2018 Yamaha Star Venture vs. 2018 Honda Gold Wing

Text: Jeff Buchanan • Photography: Kevin Wing, Alfonse Palaima

Transcontinental touring has become a significant category in motorcycling, so named to describe the many two-wheeled wanderers out there who lean toward long-haul, high-mileage outings. To accommodate this free-spirited mindset, Honda and Yamaha have steadily refined the machines in their respective luxury stables, producing two motorcycles which, though designed for the same task, couldn’t be more different in their approaches to tackling America’s open roads.

Engine and Transmission

Honda’s 2018 Gold Wing and Yamaha’s 2018 Star Venture are intended for premiere comfort in long-distance touring, achieving that end through very different means, the most obvious being the engine platforms. The Yamaha is emboldened by a traditional big V-twin while the Honda is saddled with its signature horizontally-opposed six-cylinder. This contrast in beating hearts is what gives these machines their individuality, each being augmented with equally contrasting design and engineering elements.

The Gold Wing’s 1,833cc liquid-cooled, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine has been lightened up and shortened for 2018, now with four valves per cylinder operating off a single overhead Unicam. The flat six delivers its power with the precision of a sewing machine (that description is intended as a compliment) and can be tailored to suit riding conditions and preferences through four ride modes: Tour, Sport, Econ, or Rain. A claimed 125 hp at 5,500 rpm gets to the rear wheel by means of shaft drive and a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or Honda’s impressive DCT (dual clutch transmission) seven-speed. Both gearboxes deliver positive feel and succinct shifts, with the DCT system granting virtually seamless gear changes via paddle shifting or clutch-less automatic. The DCT system is a blessing for passengers due to its almost complete elimination of the unintentional lag and thrust normally generated by manual shifts. These drivetrain characteristics, combined with the quiet purr, are what have become the signature Gold Wing traits. 

At the other end of the spectrum is the Yamaha with its low-revving 113-cubic-inch /1,854cc air-cooled, pushrod V-twin. As a result, the Venture is imbued with that engine configuration’s classic, visceral thump and low-end pull, exuding the time-honored soul of a V-twin (but with a great deal of vibration reduction engineered in). Two engine modes, Touring and Sport, alter throttle response dramatically, with Sport mode delivering a harder punch off the bottom and quicker revs. Whereas the Honda moves with a relatively svelte and sophisticated brilliance, the Yamaha gets up and going with fairly bold declaration—both in terms of sound and pull. The Honda has a much broader and decidedly quicker rev range compared to the Yamaha, whose maximum torque (126 pound feet) arrives at a lumbering—yet by no means lazy—2,500 rpm and a rev limit of 4,500 rpm. The Yamaha’s gearbox is sturdy, with a long lever throw—which suits the disposition of the bike fine. A slipper clutch smoothes out downshifts and reduces chatter. Final drive is belt. Both machines are fitted with reverse, which is a good thing given their respective heft. The Honda offers reverse in its manual box, as well as Walking Mode F/R with the DCT transmission while the Venture employs Yamaha’s Sure-Park System. The available reverse will make a believer out of the most rebellious of riders. 

Chassis and Brakes

As with the powerplants, the chassis of the Gold Wing and the Venture are a study in contrasts. The Venture has a traditional tubular steel frame (with cast aluminum sub-frame), whereas the Honda sports a die cast aluminum twin beam unit. For 2018, Honda adapted a complex double wishbone steering head design with steering tie rods and a single shock to absorb the tremors of the road. It’s an impressive arrangement that keeps the shocks absorbed by the front wheel from making its way to the handlebar. The Yamaha’s front end is old school, with tried-and-true triple clamps and traditional telescopic forks. For the rear, the Honda sports its patent-pending Pro-Arm system with single shock mated to a single-sided aluminum swingarm. The Yamaha uses a gas-filled shock in a linkage arrangement mated to a dual-sided swingarm. The Gold Wing offers a range of electronically controlled suspension settings to the Yamaha’s factory-set adjustments (with spring preload adjuster).

Both machines exhibit excellent stopping power courtesy linked brakes and ABS. The Gold Wing is fitted with dual 320mm rotors up front and a single 316mm unit on the rear. The Yamaha employs dual 298mm discs on the front and a single 320mm unit for the rear. Both machines are incredibly stable under hard braking application, their systems serving to bring these behemoth machines down from speed with predictable manners. 

The weight of the two motorcycles varies, with the Gold Wing weighing in at 842 pounds (as tested, DCT model) and the Venture topping the scales at a hefty 963 pounds fully topped off. Strangely enough, the weight difference (roughly 121 pounds) isn’t as pronounced in the flesh as it might appear on paper. This is due to the low-slung silhouette of the Yamaha, with the big V-twin cradled low in the frame. The Honda sits much taller—necessary to provide a generous degree of lean angle—yet with the weight also carried low, courtesy the flat, opposing cylinder design of the engine. Both machines benefit from their engineer’s striving for centralized mass, which contributes to an ease of maneuverability at both high- and low-speed riding, when stopped, and when pulling the bikes off their side stands. 

As would be expected, the Honda is imbued with generous lean angle ground clearance to accommodate its more sporting nature. The Yamaha, though no slouch when called upon to do so, definitely inspires more subdued cruising as floorboards will touch down much sooner than the Gold Wing. However, despite the Yamaha’s appearance as a big cruising machine, it’s actually capable of some spirited riding. 

Ergonomics 

Both machines are equipped with heated grips and seat as well as integrated infotainment centers with easily readable screens. Both possess relatively turbulence-free cockpits at speed due to aerodynamically engineered fairings, each with various controllable venting systems to adjust to ambient temperatures. In essence, the Gold Wing is tall and slender (seat height 29.3 inches), the Venture low and wide (27.4 inches).

Whereas the Honda may get the nod in terms of a more organic sporting feel for a big touring machine, the straight-back riding position that achieves that sportiness will in turn equate to slightly more fatigue over a long day. The Yamaha, on the other hand, is like sitting on a couch, with an extremely laidback seating position, placing very little strain on the back, neck, and wrists, the result being surprising comfort over a long day of highway cruising. 

Carrying capacity (side bags and rear box) is as divergent as the rest of the packages, with the Gold Wing reducing capacity in 2018 to 110 liters (25 gallons) to achieve its narrower, more sporting physique, as compared to the Venture’s somewhat substantial 164 liters (37.3 gallons). 

Summary

After having put seat time on both the Gold Wing and the Venture, this comparison represents more a choice of personal taste and riding preference than a straight-up shootout. To try and place one machine above the other would be like arguing the benefits and taste of bananas versus apples; what one is the other isn’t, and vice versa. Either machine will deliver its own unique experience, making the four corners of the country easily accessible with superior comfort and applicable performance, each presenting its own definition of transcontinental touring.