there would trade away any of the bike’s passenger space, trailer-towing capability or host of other convenience and comfort features to get it. Basically, if you have a parking spot big enough for one of the largest bikes on the road, there’s almost nothing it can’t provide in return.