When Honda first released the Gold Wing for the 1975 model-year they didn’t really know what it was. The bike didn’t have a fairing at the time and the powers-that-be at the Japanese company didn’t originally set out to produce what would become the world’s all-time best-selling tourer some four decades later. But it didn’t take long for consumers to start installing Vetter and various other aftermarket fairings, something Honda eventually took note of in 1984 by installing factory-option fairings and hardbags. It then focused the ‘Wing directly at the mega-touring sector and never looked back.
Since the introduction of the GL1800 in 2001, Honda’s flagship tourer has remained almost completely unchanged. That’s why the update for 2012 comes with a great deal of anticipation from more than a few die-hard long-distance bikers worldwide. But with the first update in 11 years being little more than a mid-life modification, will it be too little too late to keep pace with the likes of the all-new BMW K1600s? We shot up to Calabasas, California to find out.
The front fascia of the 2012 Honda Gold Wing has been updated for a sportier look. Big refelctor headlams cast a wide path of light for riders who travel by day or night.
The basic architecture of the GL1800 remains the same, the 1832cc horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine unchanged and the chassis, for the most part, following suit. The front fork gets an updated internal bushing (Honda wouldn’t elaborate any more than this), designed to improve mid-corner handing and overall agility. Otherwise, the frame, suspension and brakes are identical to the previous model. The new machine does get Bridgestone tires designed specifically for the updated suspension, a change from the Dunlops previously shod on the Gold Wing. A look at the spec chart shows the front suspension travel going from 5.5 inches to 4.8 inches, but this was merely a typo with the old spec chart and it has been 4.8 inches since going to an 1800 in 2001.
So what else is changed? The most noticeable difference is the overall styling of the Gold Wing. The rear taillight is an all-new bar-style setup with integrated clear-lens blinkers on either side, while the side bags are more angular in shape and also hold seven-liters more storage despite looking visually smaller. The side fairings and front fascia are restyled to give a sportier look, while silver lowers provide a two-tone color layout, matched to either bright blue, maroon or black fairings for 2012. The revised lower fairing is also said to improve wind protection, keeping air from picking up under the rider’s feet and legs.
Other improvements come in the form of a new and easier-to-use navigation system on some of the higher-end models. The Honda Satellite Linked Navigation System now features a brighter color screen and allows riders the ability to program and share their favorite rides with others Gold Wing riders via an online database and a dual-SIM-card based system — one card stays in the navigation system all the time and provides the basic information, and the other can be removed and plugged into any computer and information shared among other riders via the Internet.
The on-board sound system has been updated on all models with a more surround sound-like set-up, by virtue of the SRS CS Auto technology, and now accepts all MP3 players and allows full controllability through its handlebar-mounted switchgear. XM radio is still available as an option on the Navigation-equipped model. As a result of the changes the claimed weight of the Gold Wing increases slightly according to Honda, the previous model ranging from 895-928 pounds and the 2012 model spanning 904-933 pounds. Retail price also increases slightly, up $300 to $600 depending on the model, with the G-wing’s MSRP now ranging from $23,199 to $28,499.
Honda brought the previous version of the Gold Wing to test against the 2012 model. They’re both good but the new bike feels better in a number of key areas.
For our press introduction of the new GL1800, Honda brought out the previous Gold Wing to tackle Southern California’s coastal roads side-by-side with the updated 2012 version. After reading the updates above one could easily assume that the machine’s mechanical abilities would remain widely the same, but the revamped fork and new tires make a more significant difference than the limited amount of changes would suggest. The bike steers quicker and turns in substantially easier, holding its line and not standing up mid-corner, something the previous model has a tendency to do when pushed close to its limits.
The redesigned lower fairing significantly reduces the amount of wind on the rider’s legs and feet as Honda claims, especially as speeds increase.Wind protection is very good and the windscreen is manually adjustable. With six different settings and a four inch range of adjustability the Wing should accommodate taller riders pretty well. We just don’t quite understand why it’s not an electronically adjustable feature like so many other manufacturers offer. This is Honda’s premier touring machine so it seems like they would want to put their best foot forward and have all their bases covered.
Since changing to the 1832cc engine in 2001 the Honda has been propelled by a torque-laden and very easy-to-use powerplant. But where the new BMW K1600 GTL, a bike many will consider direct competition to the GL1800, gets advancements like traction control and Bluetooth connectivity, the new Goldwing can only boast an easier-to-read Navi screen and MP3 capabilities, something several BMWs have featured for a few years now. The Navi screen is far better than the previous model and the ability to connect and control an iPod via the handlebar switches is a nice feature, as is the updated surround-sound speaker system, which does a great job keeping the rider entertained on long rides. But on a touring machine with a price tag well over 20K, we would have liked Bluetooth capabilities.
We’re a fan of the updated styling, especially the sleeker-looking rear bags that hold some seven liters more than the previous model, as well as the updated taillights and more stylish lines across the side of the motorcycle. This
modernizes the Gold Wing, if only slightly, enough to justify the $300 price increase on the base model. But with some of the competition releasing all-new models and Honda only giving the Wing a host of small changes, one wonders if the GL1800 is still a good value at its rather high retail prices? The top-of-the-line model roughly ticks the 30-grand mark once tax and title fees are added.
And while the 2012 Goldwing doesn’t have all that much in the way of major changes, the easy counter-argument is that not much change was needed in the first place. When the GL1800 was released a decade ago it was revolutionary, combining a comfortable, long-distance machine with handling and acceleration attributes typically more akin to a sportbike than a traditional tourer. This combination changed the touring genre virtually overnight and as such has equated to a great number of Gold Wings being sold these past 11 years.
What the 2012 Goldwing accomplishes is further refining this concept with improved handling and higher-tech electronics, all for a very small price increase. So if you have been in the market for a ‘Wing, you will definitely want to wait for the 2012 to come out later this month.
But the question still remains: has the competition caught up or even surpassed the almighty Gold Wing in the past decade? Sounds like a 2012 mega-tourer shootout is just what the doctor ordered…