Photos by Kevin Wing and Brian J Nelson
AUSTIN, Texas – First, a warning: If you just bought a current Gold Wing I suggest you don’t read this review. Really. Go watch some YouTube videos of the Tail of the Dragon or visit your favourite porn site instead. Continuing beyond this point may trigger a bout of buyer’s remorse. Sorry, not my fault.
Honda flew me down here to Austin to ride the completely redesigned 2018 Gold Wing, where I discovered that there’s no risk of it being dethroned as the king of luxury tourers anytime soon. It’s good.
The international launch of Honda’s flagship touring bike was supposed to be a two-day affair that would allow the motorcycle media to experience the Wing in its natural environment: on the open roads and highways of America. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a 650-plus km trek through the heart of Texas turned into two laps of a 30-km “dealer loop” that circled the hotel, which certainly wasn’t a fitting test of what is probably the most anticipated touring bike of the last several years.
This shorter ride was forced on us because just as we arrived into Texas, so did an unusually brutal cold front that brought sub-freezing temperatures, freezing rain and snow. Now, while cold temperatures don’t hinder us Canucks, icy roads and inexperienced winter drivers do.
Fortunately, I was scheduled to fly to another event a couple of days after the Honda event wrapped up, and so was Bertrand Gahel, publisher of Guide de la moto and a contributor to Canada Moto Guide. So while the rest of the Canadian contingent headed home, Bert and I hung back for an extra day to get in a proper ride, as the weather let up just enough to make conditions safe.
We took off for a 300-km ride along a variety of roads, albeit in temperatures that struggled to stay above zero. This did, however, emphasise the bike’s improved aerodynamics, and its heated seat and grips.
While the Gold Wing retains its name and flat-six engine configuration, everything from the ground up is new.
The bodywork is angular, more streamlined and more aerodynamically efficient. The fairing is 200 mm narrower and the riding position has been moved 36 mm forward for a better weight bias and better wind protection.
Beneath the plastic is a new frame comprised of four welded pieces, as opposed to 25 for the previous bike. It’s a much more rigid item, at the front of which you’ll find an entirely new double-wishbone suspension system. Despite the new chassis, the wheelbase (1,695 mm) and seat height (745 mm) are within 5 mm of the previous generation.
Mounted in the frame is an entirely new engine that utilises four-valve Unicam heads, which are more compact and more efficient than the old Wing’s two-valve heads. Bore and stoke have been revised, the former 1 mm smaller than before, the latter 3 mm longer, at 73 x 73 mm. The twin throttle bodies have also been jettisoned in favour of a single unit, which combines with the other engine changes to improve low-end torque and reduce fuel consumption by an impressive 20 per cent.
This is the first Gold Wing to offer traction control and a dual-clutch transmission. The DCT does not have a clutch lever and a foot shifter is optional; it shifts automatically, or with the flick of a pair of handlebar-mounted buttons. DCTs have been around with Hondas for a long time — here’s an explanation from 2010.
There’s also a new infotainment system with a 7-inch TFT screen, and the windshield is — finally — electrically operated.
Those are the major changes. If you want to delve into the details, you can see our initial report here.
Because of the reduced riding time, I rode the Gold Wing Tour DCT exclusively, except when I swapped to a previous-generation bike for comparison.
Swinging a leg over the new Wing, it is narrower between the knees and narrower behind the fairing. It’s much easier to lift the bike off the side stand — not surprising since it has lost almost 40 kg. Claimed wet weight varies between 357 and 382 kg depending on the model.
The cockpit is roomier than before and more accommodating for tall riders, especially between the seat and footpegs,. The seat is narrower, firmer and less couch-like, but it’s supportive and proved comfortable during our day-long ride. Seat and grip heat is better too, adjustable to five levels via dedicated buttons mounted on the centre console. In the freezing temperatures, they both remained at maximum level.
Despite the narrower fairing, wind protection is markedly improved and exhibits much less buffeting at speed. Airflow is not as smooth as on the BMW R1200RT but it’s very good, and the electrically adjustable windscreen (it’s about time!) is a snap to use compared to the tug, shake and yank manual shield of the old bike. Air that flowed around the sides of the fairing and chilled my ribcage on the old bike was gone on the new bike, as was the reverse draft that pushes you forward a bit with the windshield all the way up; no such thing on the new Wing.
Steering requires more effort on the inside handlebar to pitch the bike into a lean than on the previous generation, which was remarkably neutral-steering for such a big bike. Steering feedback is excellent nonetheless, something I thought would have been reduced due to the indirect connection between the handlebars and front wheel.
If you sit on the outgoing model at a stop and give the handlebar a quick side-to-side shake, you’ll feel a few oscillations work their way through the chassis after releasing the handlebar. This chassis flex translates to slightly imprecise steering at speed, with an ever-so-slight lag between what you ask of the bike to do, and when it responds. Normally this goes unnoticed — or at least you get used to it. But switching to the new bike really emphasizes just how improved and rigid its chassis is. Shake the handlebar vigorously at a stop and there is absolutely no further movement. On the road this increased rigidity gives the new Wing very precise steering and surefooted stability.
The suspension is much more compliant than before, and the twin-wishbone front end is especially impressive. The resonating shock felt at the grips when hitting a sharp bump on the previous bike has been reduced by 30 per cent, according to Honda; I say it’s been completely eliminated. From the rider’s seat, you can see the steering-linkage ends bob up and down with every road irregularity you ride over, big or small, yet you feel absolutely nothing at the grips. It’s a unique suspension system that might cause some to doubt its efficiency, but it works, and it works well.
Different modes for different roads
I definitely prefer the DCT, something I wouldn’t readily say about any other bike than the Wing. Its seven speeds are spaced closer than on the six-speed manual, and it shifts through ratios almost seamlessly. Also, automatic shifting feels somehow appropriate for such a big bike, making life easier, especially at lower speeds. It is ideally tuned when taking off, with just a slight nudge at the throttle when getting the bike to move.
Of the four ride modes (eight if you factor in manual mode), I settled on Tour as my default (which is the actual default mode), as it provides smooth throttle response and intuitive gear changes. It also adjusts suspension damping on the Gold Wing Tour, putting it somewhere between the softer settings of Rain and Economy modes, and the firmer setting of Sport mode. Unfortunately, you can’t go into the system and fine tune any of the parameters, like, say, choosing a softer or firmer suspension setting in Tour mode. Preload is adjustable electrically to four levels.
The only other mode that interested me was Sport, as it really lit up the Wing. Throttle response is immediate, and you get a pretty good kick forward when you gas it, though throttle control is somewhat abrupt in the lower gears. I preferred manual mode when in Sport because auto just held onto gears too long, and unlike Tour mode where you can override the auto-shift and change gears on demand, Sport mode mostly disables the handlebar shift buttons. I would, however, go for the optional foot shifter, since I just don’t find shifting with my fingers intuitive.
Economy and Rain modes soften throttle response even further, though the bike was so manageable in Tour mode I found no use for either, even though the cold weather reduced traction, and in some spots the pavement was damp. Traction control and ABS take care of any right-handed indiscretions, anyway.
Getting it going
Twist the throttle full and the Wing rewards with hard, yet linear acceleration all the way to redline. It pulls notably harder than the outgoing bike, and feels especially dynamic in the lower three gears. Following Bert, I watched as the front wheel of his DCT bike left the ground a few times after leaving a stop. “It wheelies on gas!” he later proclaimed. Top gear on both the manual and DCT models is taller than before, with the engine spinning at about 2,000 rpm at 100 km/h, as opposed to about 2,600 for the old Wing.
One gripe I have with the new Gold Wing is that Honda felt the need to give it a more muscular attitude by giving it a heartier exhaust note, which is especially noticeable from the rider’s seat. While I wouldn’t hesitate to praise such a move on any other bike, for me it detracts from the bike’s otherwise silky-smooth character. Besides, Gold Wing owners do not have a propensity for loud pipes, so this added sound isn’t really necessary.
Manoeuvring a big bike like this at parking-lot speeds is challenging no matter how burly the rider, and it is especially tricky when the added control of a clutch lever is absent. To remedy this on the DCT there is a “walking” mode, activated by pushing a dedicated button on the left handlebar switch assembly while in neutral, and then using the shift buttons to move the bike forward or in reverse at crawling speed. This feature makes it a snap to squeeze into a tight spot or walk the bike up a ramp into a trailer. Unlike the manual shift bike that uses the starter motor to move the bike in reverse, the DCT uses the engine.
Bluetooth is standard, as is Apple CarPlay, though you must pair a Bluetooth headset to the bike for the latter to work, apparently at the insistence of Apple. Android Auto is not yet available but we were told it’s something Honda is working on, and it should be a retroactive fix when it happens. I paired a Sena 20S headset and plugged in my iPhone via USB, and the system — at least during the limited time I used it — worked as claimed, with an intuitive interface. You can make calls, scroll through your music library, or perform a multitude of other functions by using the left-hand handlebar switches. You can also use the central controls, though these are disabled once the bike is moving.
Is it worth it?
There are four Gold Wing models to choose from: the Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour with a manual transmission, and the Gold Wing Tour DCT and the Gold Wing Tour DCT with airbag. Prices range from $26,999 to $34,599.
There’s no doubt the big tourer was overdue for a major makeover, and what Honda has done to the 2018 Gold Wing brings it a couple of generations forward. Comfort has improved, it has a much better power-to-weight ratio, it’s more fuel efficient, and its handling is much sharper. I think this new platform is good enough to take the Gold Wing through another couple of decades yet.