The 2002 Goldwing 1800 is a radical departure from Goldwings of the past. Where before it represented, no, was the definitive fat-bastard touring machine, the latest incarnation is almost ... well, a sport tourer - If something weighing in at 363 Kg (almost 800 lbs!), can be considered anything close to sporty. However, with a max. torque output of 125 ft.lbs and a max. horsepower of 118 bhp, it certainly seems to have the motor required to pull that kind of mass around.
But the new 1830 cc motor is just the start. In order to handle all that power and to also make the bike itself handle, it's equipped with a large aluminum beam frame, wrapping around the motor and now clearly visible as part of the bike's aesthetic.
What we have now is a much tighter package than the 1500, with less weight (2Kg down on the 1500 Aspencade) and more power (up 20%).
We managed to grab one of the new Wings as part of our tour of Quebec with the BMW R1100S project bike. Picking it up in Ottawa, it was a short ride to Montreal, the following day of which was to be our ASM racing school at St. Eustache.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. CMG photographer, Richard Seck, and myself had done the morning's classroom session and were now faced with a dilemma for the track time: split the time on the BMW and thereby only get half the amount of time on the track, or throw caution to the wind (and other gaseous pressure differentials) and conscript the Wing into service.
Mr. Seck's argument was convincing. Since it was I who was testing the Wing, I should be the one to ride it. I think he also flowered it up a bit with words like "a golden opportunity" and "you're the man".
Well, how bad could it be? The first few track sessions were just to show everybody the right line anyway. That's not something you do at full clip.
As it turned out, Richard was actually right, I was "the man" - the "main attraction" man, provider of entertainment.
The Wing was proving to be surprisingly capable. On the straights, whacking the throttle open would provide a very respectable surge of power, enough to slingshot all 800 lbs up to speed with the rest of the group. In fact, I think I could have taken a few if not for the "no passing" rule that spoiled the fun.
It was the cornering that generated the main entertainment. In high praise of the beast, the chassis proved to amazingly stiff, and held its own at all times (just the thought of doing this with any of the other current cruiser selections out there makes me shudder - no doubt I would have been in the weeds before corner three).
However, where the Wing did find its limitations was during hard cornering.
The pegs would touch down quite early, a problem solved by moving my feet to the rear boards. This meant that the front pegs could merrily bounce along the asphalt in each corner, the change of scraping pitch giving a good indicator as to how far down I was taking it. Hell, I could even get my knee out to a certain extent. Only once did I get a little over exuberant and touched down the lower fairing of the rhs, with a hard jolt, leaving a line of heroism (or idiocy if you're Honda Canada) down its length.
After two sessions, one of the (rather startled) instructors suggested that the Wing should be retired. Since I had yet to actually follow any of the suggested lines (it's more than enough just getting the thing around the course, never mind that ideal line idea), I happily agreed. Besides, although the Wing had been truly impressive, the S proved to be a much tighter, obedient package .... and with clearance to boot!
But unless you're contemplating taking your Wing to a track day or open class superbike racing, there's little point in spending anymore time discussing its track behaviour, other than to establish that this is no ordinary fat-bastard touring machine. Well, and maybe establish to my French counterparts that Anglophones can be mad bastards as well.
One thing I haven't mentioned is the Wing's ability to hide its weight. Sure, it's not easily flicked from one corner to the next, and at slow speed you find yourself weaving around a bit to keep it all upright. As soon as you get up to any sort of speed, the only realisation that you're sitting aboard Monsieur Creosote (see Monty Python's Meaning of Life) is the comforting thought that if a car were to cut you off, they'd probably come off worse!
But then why let a car roadblock spoil your day? The Wing comes with ABS and it's pretty damn good too. Unlike the BMW system that lets you know that you're using it by a rapid succession of release, grip and release sensations, the Honda system just doesn't lock - however hard you try.
There's also linked braking, with the front lever operating the outer two pistons of the front right-side caliper, as well as the centre piston of the front left-side caliper ... oh, and the outer two pistons of the rear caliper for good measure. The back lever in turn operates the centre piston of the rear brake caliper, the centre piston of the front right-side brake caliper and the outer two pistons of the front left-side caliper. Hmmhhh.
I'm not sure if any of that makes sense. It would seem to be better to leave the back unlinked and on its own, so that you can use it for slow speed manoeuvring without fear of front end dive - otherwise ignoring it completely under general usage, as the front would do it all anyway.
Maybe it's the new anti-dive system fitted, and/or the myriad of proportional control & delay valves that makes it all work. Regardless of theory, the end result is that I never had concern using the brakes and never ended up in the ditch when getting youth-like with the power surge (although god forbid that I'd ever have to service that system).
The five speed box is silky smooth with overdrive 5th being all you need once you're out of Suburbia. In fact, it's so torquey from low rpms that it'll happily pull 5th from just above idle. And if you should forget that there's 363 Kg's of dry mass in there, and park it nose down to the curb, then that handy electric reverse (uses the starter motor) will save you from a well deserved coronary.
But enough talk of power, performance and bad parking, how does the Wing do its job as the ultimate touring machine? In one defining example: I discovered that I actually enjoyed the 401.
If you haven't been cursed with riding the main east-west highway across southern Ontario, then you probably have no base standard from which to judge all other roads. The 401 is such a deathly boring, straight and overly crowded piece of road that many a fiery crash occurs just because the drivers need to experience something other than a straight line.
As a result, I try to avoid contact with the 401 at all costs, but since I live in downtown Toronto if I want to go anywhere I have to take the 401. Or maybe ride due south into Lake Ontario (an option that gets more interesting every 401 kilometre that robs me of another precious minute of life ).
Okay, so having established the excruciating pain that the 401 delivers by the truck load (and there's plenty of those as well), to be able to do a five hour stint and actually enjoy myself is high praise for any vehicle, astronomical for a motorcycle.
What the Wing offers is a very comfortable seat/sofa, a massive screen, heated grips, cruise control, two-memory rear shock preload and enough knobs and buttons for all the radio stations available and/or a 6 disc CD player. Yes, you too can be oblivious to the drudgery around you as the next SUV, with the only required input being the occasional handlebar adjustment once every 50 Km.
Okay, so let's have a look at that list in a little more detail. Firstly I have a very sensitive arse (unlike my emotions) and any seat that keeps it in a blissful state is worthy of note - one worthy note to the Wing. Secondly, the screen is big and so creates a good deal of dead air for the rider. It might not be the most aerodynamic thing, but it's what you want for a bike like this and meant that the Wing was heavily fought over whenever the forecast called for rain.
It's also manually adjustable for height, allowing you to set it to your own height (or lack thereof). However, adjustment is done by letting two levers loose at the sides, tugging it up or down from the top and then relocking the levers. Trying this at 140 Km/h on cruise control, and it does nothing but upset your peaceful state and simultaneously veer the bike across two lanes of traffic. Electric please Mr. Honda.
The heated grips can be adjusted by four degrees of warmth, covering most cool applications, and the cruise control is much like a car's, but is of little use except for ... the 401 (anything else and you want to use the bike ... like a bike!). The rear preload can be set using one of the many dash knobs available, ranging from soft to hard. And once you found that perfect setting, it allows you to set it to memory just in case you forgot what you found you really like.
Finally, the sound system offers almost any variable you may desire (and probably a few you don't). With a few helmet add-ons you can use the CB or talk to your passenger via the intercom. Otherwise there's an AM/FM radio and the (rather expensive accessory) CD player. It's actually located in the floor of the trunk, and so needs to be loaded up before dumping in the luggage. In use, the system works well up to about 120 km/h, at which point the wind noise overcomes wattage output.
Unfortunately it does not raise or lower the sound level with the speed of the bike (and so wind noise), requiring you to manually adjust and not forget to use the mute button as you enter the next town, thereby being known as "that wanker on a Wing" as you blast out the local neighbourhood.
Information as to which bit of the system you're actually using and where abouts you are is supplied by the LCD display, located just below the speedo. Talking of which, when turning the ignition on, it momentarily says "hello" before welcoming you to Goldwing world. Oddly, I found this feature a bit irksome as it seemed to somehow indicate that the Wing had intelligence. As a result I often found myself calling it a dumb ass when it failed to steer for me, apply the brakes as required and once died when I left the ignition on and went for breakfast (what, you don't know to turn yourself off? Dumb ass).
But no fat-bastard tourer is complete without hard luggage capacity and the Wing supplies that by the trunk (and sidebag) load. The trunk alone offers 61 litres (and an additional 5 litres if you're sans CD player), while the side bags give and additional 40 litres each. That's almost enough for the whole family - the significant other on the back, the oldest sprog in the trunk and the new-born twins in either side case! Although you may want to make a few vent holes to keep it on the humane side.
Also, if you're of the lazy persuasion (and if not, why do you want a Wing?), then you'll like the remote trunk operation via the key fob. It also has a call feature which will make your pride and joy call out to you just in case you happen to have parked it at the local Wing convention. You'll also probably like the oil damped lids, that open slowly and expensively, but in turn aren't too happy about being slammed shut afterwards. Actually, one thing that didn't impress Mr. Seck was the damage to the paint where the lid closes against the main body of the luggage, leaving a scuff mark along its length. Personally it didn't really bother me, but then I hadn't just shelled out over $26 big ones on it either.
So there you have it. I'd have to say that Honda have done a damn good job at upgrading their Wing to fend off the challenge of BMW's K1200LT. At $26,599.00 it's a whole buck cheaper than the LT, which you could use to buy a towel. You'll need it to wipe that smile off your face.