2007 Honda Goldwing GL1800A

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(From the Archives)

The big black Gold Wing arcs gracefully into a medium-fast sweeper as I follow a pack of BMW R1200GSes, Triumph 1050 Tigers and a lone Ducati ST4  through the sinuous backroads of Idaho’s Sawtooth mountains.  This group is riding at a sport-touring pace, and the Honda GL1800 easily keeps pace.  The GL1800 Gold Wing, Honda’s flagship luxury-touring motorcycle, is the odd bike in this pack of pavement carvers.  It’s like a Gulfstream executive jet flying in tight formation with a squadron of CF-18 Hornet fighter planes – odd, but not entirely out of place.

For more than twenty years, the Honda Gold Wing has set the standard for luxury touring motorcycles and has dominated the segment. With boring regularity (and few exceptions), year after year, motorcycle enthusiast magazines around the world proclaim the GL1800 Gold Wing as “best luxury touring motorcycle of the year.”

When the GL1800 was launched in 2001, it was re-designed to be ‘sportier’ while still retaining its luxury motorcycle heritage.  Honda re-engineered the bike, moving the engine forward in the chassis placing more weight on the front wheel to improve handling and simultaneously opening up more space for the rider and passenger.  An extruded aluminum frame, common on sportbikes, replaced the old tubular steel frame, and front suspension geometry was changed to sharpen the bike’s steering.

On twisting roads that have sportbike riders laughing inside their helmets, the big Gold Wing handles better than any 407kg machine ought to.  Its very low centre-of-gravity and large, wide handlebars offer plenty of leverage, making it surprisingly easy to flick into tight turns.  Handling can be summed up as easy turning and remarkably neutral– the bike never feels like it wants to ‘fall’ into corners, nor does moderate mid-corner braking make the Gold Wing want to ‘stand up’ and run wide.

But it’s the smooth, powerful, perfectly ‘carbureted’ engine that makes the Gold Wing a joy to ride.  The flat-six SOHC 1823 c.c. fuel-injected engine produces an unremarkable 118 hp, but an eye-opening 123 lbs-ft of torque (identical to the specs of my first car, a 1969 Volvo 122S with a 2.0 litre engine.  The GL’s engine produces even more torque than the last generation Honda Civic subcompact!)  In real world touring, torque is king, and the Gold Wing’s torque curve is as flat as the view from Regina to Moose Jaw.   The Gold Wing has the heart of a locomotive, and passing is a simple matter of twisting the throttle and reveling in the engine’s Porsche-like exhaust growl.  The engine has ample power in fifth gear (overdrive) for passing in most situations.

On the road, the big windscreen and fairing provide exemplary protection from the elements and the soft, deep, bucket-shaped saddle is truly comfortable for eight or nine hour stretches.  The GL’s suspension is firm, well-controlled, yet compliant and offers plenty of feedback.  At elevated speeds the GL1800 feels luxurious more like an S-Class Mercedes than a ‘60s era Cadillac.  However, when the pavement is rough and the bike is pushed hard, the front forks have trouble coping.

The Wing has a number of appealing features.  First is the low saddle, making it easy for those with 30-ish-in. inseams to ‘flat foot’ low speed maneuvers.  The big tourer also has an electric reverse gear (which can only be engaged when the engine is running and the transmission is in ‘neutral’.)  Electronic cruise control is conveniently located on the right handlebar, a very good 6-speaker AM/FM stereo (with Weather band) produces good sound up to about 100 kph, and two rear suspension pre-load settings can be put into ‘memory’ and changed to accommodate different loads at the push of a button.  The capacious travel trunk can be unlocked and opened using a remote control (a remarkably convenient feature), and a warning message appears on the Nav screen if the travel trunk/pannier lids are not latched properly.  And every GL comes with lighted handlebar controls and wiring for optional CB radio, rider-passenger intercom, CD player and MP3 player.

There are a number of annoyances, mostly minor, that prevent the Gold Wing from being perfect.  Surprisingly, Honda has not seen fit to address these complaints over the years.  The windscreen is only manually adjustable, a strange omission given that numerous other motorcycles have electrically-adjustable windshields (such as the class competitor BMW K1200LT, not to mention Honda’s own much less costly ST1300.)

The cruise control can be annoyingly lethargic; when set at one speed then re-set to a faster one, the bike slows by 2 or 3 kph as if it’s ‘thinking’ then accelerates up to the new setting.  Then there are the three warning lights on the instrument cluster:  “OD” (shows when ‘overdrive’ or 5th gear is engaged) “Cruise On” and “Cruise Set” which are difficult to see in bright sunlight.  And while Honda provides two electronic trip meters, they suffer from the same inexplicable curse as the Honda ST1300– after 999.9 km, they re-set to 000.0; apparently, nobody at Honda believes Gold Wing riders tour for more than 999.9 kilometers on a single trip.

The Honda GL1800 Gold Wing is supremely comfortable, has a massively powerful engine, coddles the rider in a weather-protected cocoon, is relatively frugal (we used regular fuel at a rate of 5.4l/100 km/53 mpg), and has a proven track record for reliability and low cost maintenance.  It’s no wonder the Honda GL1800 Gold Wing is considered to be one of the finest luxury touring motorcycles available today.

Make:  Honda Final Drive:  Shaft
Model:  GL1800L Gold Wing Wheelbase:  1690 mm (66.5 in.)
MSRP:  $29,399 (less $3,000 rebate) Curb Weight:  317kg (898 lb.) with full fuel
Distributor:  Honda Canada Fuel Capacity:  25 liters (regular unleaded)
Engine Type:  Fuel-injected SOHC opposed 6-cylinder, 2 valves per cylinder Tire Size:  130/70R-18(F); 180/60R-16(R)
Displacement:  1832 c.c. Estimated Fuel Range:  380 km with 4.4l reserve remaining
Bore x Stroke:  74 mm x 71 mm Fuel Consumption:  5.4l/100 km (53 mpg) average
Transmission:  5-speed including overdrive with electric reverse  

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