Motorcycles, Travel & Adventure
First Ride • 2018 Honda Gold Wing
Words: Brian Rathjen • Images: Kevin Wing and Brian J. Nelson
"Is that Rocky Balboa? He looks like a middleweight." Ring Announcer - Rocky III
After many years of anticipation the new Honda Gold Wing was unveiled back in the late fall of 2017; but we had to wait until mid-January to finally get to ride one of the most anticipated machines in a long time.
Few would argue that the Gold Wing, in its many incarnations and evolutions, has been one of the most influential motorcycles ever built. There have been over 800,000 Gold Wings sold worldwide and there are still some 250,000 of these machines running around the planet today.
The last big upgrade for the Wing was 18 year ago in 2001. Back then the bikes were built in Marysville, Ohio and when they introduced the machine they did so from the plant in which it was created. Shira and I rode the then new Gold Wing around Ohio for a few days. We were instant fans.
Here we were 18 year later outside of Austin, Texas taking charge of a leaner and sleeker bike with the same name.
At the very first glance of the 2018 version you surely know it is a Gold Wing, but closer inspection will let you know that not one piece of the 2017 was used in the new incarnation.
Honda went Tabula rasa here – a clean slate – and I dare say it was worth the wait.
For 2018 the Gold Wing comes in four different flavors. The Gold Wing is much like the F6B – running without the top case - while the Gold Wing Tour is more along the lines of the previous Wings. You can also get the bike with Honda’s Dual Clutch Transmission and another with an Air Bag.
Our ride this day would take us on the Gold Wing Tour with DCT, in Hawkeye Blue, and along a 200-mile loop in and about the famed Texas Hill Country.
The Smart Key activated machine started with a light touch to the starter button and the nicely toned exhaust note filled the chilly Texas air.
It was a mid-January morn and it would start off brisk, but niceties like a heated seat and handgrips helped ward off the morning chill.
The new engine for this bike may look familiar, but it is a big jump performance-wise over the previous model.
Powering the new Gold Wing is a 1,833cc horizontally opposed six-cylinder, four valve four-stroke producing 125 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm - all controlled by a Throttle by Wire system.
Although the new Gold Wing has a more conventional, yet new for the bike, 6-speed manual transmission (replacing the old 5-speed) our machine had Honda’s next generation 7-speed automatic Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) that, once you are familiar with it, works beautifully. The bike has four different driving modes – Eco, Rain, Tour and Sport – all running just about where you would think power-wise and you can switch modes while on the fly depending on conditions or your attitude. In each of these modes the throttle, torque-control settings, DCT shift schedules, and suspension damping are changed making this future-tech even better. The DCT can be run as an automatic, letting the Wing switch gears for you. In manual mode, that is far more fun, it allows you to ride out of a turn onto a long straight while keeping the throttle WFO and running up quickly through the gears with the paddle shifters on the left side - like a Formula One driver.
This makes the 2018 Gold Wing far sportier than any of its predecessors and we will see more and more of this on other machines as the years roll by. The machine has a Walking Mode that can be used forward (up to 1.1 mph) as well as in reverse (up to 0.75 mph). The new engine also utilizes an Integrated Starter Generator, using the same technology that temporarily stops and starts a car’s engine while at a stoplight. This saves a bunch of weight and is, as I believe with the DCT, the way of the future. Add into this Honda’s Selectable Torque Control and Hill Start Assist and you have quite the package being offered in the new Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour.
Honda has also tuned the exhaust note on the 2018 Gold Wing and this machine sounds tougher and more formidable from the moment you stroke the started button.
We liked the sound a lot and it just adds to the charisma of this machine – it finally sounds like a motorcycle without being anywhere near annoying.
Power-wise the machine has plenty of get up and go. While it might not be a cruise missile like the BMW K1600, with the 2018 Gold Wing the power is all useable, real world horsepower.
Although sportier, and perhaps not as opulent as the 2017, it is still a Gold Wing and the saddle presented me, and copilot Shira, all day comfort. The bike’s new configuration has the rider sitting 36mm more forward and the pegs are pushed back a tad as well, offering a bit more aggressive riding position. For me this was a more relaxed position and one that offered me a more natural stance while riding through the twisty hills and dales of Texas.
For the first time the Gold Wing’s windscreen is controlled electronically and the stock screen offers plenty of wind protection fully raised and a nice easy buffeting when lowered. Personally I like to look over the screen and the unlimited adjustments were appreciated.
The fairing itself is more compact than previous models, but still extends plenty of protection from the elements.
The new LED lighting is superb in every way and gives the machine a thoroughly modern look.
Our ride headed up to the edges of the hills where we stopped for coffee and to take a break and compare notes a bit with some of the other scribes who came along on this ride. From there we got a bit more into some of the aggressive asphalt that the region for which the region is known.
Although we know the Throttle by Wire is the way things are going I found the new Gold Wing’s to be a bit on the twitchy and sensitive side, but I got better at this as the ride progressed.
Suspension & Brakes
As I said there is nothing from the old machine that will be found on the new and that is most apparent when you look at the front end. The traditional fork tubes have been thrown in the dustbin, replaced by a unique double-wishbone front-suspension system with a Showa shock absorber that has 4.3 inches of travel up front.
Why the future-tech, you ask?
Conventional fork suspensions move in a more diagonal way, due to rake. This Double Wishbone frontend moves in a purely vertical manner with less friction and with a confident and responsive feel.
Along some of the rougher sections of the Hill Country we found that this new suspension did a remarkable job of keeping the bike planted and allowing for superior feedback from the road. Honda claims a 30% reduction in shock from bumps and road irregularities with this system and front end dive was almost non-existent. We wonder if this Double Wishbone suspension will appear in other Honda machines in the next few years.
The rear suspension is handled by a more conventional Honda Pro-Link system with 4.1 inches of travel; all this on a machine that has a saddle height of just 29.3 inches – making it useful for just about every size rider.
Our Gold Wing Tour with the DCT weighed in at 842 pounds. Heavy? Yes - but a full 90 or more pounds lighter (depending on the version) than the previous models and the lighter weight of the machine really comes across on the road.
We found the 2018 Honda Gold Wing offered a very confident feel and, combined with the more powerful engine and the massive weight reduction, Honda has brought to the game a modern touring motorcycle that not only performs well but is a true pleasure to ride as well as being a blast!
The more miles we put underneath us the more poised and sure-footed the Gold Wing Tour felt.
Coming around one turn we had Mr. Armadillo stroll out of the brush in front off us. A soft squeeze on the ABS-equipped front brakes activated the dual Nissin six-piston, radially mounted, calipers mounted on 320mm rotors quickly and assuredly, scrubbing off our speed before coming to a stop - to watch the creature casually stroll by.
I had never seen an armadillo alive – I thought they were born dead on the side of the road.
The Gold Wing has a linked braking system and tapping the rear also activates one piston on each side of the front calipers.
The 2018 Gold Wing was shod with Bridgestone Exedra Tires running a 200/55-R16 in the rear and 130/70–18 up front which seem to work just fine on Honda’s new touring machine.
Instruments & Storage
The large 7-inch TFT screen allows for GPS and Satellite Radio. Should you be sporting an iPhone, Apple CarPlay will run your apps and Siri right through the bike. On the way I received a text and was able to reply easily and safely – I guess the future is here. Our Gold Wing Tour had four good sounding speakers (the Gold Wing has two), but we easily paired our comm system on our helmets to the bike and ran the audio through our headsets.
One thing that will raise a questioning eye on the faithful Gold Wing rider is the reduction of stowage space from previous Wings; dropping the total cargo capacity from 150 liters to 110. It will be interesting to see how both Honda and the aftermarket companies deal with this for those who demand and need more space. Sometimes I think we all pack too much on road trips as it is, but this will be an issue for many owners of previous Gold Wings looking to purchase the new model.
Another thing you will find less of is fuel, as the capacity has been reduced by 1.1 gallons to 5.5 gallons.
Still Honda claims 20% more fuel economy and a range equal to the 2017 version. Sometimes having more fuel is not just a good idea it is your only thought.
Our group eventually all arrived in the Texas town of Blanco, about 50 or so miles north of San Antonio.
We made a circle around the Old Blanco County Courthouse that was built back in 1885 and took lunch at a local café that seemed to be hopping on this Martin Luther King’s Day.
By this time the day had warmed up to a comfortable high 60s and things were good deep in the heart of Texas.
That would change drastically later that night when a cold front with a serious attitude would give the Lone Star State a drubbing with icy rains, winds and hail and, unfortunately, parking us for the next day’s ride.
But, for us, the best part of this day was ahead of us as we mounted back up and headed back in the heart of the Hill Country.
We spent a bit of time in the area around Hamilton Pools – an historic and natural swimming hole that is about as picturesque as any in the United States. We need to come back when it is a bit warmer.
The roads along the way were almost clear except for the occasional ranch pick-up truck or farm vehicle as we rode along the Pedermales River, an offshoot of the Texas Colorado River.
Honda’s Plan A was to ride to Luckenbach and then to Fredericksburg for the night, but a pesky weather front was barreling in from the Canadian arctic and we knew that evening all HE-Double Hockey Sticks was going to break loose, serving up a rare Texas Ice Storm by midnight.
Honda chose a sounder Plan B. This would be an excellent decision as all the roads and the bikes would awake the next day to a jacket of ice - never fun.
Riding back towards the Austin City limits later that day we vectored onto some interstates to get a feel of the bike at highway speeds and then a bit of rush hour traffic – basically what real riders have to deal with day-to-day.
The 2018 Gold Wing glides effortlessly at 80 mph, with the new chassis, suspension, electronics and engine all working in a wonderful synergy that rockets you down the roadway. Although perhaps not the sizeable machine it once was it is still a formidable highway ride and the miles go by effortlessly.
Old versus New
As the ride progressed I became a bit more adept with the Wing’s instruments. Although at first glance the switchgear on the left grip looks daunting, that really is not the case as I found it to be more and more intuitive as the day and miles went by. With anything like this there is a bit of a learning curve, but Honda’s was not so steep a climb. This became even more apparent when I took the 2017 version out for a short loop ride to compare and contrast.
I have ridden this bike for thousands of miles and the older GL1800 is a fine machine in every respect and for the ultimate in comfort and protection it is hard to beat. But the amount of buttons on this older bike now looks like the cockpit of an airplane compared to the sleek controls of the 2018. Although still a fine handling machine, its obvious bulkier size and weight were instantly apparent.
I have been asked to compare the two, so let me put it this way to the average Gold Wing purchaser…
You could be in your light middle age, and perhaps have put a few pounds on over the years (Hey, I count myself in this illustrious group). You still think you are awesome, but the truth is that we are not as spry and fast, nor as strong as we once were.
We should remember that, as it seems Honda has, but could actually do something about it. Honda put the Gold Wing on a healthier diet and had it hit the gym on a regular basis…and it really shows.
With the introduction of the 2018 Gold Wing, Honda has created a sleeker, faster, better handling, more compact and leaner touring machine that should appeal to the seasoned Gold Wing rider and help bring in the younger crowd (albeit with expendable income) coming up and looking for something far more substantial than a sport bike with a tent and sleeping bag bungee corded to the back.
MSRP for the 2018 Honda Gold Wing runs from $23,500 (6-speed) to $31,500 for the Gold Wing Tour 7-speed DCT with air bag. The machine we rode, Gold Wing Tour DCT, listed for $27,700. You can find your 2018 Gold Wing at your local Honda dealer or more information online.