First Ride – 2018 Honda Gold Wing

In Japan, Reviews, Touring by AbhiLeave a Comment

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I‘m going to start off with an important disclaimer – before this week, I had never ridden a Honda Gold Wing. Still want to know what I have to say about the new one? It’s not that I hated the model – I just didn’t think it fit my riding style. If you asked me to take a 10,000 mile trip, I would have picked an ADV bike like the Africa Twin or a sport-tourer à la the Interceptor.

With that said, after 2 years of development, Honda has just completely revamped the new Wing to be more appealing to younger riders like myself, and it’s worked. Plus, they were kind enough to let me try a 2017 model so I could compare the two. So if you want to know more about the new Wing, let’s get into it!


A lot of Gold Wing nuts are barely going to care what the reviews have to say – they’ve been waiting for the new model to arrive since it was announced and they’ve already put down deposits. They’re assuming that Honda knows what they want and that they’ll be taken care of. Some of them are going to be very surprised.

For better or worse, Honda’s flagship is “still a luxury model, but now with a sportier personality.” That’s great news for riders like myself, because the new Gold Wing weighs less, makes more power, rides smoother, manages air flow more effectively, and handles more confidently. Plus, it’s much better looking!

Still, I find myself wondering what the traditional GW buyer is going to think. Yes, it’s sleeker, but the attributes I enjoy come at the expense of what touring customers often look at first, such as fuel and luggage capacity. Both have been cut down significantly to make a bike that Honda wants to appeal to a younger demographic.

It’s the first Gold Wing since the original generation that I’ve had a personal interest in riding, but I can’t afford one. Will the riders who can afford one enjoy this bike as much as I do? Honda seems to think so, as they predict this new bike will get Wing sales back up to pre-’08 levels, which would mean a ~400% increase from ’16 and ’17 numbers! I have no idea if the numbers will get that high, but I do know that Honda is going to sell plenty.

Honda busted out this slide during the product presentation. It’s ambitious, but is it accurate?

Check out the 2018 Honda Gold Wing!

Photos by Kevin Wing and Brian J. Nelson.


Back in October, I gave you a preview of what the Gold Wing was like on paper, and if you’re really interested in this model then you should consider reading that story as well. This time around I’ll be focused more on riding impressions from one day and ~175 miles in the saddle in the Texas Hill Country. I should note that it was supposed to be two days and ~400 miles, but Day 2 of our trip was cancelled because the weather was 32 degrees and snowing.

Feeling pretty patriotic with the red, white, and blue. These colors don’t run, but they can get iced over.

The folks over at Honda deserve some kudos for improvising and still salvaging one good day of riding, but, obviously, I wish I had a little more time with the Wing. I’ll be requesting a Gold Wing Tour (more on what that means in a moment) for a longer test with Vy in the future.

17 Years In The Making

The previous (5th) generation was introduced in 2001 – if you bought one of those bikes and had a kid that same year, your child would now be old enough to have a motorcycle license and ride that Gold Wing! To be fair, there was a model refresh when production shifted from Ohio to Japan in 2012, but that was very minor compared to what’s happened behind the scenes for the last two years.

Every bike evolves with customer feedback, but the Gold Wing has evolved more than most. It did not start out as a tourer, but customers immediately saw the potential and started accessorizing the naked bike with fairings, luggage, and any other farkle they could get their hands on. Honda responded by making the Wing the first full-dress tourer offered by a Japanese manufacturer, and that has defined their flagship ever since. Almost 800,000 Gold Wings have been sold since 1975, and an impressive 265k of them are still on the road. There are clubs, forums, associations, and annual riding events dedicated to the Wing. It’s motorcycling royalty!

These two bikes span 43 years of Gold Wings.

2018 brings some fundamental changes, and they start with a delineation between a Gold Wing and a Gold Wing “Tour”:

Model Nomenclature

The split between bagger and dresser lives on, but Honda is changing up the nomenclature for this generation. What used to be the F6B (shorter windscreen, no trunk) is now the Gold Wing. What used to be the Gold Wing is now the Gold Wing Tour. In addition to the trunk with built-in speakers and the taller windscreen, stepping up to the Tour gets you automatic preload adjustment, electric damping adjustment, center stand, heated grips, and HSTC (Honda Selectable Torque Control, or what normal people call traction control).

In total, there are 5 models, 2 Gold Wings and 3 Gold Wing Tours:
– Gold Wing: $23,500 – $23,800
– Gold Wing DCT: $24,700 – $25,000

The Gold Wing is available in Candy Ardent Red, Matte Majestic Silver, or Pearl Stallion Brown:

The Gold Wing in Pearl Stallion Brown. I asked Honda reps to use my nickname as the official color description instead, but they said “Brown Sugar” didn’t adequately describe the shine in the paint. Note that in the Gold Wing, the wheels, exhaust, and drivetrain are blacked out.

– Gold Wing Tour: $26,700 – $27,200
– Gold Wing Tour DCT: $27,700 – $28,200
– Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag: $31,500. Note that you cannot get the airbag with a manual transmission.

The Gold Wing Tour is available in Candy Ardent Red, Pearl White, or Pearl Hawkseye Blue. The Airbag variant is only available in Candy Ardent Red/Black:

The top-of-the-line Gold Wing Tour DCT Airbag.

Honda’s targeting 3 categories of motorcyclists this time around – the quarter million existing Gold Wing owners, returning owners who “maybe got tired of waiting for something new”, and experienced riders that are new to the model and have a “preconceived notion of what a Gold Wing is.” I’m squarely in the last category.

In fact, Honda was so concerned about attracting new riders and shedding the “couch on wheels” reputation that they apparently considered not using the Gold Wing name this time around. It was wise to keep the name, but now that I’ve spent time on the new model, I understand why the thought came up. In certain ways, it actually feels more like a bigger, comfier ST1300 (or should I say ST1800?) than a continuation of the Gold Wing line.

First Impressions

Honda asked us to bring our significant others along to test the 2-up capability, but I was the only person in the first wave of editors to show up alone because I forgot to pack Baby Jack. Also, Vy could not get time off at work. With that in mind, Honda gave me a Gold Wing to ride while everyone else was on the Gold Wing Tour.

Look how lonely I am. Everyone tell Vy how romantic this bridge crossing could have been…

Even without the weight of the trunk, the Wing is a little intimidating to hop on, as I normally prefer riding 300-500 pound motorcycles. But before I worried about the riding, I had to take 5 minutes to connect my iPhone and Sena 10C headset. The Bluetooth connections only had to be fussed with for the initial setup – going forward, the pairing happened automatically. You can start the Gold Wing in one of two ways. What most people will do is turn the ignition on, let all the electrics start up, and then press the start button. But if you want to bypass that, you can actually just hold the brake lever down and then press the starter for two seconds, even before you turn the ignition on, and the Gold Wing will fire up, so you can start riding even before the Honda logo has flashed up on the TFT display. Either way you do it, the actual starting procedure is fast and quiet, because the traditional starter motor has been replaced with an ISG – Integrated Starter Generator.

By eliminating the starter motor and associated wiring, the ISG saves 5.3 pounds.

The ISG is cool, but once I start moving, my attention is captured by the new double-wishbone front suspension as it dances in front of me. It’s easy to forget how much work a suspension does when you can’t see it working. You won’t have that problem with the Gold Wing because you’ll constantly see the upper arms bouncing up and down.

Honda specifically won’t call it a Hossack – they prefer “double wishbone.”

The new design yields plenty of advantages: impact forces are better absorbed (Honda says you’ll feel 30% less of the impact) and there’s less inertial mass of components controlled by the handlebars (Honda claims a 40% reduction) so you don’t need to put as much effort in to manipulate the bars. My initial experiences confirm these numbers. Fork dive while braking is significantly reduced but not eliminated – Honda has actually tuned in a bit of dive so that it doesn’t feel weird to riders who are used to the sensation.

Another bonus is that the new system ensures that the suspension stroke is entirely vertical (as opposed to up and in). Because of that, Honda has been able to move the drivetrain forward. The rider and passenger are now 36mm forward as well, and all of that means more weight over the front wheel and improved handling.

The other thing I couldn’t help but notice while moving was the stellar aerodynamics. Though the new windshield is much smaller than the old one, it does a much better job of blocking air and minimizing buffeting. As I was on a base model, I got the short windshield, but I was pleasantly surprised by how clean the air flow was. Weirdly, the reason Honda is able to get away with a smaller windshield is actually because of the front suspension. Because that enables the rider and passenger to be moved forward, they are now closer to the windshield and thus less plastic is needed to create sufficient protection. If you want to go big, the taller windshield from a Gold Wing Tour is also available as an option. One last compliment for the windshield – it is now electrically-adjustable.

Who would have thought that science would actually work?

Though I’m used to riding lighter bikes, the Gold Wing can still be lots of fun. One can loft the front wheel, scrape peg, and otherwise goof around – it just takes a little extra concentration.

Note the single-sided swing arm and Pro-Link rear shock.

If you’re really skilled, you can terrorize sportbikes, too. This clip might be with a previous gen Gold Wing, but the new bike is even more capable in the corners (and I really just wanted an excuse to show you this video):

Technology

At the preview event, Honda said they “may have lost some customers in the past due to [a lack of] technology.” To ensure that stops happening for the next few years, the GW now features throttle-by-wire, electronic cruise control, LED lighting, smart key, 4 riding maps, traction control, Hill Start Assist, assist/slipper clutch (20% lighter pull), electric-assist windscreen, tire pressure monitor system, proximity lights, and a 7″ TFT display with embedded navigation plus 10 years of free updates. Everything sounds new and fancy, but those of you that like to “squelch” can still get a CB radio as an option.

All of these work great except for the Hill Start Assist. To turn it on, you simply give the front brake a firm squeeze while the motor is running, the transmission is in neutral, and you’re at a stop. What makes no sense to me is that if you do not make any sort of input for supposedly 5 seconds (but it felt closer to 3 for me), the assist automatically turns itself off and the bike is free to roll again. I don’t understand why it doesn’t just stay on until I’m ready for it to turn off. That’s how Triumph does it with the Explorer, and I found it to be very helpful when I wanted to get a photo while on the bike during my trip around the UK last summer.

A lot of what I listed above is simply playing catch-up with the rest of the luxury touring market. But the Gold Wing also features a piece of technology never before included on a motorcycle – Apple’s CarPlay.

I really hate having to call it “Car”Play.

If you have an iPhone and a Bluetooth headset, you now have an integrated way to listen to your music, get navigation information, use Siri, or even listen to voicemails or texts. To ensure that you’re putting your phone away and not letting it distract you, it must be the last thing that you connect, and you do so by plugging into a USB cable hidden into a compartment in front of the seat:

Latching this lid can be a pain.

The system works well, but there’s one aspect that bugs me – even if you just hit the kill switch and don’t completely turn off the ignition, you’ll still have to open up the center console, unplug your phone, and plug it back in the next time you start the motor back up. If you think that listening to voicemail or your text messages is too much of a distraction, don’t be upset –
you’re not forced to used it! If you don’t like the deep integration of CarPlay, you can also just plug your phone in and use it as an auxiliary audio source to play music through the built-in speakers.

In an effort to remove some of the approximately 1.2 million buttons on the previous generation of the Gold Wing, Honda has incorporated a jog dial to consolidate some functionality. I think they’ve done a good job, as most things you want to access quickly are available via buttons, while other features that aren’t as important can be accessed via layered menus, thereby cleaning up the dashboard. What I find confusing is that once you’re moving, the center jog dial is disabled. Honda’s argument is that they want you to keep your hands on the grips, so you have to use the left directional pad instead. I think the jog dial is much more intuitive, which means it’s less distracting.

I like the floating feeling of the center controls, which allow you to watch the control arms of the front wishbone suspension dance up and down. I do not like the directional pad, which can be difficult to use without looking at when you’re wearing bulky cold weather gloves (like when it’s 34 degrees outside in Austin, Texas).

The tech doesn’t stop there – there’s also plenty in the drivetrain as well.

Moving Forward…and Backward

Though the 1,833cc displacement is very similar to last year’s model, the engine is all new, with a Unicam valve train with 4 valves per cylinder, aluminum cylinder sleeves, smaller bore (73mm), thinner crankshaft, and molybdenum coating on the piston skirts. The end result is that it weighs 13.7 pounds less, returns 20% better fuel economy, and makes 6 additional peak horsepower (up to 125).

Lighter, stronger, and smaller. This is a great motor, and it’s definitely powerful enough – I was just expecting more than 6 additional horsepower after 17 years.

The drivetrain has 4 different modes that are selected via a bumper switch on the right handlebar controls. You can select between Tour, Sport, Econ, and Rain. The modes affect settings in multiple systems: throttle response, shift timing, traction control intervention, and damping stiffness. I was happiest with Tour, though occasionally I dabbled with Sport to enjoy the quicker throttle response.

You can really feel the difference between modes on the road.

I am a manual transmission snob. But if I was to put a DCT on anything, the Gold Wing makes the most sense. 3 years ago, I tried the first generation of Honda’s DCT in the delightfully-weird NM4, and I thought it was great despite a couple of minor issues.

The Gold Wing gets the 3rd generation of the DCT (the biggest upgrade is the addition of 7th gear), and the transmission is very impressive. It shifts up earlier than I would, but putting it in Sport mode was an easy fix. The only time the DCT can be troublesome is at very slow speed. Normally, if you need to balance at walking pace, you’d modulate the clutch and throttle together. Without a clutch, you have to ride the rear brake instead. There’s a learning curve, but you’ll get used to it in a couple of days.

7 gears of goodness.

The other problem in not having a clutch is that your muscle memory will make you look silly. I was about to pull away from a stop for a photo opportunity when Bradley Adams of Jonnum Media said “I saw that!” and started laughing. Wondering what I did wrong, I asked him what he meant, and he told me that my left fingers were reaching out for the non-existent clutch lever. I hadn’t even noticed. Later in the day, I switched to a ’17 manual model for comparison’s sake, and it actually felt weird to shift. The Gold Wing DCT is a solid option that makes the bike even easier to ride and to cover miles with. It also makes the GW the world’s largest scooter, and I don’t mind at all.

All Gold Wings get a “Walking Mode,” but the manual transmission bikes only have the feature in reverse. DCT-equipped bikes get it in both directions. The functionality is simple – while in neutral, hold the front brake down and press a button on the left handlebar controls. Once you’re in Walking Mode, you press the same buttons used to manually shift the DCT system: press “+” to move forward at 1.1 miles per hour, or press “-” to move backward at .75 miles per hour. It works great and is very convenient when you’re trying to back up a slight hill.

The “Walking Mode” button is at the bottom of the left hand controls. The “-” to the left is what moves you in reverse. “+” is activated by your left index finger, behind the volume and electric windshield controls.

The Sport Touring Equation

The biggest complaints about the new Wing are going to be about how Honda is handling the balance of sport and touring this time around. The fuel capacity has been decreased by 1.1 gallons, but I don’t really mind because the 20% increase in fuel economy means that the range stays the same at 200+ miles. My real concern is with the luggage capacity, which is now down to 110 liters from 150. The most unexpected flaw is how difficult it is to fit two helmets in the trunk. A friend and I tried with our lids and were unable to make it work. Honda reps later told us that it might be feasible if the helmets are aligned in a very specific way – one placed normally with the visor facing towards the front of the bike and the other placed on its side. I’m still not convinced, and even then it seems like it should be unnecessary to solve a spatial reasoning puzzle every time you want to protect your helmets from the elements. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just different than the previous bike, and you’re going to have to decide how much it bothers you. Vy and I always lock our helmets up with a bicycle lock or just take them in with us, so I’m not too worried about it – i just thought it was peculiar for the granddaddy of touring bikes.

My Medium helmet with a friend’s Extra Small – imagine trying with bigger helmets!

The panniers are a mixed bag. Thanks to hydraulic struts, they open slowly, and it adds a real touch of class to the process. They’re smaller than last year – each bag is 30 liters. That’s not horrible, but the shape of the opening is weird and will prevent you from getting certain items in. If you look carefully, you’ll see that there’s some storage space hidden away in the back.

I would gladly get rid of the hydraulic struts if it would enlarge the mouth of the bags.

As noted above, I didn’t have a passenger this time around, and I’ll have to wait till I get a long term loaner so that Vy can share her thoughts. With that said, I asked around and the general consensus seemed to be that the aerodynamics are better and the heated seat and backrest are nice touches. On the negative side, the seat is less comfortable and it’s harder to reach the grab rails.

The grab rails are styled to blend in with the design of the bike, but your passenger won’t care if it’s hard to grip.

Make It Yours

As you’d expect, Honda’s got a colossal amount of factory accessories available, nearly all of which are designed to make your bike safer, more comfortable, or more stylish. Don’t forget that CB radio! The Gold Wing Tour already comes with so much that, if I owned one, I’d probably just get the $374.95 LED foglights, because I hate the way the block-out plates look otherwise.

Some of the main accessories for the Gold Wing Tour. Not pictured are options like a “Custom” seat or a foot shifter for the DCT.

Should You Test Ride One?

You already knew if you were going to test ride a Wing before you started reading this story. Honda’s biggest dealerships will be receiving Gold Wings within the next week, so get out there, try it for yourself, and tell me what I got wrong. I know that there will be some complaints about the luggage, but everything else is worth the sacrifice required to shave off 90 pounds and make a smaller, nimbler motorcycle. Dynamically, it’s improved in every appreciable way. Lighter, Better, Faster, Stronger – it’s basically a Daft Punk song:

It’s smooth, it’s comfortable, fast enough (in Sport mode), and makes covering miles almost TOO easy and drama-free. They should be banned from Iron Butt Association rides – it’s like cheating! It’s truly impressive how much size and weight Honda has been able to remove from the Gold Wing, though it can be difficult to tell unless you see them next to each other:

Adam Waheed and Jamie Robinson have a discussion – maybe about the size difference of the ’17 and ’18 models in front of them?

This is the first model of the Gold Wing since 1975 that has interested me. How do you feel about it?


Gear
Helmet: Arai Signet-X in Place Red livery
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter R-3
Gloves: Racer MultiTop 2
Boots: Sidi Fast Rain

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