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First ride: 2018 Honda Gold Wing is 'light years ahead of the old Wing'

Published: 09 March 2018

The new Wing is a huge leap forward in technology and dynamics.

For seventeen years the previous Honda Gold Wing was a staple of Honda’s range. Introduced in 2001, it provided smooth, sophisticated but heavyweight transport to almost an entire generation of bikers.

It was nice bike, but there’s no getting away from the fact it was in desperate need of an upgrade. BMW, Harley-Davidson and even Indian were all leaving the mighty Wing in their wake.

But, finally Honda has answered the prayers of dedicated Wing devotees with an all-new Gold Wing. And, after our first ride in Texas we can reveal the Wing is back on top with a super-smooth engine, great comfort and a new, fun-filled attitude that makes it a joy to ride.

We rode the new Wing for two days and hundreds of miles and can’t remember such a large transformation between a new and previous model – the 2018 bike is a revelation. Capacity has remained the same at 1833cc, but that is where the similarities end – it’s a completely new bike. 

Much-needed change

There hasn’t been a huge hike in power, which some had expected, but instead it’s more compact, lighter and smoother than ever. In total 48kg has been saved from the bike – the engine alone is 6.2kg lighter. Just removing the old starter motor in favour of an Integrated Starter Generator system (ISG) saved 2.4kg.

The new engine is available as either a conventional 6-speed manual or 7-speed DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission), which automatically changes gear or gives you the option to change gear electronically without a clutch.

Honda first introduced us to DCT back in 2010 on their VFR1200F, we are now onto their latest third generation of DCT, updated for 2018. One of the criticisms of DCT is the lack of rider control at slow speeds, due to the lack of clutch.

However, Honda have created a smart solution with a new ‘Walking mode’ that limits speeds to 1.1mph at the touch of a button. As like the old Wing, reverse comes as standard, and is easily controlled by the plus and minus buttons on the left bar.

The chassis is completely new, too. The twin-spar frame is 2kg lighter and for the first time in Honda’s history features a double-wishbone front suspension unit. The front is controlled by a single shock, rather than conventional forks, and is not too dissimilar from BMW’s Telelever unit. There’s a conventional Showa single shock on the rear, both are controlled electronically but are not semi-active.

New clothes

Aerodynamically the new Wing is 11.8% more efficient than before. The large screen is finally electronically adjustable, which previous Wing owners were praying for. There’s also the option of increasing the airflow to the rider and pillion by manually opening a small flap below the screen. The rider has been moved 36mm further forward, whilst the pegs have moved towards the rear, only slightly.

The bodywork and luggage is all new. Each pannier carries 30l whereas the rear top case holds 50l, slightly smaller than previously. All the compartments can be locked via the keyless ignition and feature hydraulic dampers, which allow them to open and close with smooth, effortless ease. There’s also two further compartments up front, one centrally located, and the other on the right side. The old rear pillion compartments have been removed and don’t feature on the new model. 

A proper mile muncher

The geography of Texas proved the ideal terrain to test the mile-munching Wing. On day one, the long highways gave us the opportunity to play with the endless gadgets and creature comforts.

The electronic screen is smaller than previously, but still offers superb wind protection and when it is upright you through the screen, not over it. Behind the bubble you’re cocooned in a snug draft-free zone. Alternatively, on warmer days you can either lower the screen or open the small flap below to increase the cool breeze.

The bodywork is impressive, if smaller and narrower than before and the mirrors give an excellent view of the road behind. Although the bodywork is smaller than previously, it still provides impressive wind protection and comfort and gives the impression of a lighter, thinner, Wing.

The cruise control via the fly-by-wire throttle can be set and adjusted on the move. Simply set your speed, adjust the screen to your required height, sit back in comfort and listen to your tunes via the four speakers. The clarity is impressive and you don’t need to have the volume cranked to the maximum at speed. The small compartment located just below the fuel cap is the perfect size for an iPhone or iPod, and comes with a USB connection.

At cruising speeds you hardly notice the super smooth horizontally opposed six-cylinder, it simply glides along effortlessly in top. You have all the information you’ll ever need at your fingertips, including full access to the Sat-Nav.

Once moving, you are forced to use the mode and directional buttons on the left bar, as the central console is de-activated for safety (see below). Honda deliberately reduced the amount of buttons, allowing the rider to focus on the road ahead and not the distracting buttons near his knees as like the old model. The only ‘active’ switches once on the move are those on the bars.

At 21 litres, the fuel tank has lost the best part of a gallon in capacity. However, fear not, with a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency, reduced weight and improved aerodynamics Honda claim the tank range remains the same as the previous model. I averaged 48.06mpg on day one and slightly less on day two.

The changeable rider modes are easy to select, and change the suspension, engine characteristics and rider aids. On day one, on the long stretches of tarmac it was hard to notice the difference in the suspension. However, the changeable modes dramatically change the DCT. For example in Sports mode the gears are held for longer and the system quickly and automatically cogs down a few gears if rapid acceleration is required. It’s the opposite in the Economical mode, it short-shifts to top gear and almost refuses to knock back a gear during aggressive throttle openings.

While we are talking DCT, it is truly incredible, almost unfathomably smooth. There’s a very slight glitch between the first three gears, but after that it just feels like one effortless gear. On small or moderate throttle openings it’s actually hard to count the gears. With so much torque, there’s constant power, it’s almost like riding a powerful gearless electric bike; simply one constant drive of power.

Despite the cold conditions, at the end of day one we arrived at our glamping resort fresh and ready for day two. My luggage was nestled in the easy–access panniers, which open with slow motion sophistication on hydraulic rods.

More than a straightliner

At the start of day two we first had to negotiate a small gravel car park, which for someone like me at 5’6, would normally be a nightmare on a big Wing. But with the Honda’s new ‘walk mode’ and easy-to-use reverse it was a doddle – the old bikes intimidation has all but vanished.

We were soon following the famous Colorado river, twisting and turning in stunning scenery. The new Honda shone and showed how poor the old bike was by modern standards. The new six-piston linked brakes are eye-popping strong. Considering they’re stopping 378kg, they’re really impressive, the big Wing remains stable and the ABS isn’t too intrusive. Some might not like the linked brakes are very effective on the big Wing.

Once away from the freeway the difference between the modes are more noticeable. There’s less sag and wallowing in the Sports mode. Even in the soft Touring mode the handling is impressive and far superior to the old model. The big Wing has lost a huge amount of weight and is now a bike again. The old bike was a comfortable method of getting from A – B, but now it’s actually a fun bike, which can be used and enjoyed.

The tyre ripping motor adds to the enjoyment. It might not be a big step in power over the old bike, but because it’s lost nearly seven stone, it’s much livelier than before. It may still be a big bike, but like a big rugby playing prop-forward, it can still tuck in and run to it’s 112mph top speed limit. The torque is endless and it has class-leading low-down grunt. If you’re aggressive enough with the throttle you’ll get the TC working overtime and this is backed up by an intoxicating sound track from the big six. Comparing the old bike to the new 2018 is like comparing an old steam-powered ocean liner to a new cruiser. Honda have done a great job.

What do all the buttons do?

There has never been a bike that has more buttons to press than this one. Here’s our guide…

Right bar:

Res + and Set – set the speed for the cruise control. The button with N/D is for the DCT bike only. N selects neutral, D for drive, A/M is automatic or manual. The switch above the starter button changes the mode, which displayed below the rev counter. 

Left bar: 

Top two toggle buttons operate the electric screen and volume. The button with a motorbike symbol selects reverse or walking forward mode. Thumb-button is DCT change back a gear, the plus button is where you’d normally find the pass light. The horn is a horn! 

Central panel:

The large button with ‘enter’ is used to navigate the controls. You can scroll into every menu from this button, but it’s deactivated on the move. On the go you have use the ‘enter’ button on the left bar. Heated seat and grips levels are on the central column. Info and set is for the trip, mpg, tank range, etc. 

Clocks:

Research showed owners still wanted an analogue speedo and rev counter. The small screen on the right shows how much electronic preload is set and on the Tour version if the panniers are closed or open. The small screen on the left side displays ambient temperature, fuel, trip, range and cruise control speed. 

MCN verdict

Usually, the new model is a 10% improvement or less, but the new Gold Wing is light years ahead of the old model, with significantly improved handling, ease-of-use, and fun. It’s no longer just a mode of bulky comfortable transport, but an actual bike, which can be ridden and enjoyed.

The level of comfort, specification and smoothness is class-leading. The only down side is the price, close to £30,000, which is considerably more than the competition. Even if you tick every accessory possible BMW’s six- cylinder K1600GT still comes in at under £25,000 and has more top end power. It’ll be interesting to see how it compare when we run them back-to-back.

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