Honda’s Gold Wing has been cruising the globe’s highways since 1974, growing from its original 1,000cc horizontally opposed four format into a 1,500cc six cylinder behemoth.
For 2001 Honda have stretched the formula to a massive 1,832cc, but more than that, the Japanese giant has placed their gargantuan tourer firmly against BMW’s sumptuous K1200LT, turning it into a serious rider’s bike.
With humungous luggage space, loads of pillion room and a phone book sized range of accessories, the Wing is perhaps the closest thing in biking to a motorhome. Just grab your Amex and head West.
Honda’s engineers must have had a few sleepless nights when the design brief for the new Gold Wing arrived at the R&D department. You see, owning a Wing isn’t as simple as pressing the starter button on a Sunday morning and cruising into the sunset. Oh no, to those who have fallen under its spell, the Honda Gold Wing is a way of life. In the same way that Bill Shankley described football as ’not merely a matter of life and death – it’s much more important than that’, Wingnuts feel an empathy with their giant tourer, adorning it with chrome, a fairground’s worth of lights and those little things that make their Gold Wing so individual.
Honda’s boffins were dealing with much more than a mere motorcycle, they were re-inventing the wheel for tens of thousands of adoring fans. So, is the new Gold Wing going to keep faith with the out-going model’s iconic image? That depends.
A sign of the times
At first sight the new Wing is a radical departure from the old model. For starters there’s very little chrome – just an understated touch here and there, then there’s the sweeping, curvaceous lines – very much at odds with Gold Wings of old. For me at least, this was a welcome sight. I mean, it’s year 2001 – not 1971.
However, Honda Goldwing aficionados might be sent reeling at the omission of the kind of rhinestone-fuelled excess that epitomises their machines. They needn’t worry – Honda have a catalogue full of lighting and chrome which promises to metamorphosise the swanky, understated new Wing into a glistening pastiche of its former self.
The new machine looks more cohesive in its design, a better integrated package. Each part looks like it has been designed with its neighbour in mind. The integral panniers look right, and the top box is no longer an add-on after-thought. The fairing is sculptured around the rider rather than merely being placed there, and the bike’s frontal aspect is now a coherent statement of intent – this bike is a serious bit of touring tackle and no mistake.
That’s not to say that last year’s bike is a no-hoper, it isn’t. It’s just that Honda have looked at the whole tourer market in designing the new machine and not just at their own, very fine tourer.
With this in mind the new Gold Wing is closer in design concept and fulfilment to BMW’s exceptionally adept K1200LT – a bike that, for many, stole the Gold Wing’s thunder when it was launched two years ago. And that’s the rub – will Gold Wing owners take to the 2001 bike’s new design ethos? Or do they want traditional Wing values and conservative styling?
I fear many will not warm to the new machine, instead trading up to a low mileage 1,520cc model rather than making the step to 1,832cc. But, taking the wider view, anyone who is looking for a giant tourer may well now see the revitalised Wing as a new choice in the marketplace.
The new Gold Wing’s charms run much deeper than its new-found good looks. From the moment that you throw a leg over this much altered tourer you can feel the difference. Sure, it’s still a huge machine and yes, it’s still one of the heaviest things on two wheels, but the new bike feels smaller than last year’s model. The 1,832cc version is still no easy leap into the saddle but the new ergonomics makes the job fairly painless – especially for those who can still remember the sixties and make up the bulk of Gold Wing buyers.
The new machine’s loaded with trick gadgets – an electronically adjustable headlight, push button suspension adjustment with two memory presets, a top quality stereo with optional CD player, sophisticated cruise control and headset-ready intercom system. The 1,520cc model also has a similar level of gadgetry, However, the new Honda lacks the electronically adjusted screen that makes the BMW K1200LT so usable at speed, instead opting for a manually adjusted item which, whilst effective, isn’t nearly so easy to use.
Switch on the ignition and the LCD displays a Gold Wing symbol as if to inform the rider that you are about to embark on an experience not to be forgotten. The new PGM-FI fuel injection system kicks the motor into life, the 1,832cc engine spinning scarcely audibly. Blip the throttle and the engine responds instantly, crisply and whisper quiet, the new exhaust system keeping noise levels to a minimum and emissions in line with the strictest new standards. For such a cohesive design, the new Gold Wing’s clutch is surprising. It’s a vicious switch, either on or off and far from subtle. It’s something that you’ll get used to after a few hundred miles but at low speeds in a gravelly car park it could catch you out, and you don’t want 363kg of Honda laid across your legs – believe me.
Apart from the clutch, the new bike is supremely easy to ride. There’s usable power available from 1,000rpm in any gear with barely a trace of snatch in the transmission. With over 1,800ccs to play with, the low revving Wing makes light work of any road situation. Town centres can be navigated with a brush of the throttle, even in higher gears, but get out of the urban sprawl and the new Wing surges forward under acceleration in a manner that will come as a surprise to both those used to and those unfamiliar with the Gold Wing concept.
The 2001 Wing has around 20% more power available from its extra capacity and it shows when the throttle is cracked open or when cruising at sustained speeds. Paradoxically, the new machine has a more meaty sound than its 1,520cc forebear, growling as it breathes deeply through en or when cruising at sustained speeds.
Paradoxically, the new machine has a more meaty sound , growling as it breathes deeply through the 6.9 litre airbox and producing a muted, yet purposeful burble through its twin exhausts. Last year’s bike needs aftermarket pipery to achieve the new machine’s aural texture. For any motorcycle weighing in at almost double a modern 600, it is the ease of getting the power down onto the road that will make it easy to use, and in this department both the new machine and the out-going model are pretty flawless. The snatchy clutch aside, the 1,832cc bike is a breeze to get used to. Precise gear-changing needs nothing more than a flick of your left foot to engage any of the five gears with a reassuring ’clunk’ driving home the pinions.
The new Gold Wing is impressively smooth, even more so than its BMW rival, though for pure riding pleasure the 2001 Wing has the edge on its 1,520cc predecessor, if not on its German peer, in terms of engine feedback, both audible and sensual. The new Gold Wing is much more of a rider’s bike than the year 2000 model. You feel everything that’s going on between your feet – something again die-hard Gold Wing fans may not take to initially.
The real difference between this and last year’s models comes to light in the chassis department – the new Gold Wing is leaps and bounds ahead of the 1,520cc version, and closer to the BM,520cc version, and closer to the BMW K1200LT than ever.
The minimal dual spar aluminium frame is 11kg lighter than the previous model’s steel design and allows the new 45mm front forks and Pro-Link rear suspension to absorb road irregularities effortlessly. The 1,832cc machine holds the road so effectively that it can now compete on equal terms with BMW’s giant tourer – a sure-footed motorcycle itself.
Where the 1,520cc model’s weight can induce steering inaccuracy, the new bike has complete control even in the tightest of corners. Sweeping bends can be attacked with relish giving the rider confidence in the face of the bike’s huge proportions. It’s the accomplished handling, above all else, that sets the new Wing ahead of its predecessor, and brings it in-line with the BMW. There’s more to this new tourer than wandering from continent to continent – you can now mix it in the twisty stuff, should the mood take you.
Adding to the new bike’s poise is a brake system that inspires confidence. For the first time, Honda have added anti-dive to their Dual-CBS linked braking – and it works. The bike can be hauled up fast without the drama normally associated with bikes of this weight and size. The whole point is that Honda have made the new Gold Wing easier to use, less intimidating and introduced a fun element for those who would usually walk past a Wing in a dealer’s showroom on the way to checking out a Pan European.
Spreading its wings
The all-new Gold Wing is a superb machine in every department, but does it deliver in terms of storage capacity? After all, there are already motorcycles out there, which offer comfort, flexibility and long distance potential, so those looking to buy a Wing need something more for the extra cash outlay, and that’s luggage space.
Last year’s Gold Wing could happily swallow everything that two people would want on a touring holiday and more besides, making it the king of the luggage luggers, and the 2001 model is claimed to have a similar appetite for gear. However, I’m reliably informed that the new bike can’t take the same amount of kit as its sibling – I suppose time will tell, but if there is a difference in luggage capacity, it’s probably negligible.
On the gadget side, the new Wing’s push button selectable reverse gear is much easier to use than the old model’s rather archaic lever, the stereo is still awkward to use on the move and the cruise control is as easy as pie to activate, should you find a stretch of road long and quiet enough to engage it.
The new bike’s headlights are also brand new and promise to flood the road ahead with enough light to wake hibernating animals from their winter slumber or cause night-flying aircraft to divert off-course.
In the final analysis the new Gold Wing can only be described as a revelation. Not only does it improve upon last year’s model in all departments, it also broadens the appeal of the Gold Wing, bringing it, in performance terms at least, within the reach of those who otherwise might look at a Pan European or, more importantly, a BMW K1200LT.
Riders who currently worship at the temple of Wing might not entertain thoughts of up-grading to the new bike, but in time the sheer quality of the new machine should win through. But it’s the price that could be this giant tourer’s stumbling block. With an expected price tag in excess of £15,000 the new Gold Wing is far from cheap, and with typical decorative extras that could rise by a couple of thousand quid too.
However you view the changes made to the Gold Wing, the fact remains – this is a superb touring motorcycle, at least as competent as the BMW K1200LT and just as much fun to ride.
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|Engine||Liquid-cooled 4-stroke 12-valve SOHC horizontally opposed 6-cylinder|
|Claimed power (bhp)||119bhp @ 5,500rpm|
|Max. Torque||167Nm @ 4,000rpm|
|Compression ratio||9.0 to 1|
|Transmission||5-speed (including overdrive, plus electric reverse), shaft final|
|Suspension||Front: 45mm air-assist hydraulic telescopic fork with anti-dive, 140mm stroke. Rear: Single-sided Pro-Arm with Pro-Link and electronically-controlled spring preload adjustment with two memory presets, 105mm axle travel|
|Brakes||Front: 296mm dual full-floating disc with combined three-piston callipers and sintered metal pads. Rear: 316mm ventilated disc with Combined three-piston calliper and sintered metal pads|
|Tyres||Front: 130/70R18. Rear:180/60R16|
|Fuel capacity||25 litres|