With an all-new chassis, heavily updated motor, a 48kg diet, and a funkier style designed to appeal to a younger audience the new 2018 Gold Wing GL1800 is making some bold claims about a change of direction for the king of touring bikes.
Insidebikes put their claims to the test in the hands of experienced motorcycle journalist Marc Potter, who rode it some 250-miles at the world press launch in Austin, Texas, this week. Here’s his verdict…
You’re never going to call a Gold Wing small. That’s not what it is, nor what a Gold Wing stands for. A Gold Wing is all about size, bulk, presence. Carving your way down the freeway, or bypass, like the king of the road, cruising in ultimate comfort, flip-up lid – fat suit, and microphone mouth piece optional. But all that is about to change and the fat suits are out.
A couple of years ago I rode from Chicago to Los Angeles via Las Vegas on a Harley.
Pretty much every other bike that passed us going West to East was a Gold Wing, or a BMW GS. And without question, every Gold Wing had a pillion on it, and a rack on the top box. Not wanting to cliché Gold Wing riders (in America at least), but it’s also fair to say that every other rider was 20 stone plus. It’s called the King Of The Road in the USA for good reason. It’s a bike that opened up a whole new lifestyle for motorcyclists and opened up America for them to go and discover. The original ‘adventure’ bike minus the knobblies? You could be right.
Our adventure starts in Austin, Texas, and land of rolling farmland, where people carry guns and deer take over the roads at night. It’s perfect Gold Wing country.
Honda is telling us about the marketing of the new Wing. Out go the old people, in come younger riders. And it works for all.
At some 48kg lighter (without the top box) than the old GL1800, the new 2018 Gold Wing is also shorter, more compact, has less luggage capacity, and a smaller fuel tank.
But it’s all on purpose. This is Honda, they don’t do things by accident. And the 2018 Gold Wing is better in every way, except maybe its luggage capacity which comes in at 110 litres. That’s enough for me, but the access to the side panniers is smaller than I’d have hoped.
The whole luggage experience is a classy affair with nicely damped openings, and central locking. Just click a button on the pannier and it slowly opens.
Honda say their research tells them that riders only use the Wing for long weekends, so it doesn’t need as much luggage space. But it still comes with a top box (on the Tour version which we get in the UK), and a colossal 110-litres of luggage space.
Who needs more, you’d have to say? But thankfully one of the dozens of optional accessories are a chrome rack for the top box so you can strap on furry animals, a fluffy Bobcat to fit in with the Texans maybe.
The 21-litre tank is some four litres smaller than the old bike, but its more efficient engine and better aerodynamics mean it has a better mpg at a claimed 50.4mpg, so the tank range is similar to the previous design, but you carry nearly four-litres less. Our bikes were doing an indicated 200-miles to a tank, and registering in around 45mpg with some slightly harder riding than maybe Wings will be used too.
The whole bike looks fresh compared to the old version which looks bulbous in comparison. All the lights are LED, and it’s still every bit a Gold Wing in its styling.
But make no mistake, the new Gold Wing is a brilliant motorcycle that makes the old version feel like a dinosaur in every way. Because it is. The last time it was properly updated in terms of chassis and engine was 17 years ago, before the iPhone even existed, and when everyone used Nokias and thought they were cool.
After riding them back-to-back in Texas, I can report the new 2018 Gold Wing is faster, comfier, easier to use, has better wind protection, better fuel economy, more torque and power, is easier to ride, and looks way cooler.
It’s all in an effort to keep the Gold Wing worthy of its reputation with the diehard Wing Dingers, but attract a whole new audience who want to use the bike for weekends, commuting, and generally riding for fun – not just intercontinental blasts, or for riding across America. If you want to do that, of course it will still do all of that, but Honda have sacrificed a tiny bit of luggage space for the hardcore to bring the bike into view of a newer audience.
Weirdly, for a rider whose number one priority when I was a lot younger was going fast, I’ve always had a soft spot for Wings. That six-cylinder flat six motor is the charmer, and I’ve loved Wings ever since I first laid my feet on the footboard of a GL1500 back in the nineties when I was in my early twenties. That charm is still there in every possible way. It’s heart still beats with the Gold Wing love.
You notice the new bike is smaller, and shorter when you sit on it too. There’s a touch less pillion room, and the rider and passenger sit further forward on the bike, to improve the handling, and aerodynamics, but somehow it feels roomier.
I overheard a GoldWing owner’s club member talking about the bike at the Motorcycle Live show and moaning about its smaller tank, less luggage space and shorter pillion seat. But they’re wrong. The lightweight, more efficient motor, better sound, and increased handling and adaptability make it a much better motorcycle. Unless your pillion is thirty stone, it’s a very lovely place to sit and watch the world pass by. They even get a heated seat, as does the rider. Again, even the heated seat and heated grips work better than the old bike.
With pillion, or without, it can hustle. But clearly we’re not talking a sport bike here. Weighing in at 365kg standard (minus top box), and with a wheelbase of 1695mm it will never be small, but its agile enough, can handle twisty roads leagues apart from the old bike, and can be pushed to a half decent lean angle when you want to enjoy the bike’s Sporty mode.
The reduced mass means the power-to-weight ratio is massively improved and it feels crisper and sharper when pushing it touring style through the Texan hill country.
The new engine is shorter and it means the rider sits further forward on the bike. It puts the rider and the engine further forward and means you get more feel from the bike. The twin wishbone front end is miraculous. You can ride along watching the top of it bobbing up and down but without feeling much in the way of bumps.
Wings always used to feel like they had cheap suspension, and not enough travel. Not anymore. The front suspension is spot-on, allowing you to brake incredibly hard with the new six-pot calipers. And the rear is electronic and can be adjusted depending on your weight on the easy to use full-colour 7” screen. The ride quality is as good as anything from BMW, and Honda has really upped its game with this bike.
It may not be as fast as the K1600GT, but as a package I’d say it’s better. The motor is still the king of sublime smoothness from that creamy six-cylinder lump which is completely new for 2018. It has more bottom end urgency, and more top-end power than the old Wing too, and even sounds better, with a deeper urgency.
Riding modes from Tour, Sport, Eco and Rain means it softens or increases the power-delivery and adjusts the suspension to suit different riding circumstances. I spent most of my time in Tour.
The whole riding experience is pleasant. The dash is easy to read and feels next generation compared to the old bike. Honda lost something like 60 buttons between the old and the new, and it’s really quick to get your head around the main function buttons on the left bar and the car style wheel in the middle of the tank. It’s incredibly intuitive, and can even link with Apple CarPlay if you have a Bluetooth headset, so you can take calls, and play Apple Music while riding. Every bike should have it!
Behind that electrically-adjustable screen it’s a serene world allowing you to take in the view and sit in your favourite arm chair. The wind protection is so much better than the old bike.
In truth, the DCT version is an even more relaxing experience than the manual gearbox bike. The Dual Clutch technology is in its third generation and is quieter and slicker than ever. It’s so smooth on the upshift you never even feel it change from third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. And it truly feels like this system belongs on this bike. The new manual gearbox is smoother, but the DCT is another world. If you could stretch to it, then I’d say pay the extra for DCT, no question.
Honda have raised the bar for luxury touring and discovery with this motorcycle, and it puts the Gold Wing fairly back on the mantle as king off the open road.
I’m ‘only’ 42, so considerably younger than most Gold Wing riders, and I’d have one in a heartbeat as it’s a practical, stylish, ride any distance motorcycle that I could totally see fitting in with a professional’s life, or just being used as the ultimate weekend mile eater. But more than that, it’s good-looking, has great road presence thanks to its LED front end and sheer scale, and it handles, accelerates and brakes like no Gold Wing before it.
WANT MORE ON THE HONDA GOLD WING? YOU’RE IN THE RIGHT PLACE:
For full technical details, see our technical highlights feature here: https://www.carolenash.com/insidebikes/news/11-things-need-know-2018-honda-gold-wing/
For Gold Wing history, see our feature here: https://www.carolenash.com/insidebikes/reviews/honda/history-honda-goldwing/
HONDA GOLDWING GL1800 & RIVALS AT A GLANCE:
Honda GL1800 GoldWing Tour/Tour DCT
ENGINE: 4-stroke, flat-6, 1833cc
WET WEIGHT: 365kg
BMW K1600GT LE
ENGINE: 4-stroke, in-line 6-cylinder motor, 1649cc
POWER: 160bhp at 7750rpm
TORQUE: 129ft-lb at 5250rpm
WET WEIGHT: 350kg
ENGINE: 4-stroke, twin-cooled Milwaukee Eight, 1745cc
TORQUE: 112ft-lb at 3250rpm
WET WEIGHT: 413kg