2018 Honda Gold Wing: Accomplice to Wanderlust

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Kevin Wing, Brian Nelson

In motorcycling, there are a number of inexplicable cliques specific to brands and models that have spawned subcultures unto themselves. Harley-Davidson enjoys a stranglehold on cool; Moto Guzzi riders exude obsessive emotions; and BMW’s illustrious GS attracts global legions of adventure-seeking cohorts. But perhaps the most devout and diehard fans of a single motorcycle are those who ride Honda’s Gold Wing. The Gold Wing rider is unlike any other. Fiercely loyal, often quirky, they tend toward the ardently independent and yet, conversely, they exhibit a strong sense of community. Predominantly adventurous, Gold Wing owners possess a predisposition for touring. However, many Gold Wing owners’ definition of “touring” often outclasses the majority of what most two-wheel enthusiasts interpret as travel, having elevated the practice to a transcontinental art form.

Since its introduction in 1975, the Gold Wing has become Honda’s flagship, steadily evolving into what early two-wheel inventors could have scarcely envisioned: the luxury touring motorcycle. Yet, when Honda introduced the Gold Wing, it wasn’t in a touring configuration. The machine stood more as a robust example of the engineering prowess Honda was capable of bringing to motorcycles. It was actually customer influence and action that helped Honda transform the standard machine into a legendary touring mount. 

Then and Now

My experience with the Gold Wing has a ring of sentimentality. In 1975, I was 17 years old and working at Bill Robertson Honda in North Hollywood uncrating motorcycles. When the shop received its first Gold Wing GL 1000, everyone at the shop gathered around my workstation to watch me uncrate it. As I removed cardboard and plastic, carefully prying off the slats of the crate, there were choruses of “ooh” and “ahh” as the beautiful aqua Gold Wing was revealed. After putting on the bars, front wheel, mirrors, and turn signals, the group stood back and pondered this marvel of technology. We tacitly seemed to understand that the horizontally opposed, flat 4-cylinder motorcycle before us represented a sea change in motorcycling. When we sold that first machine, the mechanics tossed a coin to see who would perform the service on it, because that would entitle them to the coveted test ride. 

The intervening 43 years have seen remarkable developments in technology and presence. In 1980, the GL, boasting 1100cc and christened the Interstate, featured a massive fairing and bags. The introduction of luxury touring came in 1982, with the Gold Wing Aspencade. And in 1988, the stalwart flat-opposed 4-cylinder engine was transformed into a 6-cylinder with a displacement of 1500cc.

New for 2018

Enter 2018 and Honda’s first major “ground-up” redesign in 16 years. In essence, nothing has been retained from the previous model save the name. The changes gracing the new Gold Wing are certainly targeted at expanding the Gold Wing base, making the bike more appealing to younger and newer riders, as well as aging enthusiasts who may be entertaining a categorical shift to accommodate their changing demands for riding.

This year ushers in a new 1833cc horizontally opposed six-cylinder, single overhead Unicam engine (with four valves per cylinder) fed by a single 50mm bore throttle body in a ride-by-wire system. Engineers have lopped 13.7 pounds off the engine and shortened it by 29mm. The new intake duct design creates a swirl effect in the airbox for better atomization of the fuel/air mixture, improving performance, and further enhancing it with four ride modes: Tour/Sport/Econ/Rain. Switching to Sport mode from Tour derives a dramatically sharper and harder-hitting response from the engine, the contrast drastically overshadowing the default Tour setting. Many riders may opt to make the Sport mode their default, as the improved response makes getting off the line and maneuvering at slow speed easier. In a show of pride, the fairing of the new Gold Wing has been designed to show off their new engine and the impressive headers that culminate in dual pipes sounding a stirring exhaust note. 

The Gold Wing and Gold Wing Tour models are available in either a manual 6-speed configuration or—exclusive to Honda in the world of motorcycles—the DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) technology. Introduced in 2009, the system has progressively evolved into an impressive, highly effectual alternative to traditional manual transmissions and clutches. Unlike most automatic transmissions, which operate through a series of centrifugal clutches, the DCT transmission is comprised of seven actual gears, with a dual-clutch system operating on two clutch shafts (one inside the other) that assigns even gears (2nd, 4th, and 6th) to one clutch and odd gears (1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th) to the other. This configuration ensures that one gear is always engaged and that shifts involve one clutch handing off to the other for seamless shifts. The system will be making converts out of die-hard enthusiasts who may never have considered using an automatic transmission. The DCT gearbox can be operated as a pure, clutch-less automatic or via a left-hand thumb/finger paddle system. The DCT gear changes are so smooth that it virtually eliminates any unintended back and forth movement of body mass for the passenger, which usually accompanies shifts. Yes, it’s that good. A “walking mode” forward and in reverse for maneuvering the Gold Wing in tight situations is also available, as well as a parking brake and hill-start assist, which prevents movement on inclines without having to feather the brake. 

The next significant design element update is the chassis, especially the double-wishbone steering head and front suspension system, which is linked to the triple clamp through a dual actuating arm linkage. It’s an impressive clockwork orange, best described as an inverted parallelogram. Honda’s claim of the system reducing 30 percent of road vibration to the rider is substantiated while riding and watching the top caps of the linkage absorb the road without transferring jolts and vibration to the handlebars.

The wishbone front end, fitted with a single Showa shock absorber, allows the travel of the front wheel to move in a vertical direction as opposed to diagonally (such as a traditional telescopic fork). Rear suspension is a Pro-Link arrangement also fitted with a single Showa shock. The damping system (front and rear) is electronically adjusted with four suspension settings; Rider, Rider/Luggage, Rider/Passenger, and Rider/Passenger/Luggage.

How It Feels

Once astride the new Gold Wing, what is most prominent is the bike’s relative narrowness. Also, the low center of mass, courtesy of the flat-opposed engine, betrays the published weight (787 to 842 pounds, depending on model). Engineers shaved roughly 80 pounds (that’s 10%) off the new machine. This lightweight feel, in combination with the muscled precision of the new engine, endows the Gold Wing with a surprisingly sporting nature without sacrificing the stability and planted feel of the bike on the Interstate. 

Dual 6-piston Nissin calipers mated to 320mm rotors on the front and a massive 312mm disc on the rear work well but require firm application to get the Gold Wing slowed down. The linked, electronically-controlled ABS system works exceptionally well, with minimal oscillation between front and rear wheels even under severe, panic braking exercises. Equally impressive are the stable manners of the Gold Wing under emergency-level braking application.

The cockpit layout is extremely plush and well laid out while also seating the rider in an upright position that grants exceptional feel and control with the handlebars without contributing to fatigue on long hauls. The fairing (in the “wing” design cues) keeps the cockpit free of turbulence. And don’t be fooled by the reduced (5.5 gal.) fuel capacity. The increased fuel economy of the new engine compensates for that without sacrificing range, with handling performance enhanced due to the fuel-load reduction. LED lighting throughout, electronically-adjusted windscreen, 7-inch digital display screen, and smart-key are all standard. Sidebags hold 30 liters of cargo space each, and the top case of the touring model adds an additional 50 liters. The bag lids are fitted with hydraulic dampers for smooth opening and closing, too. 

To have crafted the degree of sportiness and performance into the new Gold Wing without losing any of its established distance-touring appeal speaks volumes about the focus Honda places on their flagship motorcycle. There are five models in the 2018 Gold Wing stable: Gold Wing, Gold Wing DCT, Gold Wing Tour, Gold Wing Tour DCT, and the Gold Wing Tour Airbag DCT. And all are presented in distinct color schemes (depending on model): Candy Ardent Red, Pearl White, Pearl Hawkseye Blue, Matte Majestic Silver, and Pear Stallion Brown. Model pricing extends from ,500 to ,500. In sum, the rarefied air of the Gold Wing has been respectfully maintained for 2018, with Honda once again not only raising the bar, but actually being the bar.