We just finished riding the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour in Austin, Texas – a day early I might add…because it’s snowing…in Texas. Still, clocking close to 200 miles on Honda’s sixth generation of this venerable touring machine has provided us with some interesting insights into the next Wing.
A bike designed for long-distance riding, we have gathered our thoughts on the new Honda Gold Wing Tour, in a short and sweet format, so you can sound informed at your next bike night or internet forum.
Overall, the all-new Honda Gold Wing Tour is a smart update to an iconic motorcycle, and it brings the Gold Wing name inline with the current state of technology.
As we found on the road, the new Gold Wing is an improvement over its predecessor, but that comes with a caveat or two. There might be some deal-breakers here for modern touring riders, as Honda shifts its focus to “younger” riders. Let me explain.
2017 vs. 2018
It is easy to forget that the Honda Gold Wing was last updated at the turn of the millennium (as a 2001 model year machine), but you are jarringly reminded of this fact the second you sit in the 2018 Honda Gold Wing cockpit.
Roughly 20 buttons are missing from the previous model, a vivid TFT display has been installed, the mass between your legs is roughly 90 lbs lighter, and the list of changes goes on and on. However, once you get moving on the road, the lineage between the two bikes is readily apparent.
This is still very much a Gold Wing, for better or worse.
Honda was kind enough to provide us a chance to ride the 2017 edition bike back-to-back with the 2018, and the results are what you would expect – after all, an 800 lbs motorcycle isn’t that much different than a 900 lbs motorcycle.
The engines are remarkably similar in characteristic, smooth without vibration and linear in power delivery. The 2018 motor is an all-new design, and it packs plenty of power (torque, actually), while just sipping gasoline. This has allowed Honda to reduce the fuel tank size by a gallon, while keeping range the same.
Of course, what everyone wants to talk about is the chassis with its (don’t call it a Hossack) “double wishbone” front suspension setup.
The design is both the best and worst part of the new Gold Wing. It helps create a more compact chassis, which helps in the overall weight reduction of the machine. And while it handles the bumpy and mangled roads of Texas quite well, the feedback to the rider is equally muted.
A parallelogram design living in a telescopic fork’s world, experienced motorcyclists are going to miss the feedback that they have grown accustomed to with traditional front-end designs on motorcycles.
When talking to colleagues, we had a hard time agreeing on the exact issue, while some of us describe as understeer – slow and vague when tipping into a turn – others would complain about in issues once the bike was leaned over. It’s both, and it’s neither.
The reality is that the front-end of the Honda Gold Wing is really good at muting some of the noise and chatter that comes from the road, especially when it is bumpy terrain.
Dive during braking has almost been removed (Honda engineered a little dive into the system, just so we wouldn’t completely freak out), which is an interesting balancing act considering how potent the new dual-six piston radial caliper are in their function.
But, these gains have come at the cost of less feedback, which is confusing even to the most veteran of riders. The more miles you ride though, the more that the language of the new Honda Gold Wing begins to make sense. Perhaps even fluency is attainable.
It takes a while to gain trust in the 2018 bike’s cornering ability though, but the more we demanded of the bike in tight corners, the more it responded in kind.
As one colleague told me, the front-end is fine for a touring bike…he just didn’t want to see it one on a superbike anytime soon. I would tend to agree.
Other quick differences to point out is that the 2018 seat look visually bigger, and is a bit more stiff, though we preferred the previous generation’s contour and shape, which felt more comfortable.
The riding position continues to be very upright and comfortable, though the 2018 bike is far smoother in terms of vibrations, especially at higher engine rotations.
Six generations deep on the Gold Wing design brief, and for the most part our Honda Gold Wing Tour showed the refinements of its age.
DCT or Manual?
The 2018 Honda Gold Wing debuts the third-generation of Honda’s dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which has a number of improvements, both in the mechanics of how it works, and in how the software runs it.
More interestingly though is the fact that the DCT-equipped editions of the Honda Gold Wing sport a seventh gear, which drastically overdrives the 1,833cc six-cylinder engine.
Coupled to a slipper/assist clutch, and the total package is designed to be very smooth, which is something you want on a touring bike, especially when there is a passenger on the back.
Here is the only issue though: it is really not that smooth…at least not during deceleration, and this is where I really prefer the manual gearbox.
For well-traveled riders, the ability to rev-match gear changes and feather the clutch vastly outpaces what the DCT box can do, which likes to drag the gears as you slowdown for something like at a stop light.
This not only creates its own kind of momentum lurch, but it is also unnerving, especial when you are laden with another rider and luggage, and as you approach nearly 1,000 lbs of mass.
Similarly during low-speed maneuvers, the inability to modulate the power with the clutch becomes an issue with the instant torque that the Gold Wing throttle provides, which makes low-speed parking lot movements a bit hairy, especially during the honeymoon period of learning the machine.
Once underway and on the road though, the DCT works as advertised, and the seven-speed gearbox just smiles all day as you churn sub-2,000 rpm engine revs at highway speeds.
My preference as you can tell is for the manual model, but I can see where less-experienced riders will find strong value in the “automatic” transmission that comes with the DCT option.
Also, those without a strong clutch-hand technique will probably be less put-off by not having that tool in their motorcycling toolbox. So, your mileage may vary here from mine. Interested riders should definitely try both options at their local dealers before making a decision.
Forget the Kitchen Sink
When I imagine transcontinental touring, I think of a Honda Gold Wing…and I think of it packed to the gills.
Honda says that the data suggests otherwise though, most trips are weekend getaways, and as such the luggage requirements that riders need are far smaller than what has been available in the past.
This has lead to a luggage volume reduction for the 2018 Honda Gold Wing, and even I was surprised by how little space the roomier Honda Gold Wing Tour has to offer. In fact, this might be the biggest deal-breaker for potential 2018 owners. It certainly gives me pause.
One helmet will fit in the top box (50 liters). One standard, large normal head helmet. Not two. Don’t even think about it in the panniers, which are not only small (30 liters), but oddly shaped.
Honda disagrees with this assessment, and has a list of helmets that will supposedly fit. Don’t let them fool on this account though.
There are options for additional rack space, and there will likely be some clever aftermarket options for Gold Wing riders, but for now, diehard Wingers will have to leave the kitchen sink at home, and perhaps learn how to pack a bit lighter than usual.
This could very well be the reason for why fifth-generation bikes won’t be traded in for the 2018 model, and it strikes me as an interesting direction for Honda to choose with its design.
I think Big Red is in error here, but I’ll be curious to see if the internet-hate materializes in a lack of sales.
More Tech, Less Refinement
This brings me to my next big gripe with the Honda Gold Wing, more particularly with the Honda Gold Wing Tour (which was the model we spent our time on), in that the fit and finish of some of the pieces is lacking.
Any time we used a luggage case, we almost always had to go back and re-close it – i.e. slam it closed – so it would register as shut on the dashboard’s alert system.
The luggage compartments were very refined in how they opened, but were downright crude in how they closed and stayed shut, which is just odd to see.
It is a little issue, but one that shouldn’t crop up on something so integral to what the Gold Wing is about…and it certainly shouldn’t be the case when a $26,700 base price is attached to the motorcycle.
The inverse was true of the more pocket-sized storage spaces on the Gold Wing. I don’t think I got the storage space at the tank ever to open on the first try, the cheap and flimsy plastic latch always felt exactly as that, cheap and flimsy.
I should add too that every painted panel had obvious orange peel in the paint quality, which is disappointing to see on the flagship model.
All that being said, Honda has a done a very good job of bringing the Gold Wing into the current state of the art, and overall the dash’s TFT interface is intuitive and well-thought out.
Despite the button reduction, the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour is still a bit crowded in the handlebars, but Honda has made a step in the right direction, with good strides made in streamlining the design interface and rider interaction.
It should be noted that the 2018 Honda Gold Wing is the first motorcycle with Apple’s CarPlay suite, which has its own flaws, but still brings some strong options to bike enthusiasts.
My gripes here are more of an Apple issue than a Honda issue, and you have to give Big Red credit for realizing this growing trend in the automotive space. As for playing with Android phones, again the issue seems to reside outside of Honda’s hands.
It is refreshing to see that manufacturers are finally catching on that motorcyclists carry on a daily basis more processing power than their motorcycles possess, so it is good to see them taking advantage of that fact with their vehicle design. Kudos to Honda for being the first in this space.
Still, I await the day when touchscreens and voice commands are the de facto interface, and the only button is the “on” switch.
So Would You Buy It?
The $27,000 question of course is whether I would buy a 2018 Honda Gold Wing, and I have to admit that when I first saw the photos of the new Honda Gold Wing and Honda Gold Wing Tour I was struck by its lines. This bike for grey-haired riders was appealing to my relatively younger self.
And while I’m not at the point in my motorcycle evolution where I would consider a big touring motorcycle, the new Gold Wing, especially the Gold Wing Tour, would be at the top of my list, with the BMW K1600 GTL a close second.
For me, the Honda wins out on being a bit lighter, and a bit easier to control.
BMW Motorrad probably wins some points in the refinement category, and that machine’s inline-six engine gives me the power and torque that my sport-biker roots crave, but it is just no the total package that Honda gets so close to being.
As for the other brands, they just aren’t in the running as viable options to my taste….which is probably why Honda does so well with Gold Wing sales.
Hopefully it won’t be another 18 years before we see the Honda Gold Wing line revised again, but until that time, Honda has made a worthy successor to the brand.
Slimmer, sleeker, and sportier, there is a lot to like with the 2018 Honda Gold Wing. It will come with some trade-offs and deal-breakers for certain riders, namely the lack of luggage space, but overall the package is quite potent.
If you’re in the market, we give the 2018 Honda Gold Wing high recommendations.