By: Tricia Szulewski
Photos By: Bob Feather
It was a perfect plan. I’d asked Honda to deliver a new Gold Wing in the fall, once the blazing heat of summer was surely over. Then, before I knew it, it was winter, and the big GL was snowed in. But what better bike to have during the winter months here in the Northeast? After all, it doesn’t snow every day. OK, so I had it a little longer than Honda originally expected. Sorry, guys. I just didn’t want to give it up, even once the trees sprouted leaves again, and the Wing’s dash displayed temperatures upward of 79 degrees. Now I know why my dad’s friends warned him to never let me ride his GL — I’d never give it back!
Honda’s Gold Wing has long been known as the Cadillac of motorcycles, and for good reason. The driver and passenger seating positions are the roomiest of any other stock motorcycle. With the gadgets, buttons, and displays surrounding the cockpit area, the Wing supersedes everything else on two wheels. Even the passenger is given his fair share of gizmos to play with. Superior wind protection is achieved with the huge fairing and manually adjustable windshield. And storage capacity is obvious by the bulbous side and top fiberglass bags incorporated into the bodywork. Ah, but all this plastic is what masks the real beauty of this great beast, which only those who dare throw a leg over it will understand.
Don’t be fooled by the size of the 1800. Those of you who are hesitant to mount something of this size and stature will be shocked by how easy (and fun) it actually is to ride. And ride hard, I should add. Once you master lifting about 900 pounds of motorcycle off its sidestand, everything after that is a piece of cake. Honda expertly crafted a perfectly balanced machine here, so erase that weight spec from your mind. Once upright, the big GL practically holds itself up. And once moving, well, you all remember MSF class, don’t you? A motorcycle is most stable when it’s moving. And apparently, I prefer to move it rather quickly, as a friendly policeman warned me on the morning of this photo shoot.
With 1832cc and six cylinders of raw power at your control, taking off is more like a rocket launch than a weekend cruise. The cruise control helped a little with controlling my speed on the parkway. Still, it was a constant battle to resist the temptation to hit the throttle and feel the surge of 125 ft-lbs. of torque. I know Editor Lita had the same problem. When I took my place as a passenger, I was quite grateful for that large, encompassing backrest. Those power surges didn’t change my seat position at all. Most pillion-riders know too well about constantly repositioning themselves after every stop, start, and bump. On the Wing, the only time the passenger really needs to shift is when stretching after a nice nap.
While the GL embodies the term tourer, it’s amazingly nimble on the twisties. I quickly learned to keep the balls of my feet on the pegs in the sharp corners, preventing my toes from making contact with the ground. While a rig like this obviously won’t have the cornering radius of a CBR, there’s certainly enough here to impress your friends and wake up your passenger.
Aiding in cornering stability and overall comfort, the electronic suspension preload has two programmable settings. Most owners will set one for solo riding, and another for carrying a load or passenger. Or, like me, you can just make adjustments on the fly (only while stopped, though). On the same control panel, the headlight aim can be adjusted just as easily for times when a heavy load aims the beam too high.
My tester model came with the audio/comfort/navi/ABS package that included a GPS navigation system, heated front and rear seats, heated grips, and toe and lower fairing vents that direct engine heat to the driver. Riding through below-freezing temps, I fully enjoyed the heated seats and grips to their maximum potential, but couldn’t really tell whether the vents actually worked. Three layers of clothing and thick riding gear make it tough to detect those subtleties. At full height, the windshield was perfectly placed for those winter months. I didn’t mind the manual adjustment much, but you have to wonder why Honda doesn’t incorporate an electronic windshield adjustment into its ultimate touring machine, as it does on its sport-touring ST. Even so, when the weather turned warm, it was pretty easy to flip the knobs, push the windshield down, and lock it in place. And, if you forget to do that before takeoff, the windshield’s vent can be flipped open with one hand, which really works to give the rider air-cooling.
All other controls have been worked out perfectly. The buttons are easy to find and operate with gloved hands. In addition to the normal bike controls — turn signals, horn, high beam — the radio, CB, GPS map zoom, and volume are all controlled on the left-side handgrip. Getting to know what is where doesn’t take long at all. The right-side handgrip is where you control cruise control, as well as the reverse feature.
The storage compartment on the left fairing, which housed my iPod (the MP3 auxiliary connector is in there), opens easily via a flush-mounted push-button. The right-side compartment has a keyed entry, which is perfect for storing the iPod and other valuables when parked. Passengers control their own seat heat with a knob on the left side of the pillion. And extra storage compartments under the rear speakers on both sides can be easily accessed by back-seaters.
The dash is set up so that important info is always displayed. The speedo, tach, fuel and engine temperature gauges are up top in easy-to-read analog. The odometer, two tripometers, air temperature, and preload setting is digitally displayed on the navigation screen, as is other information like the radio station, sound settings, and GPS info. As for the navigation system, this topic is so extensive that the book for the NAV is thicker than the motorcycle’s manual (see sidebar).
While I’ve just barely touched on what the great Wing offers, I found all these gadgets unnecessary — until I needed them. Before I had this bike, when it was 24 degrees outside, I wouldn’t ride. If I needed to carry more than would fit on my bike, I’d have to take a car. When I got lost, I’d have to stop for directions. With a Wing, I ride more. It’s as simple as that. If you want to ride more miles, more comfortably, for more months of the year, get a Gold Wing.
Originally published in Wing World.