Too much of a good Wing: Honda Gold Wing improves in all areas as it looks to regain the touring crown

2021 Honda Gold Wing
2021 Honda Gold Wing

Touring luxury has just reached an even higher plane, thanks to a decent update to the Honda Gold Wing.

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If you’re not overly familiar with the Wing you can find a full history below but its last big update was in 2018 when it had a radical overhaul from the previous model with not only a new engine, frame and running gear but an entire change in philosophy.

Gone was the two-wheeled cocoon of old, replaced with something altogether smaller, sleeker and sportier.

2021 Honda Gold Wing pillion seat

With their latest update Honda have continued that theme in some places and slightly back pedalled it in others. The biggest changes take place at the back of the bike on the Gold Wing Tour model (the top-spec version with the three piece luggage).

Back in 2018 Honda said they spoke to their owners and most just went away for a few days, not weeks on end, so they shrank the luggage down to 110 litres from 150. Evidently this didn’t sit well with all owners as they’ve upped it again, adding an additional 11 litres to the topbox, taking it to 61 litres – and the overall luggage total to 121.

For 2021, Honda redesigned the pillion back rest, which is part of the topbox, so it now sits at a more relaxed angle for easier cruising. The seat itself, for both rider and pillion, is now covered in a suede/synthetic leather mix, which Honda say brings up the comfort levels up another notch.

2021 Honda Gold Wing top box

There’s been an audio upgrade too, for the musically minded, which Honda say "achieves superb sound quality with vivid presence" until an HGV sounds its horn over the top of Hey Jude that is.

Given most of the changes take place to the optional gear on the Tour model, the standard Gold Wing benefits from just the improved audio and a funky new colour described as ‘Pearl Deep Mud Grey’, which is the least appealing way of describing what is quite an appealing option. The Tour is available in Gunmetal Black Metallic or the classic Candy Red but only for the DCT model, which is a bit of a shame.

The top spec Tour model with DCT and airbag will cost £31,449 when it arrives in UK dealers in March, 2021.The manual gearbox version of the Tour without the airbag drops to £28,349. The standard Gold Wing costs £22,849 and with DCT it’s £24,299.

The History of the Honda Gold Wing

Honda unleashed a lighter, tighter and righter Gold Wing at the start of 2018 before tweaking it again in 2020, but many riders still hanker for the hefty luxury previously offered.

With a history spanning over 40 years, the Wing has revolutionised touring and has become a byword for comfort and epic proportions, with firsts such as fuel injection, cruise control, self-levelling suspension, a 1500cc flat-six engine, reverse gear and airbags.

Join us as we take a look back at this illustrious history, detailing the changes from its early life as a cutting-edge superbike, to its present uber-comfortable form.

Significant Gold Wing models throughout the years:

Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

  • Engine: 1000cc flat four, five gears
  • Max power: 80 bhp
  • Weight: 272kg

Believe it or not, the Gold Wing actually started out as a naked sportsbike with a flat-four engine and shaftdrive. The Gold Wing was conceived to be the next flagship superbike in Honda’s range after the incredible success of their CB750.

This early GL1000 is from 1976

MCN tested the original Gold Wing in the June of 1975 on the Isle of Man's legendary TT circuit and we were instantly impressed. Speaking at the time, Road Tester Bob Goddard said: "With the Gold Wing's 80bhp and massive low-down torque you could pull a double-decker bus.

"From 3000rpm the big flat four surges away like a train and the power flows smoothly in all the way up the rev range."

Decent suspension

Keeping this 100mph-cruiser in a straightline was adequately damped suspension to the front and rear, which keep the bike steady and make sure rear wheel contact with the ground remains a constant. A low centre of gravity also means it remains planted and chuckable, despite weighing around 600lbs.

What's more, it was also one of the first road bikes to offer a fuel guage, which was housed where a traditional fuel filler cap would sit. Twist the key in a lock located near the rider's seat and the sides of the tank would also pop out to reveal neat cubby holes containing items like a tool kit and manual.

Honda also installed an electrical relay which prevented the bike from starting unless the green neutral light was activated. An audible beep is also played by the bike's indicators too, to remind the rider they are in action.

Honda GL1100 Gold Wing

The Interstate was the first fully-dressed version with a sound system. Honda started pushing the envelope of motorcycle comfort here. The bike is obviously a classic by modern standards so all the usual checks should be done.

This bike also suffered a number of quirks too, including the fact that if it remains on the sidestand for too long, oil seepage can damage the valve seals on the left-hand cylinder head. This is a difficult thing to check for, but a clean, smokeless start-up is a good indication that things are ok.

The GL1100 retained the naked design

Honda GL1200 Gold Wing 1984

  • Engine: 1182cc liquid-cooled flat four
  • Max power: 94 bhp
  • Torque: 72.5 ft-lb
  • Weight: 328kg (dry)
  • Seat height: 780mm
  • Top speed:111 mph
  • MPG: 42.8

This was the first Honda to feature fuel injection, cruise control, auto-levelling suspension and a trip computer. It was cutting-edge, with some of these features still missing from many modern tourers. All it needs now is heated grips and it's fully equipped!

The GL1200 was introduced one year earlier in 1984

This was the final version to use a four-cylinder engine and designers pushed the format to its limit. If you're after one today, then regular cambelt services are vital on used examples, so be sure to look for evidence in the paperwork.

Alongside an abundance of mechanical wizardry, the '84 top-of-the-range Aspencade 'Wing (pictured) offered cutting-edge luxury, too. Sitting between the large, aped BMX-like handlebars sits an auto reverse stereo cassette deck, complete with an AM/FM radio and amplifier.

Volume-sensitive audio

Even more impressive was that it was speed sensitive, meaning it got louder as speed increased. A mute button also meant you could kill the noise quickly in a quiet area. A handy left-hand cubby hole also served as a perfect space for stashing extra tapes.

Despite it's huge size, the bike actually handled its weight surprisingly well, with smoothness being the key. A wobble will creep in when negotiating bends above 90mph, however that really isn't what the Gold Wing is about.

For those unable to afford the full-fat luxury edition, the standard £4540 GL1200 provided just as much comfort and road holding, without the LCD screen, tape deck or compressor.

Honda GL1500 Gold Wing 1988

  • Engine: 1520cc12v 1520cc flat six, 5 gears
  • Max power: 100 bhp
  • Torque: 110 ft-lb
  • Weight: 368kg
  • Seat height: 763mm
  • Top speed: 106mph
  • MPG: 36

Stats taken from 1998 model*

The GL1500 sits alongside its rivals on an MCN road test

Moving on from the four-cylinder layout, the fourth generation Gold Wing had a super-smooth flat-six, complete with an incredible kit list, integrated design and lavish comfort.

Developed over five years for a predominantly American market, the 1500 Gold Wing retained the silky-smooth character of the previous incarnation and combined it with a near silent engine tone to create a gentle mile-muncher, capable of sublime comfort. A reverse gear and low-slung seat height makes moving the bike at low speed a doddle, too.

Let down by poor fuel economy

What let this model down was the poor fuel economy. Despite its five gallon tank, the bike is only capable of a distinctly average 36mpg, meaning only an indicated 180 miles of range from a full tank when fully laden. A clunky gear change also removes the chance of any clutchless up-shifting.

Unfortunately, with all this kit comes additional labour, too when looking for a used example. Rear-tyre changes can cost a bomb as it takes hours to strip the back end. The linked brakes are also a weak point.

Honda GL1800 Gold Wing 2001

  • Engine: 1832cc12v opposed flat six, 5 gears
  • Max power: 116 bhp
  • Torque: 123 ft-lb
  • Weight: 363kg (dry)
  • Seat height: 740mm
  • Top speed: 120 mph
  • MPG: 38

The 2001 version was the first new model for 13 years and so had a lot to live up to. The bike is supremely comfortable and roomy and much lighter than its predecessor, due to the addition of an aluminium chassis.

A 2002 GL1800 Gold Wing

Post 2006, the bike also had optional extras such as in-built GPS, heated seat and bars and a vent which blew warm air from the engine onto the footboards, keeping your tootsies nice and snug.

Watch out for an overheating recall and iffy alternators. As with all Gold Wings you need to have a proper nose around for corrosion in hidden areas.

Honda GL1800 Gold Wing 2012

  • Engine: 1832cc12v opposed flat six, 5 gears
  • Max power: 116 bhp
  • Torque: 123 ft-lb
  • Weight: 363kg (dry)
  • Seat height: 740mm
  • Top speed: 120 mph
  • MPG: 38

By 2012, the Gold Wing really was a kitchen sink, bells-and-whistles touring bike to be reckoned with. You name it, the bike had it. Production moved to Japan and marks a divide between first and second generation GL1800s.

Watch out for issues with reverse gear though, due to a rotten loom at the front and check it’s had the airbag recall done.

You really can hustle the Goldwing

Honda GL1800 Gold Wing 2018

  • Engine: 1833cc24v horizontally-opposed six-cylinder
  • Max power:125 bhp
  • Torque:125 ft-lb
  • Weight:378kg
  • Seat height:744mm
  • Top speed: 112 mph
  • MPG: 48

The start of 2018 bought a brand-new Gold Wing. Light years ahead of the old model, with improved handling, ease of use and fun - its spec, comfort and smoothness are class leading. Unfortunately, all of this trickery comes at a price. It’s almost £30,000!

There wasn't a huge hike in power over the previous model, 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 and the list goes on.

Redeveloped screen designs

Aerodynamically, the new Wing is 11.8% more efficient than before, with the large screen gaining electronic adjustment - a feature previous Wing owners were praying for - making for easier changes on the go in changing conditions.

What's more, the latest adaptation also gives the option of increasing the airflow to the rider and pillion by manually opening a small flap below the screen - allowing for some airflow behind its giant transparent windbreak. The rider has been moved 36mm further forward, whilst the pegs have moved slightly towards the rear.

Stripped-back Honda GL1800 Gold Wing revealed in 2019

2018 Honda Gold Wing

Just a year after unveiling an all-new, radically-revamped GL1800 Gold Wing and buoyed by public demand, Honda have launched a second variant... for over £5000 less!

The new bike will line-up alongside the high-specification Gold Wing Tour and Tour DCT versions and will be available at 14 specialist dealers (see below).

The existing Tour models are both equipped with large top-boxes and heftier price tags to boot, with the new machine acting as a more svelte, minimalist and arguably cooler-looking Wing, which replaces the old F6B.

Essentially, the new standard Gold Wing is, like the old F6B, the familiar full-dresser but without rear top box/back-rest (plus built-in speakers) for a more slimmed-down, blacked-out, 'bagger' look.

There’s also a matching, shorter screen, it does without a main stand and there’s no DCT option. On the plus side there’s the same, super-smooth, 1833cc six-cylinder powerplant giving over 124bhp and 125ftlb of torque, the same sleek aerodynamic bodywork, redesigned chassis and double-wishbone front suspension system.

Unlike some slimmed-down versions of tourers from other brands, you still get all the Wing’s electronic goodies, too. That means ride-by-wire throttle, modes, traction control, keyless ignition, full LED lights plus a fabulous infotainment system that has music, maps, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay.

In fact, the only things you lose by giving the Tour pack a miss is 50 litres of luggage space, 40kg of extra weight and a nice back rest for the passenger. But what you gain, by stripping all that back, is a tourer with an extra dash of style; the perfect companion for a weekend away.

Small tweaks for Honda Gold Wing in 2020

2020 Honda Gold Wing

Honda announced a series of small updates to their Gold Wing touring line-up for 2020, including revised fuelling and greater passenger comfort.

Receiving a major revamp in 2018, including double wishbone front suspension, Apple CarPlay, four riding modes and more, the 2020 bikes gain additional improvements to their fuel injection and DCT systems to help improve low speed manoeuvrability.  

What’s more, 'Tour' models - complete with a top box and air bag - will also receive revised suspension settings and larger pillion grab handles to improve comfort. These settings will then appear on the bike’s TFT screen and can be adjusted electronically via a switch.

Also included in the changes are two new colour schemes, with the DCT model gaining a 'Matte Ballistic Black Metallic' design and the Tour variant now also available in 'Pearl Glare White.'

Read the latest stories causing a buzz this week in News…

Jordan Gibbons

By Jordan Gibbons

News Editor, owns some old bikes. Should know better.