By: Kevin Smith
"Lighter, faster, cheaper." That’s what customers said they wanted in a Gold Wing variant. And that’s what Honda delivered in the 2013 Gold Wing F6B. Big Red also delivered a better-handling motorcycle, one that is lighter, easier to drop into corners, and more sporty, spirited, and engaging all around.
Pretty good for a restyling job.
There’s a bit of magic happening here. Honda accomplished a lot with relatively little actual change. The bits that are expensive to engineer and produce—the powertrain and the chassis—have been left almost completely intact from the existing GL1800 specification. And the dramatic, bad-assbagger look comes from a cleverly minor redo of bodywork and cosmetic treatments.
The combined changes create a happy synergy that compounds the benefits. Visually, the signature elements are the cut-down “eyebrow” windscreen, the flatter seat and absent top trunk, replaced by a cleanly styled rear deck that visually connects the bulbous hard bags. As striking as the new look is, the change in feel is even more dramatic. The cockpit seems much more airy and open; you are no longer looking through the standard Gold Wing’s tall, vented windshield, nor are you tightly wedged into a deeply bolstered seat, and behind you is only air instead of that massive combination tail trunk and passenger seatback. The Gold Wing F6B feels like a totally different motorcycle.
There’s more: Swing through a series of back-road bends and the F6B’s sporty, responsive character will surprise you. A standard Gold Wing is impressively neutral, balanced, and maneuverable, and anyone who has actually ridden one hard knows it can go, stop, and turn much more effectively than most owners ever ask it to. But the new F6B is better, and by more than you would expect. It is clearly lighter to the touch, with less inertia to deal with as you manage lean angle.
How can this be? Honda quotes a weight reduction of 62 pounds in the F6B transformation. That’s only about 7 percent, which doesn’t seem like enough to be obvious. But look where that weight has come off. Deleting the trunk complex accounts for most of the loss, and that’s weight carried way high and way back on a full-dress ‘Wing—from a dynamic standpoint, the best possible place to shed pounds. (Center of gravity, moment of inertia, mass centralization—sport bikes have been speaking this language since, well, Honda’s CBR900RR appeared in 1992).
In addition to entering and exiting corners more easily, the F6B rides just a little more firmly, telegraphing more detail about the road surface, and it even seems a little livelier in response to throttle. Weight loss is a wonderful thing.
Speaking of throttle and wonderful things, let us praise the character of Honda’s 1832cc flat-six engine. There’s just something special about sixes, and this one works ruthlessly well. Big displacement, mild tuning (redline sits at 6000 rpm), perfect balance, and impeccable fueling deliver performance that is responsive and capable, and always refined. A Gold Wing (F6B or standard) can feel almost like an electric when you’re humming along casually, but wind the throttle to the stop to tap into that claimed 125 lb.-ft. of torque and the big bike rockets away, that unique engine blaring out a Porsche 911 beat. Pulling open the F6B’s throttle reminds us why we liked the Valkyrie so much: the great running texture of this flat-six engine, without so much motorcycle wrapped around it.
The F6B’s broad, stepped “gunfighter” seat is great, and makes the standard Gold Wing’s deep bucket seem like overkill. You have more room to move around on the F6B, and you don’t feel jammed up against the handgrips. Officially the ergo triangle is unchanged, except for a seat-height spec that drops by half an inch, to 28.5, but the less-confining seat shape makes everything feel different. The shorty windscreen obviously sacrifices function for style, but wind flow around a six-foot rider’s head stays pretty smooth and quiet up to 60 mph. After that, it gets blustery. A taller shield, closer to that on a standard ‘Wing, is an available accessory.
Rear-shock preload is changed on the F6B, to a manually adjusted hydraulic setup accessed under the right side cover. A little extra preload can help cornering clearance, but not enough. The footpegs will grind readily under an aggressive rider.
In the interest of hitting that $19,999 price point, push-button reverse assist and cruise control are not offered on the F6B. A Deluxe model, at $20,999, has slightly more breathing room for cost, and sneaks in a passenger backrest, heated grips, self-canceling turn signals and a center stand. You can choose sinister gloss black or friendlier red bodywork, both with flat-black accents.
The common platform between the F6B and the standard Gold Wing will allow Honda to make short-notice adjustments to the model mix. Some insiders think this sporty new variant may end up matching the fulldress version in popularity. We certainly wouldn’t be surprised.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Motorcyclist.