2015 Honda Gold Wing review

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I always make fun of Fearless Editor Lance for being so old, but the truth is that I’m probably more of a cantankerous codger than he is.

I have a feeling that if The Suits at RevZilla told Lance that they were dropping his ass onto a touring barge like the Gold Wing, he might not be as excited as I got.

Couch, barge, car, RV — every derogatory name that’s been given to the Gold Wing over the years is typically based on one incontrovertible fact: The Gold Wing is very large and very luxe. I may have referred to ours as “Large Marge the Party Barge.”

Big and tall bikes are permanent residents at casa de Lemmy. I owned an Electra Glide for a spell. I’ve also ridden plenty of “difficult” bikes. Jockey shift is cake for me. All that notwithstanding, the first time I walked up to the Wing, it intimidated me a bit. The bike weighs over 900 pounds. (That figure varies depending on which options package you’ve selected.) The wheelbase is 66.5 inches. It’s heavy. Long. Wide. Complex. A few years ago, Honda engineers pointed out that a Gold Wing has more individual parts than an Accord.

I’ve never been accused of displaying prudence over valor, however, so I fired up the Wing and gave it some throttle.

Honda Gold Wing

The bike

All joking aside, the Wing is actually a pretty serious bike. First introduced in 1975, Honda is now celebrating its 40th anniversary, and the Gold Wing has been the go-to mile muncher for all of those four decades.

The Goldy is in the 13th year of this generation, and the basic components have stayed the same in recent years. It packs 1,832 cc of six-cylinder, pancake-style, fuel-injected, liquid-cooled engine, and you better believe you’ll feel every cc. The claimed 105 horsepower sounds weak, I admit. But if 125 foot-pounds of torque doesn’t get your attention while you read this review, it sure will when it’s tugging almost half a ton of motorcycle out from underneath you. The Wing moves obstinately. The best way I can describe it is that the Wing chugs. It takes a bit to get it going, but once it’s on the move, look out!

That power goes through a very boring five-speed transmission. Having only five speeds was no big deal to me and fifth gear is overdrive, but I wish it was a bit taller. The oomph! makes its way through a driveshaft, which I adore. They are as close to maintenance-free as you could get, and a proper touring bike deserves a shaft drive, in my estimation.

The comfortable seat, which is 29.1 inches off the ground, and the 6.6-gallon fuel tank are just two of the features that are designed to let you put your ass on this bike and not get off for a long, long time. There are four options packages that include conveniences such as heated grips and seat, cruise control, upgraded sound system, satellite navigation system, and even the first-ever airbag.

Honda's combined braking system, which links the two front discs and single rear disc, is standard on the Gold Wing. If the rider uses either the front lever or the foot brake, the system applies braking force both front and rear. Adding anti-lock brakes gets you what Honda calls C-ABS, but that's an extra-cost option.

Our test bike had the "Audio Comfort" package, which meant it did have AM/FM, intercom, CB radio, the heated grips and seat, cruise control and electric reverse — which is a lot of stuff for the “peasant model” in this 40th year of Soichiro Honda’s masterpiece. It lacked the C-ABS, navigation system, satellite radio and airbag.

Testing the Gold Wing

This is my kind of review. The Wing is designed for high-mileage excursions, so I had to put huge miles on the bike, which I like to do anyway, and then I sent RevZilla the bill. Because this bike is so passenger-driven, Mrs. Lemmy was pressed into service. She rides more miles per month on the back than many people spend on a bike all year.

When I first picked up the bike, I was concerned about its commanding size, and how I would deal with that size in the rainstorm that was threatening. I had no rain gear with me. The Gold Wing comported itself so nicely once underway, however, that I felt positively planted as I pointed the bike towards home. I felt so confident, in fact, that I started playing with buttons on the sound system.

When the honest-to-goodness rain did hit, the big windshield (which is adjustable!) covered my upper half, and my lower half was shielded by the well-designed fairing, which cuddled right up to my shins. Other than some rain in my hair and a damp crotch, I was pretty unaffected.

The Gold Wing presents few surprises. It’s a Honda product. Their bikes may lack lovable quirks, but they flat-out work. The Wingy is no exception. Performance, braking, handling — all objective points of measurements — really must be considered in context, however. A rider must respect how heavy and long this bike must be in order to fulfill its mission of providing ultimate touring comfort. Anyone considering a Gold Wing seriously must understand that this bike is a balancing act of comfort against comfort's natural archenemy: performance. The Wing falls far to the comfort side of the equation. The million-dollar question is whether that comfort comes at too steep a performance price tag.

Braking was a bit more disappointing for me. This bike’s packing twin 296 mm rotors up front, and a single 316 mm rotor out back, grabbed by three-piston calipers. The Gold Wing stops well enough, but it doesn’t stop well. I would call the braking “good enough.”

Two things, though, really stuck in my craw. First, the linked brakes drive me nuts. I despise linked brakes. I know safety is the idea here, and I know that technology is supposed to be better than human skill, but dammit, I want the brakes controlled separately. There are times I like to apply the brakes to settle the chassis before a turn, and feeling the front dive fairly hard when applying the rear brake was difficult to get used to.

The second issue with the braking is the glaring lack of ABS. Now let me say this: I do not need ABS. Hell, I’d prefer not to have it on most motorcycles. But lots of other riders love and want it. Honda will give you ABS, but you have to get out of the $23,999 “Audio Comfort” package I was riding, and instead pop for the “Audio Comfort Navi XM ABS” package for a whopping $28,129. No, I am not making those names up. No, I don’t think it’s OK to stick people with a mandatory GPS and satellite radio just to give them ABS. Over four grand? Come on, Honda.

Rounding things out we have handling. Keep in mind what I said before: You have to remember the bike’s heft and wheelbase. The Wingy is definitely more nimble than you’d assume. That boxer motor keeps the weight low, and I didn’t scrape anything Honda had put on the bike, even with spirited riding. (Our bike was equipped with Kuryakyn Ergo 3 Highway pegs, which did get a good rashin’ from ol’ Lem-lem.) I had to throw my chest into really making the Wing dance, but it would get down in a corner. No one is ever going to mistake this for a sport bike (or even a sport-tourer), but the handling was pretty decent. The chopper-length wheelbase of 66.5 inches makes the bike unbelievably stable, even at very high speed.

The downside of the handling was headshake. I had a bad case of it from 30 to 40 mph when I removed my hands from the bars. I’m sure the factory ball-style steering head bearings were no goodski. I asked a Honda tech about it, and was not pleased with the response I received: “Don’t take your hands off the bars!”

All Balls makes tapered steering head bearings that just so happen to be the Internet’s favorite cure for this problem.

The headshake was probably related to the Wing’s Bridgestone Exedra tires, too. The rear tire, a 180/60R16, seemed to be wearing OK, but the 130/70R18 up front was cupping pretty badly at the edges of the tread blocks when I retrieved our bike with 6,000 miles on the ticker. Is the tire wear from the headshake? Hard to say. Either way, the front tire folded up on me in dry weather. I hate these tires. Between that and the constant “mud tires on pavement” sound I got every time I put the ‘Wing on her side, I was ready to slap some fresh skins on this bike.

The Gold Wing's ride, however, was phenomenal. You could run over a car and barely feel a bump. The suspension soaked up everything. Gold Wings are equipped with electronic suspension preload adjustment. (They also have two memory settings. As I imagine everyone does, I made setting one the solo setting, and setting two was the button I poked when Mrs. Lemmy was aboard.)

I rode the Goldy as hard as it would let me, which is not all that hard. I got around 175 miles until the fuel light came on, and right about 200 before I was out of go-juice. The big Wing turned in fuel mileages of 33 to 35 mpg. That’s atrocious for a motorcycle, but if you think about the weight of the bike, me, Mrs. Lemmy, and our payload of stuff, we weighed almost what an early Honda Civic did. In that context, it ain’t bad.

Gold Wing highlights

I’ll probably be all over the map here, because there are all manner of little niceties to point out on the Wing that made my life good, and my wife had a similar list. The ride on this bike was, as I have said, acceptably good. The seating arrangement is fabulous. The Wing has a great stock seat, and I was sitting nice and upright, with my feet immediately beneath me and my hands in front of me in a very natural spot. My wife was also really comfortable. Several times I noticed her kicking back and using the padded spots on top of the speaker to change up her position. We had some room between us, which was a nice change of pace — no sweaty back for me. Miles are easy to rack up on this bike because your body is not contorted.

The radio is glorious. It’s nice to simply hear music while going down the road, and the Gold Wing’s speaker system didn’t leave me straining to hear. I haven’t tested Harley’s new Boom! audio system, but the Gold Wing is noticeably louder than Harley’s old system at speed. Wifey had no volume complaints, either.

Speaking of volume: the Wing is nearly silent. It’s great on a long trip where a loud exhaust can really grate on you and tire you. I would not trade these mufflers for the world.

Carrying capacity is staggering. The saddlebags and topcase are easily opened in an obtrusive spot under the topcase itself with three latches arranged intuitively. The topbox can be opened remotely with a button on the key fob, as well. Each sidecase has a hydraulic damper for opening, which I found to be a nice touch. The amount of room — about 150 liters — makes packing really easy. Here was my general rule of thumb for packing: Will that fit? Yes, it will. Seriously, short of really long items, damn near everything fits. Because I do sometimes carry long items, though, the Wing is screaming for a luggage rack. The whole bike is sleek, shiny integrated luggage, so there is practically no place to lash things like tents or fishin’ sticks. I became a Wingnut instantly: If it fits, I'll bring it. And it will. All of it.

The second item I wanted to add was a trailer hitch to fully unleash the Wingnut living inside of me. I'd build a little camper trailer and haul it everywhere with this scooter. It has plenty of power to do it, and I could stay on the road for a seriously long time if I was hauling my own little hotel. (On a side note, I love tinkering with bikes, and even I found it funny that I would only want to add two accessories to this motorcycle. The bike simply doesn't need to be changed much to do the job for which it was designed!)

Mrs. Lemmy also loved her stash pockets and the seat warmer. She was so comfortable she bemoaned the lack of armrests, because she couldn’t sleep. (Not making this up.) We both liked the windshield vent, which really allowed fine-tuning of where the incoming air was hitting you.

Reverse “gear” is cool. It’s not a true gear. Instead, the Wing uses the starter motor to propel the bike backwards at 0.5 mph. For me, it was more of a novelty than anything else, but if I were older or less strong, I would absolutely appreciate that inclusion. It’s a useful feature not found on many bikes and not one you can easily add on your own.

The Wing is a tried-and-true platform. The flat six is fairly easy to service, and the driveshaft means maintenance is pretty easy. Valve adjustments are not terribly difficult due to the engine layout. The advent of the 1800 engine saw the demise of the timing belt, too, in favor of a timing chain. These are long-lived, reliable, affordable bikes in terms of maintenance. Wingers will mostly be replacing the oil and rear tires.

Gold Wing lowlights

It wasn’t all candy canes and roses, though. For starts, even though the comfort was through the roof on ol’ Large Marge, it came at the expense of fun. The bike, though faster than you think, is still a bit of a piglet on the twisty backroads I like to frequent. It was a stellar commuter, but the Wingy is a little more business than party. I suppose that’s a weak flaw. It’s a purpose-built motorcycle, and perhaps I am expecting it to be more flexible than it should be. Maybe the flaw is mine, and not the Gold Wing’s.

I found several things a little odd about the Gold Wing. The strangest thing to me was the lack of footboards. Maybe I’m truly an old man trapped in a younger fella’s body, but I expect ‘boards on a touring rig. Oddly, the passenger gets a set of enormous floorboards, but the rider gets pegs. Weird.

The audio system was a source of disappointment for me, as well. Honda’s “seek” function on the radio is a bit different than what folks are used to. You flick the “A. Sel” (Auto Select?) button, and it automatically loads the 18 strongest stations into your presets, overlaid on top of your existing ones. I think Honda tried to reinvent the wheel on this one.

Another disappointing area was the audio input options. There is no ready-to-go auxiliary input jack for a 3.5 mm cable. There is a USB port, but it’s in the top box, so if you want to use your phone for music and GPS, you are hosed. This really bugged me. I mean, 2015 cars costing half the Gold Wing’s MSRP incorporate some or all of these simple audio features. I think of those things as being the bare minimum.

I had some other little bones to pick. There is no factory-installed auxiliary power port. No Powerlet, no cigarette lighter… nothing. This is supposed to be the king of all touring bikes. This omission is, in my estimation, a particularly egregious oversight. The windshield is manually adjustable. It works OK, but you have to really wrestle with it to get it to move. It’s not terrible, but it cannot be adjusted on the fly, and in these times of electric windshields, it feels a bit dated. Heck, the whole bike feels a little dated. It hasn’t been truly overhauled since 2000.

Finally, the idiot lights are nearly invisible in strong sunlight. That’s a problem I thought all the OEMs had pretty much ferreted out of all new bikes, but I am apparently incorrect.

Mrs. Lemmy did not care for all the space between us; she wanted to be closer to me. I think I disagree. She also noted that on a 68-degree evening, she had the seat warmer maxed out and would have liked some more heat.

The competition

The Gold Wing has long ruled the touring world, but it faces some fierce competition today, most of it at lower prices. Perhaps most comparable is the BMW K 1600 GTL, which also packs a six-cylinder engine, weighs more than 100 pounds less and starts at $23,200, including ABS.

Harley-Davidson has brought back the Road Glide Ultra for the 2016 model year, which could lure some Gold Wing customers with its Rushmore updates in place. It starts at $25,699 and ABS and cruise control come standard. The Victory Vision is also a strong player in the game, though the styling is more polarizing. The Vision starts at $20,999 and also includes ABS standard.

I also will class Honda's own F6B as a potential competitor, believe it or not. The decision between the F6B and the Gold Wing will likely be determined by the amount of time spent riding two-up. Hey, internal competition is still competition.

Of all those bikes, the Gold Wing still feels like the standard, the most neutral, long-haul bike you can find. The others all lean a little cruiser-y or a little sporty.

Conclusion

Honda slapped some badges on the Wing and gave it a special key for the big four-oh. Cynics might say that Honda didn’t put much effort into this birthday celebration, but I choose to be a bit more optimistic. Honda probably didn’t think the big tourer needed much improvement, and I am inclined to agree. Everything that I didn’t love about the Wing could be easily remedied for pretty short money in the aftermarket. It’s a capable bike that surprised me in most aspects.

I would love to have one, if only to please my bride. I wouldn’t have a Gold Wing as an "only" bike, I don’t think. But for a two-plus motorcyclist? A Gold Wing would certainly get my nod.

The Wing is 40. It's officially over the hill. Fortunately, due to the bike's continued relevance, its rider doesn’t have to be.

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