How do you redefine a category you invented? That was the question Honda Powersports had to answer when redesigning their flagship touring motorcycle (last redesigned for the 2001 model year), the Gold Wing. A bike that did everything they had designed it to do, only now they had set their sights on refining and modernizing the machine. To find out whether they succeeded in bringing the beloved Wing into the 21st century, Honda flew me to Austin, TX for a few days of riding the new 2018 GL1800B Gold Wing in Hill Country.
First things first, I’ve never ridden a Gold Wing. Honestly, I’ve never ridden anything quite this big before. Now, that’s not to say I’m unfamiliar with large motorcycles of the touring variety, only that I’ve never been behind the bars of a Japanese OEM’s flagship highway hauler. And if I’m being completely honest, I was a little intimidated. The first time on something of this size, surrounded by an onslaught of motorcycle journalists far more familiar with this sort of thing. Then add the twists and turns of Texas Hill Country with my better half on the back, and my anxiety was topping the charts the morning of our test ride.
The Gold Wing is Honda’s crown jewel. It represents the top end of their technology arc, with a seven-inch TFT LCD display, GPS navigation, Apple Car Play integration, heated grips and seats, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius XM satellite radio, and an assortment of other tech additions that make the Gold Wing a top-shelf travel machine.
Changes between the outgoing 2017 model and this, the 2018 iteration, are significant. Styling is the first and most obvious example, as Honda reinvented the aesthetic from tip to tail. Cutting nearly 90-lbs off of its curb weight – ten of those pounds come courtesy of a new canvas style electrical system – and slimming its overall profile, they made the new GL1800B a much more approachable and nimble motorcycle, all things considered. Honda themselves see this cosmetic change as a way, they hope, to attract a younger demographic to the model. The ‘couch on wheels’ adage is not something they want to stick around for much longer. “We really want to focus on a younger customer,” said Lee Edmunds, Honda’s Motorcycle Division National Advertising Manager, and similar statements became a common theme at their technical presentation prior to our ride.
They are also not shy about understanding and catering to their primary customer: “First and foremost, [the Gold Wing] is a two-up tourer,” Lee commented. And this line of thinking was made all the more evident throughout the presentation, as they noted the comfort features on the pillion seat. We tested one of the “Tour” models that comes standard with the top case and integrated passenger backrest (a “throne” so to speak).
I mentioned heated seats, yea? Add to that a four-speaker stereo system with ‘passenger controls’ so that your significant other can keep The Boss belting full blast. Additional accessories aimed squarely at the passenger include a ‘Push-to-Talk’ switch, arm rests for the rear seat, and added air deflectors that will keep your friend or loved one largely free from the discomforts associated with unwelcome wind blast.
Since the first iteration of Honda’s GL model – the GL1000 in 1974 – the badge has been sold a staggering 798,000 times, with more than 250,000 motorcycles still in operation, according to Honda. This is certainly testament to Honda’s engineering prowess, as well as customer loyalty to the marque. Another thing to take note of is the Denzel Effect the Gold Wing has. Much like the infamous actor, when you say Gold Wing, people do not need further definition or added clarification. Again, testament to its prominent role in our industry, but also the lasting effects of a legacy built around a premium product.
On the technical side, the 2018 Gold Wing sees significant change from its predecessor, most notably the new double-wishbone style front end, and the lack of knobs, dials and buttons (that made the dash and accompanying side panels on the ’17 Wing cluttered and confusing by comparison). The liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine remains, however the motor has been made more compact and lighter through the use of an updated crankshaft and Unicam valve train.
For 2018, the Gold Wing comes equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission or Honda’s latest generation 7-speed automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT). A new electronics suite was introduced, and includes multiple riding modes (Sport, Touring, Econ and Rain), as well as Honda Selectable Torque Control (HSTC), cruise control, and Hill Start Assist (HSA). As I mentioned earlier, Honda’s engineering team managed to shave 90-lbs off of the bike. A small part of that is thanks to an Integrated Starter Generator system (ISG), which integrates the generator and starter-motor functions into one component, allowing for removal of the starter motor and starter-system wiring, which saved them 5.3-lbs.
According to Honda, due to the improvement in aerodynamic efficiency, engine efficiency and the reduction in weight, they were able to reduce the fuel capacity by 1.1 gallons, to 5.5 total gallons, while still maintaining the same overall range. The Gold Wing’s new engine utilizes four valves per cylinder in pent-roof-type combustion chambers for improved combustion efficiency, but still weighs 13.7 lbs. less than the outgoing powerplant (when equipped with Honda’s six-speed manual transmission).
Additional updates include an all-new electric windscreen, which provides the rider and passenger with a greater degree of control over airflow, and is adjusted via a switch on the left handlebar. And thanks to a shorter engine size and the double-wishbone, front-suspension system, which allowed engineers to bring the riding position forward, Honda was able to reduce the overall size of the windscreen itself, adding to the aesthetic enhancements of the new model.
For our test ride, Honda had planned a multi-day ride through Texas Hill Country, beginning just outside of Austin, heading west to Fredericksburg, and then doubling back the next day, a route some 400 miles in total. Unfortunately, a storm front rolled in across much of the south, enveloping the area, including Austin, in sub-freezing temperatures and rain. With ice looming in our future, our route was modified, and an elongated day ride was put in place of an overnight trip into Hill Country. The route, however, was more than adequate to showcase the Gold Wing’s capabilities both as a long-distance touring motorcycle, and an around-the-town machine.
With Kyra on the back and an assortment of warm layers filling our panniers and top case, we set off. The early part of the ride included some slow maneuvering through narrow country roads, which allowed me to get a better idea of how the new double-wishbone front suspension would react to my inputs. In short, I felt the new setup provided somewhat delayed feedback and an overall lack of direct response to my steering inputs. This is likely due, in part, to the increased trail, which caused the front end to feel a great distance forward of the handlebars. My initial reaction was to stay steady on the rear break and make minor adjustments at slow speeds so as to not upset the ship. Suffice it to say, this took a little getting used to. But once we were traveling at speeds greater than 15 mph, the Gold Wing showed itself to be rather nimble, with enough ground clearance to not scrape the floorboards through off-camber sweeping corners.
Being my first time behind the bar of a Gold Wing, naturally I wanted to see how quickly it would accelerate to highway speeds, how well it stopped and how it handled laden with luggage and a passenger. Our day ride through Hill Country offered all the opportunity I needed to test these things out.
After a lunch stop in the small Texas town of Bastrop, we hopped on the highway, and I began to experiment with the new Gold Wing’s adjustable windscreen, cruise control and stereo system. Kyra complained that the stereo was not loud enough for her tastes, but was otherwise full of compliments regarding the Wing’s comfort. I, on the other hand, nearly forgot she was back there. With the suspension pre-load adjusted for a passenger and luggage, bumps and road abrasions that might normally upset a chassis disappeared beneath our wheels and into the distance unnoticed. Kyra was so comfortable in fact, that later in the day I caught her sleeping soundly in my mirror.
Through the twisties, the Gold Wing’s chassis felt solid and responsive, and the 1833cc six-cylinder engine provided plenty of low-end torque to pull us uphill, through a banked off-camber corner with ease. The DCT model, however left me grasping for a clutch lever at times, hoping to ease my acceleration through slippage. Like the new front suspension, this, too, took a little getting used to.
Overall, the new 2018 Gold Wing is a marked improvement over the outgoing model in many ways. From an aesthetic perspective, it looks slim and sporty, especially when the topcase is removed. The adjustable windscreen and TFT display provide the rider with both comfort and convenience, offering large, easy to read GPS navigation and a stereo system that, Kyra’s feelings aside, was more than adequate. Heated grips and seats made the cold weather manageable, and the easy-to-use cruise control system helped highway miles tick off on the odometer.
I will say that the new front suspension was not confidence inspiring for a new Gold Wing rider. At speed it felt stable and absorbed anything Texas roads could throw at it, but when maneuvering through a parking lot, loaded with a passenger and luggage, my inputs felt abbreviated and delayed, causing me to over-correct at times. Lastly, the available reverse gear was a welcome addition, and something I quickly became accustom to using.
The 2018 Gold Wing will be available in five different models – Gold Wing, Gold Wing DCT, Gold Wing Tour, Gold Wing Tour DCT, and Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag – with the base model beginning at $23,500 MSRP and the top-of-the-line Tour model at $31,500 MSRP. Take a look at Honda’s web site for additional details and specifications.
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