The Gold Wing is a Honda mainstay, now in its sixth generation, but it’s one of the most expensive motorcycles you can buy. Load it up with all the options, including the airbag, and you’ll pay more than $40,000 after taxes. Sheesh!
Now for 2020, Honda offers better slow-speed throttle control and improved suspension, as well as little tweaks like standard LED lights, a second USB socket and larger passenger hand grips. What else can they possibly think of? And does the 2019 really need these fixes and adds?
Riders ridicule the Honda Gold Wing. “It’s a sofa on two wheels!” they sneer. “It’s a truck! Just buy a Buick already!”
But when they get a bit older, they ride one and their attitude changes completely. They stay warm on the heated seat, and dry behind the most effective windscreen on the market. Their creaky knees don’t ache when they stretch over the relatively low saddle, and their wrists settle comfortably onto the cruise-controlled, toasty handgrips. Their stiff necks don’t protest shoulder checks, because the mirrors show everything behind. And most important, they want for nothing – nothing at all.
Years ago, I asked a husband-wife couple on a Gold Wing what the most annoying thing was about their motorcycle. “That would be when it goes over a bump and the olive bounces out of my Martini,” said the passenger. Sure enough, she had a cup holder attached to the pillion armrest and I wasn’t entirely sure she was joking. In any case, that’s no longer an issue. Honda’s unique double-wishbone front suspension and (optional) electrically adjustable preload and damping has taken care of such concerns. If you want to know more about the technical stuff, check out Costa’s first-ride review of the bike from early last year.
Suffice to say that the suspension is astonishingly smooth and well-mannered, and it can be quite mesmerizing to watch the steerage-linkage ends moving up and down over the slightest of bumps. They’re a reminder of just how much work the suspension is doing, of which you would be completely unaware.
There’s maybe a downside to it, though: on a gravel or loose-surface road, the Gold Wing suddenly becomes a real handful. I’m not sure why. I rode two different bikes and they both hated gravel. I tried switching between the Sport, Tour, Rain, and Economy drive modes but nothing really made a difference. Where I’d have just slowed down a bit on my Harley or Suzuki and relaxed my hold on the bars, I slowed down to barely more than walking pace on the Wing and held on with a death grip. It felt as if it was about to slide out at any moment, though it did not, of course. It would be the worst bike in the world to ride on the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk. If you have such adventurous plans for next year, just forget them right now. You’ll turn back after 15 minutes on gravel.
Back to reality
Loose-stone roads aside, the Wing is both unmatched for comfort and remarkably versatile for its size.
Let’s think about the comfort first. I once rode a 1000-in-1 day on a Yamaha FJR and at the end of it, in Chicago, met Ironbutt founder Mike Kneebone to document the ridiculous achievement. I was frozen after 24 hours of single-digit temperatures. “If you’re cold, you can ride my Gold Wing if you want,” said Kneebone. Even then, the large fairing and windscreen kept the wind off its rider, but now, it’s considerably improved.
Honda finally added electric adjustability to the Wing’s windscreen for the 2018 model, and it is the only screen on the production market to raise high enough to block all the wind. On the Yamaha FJR, the Kawasaki Concours, even the BMW RT, I need to hunch forward to minimize the slipstream buffeting my helmet, but not on the Gold Wing. The screen will raise high enough to actually make you look through it, though that’s dumb – ideally, your line of sight should be about five centimetres above the screen. When the Wing’s screen is set to this height, there’s no buffeting at all, and on the freeway, it’s glorious. I’m just a touch under six feet tall, and no other bike does this for me.
If you’re hot on that freeway with the screen raised, there’s a small flap at the base that can be opened to direct a breeze onto you while still blocking the force of the wind. And on city streets and back roads, the screen will lower and tilt with the touch of a button and allow the wind to wash over you, just as a motorcycle should.
The seat is broad and well-padded, for broad and well-padded butts. Heating is standard on the Tour’s seat, with five different strengths, and the pillion seat can be separately heated. There’s enough space that the average passenger can sit back there without their physical presence being felt by the rider, and even a pair of Americans can cruise in comfort.
The Gold Wing is available with either a regular six-speed transmission or (for an extra $1,200) a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) that has seven speeds. It’s the only production motorcycle you can buy that has a seven-speed transmission, but it manages this because the DCT is the equivalent of an automatic, with no clutch lever on the left grip or gear lever at the left foot peg. Push-button triggers still allow you to shift manually, if you want.
It makes a lot of sense for the Wing to offer a DCT. It’s a comfort feature (if you can’t be assed to change gears), a performance feature (Sport drive mode), a safety feature (Rain mode), and a fuel-saver (Economy mode). I think it will have a wider variety of uses than on the two other Honda bikes that feature DCT on their six-speed transmissions, the Africa Twin and the NC750X, and I liked it a great deal. Most of the time, I left the setting on Tour; Sport was a bit too jerky, Rain was welcome on a wet road, and Economy would have the bike in seventh gear before I reached the end of the driveway. I doubt many Gold Wing owners are buying bikes for their economy.
In Sport though, the big Wing hustles like a bike that’s a fraction of its 380 kg curb weight. Yes, it will lift the front wheel (in first gear, at least), and yes, it’ll lean waaaay over and be rock solid as it does so. Bert scraped a Wing’s lower engine cover one time on the Angeles Crest Highway, when he showed a Triumph Daytona 675 rider who was boss.
I was not so ambitious during my time with the bike, but I didn’t feel I was riding a barge, or a sofa on wheels. The Wing’s 125 hp and 130 lbs.-ft. of torque means it never lacked for power, and the low-down weight from keeping the gas tank beneath the seat, and the fabulous suspension, means it never ran out of road on the corners.
Is it worth it?
I’m sure there’s a kitchen sink in that topbox, which is locked through a central locking system powered by the keyless ignition. There’s pretty much everything else. There’s Hill Start Assist to not roll backwards on a slope, and Apple CarPlay to connect better through your iPhone. This is still the only production motorcycle to offer its own optional airbag, and even Idle Stop to save fuel by switching off the engine at a halt, just like a car. That last one is just ridiculous, but what the hey – I’m sure the engineers wanted to prove they could do it.
As noted right off the top, none of this is cheap. The Gold Wing tops out with an MSRP of $35,399, and that doesn’t include $995 of Freight and PDI. Pay cash in Ontario for the most expensive Wing and you’ll pay $41,125 after taxes; finance it at 4.9 per cent over five years of weekly payments, and it’ll ring in at $46,440. Phew!
You can make it less expensive by settling for a bagger-style Wing: no top box, no windscreen to speak of, and no electric adjustable suspension or DCT, among other missing options. This starts with an MSRP of $27,599, plus the stupid Freight and PDI for $995. This way, you get the super-smooth engine and the clever but standard suspension without having to opt for all the touring stuff. You can even claim it’s the configuration you prefer despite being easily able to afford the full whack – though we all know you’d be lying. Just skip the airbag and settle for the DCT Tour version to save a couple of thou from the top-end price and everyone will be happy.
There are many other high-end tourers on the market, but I think the difference is that they usually feel like large motorcycles that have had fairings and bags added after the fact. The Honda Gold Wing Tour feels as if it’s always been this way: a cohesive machine that’s purpose-built from the ground up. The bagger version feels like a stripped-back Tour, which it absolutely is, instead of the Tour version feeling like a bloated bagger, which it absolutely is not.
So is it worth it? Not if you can’t afford it. But if you can, and you want a bike that will pretty much do everything, and will do it all in comfort until the snow flies, then there’s no other choice if you want to buy new. You won’t impress anybody with your loud pipes, but you’re probably too young to care about that, anyway.