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2020 Honda Gold Wing DCT first ride review: 'Wing Commander

It's big, expensive and heavy, but it's also one of the most pleasant motorcycles on sale today.

The 2020 Gold Wing is a whole lotta motorcycle, but it's also way more agile and athletic than it looks.
Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

For years now, the Honda Gold Wing has been seen as the sole province of dads in middle management who want to cut loose and feel the wind in their faces, but only a little. It's always been a big, impossibly heavy and carlike motorcycle, which limits its appeal to riders like me.

Fast-forward to 2019, and my friend Davey starts raving about the new Gold Wing DCT like a maniac. It's the best thing ever, he says. He's going to sell his other bikes, he claims. Of course, at the time, I didn't believe him because how good could it really be, right? Well, Davey certainly was a maniac, but it seems history has proven him right. After spending a few weeks with the 2020 version, I'm also a convert. It's one of the most astounding motorcycles I've ever ridden.

Let's start by talking about the Gold Wing's 1.8-liter flat-six engine. Yes, you read that correctly, flat-six, just like a Porsche 911. And as in the 911, the engine configuration provides some serious benefits for the 'Wing. Namely, this six-pot helps to lower the center of gravity, which on a bike as heavy as the Gold Wing -- my tester clocks in at a porcine 800 pounds -- is important. Hell, it even sounds like a 911 when you get to the end of the rev range.

As with many touring motorcycles, the Gold Wing's engine is focused more on the production of smooth, effortless torque than on outright horsepower. Yet it still manages a respectable 98 horsepower at the rear wheel and 108.4 pound-feet of torque, according to Cycle World's in-house dyno (Honda USA doesn't publish power figures for its bikes). These numbers, paired with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, make the Gold Wing feel much more athletic than it looks.

Yeah, it makes that 911 sound up near the redline and it's amazing.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Speaking of the DCT, Honda now offers it on several models, including the Africa Twin and the NC750X, and while I can't yet speak to how it feels on those motorcycles, I can say that it suits the Gold Wing perfectly. The closely spaced gears and surprisingly smooth shifts make for quick trips down freeway on-ramps, and the system's willingness to drop gears or work in manual mode makes passing on the freeway a breeze too.

Something that I found particularly interesting about the DCT is that you can feel and hear it working inside the motorcycle. You can feel the little sniks and clunks as it works its way through the gears. It's not an unpleasant sensation either. I find the noises make the motorcycle feel more involved, in a way.

Another piece of standout engineering on the Gold Wing since its 2018 relaunch is the Hossack-style front end. What's a Hossack-style front end? Well, it's an alternative style of front suspension for motorcycles that ditches the traditional fork legs, and instead uses a double-wishbone setup with a single shock and a rigid steering fork. It was designed by a guy named Norman Hossack, and on the Gold Wing, it's brilliant.

One of the main advantages to the Hossack-style front end (and in systems like BMW's Telelever front end) is that suspension designers are much more able to cope with a heavy bike's tendency to dive under hard braking. This would be especially problematic on the Gold Wing, which wears so much of its mass in front of the rider. The system works beautifully, adding to the 'Wing's feeling of nimbleness. If you step up to the Tour model (a $3,500 premium), you also get an electronically adjustable suspension with presets for all combinations of rider, passengers and baggage.

Got stuff to carry? Groceries to schlep home? The Gold Wing's got you with its power-latch hard bags.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Having a powerful and agile bike is one thing, but stopping nearly half a ton of bike is another, so Honda's designers decided to fit the Gold Wing with a serious braking system. The front features dual 320-millimeter discs and the rear clamps on a 316mm disc.

Typically, there's a much more significant size discrepancy between the front and rear brakes to help keep the rear from locking up, but on the Gold Wing, the brakes are linked. This works a lot like it sounds. If you grab the front brake lever, it also acts proportionately and automatically on the rear brake. This makes for a confidence-inspiring setup, even under repeated hard stops. The feel at the brake lever is also great, with a firm pull and excellent initial bite.

Also unique to the DCT Gold Wing is the addition of a parking brake, the lever sitting down near the rider's left knee. Unlike a manual motorcycle, you can't leave the DCT in gear when the bike is off. It's a weird thing to get used to, and I'm guilty of leaving it on once or twice and trying to ride off. Beyond that, the Wing has a very competent antilock-braking system, which adds further confidence.

When it comes to electronics, it's clear the Gold Wing has more than its fair share. This bike packs the aforementioned ABS, as well as traction control, cruise control and four user-selectable rider modes (Sport, Tour, Rain and Econ) that can be changed while riding, provided the throttle is closed. It being a Honda, everything works as you'd expect, though I did find the Sport mode a little aggressive for riding in traffic.

This is the first motorcycle I've ever ridden with a parking brake.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The 'Wing lost a chunk of cruising range during the 2018 model change, and that hasn't returned in the intervening years, but it's not that big a deal. The bike is pretty efficient for its size, and with a tank that still holds 5.5 gallons, you're not going to need to stop for fuel all that often. I was able to go around 200 miles on a tank comfortably, and that's with plenty of manual-shift-mode blasts to redline just to hear the engine's little Porsche-adjacent howl.

The reach to the Gold Wing's unique cast aluminum handlebars is easy, and all of the controls -- both on the bars and on the bike itself -- are logically placed and clearly labeled. The adjustable windscreen means that the odds are good that anyone will be able to find the right amount of wind protection on the freeway, and the instrument panel and infotainment screen are both highly legible both in bright sunlight and at night and are great to use.

The Gold Wing's real party piece is its infotainment system. Honda is currently the only motorcycle manufacturer to equip its bikes with Apple CarPlay, and of all Honda's bikes, the Gold Wing got it first. Except for the pairing process between your iPhone ($500 at Best Buy) (which needs to be plugged into the bike's built-in USB port), the motorcycle and your personal helmet communication system (which needs to be connected to the bike via Bluetooth), CarPlay functions exactly like you'd expect it to in any four-wheeled application. It's brilliant.

In addition to the motorcycle's ability to play music or whatever through your communication system, the Gold Wing has a pretty bangin' stereo with AM/FM and satellite radio. It'sthe perfect bike to let all of Los Angeles know just how much you love the Orville Peck record, for example.

The Gold Wing's instrument cluster would be at home in any production Honda car and still works well here. We love the inclusion of Apple CarPlay too.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Other mod-cons include five-stage heated grips and an electronically height-adjustable windscreen. Another uniquely Gold Wing feature is the electric reverse and "walking" mode that now ditches motivation from the starter motor for an additional gear set in the transmission. This makes maneuvering the big Honda into and out of parking spaces extremely easy and should be a more common feature on heavy touring bikes and baggers.

Speaking of bags, my test bike comes equipped with two electronically operated panniers built into the bike. The bags themselves are tucked pretty tightly against the side of the motorcycle, which means that some capacity is sacrificed. Still, I was able to haul around a couple of bags of groceries and other assorted shopping without too much trouble. I would say that if you're considering the Gold Wing, definitely opt for the Tour version, which adds a sizable top box to the mix, if only so you have a convenient place to put your helmet when you're not on the bike.

At the beginning of this review, I told you that the 2020 Gold Wing is one of the most astounding motorcycles I've ever ridden, but what does that mean? How does all of the 'Wing's clever engineering come together to offer that riding experience?

Undoubtedly, some of my initial reaction to riding the Gold Wing comes down to starting with low expectations. If you think something is going to be less than impressive, and that turns out not to be the case, then you can feel more positive about it than you would have otherwise, right? But my desire to get out and put miles on the bike hasn't waned with time. If anything, I find I want to spend even more time with it.

A lot of that has to do with the way that the Gold Wing hides its weight. The flat-six engine keeps the bike's bulk low in the chassis, which helps the bike lean more easily and feel more stable in a corner. The brilliant front suspension adds a considerable measure of stability, both in corners and under braking, thus increasing confidence on curvy roads.

Furthermore, the connection between the throttle and the engine feels flawless. The Gold Wing suffers from none of the fueling woes of other modern motorcycles trying to meet emissions standards through ever-leaning air-fuel ratios. The engine's power is always there when you ask for it, and that's also reassuring.

The Gold Wing's handlebar controls have a lot of buttons, but everything is laid out intuitively.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The DCT transmission is fantastic because it gets out of the way. If left to its own devices -- in heavy traffic, say -- it offers a much less fatiguing and more pleasant riding experience than a bike with a clutch. When you want to manage your own shifts, the trigger/button setup on the left handlebar control works well and generally does what you ask it to. Does the DCT add weight? Sure, but at 800 pounds already, who cares?

So, the Gold Wing is way more fun to ride than it should be, but when it comes to these kinds of motorcycles, comfort is king. Does this Honda have it where it counts? Absolutely. The seat is perfectly padded, though its shape does force the rider into a single position, which can be fatiguing at times. The seat height is relatively low at 29.3 inches, which means that someone who is short of leg can still get in on the fun.

The Gold Wing experience is all about being relaxed, but that's more involved than just being physically comfortable. The bike is relaxing because it does what you ask of it, when you ask it, with no complaints and no histrionics. It's a motorcycle that takes care of you, and it feels as eager to devour miles as you are, even if you're my friend Davey -- the kind of person who would ride a thousand miles at a go on a whim.

Sure, the Gold Wing is expensive -- my tester has an asking price of $25,000 -- but it's always been expensive, and there have always been (and will always be) people who value what the Gold Wing offers. I just never expected that I'd end up being one of them.