By on November 9, 2016

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What if… you could walk into a Honda dealership and buy a brand-new Honda from fifteen years ago or thereabouts? Would you buy a sixth-generation Accord, all 2,950 sensibly-sized pounds of it? What about one of those Year 2000 Civic Si coupes, the ones that are worth almost as much with 200,000 miles on them as they were when they sat on the showroom floor? How much would you pay to travel into the increasingly distant past of Japan’s most enthusiast-oriented, detail-driven automaker?

Well, here’s the good news: you can walk into a Honda dealership tomorrow and buy a fifteen-year-old design with just the barest minimum of minor cosmetic updates to separate the “new” model from the one you could have gotten back in ’01. Here’s the bad news: it’s a motorcycle. Here’s the worse news: it’s a Gold Wing. Here’s the worst news of all: if there has ever been a Honda that truly needed to be revamped into compliance with the state of the art elsewhere in the industry, it would be this one.


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Last week I wrote about “darksiding”, particularly as it relates to heavy touring motorcycles like the Honda Gold Wing. But, I was hiding a rather dark secret of my own: I’ve never so much as ridden a Gold Wing across a parking lot. That doesn’t mean I have no experience with “road sofas”. To the contrary, I’ve ridden thousands of miles over the past twenty years on “full dressers” from Harley-Davidson, BMW, Victory, and Indian. Just a few months ago, in fact, I took a 2017 Indian Chieftain “bagger” from Portland to Denver via Jackson Hole and Sturgis in four days, covering as much as 650 miles in a single day and dealing with everything from gale-force thunderstorms to 110-degree baking sun.

Of course, by the standards of the authentic “Iron Butt” touring motorcyclists out there, that’s training-wheels stuff at best. The riders who regularly cover 50,000 or more miles per year exist in a completely different world from that of the weekend tourist or casual traveler, and those riders, as a whole, prefer the Gold Wing to anything else out there. After all, Honda virtually invented the durable touring bike with the original ‘Wing in 1975, and it delivered the death blow to the Japanese competition decades ago with the boxer-six GL1500.

The problem, if there is one, is this: There hasn’t been a substantial update to the Gold Wing since the current-generation bike appeared in 2001. Five years ago, Honda updated the fairings and the electronics a bit when it moved production from Marysville, Ohio back to Japan, but it would take a practiced eye to tell the difference between a 2001 model and the 2016s in the showroom today.

I rented a 2015 Gold Wing in Digital Silver from the Orlando, FL Eaglerider this past Sunday morning, using a few of my “Club Eaglerider” credits. (If you want to know more about Club Eaglerider, you can find out on my site.) There are four different trim levels of the Wing available; mine was the $23,999 base model. Now, allow me to give you a list of all the things you don’t get on the $23,999 Gold Wing that you do get on the frightfully vintage-looking Indian Roadmaster, which is currently my favorite touring motorcycle:

  • Bluetooth integration. The Gold Wing doesn’t have Bluetooth available in any trim level.
  • Touchscreen navigation. Nav is an option on the Wing — but it’s not good.
  • Tire pressure information beyond an idiot light.
  • Electrically adjustable windscreen;
  • Or any kind of windscreen adjustment at all.
  • Distance to empty or any advanced trip computer functions.
  • Anti-lock brakes! You’ll need to spend at least $28,999 for an ABS-equipped Gold Wing.
  • USB power
  • And probably a bunch of other stuff that I just haven’t realized isn’t there yet.

If you didn’t know that the GL1800 was a turn-of-the-century Honda product, a five-second look at the hot mess of Space:1999-font buttons and sliders scattered around the bike would clue you in. And while I’m sure that the various controls on the Wing are durable, they sure don’t look expensive — which is troubling in a motorcycle that sells for more than an Accord EX-L once you add ABS.

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The dashboard, too, is ancient history and immediately familiar to anybody who has driven a fifth-gen Accord. Unlike in the aforementioned Accord, however, this instrument panel is especially useless because all of the idiot lights wash out in direct sunlight. This is a problem in a motorcycle, because you have your neutral indicator on the instrument panel and the TPS warning, which carries rather more immediate importance than it would in a four-wheeled “cage”, is also on there.

Okay. Enough bitching. Let’s ride the thing. My test loop carried me about 225 miles from Orlando to Tampa, from there to Clearwater Beach, and then back to Orlando. The first thing you notice about the Wing is that it’s not really that difficult to maneuver by yourself. Perhaps alone among motorcycles, the big Honda offers a sort of rudimentary reverse gear that uses the starter to spin the transmission backwards, but you probably won’t need that unless you’ve made a serious mistake parking the bike. Unlike the American “dressers”, the Wing enforces traditional motorcycle sit-up-and-beg seat positioning. There is plenty of lower back support, but this doesn’t really matter because most experienced riders will immediately swap in their own aftermarket seats.

The Wing is powered by a boxer six that develops about 100 horsepower. Coupled to a five (yes, five!!)-speed transmission, it’s good for about a 12.2-second quarter mile at 120 miles per hour, according to the various magazines. That’s pretty serious acceleration in the automotive world — think Corvette Z51 or previous-generation M3 Lime Rock Edition — but for bikes it’s pretty tame stuff. My ZX-14R makes more than twice the power while weighing just a bit more than half as much, and can take nearly three seconds off the Honda’s quarter-mile. Still, if the Wing is your first bike, you’ll be amazed at the way it leaps forward under full throttle.

Less amazing: the sound of the machine. With open pipes, I think the Honda would probably sound like a feisty air-cooled Porsche, but the standard-equipment exhaust absolutely strangles anything like music or even noise from the proceedings, leaving only the whirring sound of the transmission to keep a rider company. It’s almost eerie how quiet the bike is; if you didn’t know better, you’d swear it was a hybrid.

Almost immediately, I had to face the fact that I don’t fit the Gold Wing as it’s delivered. The windscreen is too low, sending a hideous, eyeball-shaking buffeting right into my helmet. My CB1100, which has no windscreen at all, is easier on me. But that’s something you’d fix in the aftermarket. Just as problematic: the seat is too low for me to be comfortable on the pegs. Compared to an Indian or Harley, this bike is a penalty box for me.

I enlisted Mrs. Baruth to be my passenger for the trip. She hated the way the Gold Wing put her almost five inches higher than me, fully into the wind and providing very little sense of security — and I hated it too, because it meant that any motion on her part had a remarkable amount of affect on the direction that the Honda was pointing. I outweigh her by something like a hundred pounds, and I am very used to having a passenger on motorcycles ranging from a CB550 to a Softail, but when she shifted in the Wing’s back seat the whole bike wobbled. She just had too much leverage. Given how often I see men on Gold Wings whose female passengers outweigh them by a considerable amount instead of the other way ’round, I have to wonder how they don’t die in a ball of flame ten minutes or less after getting on the freeway.

On the positive side of the ledger, the Honda has all of the American competition beat for crosswind resistance. I found myself cruising at 85-90 in the kind of wind pressure that would have had me dropping to 65 or less with a Roadmaster. It’s at least as good in this respect as the K1600 BMW, maybe better. And the brakes, while requiring a firm hand for hard stops, are more than adequate to the task.

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Our trip back from the beach put us into heavy Tampa traffic, thickly populated with the sort of insane Florida morons who will swerve randomly across three or more lanes without checking their mirrors or indeed offering any warning whatsoever. This was where I lost much of what little affection I had for the Wing. It’s too quiet and too anonymous, particularly in that “Digital Silver”, to prevent anybody from simply moving into your lane. And it’s too slow-witted to get itself out of trouble, particularly in top gear. I would have felt a hundred times safer on my big green Kawasaki; it can flick from lane to lane and accelerate from 60 to 120 in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. With this big Honda you just clamp the brakes and pray the idiot behind you is paying attention.

By the time you read this, I’ll have returned the Gold Wing to Eaglerider and probably boarded a plane for home. I’m glad that I took the time to get acquainted with what is probably the archetype of touring motorcycles, but I won’t be renting one again. The Roadmaster and Electra Glide make more sense for me; they’re more comfortable, almost as quick, and considerably more involving to ride. On the other side of the market, the BMW K1600GT is an absolute rocketship, it out-handles anything short of a proper sportbike, and it offers a full suite of electronic safety features to go with its outstanding weather protection.

None of that makes much difference to the Honda faithful. They value durability and predictability above all, and in those categories no Bavarian dilettante or American showboat can touch the big boxer Wing. If you needed to put 100,000 trouble-free miles on a bike, this is the one you would pick. Yet I can’t help thinking that Honda’s refusal to update its flagship is both short-sighted and cowardly.

This is a machine that would benefit hugely from virtually every technical toy in the company’s toolbox. As a hybrid dual-clutcher with double touchscreens and laser cruise control, it would be untouchable. And it would also be an explicit statement of Honda’s ability to make technology work in the long run. The original 1975 Gold Wing was just such a vehicle. This 40th Anniversary model may carry its name, but the spirit of the thing — the ghost in the machine — got lost somewhere on those endless roads, ten years or more long gone.

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28 Comments on “2015 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing 40th Anniversary Review — What’s New is Old Again...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    funny to think that Harley-Davidson has revamped their touring line more than once in the same timeframe.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Jack, complaining about the acceleration on a Gold Wing is like complaining about the acceleration on a 1977 Lincoln Town Car. That’s not the point of this bike.

    “but when she shifted in the Wing’s back seat the whole bike wobbled. She just had too much leverage.”

    Thanks for the warning. I’ll be even more careful about the Gold Wing riders I see on I-40 – that must be why there are so many tricycle conversions.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    No adjustable wind screen? No bluetooth or even USB? For f**k sake Honda.
    23+K is a whole lotta clams for what you are getting. Make mine an FJR.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Don’t knock it as it is not made in Marysville anymore, but China. My Uncle picked the last year of UA built ones.

      Personally, I’d find a discounted Concourse 14 for less than half the price.

  • avatar
    TR4

    “Perhaps alone among motorcycles, the big Honda offers a sort of rudimentary reverse gear that uses the starter.”

    Actually, the current Harley trike has a similar system.

  • avatar
    Feds

    Hmm. Too bad about this review. I was considering pulling the trigger on an OG Valkyrie. Maybe I’ll go for the Guzzi California instead (1100 over 1400. Tank cut outs ruin it for me).

    • 0 avatar
      Drew8MR

      The OG Valkyries are a pretty sweet ride if you don’t mind the dead quiet motor. 100 horses only, but a 100 ft lbs of torque. Nice low center of gravity as well. Not really comparable to a Wing as far as riding experience.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    Due to back problems, I recently looked into trading my Concours 14 for something a bit more manageable. I checked out a few cruisers along with the F6B and Valkyrie versions of the Gold Wing, but I found them all to be very heavy to pick up. I spotted what I think is a forgotten gem in the Honda lineup, though, which is the CTX1300. Similar ergonomics to the F6B, but there’s less weight and it’s down lower. Plus, they have marked them way down, do away I rode and I’m fairly happy with my choice so far.

  • avatar
    yamahog

    Would still take a rune in a heart beat.

    The Goldwing is its own deal. It’s not a good deal by any stretch and the world has moved on (and frankly Honda does worse as vehicles get bigger – the accord rocks, the pilot? not so much) but people know how to set them up for touring and the American dressers are a hard sell if you like mid controls.

    Glad to see the ZX-14R references crop up. After you get used to a sub-10 second 1/4 mile vehicle, everything else feels really pokey or broken.

    big props on the honest review though.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    If I wanted a car, I would buy a car.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    I’m a long-time rider who loves the idea of a near-silent motorcycle.

    Some of the best rides of my life have been running sweeping turns downhill with the engine off just enjoying the quiet and the scenery. In the right spot with some good use of momentum you can glide a surprisingly long way.

  • avatar
    Shane Rimmer

    I think something that gets overlooked that was lightly touched on by Jack is long-term ownership. A ZX-14 is great until it’s time to adjust the valves and a Harley is fine until you have to tear into the primary just to replace the stupid drive-belt.

    The air filter on the Gold Wing is a huge pain in the ass to get to, but most of the rest of the bike is fairly easily serviced (even valve lash adjustments!) and it’s renowned for its reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      Drew8MR

      I haven’t kept up since I quit turning a wrench, are they shim under bucket or something? Really not that big a deal if your local dealer isn’t a dick and will let you swap shims for a few bucks.

      • 0 avatar
        Shane Rimmer

        They are, and they aren’t a big deal to change once you get to them. That’s the trick, though. There’s a whole lot of digging to do before you can get to the point of removing the valve covers to check things out. I don’t know if the ZX-14 is vastly different than the C14 in that regard, but the C14 is a fairly large job that shops charge an average of around $800 if nothing needs adjusting.

    • 0 avatar
      ellomdian

      It’s been a while since I saw one of the Gold-Wing crowd (new, not 20 years old…) wrench on their own bike.

      And it hasn’t been very long since I saw a brace of the things sitting in the garage at the local Honda shop.

      I just feel like the (old, quasi-retired, some money) owner demographic is way more likely to have someone else do any actual work.

  • avatar
    ellomdian

    How the FCUK does Honda sell any of these @ >25k??? Do you just choose not to walk into a BMW dealer (22k for a K1600), ignore the default choice (Ultra Classic for 25k) and light money on fire for a decade-plus old bike? There are JAPANESE manufacturers with better options, fer chrissakes.

  • avatar

    Barefoot Beach Pavillion?

  • avatar
    MarkZ

    There actually is an adjustment for the windscreen. Just in from the mirrors, there is a latch that locks the windscreen in place. Lift up on both latches, adjust the windscreen, then flip the latches back down.

    Can’t argue with your assessment. The GW wasn’t my first choice of touring bike, but unfortunately I was overridden by the boss: she loves it. I’ve grown to enjoy it, but again: it wasn’t my first choice.

  • avatar
    noelleo2112

    I hope they dont start to try and go all retro with all that ugly big rounded harley looking crap, that stuff just looks ugly.

  • avatar
    scuzimi

    Geez! Dude, really? You must be paid by the word, no must be by the letter. At least I succeeded in you getting rid of that NFA high school crap. I’d go on but I really don’t care about this subject. Just thought I’d check in with ya and say HI!

  • avatar
    VaderSS

    The windshield is adjustable and there are easily installed aftermarket electrically adjustable windshields. No bluetooth is a sore spot for me though.

    The problem is that nothing else really competes with the Goldwing as a long distance tourer that handles surprisingly well for its size. The last time the Goldwing truly had competition was before BMW turned its tourer into an oversized sport-tourer. If Honda had some real competition, it would upgrade the Wing, but it doesn’t, so it wont.

    As for performance, it’s plenty strong enough for what it is, and much quicker than the average car.

  • avatar
    Tour-Rider

    What a pitiful article written by someone who expects the TOURING Goldwing to be a crotch-rocket.
    When you’re No.1 for almost 30 years straight, there isn’t a reason to compete with yourself.
    Complain about the TOURING Goldwing not changing much in 15 years? I wonder if this idiot has the same negative rhetoric for the 113 year old automobile?
    That’s ONE HUNDRED and THIRTEEN years.
    BTW:
    HD hasn’t changed much in that amount of time either. But they sure know how to carry an IMAGE of their bike around, it’s in the shop longer than they ride it.
    The day this writer understands what TOURING means, don’t take his dribble seriously.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I said I preferred the Indian Roadmaster, which isn’t much of a crotch-rocket, is it?

      • 0 avatar
        Tour-Rider

        Yes you did. The Indian Roadmaster is another motorcycle that hasn’t seen much change in well over 100 years. Like I said, you complain about the Goldwings measly 15 year span, or MAYBE I should say 28 years. The GL1500 and GL1800 are pretty much basically the same.
        If you’re going to compare APPLES with APPLES do so and do it with equality. Otherwise you are not a viable writer.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Does Honda still make a ‘ standard ‘ un faired Moto with this same boxer six engine ? .

    I remember the very first year it came out, indeed the exhaust sounded like an older Porsche 911 or maybe a _Corvair_ .

    I think I’ll keep my 750 Solo, it’s neither fast nor fancy but it’s dead nuts reliable, looks good and I find it comfy .

    I have never wanted any sort of Road Sofa Motocycle .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    DirtRoads

    Give me an ST. Done and done.

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