Honda GL1800A Gold Wing (ABS) - Long-term Evaluation

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Christa Neuhauser

I've never liked Gold Wings. For years they were objects of derision. The characterizations I'd hurl in their direction included too big, too clumsy, too heavy, and the ever popular "it's nothing but a car on two wheels." On top of everything else, they seemed most often bedecked with teddy bears, flags, and identically dressed riders and passengers. A Gold Wing in my garage? Yeah, right.

The motorcycling world, as I know it, came tumbling down around me this past summer. I begrudgingly accepted the 2005 30th Anniversary Honda Gold Wing to ride for my four-state tour out west. Even my wife Kathy, who was flying out to meet me for the ride, wasn't thrilled at the prospect of being perched on the back of a big touring rig. Out of sheer practicality, I ceded the fact that the long Interslab ride from North Carolina to Arizona could actually be somewhat tolerable with a stereo and a windshield.

By the time I arrived at Tuscon International Airport to pick up the world's greatest co-pilot, I had obviously lapsed into full-blown denial. The smiles induced by the high-speed jaunt across the New Mexico desert, exploring Route 66, and the peg-dragging twist-o-rama through the Gila National Forest had to be the result of some sort of delirium, a mirage if you will. This was clearly a condition brought about by the vast expanses and the extreme heat. I couldn't be starting to like this bike. It's too big, too clumsy, too heavy, remember? Two days and countless grins later, I knew the mirage of fondness was actually real. At a gas stop, while unzipping our matching Gold Wing Air-Tek jackets, Kathy looked over at me and said, "So, just what would a Gold Wing cost us?"

Six Pushing Five
I'd like to think it was mere spousal coercion that converted me from a Gold Wing skeptic to a Gold Wing believer. Honestly, I have to give credit where credit's due. This really is an amazing machine. From the moment the starter breathes life into the big 1832cc flat six, there's a feeling that an incredibly competent power plant is at work below. Even in the parking lot, the car-sized engine shows incredible grace. The twin 40mm throttle bodies feeding the high-pressure programmed fuel injectors respond adeptly to the subtlest input from the throttle. Once underway, the big six really begins to shine. Power is the least of your worries once this Wing takes flight. The completely unique sound emanating from the stainless steel six-into-two exhaust system absolutely exhilarates, yet remains well inside the civilized range of the decibel meter. Like a martial arts master, the Gold Wing doesn't need to announce her prowess to everyone within earshot. Just lay on the gas and she jumps with a motivation bettered only by machines with clip-ons and racy graphics.

The engine's splendid performance is matched with an equally impressive slick shifting 5-speed overdrive transmission that spins the rear wheel via a maintenance-free drive shaft. Despite being loaded down, two up, and grinding through high mountain passes, the hydraulic-assist clutch never wavered in keeping the power on the ground. Initially, I was a bit apprehensive about a touring bike having only five cogs. Yet after a couple thousand miles on the Interstate, I can attest that the sixth gear is not at all missed. Should you really need a sixth gear, give that honor to reverse: Yes, indeed, this Wing has a reverse. It's not a gear in the traditional sense because it runs off the starter motor. You simply hit the button that actuates the reverse system and thumb the starter. It moves a bit slowly, but no one needs to be on two wheels moving rapidly backwards. On a bike the size of the Gold Wing, it's surprising how often this little gem comes in handy.

Sing Wing, Sing
It would be easy to go on and on about the power train, but that wouldn't be fair to the arguably more impressive chassis. Building a big powerful engine is one thing; coming up with a workable frame to support it is something completely different. Luckily, the engineering crew at Honda is equally adept at both. Riding the Wing is a non-stop exercise in amazement over how easy it is to handle a heavyweight two-wheeler that sometimes checks in at 1,000 pounds or better with passenger and gear. The flat-six engine is placed forward and down in the frame, of which it is a stressed member, thus resulting in a nice, low center of gravity. This configuration makes for easy handling on the road and in the driveway. According to Honda, "the innovative aluminum frame is specifically engineered for optimum rigidity with tuned flex." Whatever flex they've tuned in sings a song of pure stability. It's hard to believe how aggressive you can be in the twisties with nary a hint of unsuitable feedback. If you dig the glorious music of pegs scraping road, then you'll enjoy playing a few refrains of the Wing's flex-tuned mountain music.

Stopping is another area that can be dicey on a big, heavy machine. Again, that's a problem that Honda's engineers have solved. Our model came equipped with ABS that, thankfully, we only tested in a controlled environment. You have to be on the binders pretty hard to engage the system. I hope that need never arises but if it should, the anti-lock does kick in quite seamlessly, allowing for much better control in those sudden situations. ABS is one of those things that's good to have and not need than to need and not have, especially on a loaded touring machine. The dual floating 296 mm discs, three-piston caliper front stoppers are combined with the single 316mm disc, three-piston caliper unit in the rear via Honda's LBS™ (Linked Braking System™). This set up features a second master cylinder and a three-stage proportional control valve (PCV). When the front brake lever is actuated, the outer two pistons of the right front caliper, along with the center piston of the left front, are employed in concert with the outer two pistons of the rear caliper. The rear brake pedal operates the remaining pistons. There's a delay valve that acts to smooth the front brake operation sensitive to the rider's pedal pressure. On any long trip you're bound to have at least a couple of yahoos pull out in front of you and ours was no exception. Believe me, this system and these brakes work well. Chalk another one up for the Wing.

The 45mm front forks, with 5.5 inches of travel, handle the suspension duties out front and, in keeping with the rest of the package, they do a great job. Only the harshest bumps and freeway joints elicit harsh feedback. A very effective anti-dive system works in conjunction with the LBS™ to enhance the Wing's front-end stability. The rear end is kept aloft by a Pro-Link mounted shock with 4.1 inches of travel. The rider can control the shock's preload with pushbutton controls that feature a two-position memory, a nice touch if a last-minute two-up trip suddenly materializes. A quick touch of the button immediately puts the bike in passenger mode. The Wing's ride is unbelievably comfortable right out of the box, but a little tweak here and there never hurts anyone.

If It Follows Me Home, Can I Keep It?
Comfort is the first thing you notice when throwing a leg over the Gold Wing. The seat cradles you with a perfect blend of soft and firm. The long bars come out to meet your arms perfectly and the foot pegs are underneath you where they belong. The long clutch and brake levers are nearly effortless in their actuation. The electronic cruise control is definitely a godsend on long freeway spells. Its handlebar-mounted controls make it easy to operate once you get used to it. Another standard feature that makes those long slab rides more palatable is the Panasonic™ audio system featuring two 24-watt-rated stereo speakers. The sound is pretty darn good until you really build up a head of steam. A multitude of presets and a weather band radio are but a couple of the many extras the stereo contains. Practically every audio function can be controlled without removing your hands from the bars. I'd like to toss Honda big thanks for including a set of rear speakers and the optional six CD changer that mounts conveniently in the top case. Both of these items improve the quality of the audio experience greatly. When you order your new Wing, go ahead and include these options; if you don't, you'll just be coming back for them later.

The adjustable windshield works great at keeping flying protein and all but the worst weather at bay. Overall protection from the sorts of flying detritus experienced on the highways and byways is surprisingly good. Storage isn't an issue on the Wing either. With a combined 147 liters of trunk and saddlebag warehousing, there's plenty of room for more than a few days worth of laundry. There are four other small storage pockets on the bike, one of which locks. That being said, I have to wonder why the engineers decided to put the stereo auxiliary plug access in the pocket that doesn't lock? I had a couple of panic attacks when I realized I'd left my iPod in a lock-free environment. Honestly, it's the one thing on the whole bike that just doesn't make sense.

The list of standard amenities literally goes on and on and we haven't even gotten into the myriad of options offered as accessories available from Honda. Geez, don't even get me started on the aftermarket options; we'd end up with a book only a few pages shy of War and Peace.

And now for the most important comfort feature on the whole motorcycle, the passenger seat. Kathy logs more miles pillion than a good number of operators out there. She is quick to express her opinion about any bike we ride, but she's never hinted at dropping money on one. It's usually my unpleasant chore to justify motorcycle purchases to her. Sure a garage full of old CanAms and Café Racers that don't run sounds cool, but it doesn't supply any logic for winning an argument when bill time comes around. Most relationships have a monetary nitwit and I'm ours. So it's understandable why that initial query and later insistence that we own a Gold Wing, coming as it did from the family budget cop, blew me away. I'm still in shock. Believe me, Kathy's endorsement speaks volumes about the comfort and appeal of this machine.

I still don't want to like this bike, probably because it means I've grown up. Did I just say I've grown up? Somebody shoot me. But I just can't help it - the bike is that good, and it's just as much fun to ride to work as it is to ride to the other coast. And Kathy? She has pretty much put her foot down: The next new bike in our garage will be a Honda Gold Wing. And although she's a little upset that Forest Green isn't an option, I don't expect I'll have a problem talking her into the silver.

TECHNICAL SPECS:

Honda GL1800A (ABS)

Retail Price $ 19,699
Warranty 3 year transferable
unlimited mileage
Maintenance Schedule 4000 / 8000 /
every 8000 miles
Importer/Distributor American Honda Motor Co. Inc.
www.powersports.honda.com
Engine
Type 1882cc, horizontally opposed, six cylinder
Cooling liquid
Valve Arrangement SOHC, 12 valve
Bore x Stroke 74 x 71mm
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Carburetion fuel injection
Transmission
Gearbox five speed overdrive with electric reverse
Clutch wet, multiplate
Final Drive shaft drive
Chassis
Frame aluminum twin spar
Wheelbase 66.6in (1,691mm)
Rake/Trail 29.25° / 4.3in (109mm)
Front Suspension 45mm cartridge fork with anti-dive, 5.5in travel
Rear Suspension Pro-Link single shock with computer controlled preload, 4.1in travel
Wheels & Tires
Type cast aluminum
Front Tire 130/70R-18
Rear Tire 180/60R-16
Brakes
Front Brake twin, three piston calipers with LBS
Diameter 296mm
Rear Brake single 3 piston caliper with LBS
Diameter 316mmCombiningstandard Linked Braking System™, optional ABS
Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 29.1in (739mm)
Dry Weight 792lb (359kg) 799lb (362kg) with ABS
Fuel Capacity 6.6gal (25l)
Performance
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank)118hp
Torque 125ft/lb
Top Speed n/a
Acceleration n/a
Fuel Consumption 40mpg
Fuel Range 264mls
Equipment Large saddlebags and trunk, adjustable windshield, electronic cruise control, electric reverse, am/fm stereo with presets, a full line of optional accessories is also available.

RoadRUNNER Test Diagram

Engine 4/5

Chassis 5/5

Brakes 5/5

Comfort 5/5

Luggage w/accessories 5/5

Equipment 5/5

Design 5/5

Bike for the buck 4/5