Motorcycles

Part 2. Which is best? Honda Gold Wing? or BMW R1200RT? Details. . .

2014-2018 BMW R1200RT
2018-2020 Honda GL1800 DCT Tour Gold Wing

’19 Honda DCT Tour Gold Wing vs. ’14 BMW R1200RT

In Part 1, we gave a broad-brushed overview of the strengths and weaknesses of arguably the two finest touring motorcycles available – the Honda DCT Tour Gold Wing (2018-’20) and BMW R1200RT (2014-’18), both essentially unchanged motorcycles for their production runs.

Here, we give a detailed description of the Gold Wing’s and RT’s nuances that make them better – or worse – as long distance, luxury touring motorcycles, gleaned from my 4 years BMW R1200RT and 2 years Honda DCT Tour Gold Wing ownership.

Great touring motorcycles need to provide comfort, weather protection, luggage carrying capacity, and range.

Comfort

Size matters. When it comes to comfort, a rider’s size affects how they fit to the machine. I’m 5’8″ with a 30-in. inseam.

Gold Wing: is more comfortable for me. The rider’s ‘triangle’ is more open, with the footpegs lower and more forward, allowing my legs to be at about a 90-degree angle. The Wing’s saddle is flat and firm. I didn’t like it at first, but have gotten used to it. Perhaps it required a few thousand kilometres to ‘break in?’ I can manage 3 hours in the saddle before starting to squirm. On long tours, I use an Airhawk seat pad. The Gold Wing’s handlebars are slightly higher and more pulled back than the RT’s ‘bars; that allows me to sit more upright on the Wing than the RT.

RT: has a more ‘sporty’ rider’s ‘triangle’ with slightly lower handlebars that cants my torso forward and more rear-set footpegs. Most of the RT riders I know add Ilium bar risers to move the bars higher and back and Suburban Machinery foot peg lowering kit. I did both mods, but even with the foot pegs moved down and forward, the angle of my leg caused me hip pain. The RT’s standard saddle was problematic for me. I had trouble sitting for more than 2 hours and eventually rode to Rich’s Custom Saddles in Kingston, WA. for a custom remake. Even though that still wasn’t perfect for me, it was better. Somehow, the OEM Gold Wing saddle works better for me than even the Rich’s custom saddle.

Weather protection

RT: when it comes to foul and cold weather protection, the RT is the hands-down winner. The BMW’s overall air management is superior, with it’s broad lower fairing that is wide enough to completely protect the lower legs. The main upper fairing section/headlight is wider than the Wing’s and only my upper and outer shoulders get road spray or feel the cold. Here in Western Canada, cold weather riding is a constant concern; even on July mornings, temperatures can be as low as 7 degrees Celsius. In hard rain, one can almost stay dry at highway speed if you keep moving. The RT’s fairing is that good.

Gold Wing: in very cold weather, I feel the chill on my outer forearms and upper arms, and the lower fairing only covers the inner half on my legs; the outer half is exposed to the air. Obviously, the Wing is a better motorcycle for hot weather riding, and the pop-up air vent at the top of the dash actually provides noticeable airflow to the rider when open. For very hot weather, the Wing is clearly the better motorcycle allowing significantly more airflow to the rider’s upper body and legs.

Luggage carrying capacity

RT: the BMW’s panniers are noticeably larger than the Wing’s. Each pannier can hold a fullface helmet. The RT’s optional (and expensive) topcase is superior to the Wing’s frustratingly small topcase. The BMW case can hold 2 fullface helmets, comes with an interior light (standard) and it’s lock is integrated with the bike’s electric lock system. Also, the topcase is available with a brake light. The RT’s cases and topcase are removable. There are 2 compartments, one on each side of the fairing, for storing incidentals. The RT’s luggage carrying capacity is superior to the Wing’s and the BMW’s panniers’ space is more useable because of their less convoluted internal shape.

Gold Wing: Honda traded off carrying capacity for style. Long time Gold Wing owners constantly rage on forums about Honda having mistakenly morphed the Gold Wing touring motorcycle into a sport-tourer having slimmed the new Wing’s body by shrinking the luggage. The Wing’s panniers cannot hold a fullface helmet and it’s topcase can hold 2 helmets (depending on the helmet shell sizes) sometimes. My HJC (XL) modular helmet will not fit in the topcase with the optional trunk carpet fitted. The Wing’s panniers and topcase are fixed, not removable. The Wing has a ‘frunk‘ (forward of the gas filler) and a storage bin in the fairing’s right side near the rider’s knee. The Wing’s luggage carrying capacity is inferior to the RT’s. Not only does it carry less, but the small panniers’ irregular internal shape makes using that space difficult. One advantage of the Wing’s luggage is that the bike’s keyless ignition fob allows opening the luggage with the press of an electronic button located on the pannier/under the topcase. Touch the pannier button to open, and the side case door gently opens, controlled by a dampening rod. The luggage locks automatically when the fob is outside its transmitter’s range, about 1-metre.

Touring Range

RT: the BMW’s 25-litre fuel tank provides a longer touring range than the Wing, even though the Honda (believe it or not) gets better gas mileage. The RT requires premium gas, and over the lifetime of the bike, averaged 5.13 L/100 km. The RT’s theoretical touring range is about 487 km.

Gold Wing: the Honda has a 21-litre fuel tank but has averaged 4.91 L/100 km on regular gas over it’s lifetime. The Wing’s theoretical touring range is about 427 km.

Drivetrain performance

One of the reasons I chose the new Gold Wing over a new RT was because I was really impressed with the DCT 7-speed automatic transmission. As I age, I know my reflexes are slower than they used to be. I rationalized that anything that reduced my mental workload of operating a motorcycle (in this case, eliminating the clutch and foot gear shifter) would allow me to devote more brainpower to other aspects of safely operating a motorcycle.

Gold Wing: the 1833cc flat-six cylinder engine is a marvel of smoothness, torque and fuel-efficiency. I ride solo, and there is NEVER a desire for more power. The engine pulls impressively from idle, and matched to the DCT automatic transmission, one is never in the wrong gear. The transmission is programmed extremely well, downshifting appropriately when throttle is opened aggressively. The riding modes (Rain, Econ, Tour, Sport) alter throttle response (and Traction Control) appropriate to the label. There are manual transmission owners on Gold Wing forums who rail against the DCT transmission for a variety of reasons, but DCT owners almost unanimously agree it was the superior choice. Also, Honda dealers in my area say DCT equipped Wings far outsell the manual transmission variants, which are much more difficult to sell.

One issue raised by a few new Wing owners is the perceived ‘drone’ the exhaust emits at cruising speed. Reportedly, Honda engineered a throatier exhaust note on the new gen bikes; a minority of owners notice the louder exhaust and dislike it. The Honda’s flat-six cylinder engine, when revved into the meaty parts of its power band, sounds just like a Porsche 911. I love the exhaust note!

RT: the BMW’s 1170cc liquid-cooled flat-twin ‘boxer’ engine is a jewel. Full of character, fuel-efficient and with a distinct flat-twin, surprisingly loud stock exhaust note, the engine puts out a claimed 125 hp and has a wonderfully flat torque curve. The boxer-twin can be run lazily at low rpm or revved (and thrive) at high rpm, unlike the Gold Wing which performs most comfortably loafing in the low- to mid-rpm range. The BMW’s 6-speed transmission shifts with relative ease (not quite Japanese smooth, but better than BMWs of days yore) and with Gear Shift Assist Pro allows quick, clutchless up- and down-shifts. On the road, the RT’s engine has just enough vibration to remind you you’re riding a motorcycle. To me, that sensory feedback is one of the pleasures of riding the BMW.

Suspension/handling

I test rode on the same day a ’19 BMW R1250RT (which is identical to 2014-2018 RTs in every aspect except for the larger engine) back-to-back with the ’19 Honda DCT Tour Gold Wing. My test included the beat up section of the QE2 highway from Edmonton south to Edmonton International Airport.

RT: the ’19 RT’s electronically-adjustable suspension is identical to that of my ’14 RT, and it felt the same on the test section. The RT’s paralever/telelever suspension is very good, absorbing large and small bumps with aplomb, but . . .

Gold Wing: . . . the Wing’s electronically adjustable suspension, with it’s funky new Hossack front end, was very slightly better than the RT’s. The Wing seemed to have better rebound dampening and felt smoother, where the RT felt slightly ‘jittery’ over the same road.

So the Wing is superior to the RT on the ‘slab’, but in the twisties, the RT’s lighter (604 lbs.) weight makes the bike more nimble. Even though Honda put the new Wing on a major diet, it still weighs a hefty 842 lbs.

One advantage both bikes have over motorcycles with conventional forks is their ability to absorb bumps mid-turn without upsetting the chassis; I continue to be impressed when, on either the Wing or RT, I’m leaned over, hit a bump mid-turn, and both bikes continue undisturbed to track precisely through the curve.

In tight twisties, the RT is clearly more nimble with lighter steering and more readily changes direction, but the Wing is no slouch. It might be a backhanded compliment to say ‘it handles well for an 842 lb. motorcycle), but the simple truth is the new Gold Wing with Hossack front suspension handles much better than the previous generation of Gold Wing. (And lost to history is that when the last gen Wing was designed, it’s chief engineer assigned to design it was the former chief engineer of Honda’s CBR600RR race bike. According to the motorcycle press in 2001 when the then new GL1800 was launched, the new chief engineer for the Gold Wing was directed to “make it handle.” I recall in 2001 when the all new GL1800 was launched, many Honda ST1100 owners bought the new Wing and reported it handled almost as good as their ST1100 sport-tourers.

Little things . . .

Architects have a saying: “God is in the details.”

There are little differences between the Gold Wing and the RT that seem to be quirks particular to the bike. Over time, one gets used to them, but sometimes, these ‘quirks’ can be continuous irritants.

Here’s my list of quirks.

Cruise control

The Gold Wing’s cruise control is thumb activated on the right handlebar. It’s awkward. One has to hold the throttle steady with 4 fingers and stretch my thumb to engage CC.

On the RT, the CC is located on the left handlebar, so one can maintain a steady throttle with the right hand and flip on the CC with the left hand. RT wins.

Accessory 12v outlet

Surprising omission on Honda’s part; the 12v accessory outlet is not standard equipment. It’s a dealer-installed option (drilled into the left side fairing), and it’s an American-style cigarette lighter size outlet, unlike the BMW’s European/Hella size outlet commonly found on electric vests. Plus, the Honda’s 12v outlet is ‘switched’ (connected to the ignition) so it does not allow the battery to be charged through it like on the RT. BMW wins.

Fueling

OMG! Could Honda have come up with a more convoluted process to access the gas cap? To fill the Wing . . . (Rant on)

  1. Push button on right fairing to open pocket lid
  2. Push button inside pocket to release gas filler lid
  3. Pull open gas filler lid
  4. Unscrew gas cap
  5. Fill with gas

On the RT,

  1. Unlock gas filler lid and open it in one motion
  2. Fill with gas

BMW wins.

GPS

There are many, many complaints on Gold Wing forums regarding how ‘glitchy’ the Wing’s (Harman Kardon?) GPS is. I use it simply to navigate from Point A to Point B; I don’t use GPS to plan routes with numerous waypoints, so it works for me. BUT, the BMW’s Garmin Navigator gps is portable, making it easy to take off the bike and program destinations from inside a restaurant or motel room. Also, the Honda’s gps uses a poor combination of colour for its screen (even for a red-green colour blind person like me), making it more difficult to read. Finally, the BMW Navigator’s screen is much easier to read in bright sunlight, using a brighter, higher contrast screen and larger font. The RT wins.

Digital speed readout

The RT has a function where one can choose to display speed digitally in addition to its analogue speedometer. I find the RT’s font too small to see on the normal speedo, so always had the digital display on. The Wing has no digital speed display. RT wins.

If you think this list makes me “anti” Gold Wing, the RT has it’s quirks, too.

Topcase

On the Gold Wing (Tour), the topcase is standard equipment. BMW makes you buy the topcase as an optional ‘extra.’ It’s expensive; really expensive. And it comes in one colour only – silver and black, NOT colour matched to the bike. Gold Wing wins.

Infotainment

I never used the AM/FM radio on the RT. It seemed difficult to access, and the speakers really weren’t much good above 60 km/h. The radio function on the Wing is easy to access, and it has 2 front and 2 rear speakers, which are very good. Even with earplugs, I can listen to the stereo easily up to 90 km/h (although I never do.) Honda wins.

Keyless ignition

(This only applies to the’14 RT, which had only traditional key ignition; later variants had keyless ignition available.) The Wing’s keyless ignition is a feature I really like. There’s no fishing for keys; simply walk up to the bike and start it. Remember the good old days when we wore rainsuits, went to the bike only to realize the key was in our jeans pocket? Then we had to strip down to get the key? No more. Plus when you walk away from the Wing, the luggage automatically locks. Honda wins.

DCT transmission

Honda’s 7-speed Dual-Clutch automatic Transmission is brilliant. Around town, the transmission turns the big tourer into an 842 lb. scooter; just twist and go. On the highway, the transmission will shift down when the throttle is whacked open to pass a car; give it enough throttle and it will sometimes downshift more than one gear. And the rider has full manual control. If traffic is heavy and you need instant throttle response, switch the transmission to Manual mode (activated by right index finger), shift manually to 5th or 6th gear which the transmission will hold right up to redline. When controlled manually, the transmission shifts electronically faster than a rider can with a clutch and foot shifter. The DCT transmission (and 1833 cc flat-6 cylinder engine) is the single best feature of the Gold Wing. Honda wins.

Walking speed electric Forward/Reverse

Muscling around an 842 lb. motorcycle at slow speed is a worst-case scenario for many riders. Many oldtimers on Gold Wing forums scoff at the ‘need’ for electric Forward/Reverse. I use the function every day, just to back down my driveway. It’s another brilliant feature. To engage the function, select Neutral, on the left handlebar push the electric drive engage button, then use the left side trigger switch to ‘walk’ forward or left side thumb switch to ‘walk’ in reverse. The electric drive is steady, so in tight quarters, there’s very little chance of jerking the bike and losing balance. Again, brilliant. Honda wins.

Conclusion

The Honda GL1800 DCT Tour Gold Wing (2018-2020) and BMW R1200RT (2014-2018) are both outstanding, ‘best in class’ luxury touring motorcycles.

The Gold Wing is best suited for hot weather touring where long distances on relatively straight motorways are ridden. And the monstrous, 1833 cc flat-6 cylinder engine and DCT transmission easily handles 2-up touring.

The RT is best suited for cold/foul weather riding where the priority is to have a comfortable long distance touring motorcycle that is more nimble and sporty when the pavement turns twisty.

Really, they are very, very close, but each has its own character.

Chocolate or vanilla? Blonde or brunette? Sports car or muscle car?

Such choices are a matter of personal preference. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here.

Today, the Gold Wing is ‘ticking all the boxes’ for me. Tomorrow? Who knows?

End

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2 Comments

  1. Alan Williams says:

    Really enjoyed this article Tim. You paint a most informative picture of both machines. I doubt either will ever grace my garage but if I ever had to choose I imagine the RT would better suit my circumstances here in the UK. But if we were doing another road trip into the USA then maybe the Honda would win.
    Take care, stay safe.

  2. The RT gas #2 is incorrect. There is no gas cap to unscrew.
    So only 2 steps, unlock/lift, add gas…

    Enjoyed your comparisons of each bike Tim.

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