By: Shawn Pickett
Roaring out above the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, F/A-18 Hornets pair up upon take off from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar for a day of training. Standing in the hotel parking lot, I turn my gaze from the quickly fading image of the fighter jets to prepare for my day’s ride.
Not the sleek dart-like form of a fighter jet – more the dimensions of a battle cruiser – I throw my leg over the new-for-2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B and fire the engine. While the Marine aviators have the Pacific Ocean as their proving grounds, the backcountry roads of San Diego County will be mine.
The F6B is a blacked-out battle bagger based on the renowned Gold Wing platform, stripped of its long distance amenities in favor of a more sinister profile. What remains is a lighter machine with the same impressive engine and handling that makes the Gold Wing one of Honda’s top selling motorcycles.
Most notable to the transformation is the elimination of the huge trunk. This gives the F6B a line that plunges from the fairing down to the bags, moving this machine out of the suburban environment straight into the urban milieu.
Rolling on the throttle, the flat-six produces an exhaust note reminiscent of an exotic European sports car. Generous on power in spite of having just two valves per cylinder, Honda’s 1832cc motor pulls this massive machine with a perceptibly steady acceleration through all five gear ratios.
Dual 40mm throttle bodies and six high-pressure injectors feed the engine, while a computer-controlled digital ignition with 3-D mapping provides the spark. Vibration from the engine is non-existent, and there is no hint of torque lean when hammering the throttle.
The slightly oversquare engine’s power curve is linear, steadily growing to the red line. There is plenty of torque for top-gear roll-on while passing at highway speed and a generous middle for a lazy cruise along a winding road. Gear selection is simply not critical with the F6B’s wide torque band. Off the line, the F6B produces a consistent pull that is not intimidating yet enjoyable to those who like a good hit of acceleration.
Straight-line stability exceeds the standard Gold Wing. The geometry of the two bikes is identical, but the chopped down profile and weight reduction gives the F6B a lower center-of-gravity. The cleaner profile reduces the effect of wind turbulence that can cause high-speed instability. While the weight of the Gold Wing dresser minimizes that problem, the difference becomes noticeable when compared against the F6B and its cleaner lines and reduced weight.
Swooping through the twisting roads of the Cleveland National Forest, surrounded by gray-green chaparral and tawny rock outcroppings, little conscious thought is required to maneuver the F6B. Leaning from one direction to another requires little input to the handlebars and it is easy to settle into the rhythm of the road. There is no throwing a bike of this size around, though you do not need to, because it tracks a true course without any unintended deviation.
Braking is progressive and powerful when it comes time to apply the twin 296mm discs up front and the huge 316mm disc in back. Honda’s proprietary Combined Braking System is fully transparent, and works flawlessly. Engine braking is effective, as well, so selecting a middle gear and judicious use of the throttle makes the F6B an excellent platform for enjoying nature.
Sharing the same 45mm cartridge fork with an anti-dive system and cast aluminum single-sided linkage-equipped swingarm as the standard Wing, the F6B lacks the computer controlled preload adjustment of the dresser and transmits more road feel into the bike. With the hydraulic preload set at the mid-point, potholes are absorbed less gracefully than on the F6B’s touring counterpart.
Even though the suspension is unchanged from the big brother, the claimed weight savings of 62 pounds makes the suspension firmer, giving a more sporting feeling to the F6B. The benefit is realized in the F6B’s rock-steady cornering.
While the profile of the F6B portrays a sleek urban street warrior, its overall dimensions are a little daunting when throwing a leg over. The saddlebags on the F6B are considerably wider than the style of the bike dictates. Given the intended use for the bike, it would not hurt to lose some of the 22 liters of storage space for a trimmer rear end. The black radiator cowlings have been trimmed to give a smooth transition from front to back and subtly add to the F6B’s more aggressive look.
Considering its size, the dashboard is unobtrusive and affords a good forward view. Omitted on the F6B are many of the touring specific electronics, though the essentials are still there, including the MP3- and iPhone- compatible premium audio system controlled from the left handlebar switch group. Speakers positioned at the top of the fairing provide good sound coverage even though the rear speakers off the Gold Wing dresser disappeared with the removal of the trunk.
Rider position is upright with a relaxed triangle between handlebars, seat, and footrests. Even with the shorty windscreen, the massive fairing guides airflow around the rider compartment giving an excellent zone of comfort. The upper envelope hit me at the bridge of my nose giving a nice feeling of connection with the environment. Slouching down a little gets you out of the airflow, if desired, and an optional high windscreen is available.
The F6B’s open layout and gunfighter seat afford a wider array of positions and easy access to the ground. Toward the faux fuel tank, the seat is narrow and provides a more aggressive position while the rear of the saddle is wide giving good long distance comfort.
Being able to move around on the seat makes the bike feel more agile; you can play with weighting the bike in different ways, depending upon road conditions. I am not suggesting you can drag a knee on this battle bagger, but you can hang off a little to get a greater feeling of participation in the interaction between bike and road.
Generous passenger grips surround the back seat, providing a secure perch for two-up riding. A short backrest is available as an option on the standard edition F6B, and part of the F6B Deluxe edition.
Navigating the late afternoon San Diego traffic, the F6B transitions smoothly from country cruiser to urban warrior. Drivers seem to notice the size of the F6B and give a little more respect, if not a little more space; size has its benefits. Splitting lanes takes a little consideration before attempting, of course.
In taking its premier super-tourer and stripping it down to the essentials, throwing in a darker spirit without losing any of its original prowess, Honda has re-molded the classic Gold Wing to produce a motorcycle that will appeal to the more aggressive rider – aggressive in style as well as in performance. The Honda Gold Wing F6B is not a sleek fighter jet; rather, it’s a battle-ready bagger with enough firepower to conquer the urban streets and still find time for relaxing weekend escapes.
Link to original article: http://ultimatemotorcycling.com/2013-honda-gold-wing-f6b-review/
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of UltimateMotorCycling.com.