Few bikes carry more baggage than the Honda Gold Wing, and that's not thanks to the current model's expansive saddle bags and cavernous top trunk. Since its introduction in the mid '70s, it rapidly pivoted away from the big sportbike template into the really big mold, and as its fairings and panniers swelled so too did its reputation as a bike for Boomers -- a couch on wheels.
The 2018 Gold Wing Honda is trying to shake off those preconceptions, to create a bike that might just appeal to a younger audience that doesn't just want comfort, but also engagement. No, Honda isn't exactly targeting millennials with the new GL, but if the company can pique the interest of those on the leading edge of Gen X, it'll be mission accomplished. To do that, Gold Wing must be lighter, sharper, more efficient and way, way more progressive. Thankfully, that's exactly what it is.
It's also the world's first bike with Apple CarPlay, but we'll get to that in a moment.
For one, 90 pounds. There are a lot of numbers to toss around regarding the 2018 Honda Gold Wing, but weight is probably the most important. The new bike is, on average, 90 pounds lighter than the old. There are plenty of motorcycles out there that you could cut in half and still have to go back for more if you wanted to remove that much mass. It's a little easier when your motorcycle weighs between 787 and 842 pounds depending on configuration, but that's still a transformative weight reduction.
A lighter frame and rear swingarm get the party started, but nearly 14 pounds was taken from the engine alone. The new motor is still an 1,800cc flat-six, now significantly more compact. A shorter engine pushes the weight of the bike forward and moves the saddle forward as well, putting even more mass where you want it. Combine that with a new, double-wishbone front suspension that isolates suspension movement from steering and you have a bike that feels incredibly planted.
The bike is not only lighter but leaner, much narrower at the hips than before and frankly far more attractive. The shape is sharp, clean and modern, a huge leap forward over the outgoing bike. The more svelte dimensions are aided by a dramatically reduced tank, down to 21 liters from the previous 25. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, but thanks to the 42.2 mpg of the new motor (up from 35) the new Wing's maximum range is the same as the old.
Its cargo capacity, however, is not. Opt for the Gold Wing Tour, with panniers and the top trunk, and you'll have a total cargo capacity of 110 liters. That's significantly less than before, but whether or not that's an issue depends on how efficiently you can pack. Thankfully, the new boxes all use central locking. Just walk up to the bike with the key in your pocket and the boxes are easily opened with the push of a flush-mounted button, pivoting downward smoothly on hydraulic dampers.
That right there is a big step forward, but it's just the beginning of the tech-focused augmentations the 2018 Gold Wing brings to the road.
Central locking and passive keyless entry are still a rarity on motorcycles, even ones that start at $23,500, and it's a very nice thing here. You can even option your bike with additional LED puddle lights that illuminate the ground around the bike as you approach. More important is what happens when you get on it, though.
New adaptive suspension front and rear cycles between comfortable and sport as you roll through the bike's four riding modes: Rain, Economical, Touring and Sport in order of increasing aggressiveness. Each offers the same power from that silky-smooth flat-six, but the throttle response sharpens, the traction control becomes more lenient and, if equipped, the DCT becomes more aggressive.
Yes, the new Gold Wing has an optional dual-clutch transmission, a seven-speed unit that can shift itself fully automatically but is happy to be overridden by a pair of toggles on the left grip. Motorcycle purists may lift their noses at such things, but given this box shifts quicker and smoother than a human being can, those who aren't at least curious need to come to grips with their Luddite tendencies. The DCT is, simply, great. That said, I don't blame anyone for scoffing at the upward of $1,000 the DCT adds to the cost.
ABS is standard, as are other niceties like hill-start control and navigation, but the biggest talking point for iPhone addicts will be the inclusion of Apple CarPlay. Yes, the (now inaccurately named) feature is available for the first time on two wheels courtesy of the 7-inch LCD in the center of the new Gold Wing's dashboard. Connect your phone via USB (either in the trunk or the storage cubby in the tank), then pair your Bluetooth headset to the bike and the familiar CarPlay interface shows up right there on the dash.
Yes, you do have to connect a Bluetooth headset, a requirement mandated by Apple, one that is a bit frustrating since most CarPlay interactions don't require voice. However, Apple requires a microphone on automotive implementations of CarPlay, so it makes sense they'd require it here, too. Once enabled CarPlay works well, controlled either via four-way controller on the left grip or a central, rotary controller down on the tank -- though frankly I can't recommend reaching down to that while on the go. Still, having intelligent navigation and access to your media on the bike is great. I just wish it had Android Auto. (This, I was told, was a decision made by Google, not an unwillingness on Honda's part. Google, I was told, is choosing to focus on four wheels for now.)
Hitting the track
A race track is, I admit, a somewhat less than ideal place to test a touring machine like the new Gold Wing. These are bikes designed to cover big miles at speed and in comfort, and while being comfortable on a race track is a rare treat, a poorly maintained stretch of concrete expressway would be a more accurate test.
Still, Twin Ring Motegi in Japan is an excellent locale for feeling just how much the new bike has improved over the old. I started on the outgoing Gold Wing and, dipping the bike into the first turn, it was pretty clear this would not be a good time. That now-retired bike, though powerful and smooth, delivers about as much feedback through the bars as a snowmobile does when crossing deep powder. On a bumpy highway this is probably a good thing. On the track, not so much.
By the time I'd pulled out of the pits on the new bike I was convinced of the massive improvement. The front end feels far more sharp, the steering light but reactive and before long I was scraping pegs with confidence. Braking, too, is encouraging, and acceleration far more brisk, all helped by that significant reduction in mass.
Even the new seat meant I could move around more, get my body into position for the turns. OK, so I wasn't exactly in a position to get a knee down, but I'm sure it's readily possible for someone so inclined.
At speed on the track I was also able to appreciate the new, power windscreen, which lifts or drops at the touch of a button on the left grip. At its lowest, I had a good amount of wind flowing over my helmet, a comfortable breeze. All the way up I was far more cocooned, but still could feel the wind moving around me. This is a massive improvement over the outgoing bike, which creates a vacuum of air that can quickly get hot and uncomfortable.
The new windscreen feels even better from the rear seat, believe it or not. The outgoing bike creates a lot of buffeting for whoever's riding pillion, an effect that feels like someone playing the bongos on top of your helmet. With the new windscreen, the airflow is much better managed. I will confess that the back seat was more comfortable on the old bike, but if some compromises must be made to shrug off that "sofa on wheels" cliche, so be it.
More reinvention than refresh
The 2018 Honda Gold Wing is a pretty remarkable change. The outgoing bike was not only desperately in need of an update, its very relaxed approach to the touring mindset left it feeling dangerously close to obsolete in an increasingly demanding market. The new Gold Wing is far more engaging and appealing to those who want an invigorating ride, safer and more reassuring for those who want a secure ride, yet still very nearly as comfortable and effortless as before. Add on the excellent DCT and it just gets that much better.
The new Gold Wing is a great bike, and its starting price of $23,500 for a manual, trunkless Gold Wing is fair given everything that comes with it. If you want a trunk, step up to the Gold Wing Tour at $26,700, and then drop another $1,000 to get the DCT. That's money well spent on a machine that's not only far more advanced, but also far more endearing than anything which has worn the Wing badge for the past few decades.