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words - Mark Fattore
photos - Lou Martin
Honda's grand master has been given a tweak, and for first-class travel the 1832cc flat six still has what it takes to deliver riders from point A to B in absolute comfort

Honda's two-wheel road warrior, the Goldwing, has always held a certain level of fondness for me. In 1996, I rode one for the first time from Melbourne to Melbourne, via Coober Pedy and Adelaide. It was my first real long-haul first-class 'flight', and I still remember whistling through the Northern Territory (the days before speed restrictions) as the fuel gauge moved from right to left at a rapid rate.

But even as the speeds escalated, the rider inputs didn't as the big Goldwing did such a grand job of insulating the rider from all sorts of environmental ills. And that included a nasty cross wind, which was pushing lighter sporting tackle all over the shop. But not the Goldwing -- it remained as planted as a concrete slab. And that’s what a grand tourer should be all about: insulating the rider without a second’s thought. Can it get more relaxing than that?

Since 1996, we've had a few more iterations of the Goldwing, but the core appeal has always remained the same: getting riders from points A to B the most comfort possible.  

And after riding the latest version of the Goldwing recently, nothing has changed as far as that impressive equation has concerned -- in fact things are still on the improve as the connect between rider and machine is strengthened thanks to continued improvements in electronics, the audio system and a few other creature comforts.

And it's even had a small cosmetic spruce-up too, because it does have some new hardcore six-cylinder competition to think about in the form of BMW's ultra-modern – in terms of styling and electronic wizardy -- K 1600 GT series.

The changes the 2012 Goldwing are certainly not wholesale, but then again I don't think it's a disastrous under-estimation either – a bit like the 2012 CBR1000RR Fireblade, which only received a mild facelift but still remains a machine that holds its head high in the 1000cc sports bike segment. But still, a major overhaul for the Goldwing cannot be too far off the agenda, as it’s currently being outsold by the BMWs both overseas and in Australia.

HISTORY LESSON
The GL legend began with a prototype developed way back in 1972 by a chap called Soichiro Irimajiri, who had previously directed the design of Honda's five and six-cylinder road racing engines of the 1960s. Obviously, he was after a change of pace.

After all of Irimajiri-san's hard yakka, the first flat-four GL1000 Goldwing went on sale in 1975 and, far from giving it the cold shoulder, punters took to the massive piece of kit en masse. Long-distance motorcycling -- in absolute comfort -- was met with widespread acclaim. For a big motorcycle, it certainly bolted from the blocks.

Of course, the Goldwing has continued to evolve, with the first model followed up by 1100cc, 1200cc, 1500cc and now 1800cc versions. The GL1500 marked the debut of the flat-six engine to replace the four, bringing even more trailer-pulling torque into the equation.

The GL1800, first released in 2001, saw Honda patent 20 technological innovations, with a focus to "build a bike that would keep 80 percent of the touring capability, while adding a 'fun factor' by giving it the kind of acceleration and handling people would normally associate with sporting machines".

The Goldwing always proudly wore its 'Made in America' moniker, but production has now moved across to Japan now that Honda has closed its motorcycle plant in Marysville, Ohio.

The 330,000 square feet facility in Ohio produced the Gold Wing since 1981, with over a million units packed into (oversized) crates -- and I reckon I've seen most of them at the Ulysses AGMs in Australia…

POWER MILL
The Goldwing’s horizontally opposed six-cylinder SOHC fuel-injected engine is a major part of the bike’s legend, and undoubtedly a key reason why it has been such a sales success. The latest iteration of the 1832cc mill is quite simply more of the same, and the delicious bottom end – we’re talking below 2000rpm -- means you get cosy with the bike from the get-go.

From there, it just lurches forward with plenty of purpose and energy, all in a smooth and unobtrusive manner. And that’s quite an effort considering the whole box and dice weighs in at 421kg.

That’s a lot of weight – one where the casual observer not au fait with the bike would probably dismiss the Goldwing as a straight-line juggernaut, and little else. Sure, cornering on the Goldwing does take some preparation time, but once that technique is perfected, it's massively entertaining hustling the Goldwing through sweeping bends -- but make sure you jack-up the preload first, as it can't be done on the fly.

And through all this, there’s a decent amount of feedback and control, which is probably all you can ask for in this type of motorcycle genre.

Sure, it’s still B-I-G – that really goes without saying. That message would even be more sobering if you had to wheel it out of the garage regularly. But that's not going to happen, as there's an electric motor to take care of reversing duties.

The Goldwing has a five-speed gearbox, with the final cog an overdrive. For those who leap from continent to continent or just want to ride from one end of Australia to the other, it's definitely a plus. But you can also use fifth gear in town, as the torque spread on the big six allows for it – and it’s a nice fuel saver too.

Honda claims 117hp (87kW) at 5500rpm and 167Nm at 4000rpm for the Goldwing, which certainly makes life entertaining enough. Redline is 6000rpm -- and if that's not enough to give you a spark then perhaps a sportstourer is a better option.

The fuel injection is sweet too – but even if it did have a few hiccups, the weight of the bike would probably mask a lot of them.

The Goldwing produces fuel consumption of about 6.5lt/100km, which is more than respectable for this type of bike.

SOLE LUXURY
There’s just one Golding on sale locally these days – the ‘Luxury’ version for $35,290, which is the one we rode on the launch in Victoria. That’s a massive price reduction for the ‘old’ days when the Luxury version retailed for well over the 40K mark in Australia, and the ‘Standard’ version for $37,990. It’s amazing what competition can do…

The Luxury has the full basket of goodies, including a sound system, sat nav, combined ABS, heating, fog lights, cruise control, full weather protection and a foot warming system.

A number of these components have been updated on the 2012 model, including a a new six-speaker 80W SRS surround-sound system where riders can now play MP3, WMA and AAC music files connecting an iPod, iPhone or USB stick.

There’s also increased wind protection; luggage capacity has been increased to 150 litres; the navigation system offers a number of extra features, including lane assist and points of interest information; and the central storage compartment has been increased from 1.2 to 2.8 litres.

With the adoption of airbag technology a while back, all the audio and CB controls were moved to a left-hand side console, and on the other side of the bike are the buttons for the navigation system. Both set-ups are ridiculously easy to use, and it all became routine after a few days in the saddle. But still, I like what BMW has done on its K 1600 GT, where the entire functionality is handled by a disc on the handlebars, which is way less clunky and more user-friendly.

Honda has also fine-tuned its cruise control set-up, and now there’s much less delay between 'setting' the cruise control and when it actually engages. That was an Achilles heel of the old model.
FULL COVERAGE
Quite simply, all bases are covered on the Goldwing, and that's the way it should be for such a stately ship.

When you consider the massive handlebars are light years away from the contact patch on the road, Honda's done a meritorious job of making sure there's still plenty of front-end 'feel', which is a big tick for the updated suspension.

But the ‘wing is not all about the rider and, even though we didn’t have pillions on the launch ride, I do know from experience that they love the thing as soon as they melt into the back seat and get the stereo cracking.

And there’s a real feeling of esprit de corps when you’ve got a passenger on the back of a Goldwing – you’re in this together. And there’s something to be said about arriving at your destination still fresh and full of vigour – no matter what the weather and road conditions have been like. Only grand masters like the Goldwing can provide that.

Colours are Glint Wave Blue Metallic, Candy Red or Graphite Black.
SPECS: HONDA GL1800 GOLDWING
ENGINE
Type: Liquid-cooled, SOHC, 12-valve flat six
Capacity: 1832cc
Bore x stroke: 74mm x 71mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Fuel system: PGM-F1 electronic fuel injection
Emissions: Euro 3
Claimed maximum power: 117hp (87kW) at 5500rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 167Nm at 4000rpm

TRANSMISSION
Type: Five speed, including overdrive and electric reverse
Final drive: Shaft
Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Front suspension: 45mm air assist telescopic fork with anti-dive system, 140mm travel
Rear suspension: Pro-Link Pro-Arm with electronically-controlled spring preload adjustment, 105mm travel
Front brakes: 296mm discs with Combined three-piston calipers, ABS
Rear brake: 316mm disc with three-piston caliper, CBS, ABS
Wheels: Spoked -- front 2.5 x 18, rear 3.5 x 17
Tyres: front 130/70-18, rear 180/60-16

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES

Rake: 29 degrees
Trail: 109mm
Claimed wet weight: 421kg
Seat height: 740mm
Wheelbase: 1690mm
Fuel capacity: 25 litres

OTHER STUFF

Price: $35,290
Colours: Glint Wave Blue Metallic, Candy Red or Graphite Black Test bike supplied by: Honda Australia, http://motorcycles.honda.com.au
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

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Published : Tuesday, 1 May 2012
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