Touring Throne – It’s Back… And Better Than Ever
As Editor Steve mentioned in his column (pg. 8, Nov/Dec 2011), Honda declined to send us an invitation to its North American press introduction of the new 2012 Gold Wing, but I’m not complaining. What’s a few day’s test on a machine that carries the torch for being the world’s best touring motorcycle? That just doesn’t cut the mustard for RoadBike readers who really use their bikes. Instead, we hit up Honda for a long-term loaner so we could rack up thousands of miles on it, perform routine maintenance, and install some popular accessories to boot. Since reviewing the previous version of the GL1800 in RoadBike’s July 2008 issue (now online at RoadBikeMag.com), I was particularly anxious to get my hands on the new 2012 to compare the differences.
In case you’ve been living in a bubble, Honda halted GL1800 production for the 2011 model year while closing its Marysville, Ohio, facility. While selling off its overstock of 2010 Gold Wings, the company focused on preparing its new Kumamoto, Japan, factory with modern manufacturing facilities. Along with the news of the US plant closing, there was speculation about the next generation Gold Wing, which, until now, had remained largely unchanged since its introduction in 2001, except for a few minor upgrades along the way.
Some of us, who were quite satisfied with the 1800 platform — with its abundant power, sporty handling, and touring comfort — were hoping for some modern technology incorporated into the 2012. A dual-clutch gearbox option, like the one on Honda’s own 2011 VFR1200F would be a good option for some would-be Wingers. Or perhaps it would come with traction control, tire pressure readout on the dash, or an electronically adjustable windshield. Well, none of these dreams came true, but Honda still managed to refine our beloved two-wheeled touring machine with some cool changes.
The powerful, liquid-cooled, opposed flat-six 1832cc engine and chassis remain unchanged for 2012, but Honda complemented the solid platform with some welcome suspension mods. New bushings and modified internal settings still offer a comfortably plush ride for touring, but give the bike more stability in the corners for sportier riding. Preload is still electronically adjusted with a push of a button on the right-side fairing, and two stored settings come in handy for those who ride with and without a passenger.
Styling improvements are the most immediately noticeable. These include a streamlined, two-tone front fairing with more aggressively shaped front vents, blacked-out look on the headlights, and redesigned rear taillight and fender area. The larger, 7-liter capacity sidebags integrate a splash of black and are tapered in the back. The Honda accessory liners don’t fill this new area, which makes for a good place to stow rain gear, rags, and bungees.
Subtle changes to increase the rider’s comfort level include a wider front fairing, which offers better lower leg wind protection. The lack of louver vents on the inside of the fairing isn’t missed and offers updated styling and room for control buttons. All 2012 Wings include heated seats and grips, controlled by dials in the center dash and passenger seat. New seat cover material and extra padding for both rider and passenger offer a current look and increased comfort. The low driver backrest is squishy and allows you to sit back a little more. Most riders who sat on it noticed improved comfort over the old seat, but I noticed how hot my lower body was on longer rides. The big seat and fairing seemed to trap my body heat in. After installing Küryakyn’s cruise pegs, I was able to stretch out from behind the fairing, which cooled me off.
Offered in four different option packages, we reviewed the $28,000 version, which adds Navi/XM/ABS to the base audio comfort package. The cockpit remains mostly unchanged, except for the addition of a TPMS warning light, which only cautions you when tire pressure is low, and a glare-reducing, curved GPS display on equipped models. You still get some reflection that interferes with the visual at times, but it doesn’t cover the entire image. I only had real problems seeing the screen in full, midday sun. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution to screen glare, but the 2012 Wing’s is the best I’ve seen yet.
The handgrip controls haven’t changed either. And for the old guys who still get a kick out of referring to themselves by their CB nicknames, Honda still includes all the extra CB function controls, even if you don’t add the CB unit. Frankly, I’d rather have that space on the bar used for audio functions, but I suppose a lot of guys still listen to AM radio and enjoy plugging their J&M headsets into the standard equipment corded inputs, too. But I could easily do without all that, especially since my tester included XM radio and a fully integrated iPod connector. Located in the trunk, you can plug in your MP3 player or iPod to either an auxiliary port or use the USB connector with your iPod cable for full functionality. Once connected and securely stowed in the trunk, you can use the audio controls that are now on the left-side fairing to scroll through your playlists, artists, albums, or songs. You can also use the left grip controls to skip to the next or previous song, and adjust the volume. A new surround sound (SRS) feature enhances the sound emitting from the rear speakers, giving the rider a more complete sound experience. Even on the highway, I preferred listening to the speakers to being plugged into a wire.
Also in the trunk, are two SD cards for the Navi system. One holds the map and data software, while the other is the route data card. I had some problems with the system booting up or getting stuck in “computer error mode” on more than a few occasions. The folks from Honda recommended that I remove the data SD card, start up the bike, and reinsert it when prompted. This seemed to clear out the glitch. Luckily, it was a rare occurrence but still annoying, especially when it happened mid-trip. This is an example of why I still carry maps with me.
The second SD card can be removed to upload routes you create online at Honda’s new web site, TripPlanner.Honda.com. Skimming the Wing’s 184-page booklet covering the navigation system doesn’t give you any clues about using the web site, and the site itself is a bit lacking. On my computer, I created an account on the Trip Planner and entered my starting and ending locations. The software plotted a route, using the quickest way. Unfortunately, I was unable to choose options to avoid, like highways, U-turns, ferries, toll roads, etc., or choose another path. Later, I learned that I could choose these options to alter my route on the bike’s Navi system, after uploading the file. But I tried to “trick” the online route to go the direction I wanted by adding stops in towns along the way. I easily downloaded the route to the SD card, and uploaded it into the Wing’s Navi system. The trouble began once I started my trip. On a time restraint, the computer only calculated to the next stop, and not only couldn’t I get an actual time or distance estimate to my final destination, but it kept trying to reroute me to the first stop. Maybe seasoned GPS users already know this, but I learned the hard way. In any case, it would’ve been helpful to be able to simply click and drag the route right on the web site, which would’ve avoided my problems.
But the Trip Planner is in its early development, and was conceived with the social networking craze in mind. Once you create your trip, you can choose to share it with anyone who may be searching for a ride in that particular area. However, it’s still pretty crude, and I can see lots of room for improvement. For now, I find it much easier to plot my trip right in the Wing’s system. The buttons for the Navi system are still on the right fairing but can’t be used while the bike’s in motion. Limited functions, like zooming and changing displays, can be done on the go with left grip controls. Incidentally, the lockable storage compartment on the right fairing has been deleted by Honda.
Since the audio controls have been moved off the center console, we get a new locked compartment — what Honda calls a shelter case — on non-airbag models. It’s wider than the fairing storage, but gets hot from the engine. Honda recommends not storing anything in it that could get damaged by the heat. The plastic lid is removable, but you can’t open it completely unless you have the bars squared off, otherwise they interfere with the lid. The ignition key is used in the lock on the right side fairing to pop the lid open. So, if you’ve started warming the bike up and forgot your sunglasses (which is what I used the shelter case for) you’ll have to turn the engine off to get them. Starting up again isn’t a big deal, but there is quite a lag time for the computer to boot up the Navi system each time you start up.
The Wing still uses regular gas, and I averaged a decent 36.6 mpg for all of my 5,500 miles, keeping in mind I used the Wing as my daily commuter for three months. If you do the math, the range is roughly 241.5 miles between fillups, with the low fuel light illuminating at about 205 miles. I averaged about 38 mpg on long highway jaunts, which gave me a nice 250-mile range on trips.
I happily took possession of the Candy Red Gold Wing with just three miles on the odometer that was delivered to our local dealership in late May. Some 5,500 miles and three tours later, I’ve been riding the Wing all summer long. I’ve taken a few different passengers, all of whom praised the comfort level. The passenger section is equipped with floorboards, two storage pockets, large, well-placed grab rails, heated seat, and a plug and volume control for the rider/passenger communication system. Add that to the roomiest accommodations on any bike out there today, and the Gold Wing is the clear choice for passengers who are seeking the ultimate motorcycle comfort.
My goal for this test was to live with the bike as if I were the owner, though I’m fully aware that I don’t fit into the normal demographic — although that ought to change. After all, the Gold Wing is a motorcycle packed with comfort and convenience features, it’s easy and super-fun to throw into corners, offers a smooth, predictable ride, and comes with Honda’s earned reputation for reliability.
Despite my initial shrug at the subtle improvements made to the 2012 model, I received only positive feedback from Wing Nuts everywhere I went with the bike. Originally thinking that Honda missed the boat by not making more drastic and technical changes, apparently, the long-time Wingers feel listened to. Improving on a package that’s so good to begin with is a difficult task, but Honda did it with its 2012 Gold Wing.
By Tricia Szulewski, Photos by Tricia Szulewski and Mary O’Hare
Originally published in RoadBike, Nov/Dec 2011.
Here’s a look at some extra bonus pictures that didn’t make it into the printed mag.