By: Don Williams
After taking a hiatus in 2011, the Honda Gold Wing touring motorcycle is back as an early-release 2012, complete with plenty of upgrades. Most noticeable when riding the new Gold Wing is the firmer suspension.
The Honda Gold Wing has always been sportier than most people realized. Conceived as a superbike when it debuted in 1975, the Gold Wing has expanded from a horizontally opposed 4-cylinder 1000 to a bike powered by an automotive-size 1832cc horizontally opposed six-cylinder. Along the way, it picked up a fairing and more creature comforts than you can count without an abacus.
In spite of its bulk, the Gold Wing--thanks to a hugely powerful and torquey powerplant, rigid frame, and low center-of-gravity--is as happy hustling its way through corners as it is functioning as purely a sight-seeing vessel. Honda firmed the suspension up slightly for 2012, along with slipping on a new pair of tires.
Riding the 2012 Honda Gold Wing back to back with the ’10 version, the difference is not astounding, though certainly more significant than subtle. The tires mean the new Gold Wing has easier turn-in, and the tauter suspension eliminates wallowing in the corners.
Riders on the 2012 will experience far fewer touchdowns in corners than their friends on older versions. Comfort remains outstanding--the suspension is still plush, absorbing pavement irregularities as if they didn’t exist.
Straight-line performance is still effortless--the turning enhancement did nothing to compromise stability. This is an upgrade, pure and simple. An astounding performer, the Gold Wing is upping its game another notch (no surprise, given the direct attack coming from the all-new BMW R 1600 GTL).
From a riding standpoint, that’s the big change for the 2012 Honda Gold Wing. Sure, it’s not a huge difference, but if you’re even the least bit interested in upgrading your older Wing, this improved feel.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the rest of the upgrades the 2012 Honda Gold Wing. Most obvious is the thanks to a new fairing in the front and new bags in the rear. I had a rider on an older Wing zip right up next to me to check the bike out. The rear lights are much different, so he was tipped over instantly.
While there wasn’t a single thing wrong with the appearance of the previous Wing, this modernization is quite welcome. Flow is better, lessening the appearance of bulk. That’s quite a feat, given that the new bags hold over 400 additional cubic inches of cargo.
The fairing is claimed by Honda to add “extra wind protection, especially to the lower body and leg areas” additional wind protection. If it does, the difference is subtle. Regardless, wind protection is excellent. However, in case you’re wondering, no, Honda did not motorize windscreen adjustment on the 2012 Gold Wing--you still have to move it up or down manually, by wrestling with the screen.
Honda also changed the seat and seat cover materials. Again, this is not a huge change, and many people will want a custom seat in any case, as personalization is an important part of a machine like this. The stock seat is fine and will satisfy even finicky rumps.
From a practical standpoint, Honda has upgraded the Gold Wing’s navigation system with the Next-Generation Honda Satellite Linked Navigation System (only available on some flavors of the Wing). As soon as it’s on, you’ll notice an improved color display that’s brighter (though still not bright enough when the sun hits it) and easier to read. Under the hood, there’s a Next-Generation receiver that is said to provide a more-immediate link to the satellites.
Other Next-Generation Honda Satellite Linked Navigation System features include, 3-D terrain view, lane assist with junction view, United States and Canada mapping with information on Honda dealers, fuel stations, restaurants, lodging, attractions, transportation, government and emergency information and saved rider’s input with home function, voice prompting through headsets or speakers, on-screen text guidance and pop-up menus, as well as handlebar and fairing-mounted controls.
Most notably, the Next-Generation Honda Satellite Linked Navigation System, which mounted in the rear top box, includes a slot for an SD card. You can download trips you take onto the card, then share the routes on a new website Honda is creating that merges touring with social networking.
The 2012 Honda Gold Wing also gets a new Next-Generation Premium Audio System on every version. I was rockin’ out to the Garage channel on XM Radio, and both the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Social Distortion sounded quite good, although wearing a full-face helmet is always going to be a limiting factor.
The system has upgraded MP3/iPod connectivity via handlebar-mounted controls. You can plug something as sophisticated as an iPod into the system and have full control, or something as simple as a USB thumb drive and still have decent control (as long as you sort your MP3s into folders).
SRS CS Auto technology brings surround-sound to the Gold Wing, though I didn’t really notice. Number counters will want to know that there’s an 80-watt-per-channel amplifier, six-element speaker system (two rear speakers, a pair of front speakers and two tweeters), plus auto bass control combined with auto volume control.
The 2012 Honda Gold Wing is, without any doubt, an astounding vehicle. In many ways, it is the standard bearer for motorcycles, an accomplishment by which all others--from cruisers to sport bikes--are measured. Its build quality and attention to detail is inscrutable, and its ability to execute the task at hand is nearly beyond criticism. Improving this mature product requires plenty of thought, and Honda’s engineers made good use of the year off. Welcome back!
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2012 Honda Gold Wing Specifications
Engine Type: 1832cc liquid-cooled horizontally opposed six-cylinder
Bore and Stroke: 74mm x 71mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Valve Train: SOHC; two valves per cylinder
Ignition: Computer-controlled digital with 3-D mapping
Transmission: Five-speed including Overdrive, plus electric Reverse
Final Drive: Shaft
Front: 45mm cartridge fork with anti-dive system; 4.8 inches travel
Rear: Pro Arm single-side swingarm with Pro-Link single shock with computer-controlled spring preload adjustment with two memory presets; 4.1 inches travel
Front: Dual full-floating 296mm discs with CBS three-piston calipers; optional ABS
Rear: Single ventilated 316mm disc with CBS three-piston caliper; optional ABS
Wheelbase: 66.5 inches
Rake (Caster angle): 29.15°
Trail: 109mm (4.3 inches)
Seat Height: 29.1 inches
Fuel Capacity: 6.7 gallons
Colors: Pearl White, Candy Red, Ultra Blue Metallic, Black
Curb Weight*: 904 - 933 pounds, depending on option packages selected (includes all standard equipment, required fluids and full tank of fuel—ready to ride)
Price: $23,199 to $28,499. Availability: May 2011.
Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Ultimate Motorcycling.