Long-term Evaluation: 2014 Honda Gold Wing - The King of Touring

Text: Florian Neuhauser • Photography: Florian Neuhauser

I’ve been riding this Gold Wing for thousands of miles, through rain and sunshine, from coast to coast, and with a passenger. Needless to say the Gold Wing has become a second home of sorts. When I told Sarah about my long-term test assignment, she said, “Oh that’s easy! Just say it’s awesome!” Although that 
more or less sums it up, let’s dive a little deeper.

Other than colors and a few features, not much has changed on the GL1800 since 2001. The famous motorcycle that is the epitome of touring was first introduced in 1974 at the motorcycle show in Cologne, Germany. At that time motorcycle touring wasn’t the biggest category, which proves Honda’s genius foresight, as today it’s the largest category in the industry. In the last 40 years, Honda has sold over 640,000 Gold Wings.

The Good

Let’s start with the heart of the motorcycle—the 1,832cc six-cylinder engine. It’s smooth. It’s powerful. It’s more than is needed but nice to have. Even two up and fully loaded it is no problem for the Honda to execute passing maneuvers on curvy mountain roads. It hums along very civilized in slow moving city traffic just as it does at 75 mph on the open highway.

The Gold Wing’s size and the numerous buttons may make operation seem intimidating, but it’s one of the most well-balanced machines on the market. And, it couldn’t be easier to ride even with a road-ready weight well over 900 pounds. Many people exclaim, “That’s too heavy!” Well yeah, if you have to carry the thing. The truth is that the weight is hardly noticed. Even in case of an accidental tip-over in the parking lot, you wouldn’t lift that much weight. On its side, the Gold Wing rests on supports of the engine and the saddlebag—keeping the bike at an angle that’s quite manageable to straighten up.

The five-speed transmission with overdrive rotates the rear wheel via a shaft drive. The electric reverse is one of the best features. I used it all the time even though I have plenty of leg strength. It adds valuable confidence in your parking space selection. During acceleration you’ll quickly land in fifth gear (overdrive), and thanks to the generous torque, there’s no need to shift very often. The only time I recommend using first gear is when pulling away from a standstill. Uphill switchbacks in second gear are no problem where most other bikes require first gear. I only made that mistake once. I tried first gear on a tight right hairpin—but it was like slamming on my brakes—and Sarah head-butted me from behind. Lesson learned!

And, let’s not forget the most important part—the passenger. No other motorcycle provides the level of comfort that a Gold Wing delivers. Our longest day in the saddle was a 12-hour, 15-minute trek from Minnesota to Montana spanning 750 miles. That’s a lot of miles. By the end of the day my mind was toast, but I never once felt uncomfortable in the seat and neither did Sarah. Even the next day our bones didn’t hurt. The added benefit is the passenger wants to ride more! There’s no better feeling than when the wife says, “Let’s go ride!” It’s always more fun when you can share the experience with someone.

The Bad

Finding something negative to say about a well-designed motorcycle is always tough. It’s like trying to find something bad to say about Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

As we practically lived on the Gold Wing for more than a month, we did notice three areas of potential improvement.

First, the navigation feature was great but always having to remember to turn it on before moving was trying. With the glare, it became challenging to see the display because of its location, screen, and angle.

Second, the luggage capacity looked huge at first, but while packing it became apparent that there was less space than it seemed. The odd shape of the side-loading saddlebags made it difficult to pack. It would be better if they opened from the top. The passenger’s cubbyholes under the armrest are perfect for the little things, but they’re not 100 percent waterproof.

Third, the buttons! I must admit it’s easier and faster to operate each function if it has a dedicated button—instead of two buttons for the entire menu—but, there must be a compromise. I counted 53 buttons and switches and four dials in the cockpit area. Although a pilot’s license isn’t required, I’m sure it would help.

Laundry List of Features

The Gold Wing is the perfect mile eater with a long list of features. We tested the Audio Comfort Navi XM ABS model. It includes: heated grips, seat, and foot warmer; cruise control; electric reverse; premium sound; a navigation system; and XM radio.

The heated elements are perfect for cold days, although Sarah wished that her seat would get even hotter (no surprise there). The sound of the speakers easily let us enjoy the XM radio even at 80 mph. Forget about the endless scanning of FM channels—XM is where it’s at. We loaded our GPX files onto the SD card of the navi and effortlessly followed our route. However, most of the time, we simply looked at the map to know our location and see upcoming crossroads.

The windshield is manually adjustable, which will work for most riders. For my 6’2” frame, I had the windshield on its highest position, but I often wished for one with a different aerodynamic shape.

Flo’s Lowdown

I’m well aware that I’m not the typical Gold Wing rider at 28 years old, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the motorcycle that’s basically the gold standard of touring. I’m just lucky to have experienced it early in life, and I believe lots of riders are missing out based on stereotyping. No other motorcycle is as comfortable to ride all day, yet still has enough sportiness to it to have fun in the corners. Sure you’ll be scraping pegs through the curves, making the sparks fly high, but that’s what makes you feel alive! Isn’t that why we ride in the first place?