It didn’t take long this week for the usual insults to get lobbed at the brand new Honda Gold Wing: “Winnebago for wannabe motorcyclists” and “Is that even a bike?” were the first to pop up as comments on CMG’s Facebook post, when Costa and Bert were the first Canadian journalists to take it for a proper ride in Texas. The irony is that they were probably posted by guys kicking back on the sofa, cruising their smart phones.
Motorcycles are many things for many people, and if you want to be comfortable while riding, the Wing is about as comfortable as you can be. The wind protection, the saddle and the riding position let you spend hours on the road if you want, or not. Doesn’t matter to me. Why should I care what you do with your motorcycle, or why you choose to ride it, just as long as you love it and ride?
The fact is, the Gold Wing was redesigned for this year to be lighter and more manageable than before, partly because Honda can do this for the sake of overall improvement but mostly because the riders who buy Gold Wings are growing older and less physically strong. They don’t want to ride naked bikes or sport bikes or adventure bikes – they want to enjoy the feeling of riding a motorcycle without having to battle their bodies for it.
The original Gold Wings, as Zac detailed in his excellent history of the Wing last year, were big and heavy and designed to ride on America’s interstates and Europe’s motorways. The first Wings didn’t even have wind protection or bags, but they did have powerful, water-cooled flat-four engines; they were so silky smooth that Honda’s advertisements could show a quarter balancing on its edge while they were running.
The bikes soon developed factory fairings and luggage, but they came with added weight. Honda already had an ace up its sleeve for the weight because the gas tank was contained under the seat, not in the plastic-covered area that now held the electrics, and this kept the centre of gravity low to the ground. Without this, the bike would be top-heavy, like a big BMW or Harley that’s a pleasure to ride at any kind of speed but can be a handful at a crawl.
Older riders don’t want bikes that can ever be a handful. This is why some move to three-wheelers, for (almost) all the cred without the concern of maintaining balance at a stop light. And this is why Honda shaved almost 40 kg from the Wing’s weight, to save fuel but also to make it handle better and easier to ride for older motorcyclists. Of course they’re the market – who else has $30,000 to spend on a bike?
It seems like Honda has done an incredible job on the new Wing, just as it did on the previous generation when it was released 17 years ago as an 1,800 cc behemoth. The new bike is fully loaded with comfort and convenience features that are now common in cars, and it will wheelie and swing you through curves with all the enthusiasm of a much smaller machine. Want proof? Last year, Bertrand Gahel rode the Angeles Crest Highway on a Gold Wing and showed the rider of a Triumph Daytona 675 who was the boss on the tight corners.
So these FaceBook haters think a motorcycle should be half the size? Just a tach and a speedo and a couple of idiot lights? I’m sure they’ll change their minds if they actually ride a bike that’s as capable as the new Wing. And on a cold, wet day, when they’re huddled in a Tims or, more likely, putting their feet up on their stationary couch and cruising the internet on their phones, at least the Wing riders will be putting their feet on the pegs and cruising the highway. And it won’t matter how old they are.