Frequent Common Tread readers know that there’s an ongoing series here, “one tank of gas,” whereby staffers take a second spin on a motorcycle that’s already been reviewed. Greaser did it with the CSC SG250 and I did it on an Aprilia RSV4 1100. Sometimes a few extra miles and a second opinion provides insight on a machine.
When I got my hands on Honda’s 2020 Gold Wing Tour, one thing was clear: A single tank of gas wasn’t going to cut it. I had to do better than that.
Not coincidentally, my time with the G-Wing aligned with our invite to ride Honda’s new flagship superbike at Thunderhill Raceway, which seemed like the perfect excuse to reacquaint with the mighty ‘Wing and bask in a few of the new features. Thunderhill is about 500 miles from where I live, and while we try to make it a habit to ride motorcycles whenever possible, even last year I might have leaned toward the efficiency of a flight. But these are the new times. A novel virus. Super-duper stranger danger. As if being inside a helmet by myself needed a stronger call, I popped open the bike’s bags and started packing.
When the new Gold Wing debuted in 2018 we motorcycle journalists lined up in protest of the luggage capacity dropping by 25 percent (as though any of us had any skin in the game — we’re basically paid to complain). And maybe in retrospect Honda would have sold more ‘Wings over the past few years if the previous generation’s capacious 147 liters (39 gallons) had been maintained. I’m not going to speculate on that. My task was simple; fit my stuff into the 110 liters (29 gallons) of space available.
The top trunk is pretty good. The floor of the case is large and flat, and the opening is shaped so that you can pack things against the sides but most of the rear wall of the case lifts with the lid. Yes, it’s true that two full-size helmets won’t fit (with very few exceptions), and that’s just as nonsensical today as it was when the bike came out. For me it didn’t matter. I tucked my track helmet inside, a relatively large-shelled 6D, and still had room for track boots, two pairs of gloves, and a handful of small miscellaneous items.
Unfortunately, the saddlebags are less agreeable. The openings are oddly shaped, and the interior is a network of strange protrusions and narrow pockets of space. For stuff like my flat kit, tool pack, extra shoes or the windstop layer I rolled up and stuffed inside, the bags work fine. My small, single-strap bag holding my 13-inch laptop, electronics, and GoPro kit though, barely wedged into the right side case. You just can’t help feeling like the nice middle-aged couple that everyone imagines hitting the road on a Gold Wing Tour would be pretty sad at how few changes of clothes they’d be able to pack. Never mind camping gear. My passenger was a set of leathers — piss poor as a conversation partner but they strapped nicely to the pillion throne and never asked to stop for the bathroom.
We have liftoff
After a few minutes of one-touch starting and helmet buckling, I was pulling out of my neighborhood and on to Hell-A’s notorious 405 freeway. There’s no better place in a city to test an engine than an on ramp and this G-Wing powerplant is an absolute treat. Even being an 800-something-pound luxury liner it surges forward under the power of its 1,832 cc and leaves in its wake a froth of flat-six music. It’s delightful. It’s ultra smooth and the throttle response is great, as you’d expect from a bike that costs the better part of $30,000, but the sound is also raspy and raw in a way that betrays the taut, regimented aura of the rest of the machine.
I forgot to plug in my phone when I left, so I had to endure the next 190 miles with no Apple CarPlay. It’s probably hard to imagine surviving that long on a motorcycle without a slew of entertainment at your fingertips, but I’m here to tell you it can be done. Plus, even without being able to browse Spotify, the saddle of a Gold Wing is an awfully comfortable place to spend time. I’ll admit, it feels like an exaggeration to use the word “perfect.” But man, I spent many a mile thinking about the riding position, footpeg placement, handlebar height, wind protection, seat foam, and any other facet of the ride that could be classified as bad and didn’t come up with anything significant.
Well, one thing, actually, which was having to stop after 190 miles. Oftentimes that’s actually a good point in a motorcycle trip to take a break, every few hundred klicks. It’s just that the ‘Wing is so damned comfortable. Maybe if I had 400 miles of range I’d be whining about how Honda should have prioritized something else and I had to stop every 200 miles anyway, but I doubt it. While a 5.5-gallon tank is decent for a motorbike, it’s not big enough to proudly carry the Gold Wing’s torch, in my opinion.
I felt a little silly passing trucks and campers only to repass them after I stopped for gas. Considering that was the worst of it, I don’t have much to complain about. The stints were plenty comfy anyway, with the power windshield allowing me to hide almost entirely from the wind or dump interstate-speed air into the brow vents of my helmet. No need for the heated grips or seat on this trip, but the buttons make me feel better in the same way a recliner feels more comfortable even if you don’t lean back. The miles melted away.
Over the course of my six tanks of gas I averaged 38 miles per gallon, and I’ll admit that number would have been higher if I’d kept my average speed in check a little better. The instant average on the dash jumped up noticeably when I was stuck behind cars going the speed limit, instead of five or 10 mph over. I have no excuse, other than being excited to ride a CBR1000 at a race track for one leg of the journey, and then being excited to get home on the other. And it feels so effortless for the bike to cruise at 75 or 80 mph, like a thoroughbred cantering through a meadow with no particular place to be.
Come to think of it, you’re probably thinking it’s obvious that the Gold Wing was brilliant on the highway. I mean it’s a two-wheeled locomotive with a two-liter engine. When I did have to wander around a town, though, looking for a gas station or a breakfast burrito, it was just as impressive. Light to the touch, gentle, predictable — exactly what a motorcycle should be at low speed, despite how huge it is. Every time I ride one of these new ‘Wings I’m blown away all over again at the mastery of engineering. Seamless linked brakes, plenty of cornering clearance, gobs of buttery power anywhere above idle. I could go on and on. Then there's little stuff, like the tie-rod ends that peek out from the Hossack-style front end into the cockpit, connecting the handlebar to the steering stem, that jump up and down as the front wheel follows the road. Lovely. With the exception of BMW’s flagship boxer GS models (and perhaps the K1600s), no other bike I’ve ridden betrays its size in such an elegant and entertaining way.
To 'Wing or to fly
While we’re on the topic of elegance, it’s worth mentioning how much better looking it is than the previous model. Sleeker, sportier, and yet not less regal. The conversation around a bike’s beauty is always an interesting one, though. Sometimes it feels important to me, but mostly it doesn’t. It’s all subjective, I know. My personal KTM 950 SM is, by most accounts, not attractive, but I love it. So, what if the Gold Wing was a horrible blob of plastic and metal to look at but it had an eight-gallon tank and enough room for everything but your golf clubs? Would you love it less for being a scar on the face of Honda’s heritage, or would you love it more for its capability?
We won’t know until we see it, and then ride it. This Gold Wing has a disappointing fuel range and some questions swirling around the luggage design. For my intents and purposes, it worked great, but those are two major focal points of touring bikes. Some of the menus in the dash are a little too ‘90s sci-fi to be considered modern, too, especially when they’re toe to toe with the Apple CarPlay interface and graphics. Also, what the heck is with… actually no, I’m out of complaints.
At $27,500, this Gold Wing Tour was certainly a lot more expensive than an hour-long flight. Then again, holy crap does it beat sitting on an airplane, pandemic or not.