First Ride Review
Honda’s iconic Gold Wing dominated the heavyweight-touring category for many years thanks to its combination of smooth, stump-pulling power, excellent handling for its size, luxurious, wind-protected comfort for two and class-leading convenience features. Ironically, the first Gold Wing lacked such well-defined direction. Honda intended the 1975 GL1000 flat four to be the “King of Motorcycles,” a do-it-all machine with unsurpassed smoothness, power and handling that would showcase the company’s engineering prowess and hopefully steal the superbike crown back from Kawasaki’s mighty Z1 900, which wrested it from the Honda CB750 in 1973. Though the Wing didn’t quite trounce the Z1, as fate would have it there wasn’t a large, smooth, reliable and comfortable bike like it on the market in the late ’70s, and long-distance riders quickly promoted the Gold Wing to the king of touring motorcycles. The bike spawned an entire industry of accessories like fairings, luggage, lighting and seats around it, and as the years passed it became more and more integrated and capable, right up to the latest Gold Wing GL1800 flat six that has soldiered on relatively unchanged since 2001.
Over the years the Gold Wing has also grown in size and weight, and its rider demographic has aged, earning the bike a reputation as a “couch on wheels” and an “old man’s bike.” Sales have leveled off to a simmer and some have been lost to competition with traditional V-twins or faster and lighter multis like the BMW K 1600 GTL. Upgrades for 2012 included refreshed styling, more luggage capacity and electronic updates, but the Navi/ABS version of the bike tips the scales at 916 pounds wet and lacks many features found on the competition. While the 2017 GL1800 still provides an unmatched combination of two-up comfort, power and handling, the bike has been overdue for a rethink.
Prepare to be blown away.
The 2018 Honda Gold Wing is not just all-new—Honda has taken a “light is right” approach that has knocked off almost 90 pounds, shortened the bike’s overall length by 2.2 inches and further centralized mass for better handling, while maintaining its signature roomy rider and passenger accommodations. Honda says the lighter, more compact 1,833cc flat six has more peak horsepower and torque, and all-new bodywork is sleeker and lighter with taut new styling. The bike’s electronics are state-of-the-art, with throttle-by-wire, four riding modes, C-ABS/traction control, electronically adjustable suspension and windscreen, Bluetooth and a fully featured infotainment and navigation system that includes Apple CarPlay. Two models, a Gold Wing Tour with a top trunk and sportier Gold Wing without, have varying levels of equipment and the choice of a 6-speed manual transmission or 7-speed dual-clutch (DCT) automatic. Pricing ranges from $23,500 all the way up to $31,500 for the top-line Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag model.
Rider was given a preview of the new Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour in Japan at an exclusive test session at Honda’s Twin Ring Motegi racetrack. Following a nearly six-hour tech briefing on the Gold Wing’s new features, we took a dozen or so laps around the 3-mile circuit, first on the previous GL1800 and then on camouflaged, pre-production examples of the new base Gold Wing model with a 6-speed manual transmission and a Gold Wing Tour DCT. I’m not going to pretend that 12 laps around a silky smooth racetrack are a comprehensive test of a bike with so much potential, but Twin Ring Motegi is a highly technical track, and I was able to get a good feel for the lighter bike’s vastly improved handling, suspension performance, brakes and wind protection. I also swapped two-up rides with a fellow journalist to get an impression of the passenger accommodations.
Underneath crisp, more aerodynamic bodywork and styling that freshly complements the Gold Wing’s heritage, an all-new engine and chassis were redesigned with three main things in mind—cut weight, move the rider(s) forward and centralize mass. Inside the liquid-cooled, 1,833cc flat six the crankshaft is smaller but stronger and aluminum cylinder sleeves save weight. Cylinder bore centers are closer together and the bore and stroke is changed from 74.0 x 71.0mm to 73.0 x 73.0mm to help shorten the engine by 29mm. A single 50mm downdraft throttle body replaces the former pair, the intake manifold is lighter and the engine gets more compact Unicam valve actuation with four valves per cylinder vs. two. An Integrated Starter Generator (ISG) saves 5.3 pounds and quickly starts the engine with a single button press, and new exhaust is 7.7 pounds lighter and sounds throatier. Though redline remains 6,000 rpm, Honda says torque output is increased down low and up top as well as peak horsepower. The DCT-equipped engine is 8.4 pounds lighter than the previous six, and the manual transmission engine weighs 13.7 pounds less—cruising rpm in top gear is the same for both transmissions.
An all-new robotically welded twin-spar aluminum frame with a shorter seat rail and single-sided swingarm with a revised pivot-area structure together are 4.4 pounds lighter and also move the rider(s) forward. Up front a unique double-wishbone steering and suspension setup—similar to the Hossack system and BMW Duolever in function—prevents excessive fork dive and gives the front wheel a more vertical stroke trajectory so that the engine could be moved further forward still. Massive bearings in the (remarkably acronym-free) double wishbone design reduce steering friction, and eliminating traditional fork stiction cuts shock felt at the handlebar by 30 percent—it’s positively eerie how the Gold Wing’s handlebar remains nearly motionless while the tie rods dance up and down and the Showa spring strut soaks up the bumps. The double wishbone separates steering from the suspension too, so the Wing steers lightly and there’s no bump steer at all. It’s also more compact than a fork so the fairing could be wrapped more tightly around it. Overall the front end seems to work extremely well and eliminates a lot of flaws inherent in telescopic forks—we’ll know more when we get it out in the real world.
Additional dampers in both the all-new DCT and updated manual transmissions drastically reduce shift shock and noise—both transmissions shift butter smoothly now—and an assist-and-slipper clutch on manual models reduces lever effort by 20 percent. The 7-speed DCT is most impressive—at the track it shifted as smoothly and silently as a car—and it has Sport, Drive and Manual modes as before, with the shift buttons on the left bar. Manual transmission Tour models still have reverse driven by an electric motor, while the DCT bikes feature forward and reverse Walking Mode actuated by the up and down shift buttons that move the bike forward and back at about 1 mph to ease parking.
This new engine is so smooth and tractable I almost forgot to try the four riding modes, Tour, Sport, Eco and Rain, each of which delivers full power but tapers the throttle response accordingly. The modes also change the front/rear ABS proportioning, traction control and the suspension damping on the Tour models when set. I found Tour to be the most satisfying mode at Motegi, since it delivered brisk acceleration without any abruptness. Sport gave the throttle response an unnecessary edge in my opinion, though the soft Eco and Rain modes will likely prove useful when you’re trying to maximize range or tiptoe around wet corners. The front/rear electric damping adjust noticeably stiffens the suspension in Sport mode, but I couldn’t really feel any change in the suspension from the plush but controlled Tour mode in Eco or Rain. Rear suspension preload is manually adjustable on the base model and can be adjusted electronically to the usual four settings on the Tour versions.
Convenience and comfort are still priorities on the Gold Wing, starting with the new electric windscreen, which comes in a shorter height on the standard Gold Wing. Both the standard and Tour screens have stepless up/down switches and stifle wind noise and buffeting effectively when they’re all the way up. When the ignition is turned off they go all the way down (for putting on a motorcycle cover). Hill Start Assist, TPMS and a Smart Key fob for the keyless ignition are all standard too. Tour models get grip and seat heating, the bike’s all-LED lighting can be enhanced with optional LED fog lights, and the accessory list includes a passenger audio control, luggage liner bags, custom seats, backrests, the taller windscreen, a CB radio, HomeLink garage door control and a color-matched top trunk for the standard model (which can also be removed from the Tour and a Trunk Removal Kit installed in about four hours).
A comprehensive description of the Gold Wing’s new infotainment system would be longer than this entire article—suffice to say it’s state of the art, with a 7-inch TFT display and up to four speakers with 25 watts per channel, or 55 watts with an optional amp. Stock speaker power is moderate because most riders will want to use wireless Bluetooth headsets with the system, which offers built-in navigation and Apple CarPlay, so it automatically detects your iPhone and you can access Apple Music and Maps, make phone calls and send dictated messages using Siri with the phone connected to the bike’s USB port. The best part is that most of the buttons that cluttered up the previous model’s fairing are gone, replaced with an attractive and intuitive menu system, although the TFT display does not have touchscreen capability.
Performance at Twin Ring Motegi was extremely promising. The new Wing handles rock solidly, with low-effort, more predictable steering and slightly better cornering clearance than before. The wider 200-series rear tire is said to contribute to better low-speed handling, though we didn’t have time for many low-speed maneuvers. The bike does feel lighter and better balanced in slow corners, and the new triple C-ABS brakes with 6-piston calipers up front are flat out phenomenal. Power delivery is smooth and has a nice growl when you’re hard on the throttle, and I couldn’t get the bike’s head to shake with hands off the bars on cruise or decel. Wind protection from the reshaped fairing and windscreen(s) is terrific, and the ergonomics and seat comfort for the rider seem just as comfortable as before.
The new Wing is not without its potentially controversial aspects, chief among them fuel capacity, at least until Honda’s claim of 20-percent better fuel efficiency is proven. Capacity is down to 5.5 gallons from 6.6 to save weight and space, though Honda’s claim of 42.2 mpg average would make range from regular unleaded about the same. The Unicam valve train requires more frequent inspection intervals of 24,000 miles vs. 32,000, and luggage capacity is also down from 150 to 110 liters total (30 in each saddlebag and 50 in the trunk, plus one smallish fairing pocket and the airbag compartment on non-Airbag models), which is certainly going to boost top-trunk luggage rack sales. Passenger accommodations are noticeably less plush than the previous model’s too, with grab handles that are too low to use without bending forward. Finally, while most are optional, the large number of features left off the $23,500 base manual-transmission model like a centerstand, HSTC (traction control), a heated seat, reverse, front/rear electric damping and preload adjust may raise an eyebrow as well (a features comparison chart is below). All of these decisions were made in the interest of saving weight and making the bike more approachable to younger riders, with the thought that anyone who objects can always fall back on the previous model.
Through the late 1970s and into the ’80s, as the Gold Wing models were increasingly embraced by long-distance riders, Honda eventually got its wish and the bike did become the King…of touring motorcycles, as it turned out. In focusing the new Wing’s design back-to-the-future on a leaner, sportier profile and contemporary electronic and convenience features, Honda seems determined to regain the luxury-touring crown and lose the Wing’s “couch on wheels” reputation at the same time. We’re expecting to get our hands on a test bike right after the first of the year, so we should know if it has succeeded very soon (link to our follow-up story is included below).
- Lighter overall package results in improved handling and maneuverability
- More compact, lighter engine with four-valve head and Unicam valve train
- Available seven-speed DCT with Walking Mode forward/reverse
- Six-speed manual transmission
- Robotically welded aluminum twin-tube frame with revised plate thicknesses
- Radially mounted six-piston dual front braking calipers
- Double-wishbone front-suspension system
- Electrically controlled suspension
- Throttle-by-wire with multiple riding modes
- Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC)
- Hill Start Assist
- Smart Key
- Apple CarPlay
- LED lighting
- Updated design with 11.8 percent improved aerodynamic efficiency
- Electric windscreen adjustment
GOLD WING TOUR
The three 2018 Gold Wing Tour models—Gold Wing Tour, Gold Wing Tour DCT, and Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag—feature saddlebags and a top case, as well as a tall electrically adjustable windscreen, front and rear speakers, and electrically adjustable suspension.
- Gold Wing Tour, Gold Wing Tour DCT: Candy Ardent Red, Pearl Hawkseye Blue
- Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag: Candy Ardent Red/Black
- Availability: February 2018
The two Gold Wing models—Gold Wing and Gold Wing DCT—come with saddlebags but no top case or the accompanying rear audio speakers. The electric windscreen is shorter on these models, and preload adjustment is manual. HSTC, electric damping-adjust and a centerstand are not included.
- Colors: Candy Ardent Red, Matte Majestic Silver, Pearl Stallion Brown
- Availability: February 2018
GL MT – $23,500
GL DCT – $24,700
GL Tour MT – $26,700
GL Tour DCT – $27,700
GL Tour DCT A/B – $31,500