BMW K1600GTL vs. Honda GL1800 Gold Wing | MC Comparo

Multiple Choice

By Jamie Elvidge, Photography by Kevin Wing

The Gold Wing, on the other hand, has numerous large buttons and switches covering its entire cockpit area, and even more on this 2012 model than in years past. It's all very PlaySkool, and while it's easy to see the buttons and poke at them, it's not aesthetically pleasing, and frankly isn't as safe as the BMW's setup because you have to take a hand off the handlebar to reach most of them.

Brent actually preferred the old-school switches for some things, like the heated grips, questioning why someone would want to scroll through a menu when he could simply flip a switch. He also warned that 10 years from now it will still be easy to fix a switch, while not many motorcycle shops will likely have the knowledge and equipment necessary to repair the BMW's high-tech electronics.

When we wake up at the Hemlock Inn, we're in for a big, Southern-style surprise: a breakfast of eggs, grits, potatoes, biscuits-and-gravy and sizzling sausage patties. Maybe the world did end and we've died and gone to heaven?

After the comfort food fest, we board our cruise ships for two more high-mileage days chasing after the storied roads of North Carolina and Northern Georgia. We'll also burn a few hundred miles throttling aimlessly up and down freeways. And here's where we really begin to dissect the difference between these two motorcycles...

When it comes to touring motorcycles, luxury begins at the bum. No doubt, the Gold Wing has the best one-size-fits-all seat ever stitched together. The GTL? Not so much. This could be a tad subjective, as riders with meatier cheeks don't seem to complain as much. But I'd rather sit on a 2x10 then the "low" seat that comes standard on the Beemer! Even propped up to the higher of its two settings, it's just too low for the relating ergos, and forces your hips into an unnaturally tight angle. So far, the optional "high" seat hasn't been made available. One hopes it's more comfortable...

The ergonomic philosophies behind the GL and GTL are as different as the bikes' intentions. It feels as if you sit in the Honda and on the BMW. You also sit more upright on the Wing, with its bars closer to your body. Brent said it reminded him of a wheelbarrow.

The Honda's mirrors are car-like in size and thus highly useable, while the BMW's small, stalk-mounted rearviews aren't as clear. Windshields are also a mixed bag. The GTL's is electric; very smart and slick in its operation. The GL's manual screen is larger, and requires the flick of two levers and then two hands to pull it into position. But without debate, the Honda's windshield provides a more restful pocket of stillness, without being so huge that you feel you're inside a car. The smaller, more stylized BMW screen creates noisy buffeting in the lower range of its adjustment, and causes a zone of negative pressure that sucks the rider forward when fully raised.

Both bikes offer innovative solutions for fine-tuning airflow. In addition to a cooling vent in the GL's windshield, there are improved foot-warming vents in its redesigned fairing lowers. One of the neatest features on the GTL is its pair of flip-out fairing wings. When deployed, these flaps channel huge amounts of cooling air into the cockpit. And when closed, they disappear into the fairing.

The Honda shines in the luggage department, too, showing how decades of real-world research pays off. Capacity of the trunk and saddlebags is enormous, and their operation is very car-like, so you can stuff in your junk and snick it shut with one hand. The BMW's trunk and saddlebags feel flimsy in comparison and bow when even slightly overpacked, which looks sloppy and compromises their watertightness. The top case's latches are difficult to line up, and use tooth-like tangs that tend to snag items, further complicating closure. Ironically, the GTL offers a slightly higher load capacity than the GL. Too bad it's not as good at carrying the goods.

Delicate, retractable fabric tethers intended to hold the BMW's saddlebag lids open at a right angle quickly broke, along with the elastic straps designed to hold your belongings inside the clamshell-style cases. In their defense, the GTL's saddlebags are lightweight and easy to remove, and their closing/locking mechanisms are superior to those in the trunk.

The GTL's cockpit view is sparse, echoing BMW automobiles' more utilitarian approach to styling. The GL's "snap-together" aesthetic is much more Acura-like, with nary an exposed bolt head, and all bells and whistles proudly on display. There are a couple things that really bother us about the BMW's styling and cheapen its feel. These include ill-fitting speaker covers for the dash-mounted tweeters, an unsightly bundle of cables running beneath the handlebar and, most frightful, those Buickesque, chrome "6" emblems on the cylinder block.

We preferred the BMW's audio/navigation system because it's more intuitive and, once you have use of the Multi-Controller down, easier to manipulate. The monitor is also situated higher in the cockpit, allowing you to better keep your eyes on the road. The fact that you can use the GPS while you're moving is a bonus.

Being required to stop to make any adjustments to the Honda's Audio-Navi system isn't just inconvenient; it's often less safe to pull over to the side of the road than to push a button on the fly. Both systems are state-of-the-art, however, and offer up-to-date mapping information and audio options, including iPod access through the dash screen. External sound quality is much better on the Honda at speed, but the BMW's Bluetooth interface makes it appealing to use in-helmet speakers.

By the end of our time comparing these two luxury-tourers, several things had become apparent. Most interesting, BMW's K1600GTL does not redefine the category in the way we'd anticipated. Yes, it's the more fun of these two bikes to ride, especially if you're going to be riding fast. But when you're looking for luxury- which that "L" suffix denotes, after all-it doesn't deliver nearly as much as the Honda.

Does the GTL create a new category: luxury sport-touring, perhaps? No, that would be the domain of its sister, the K1600GT. Most of the tweaks BMW made to the GT to turn it into the GTL actually work against it. The softer suspension exacerbates driveline lash; the more upright ergos don't feel as neutral; its taller windshield is a little too tall; and the tail trunk is somewhat dysfunctional and stylistically looks like a last-minute addition. The GT is definitely the better motorcycle, which is why this magazine named it our Best Touring bike of 2011.

All of which means that, until the next Judgment Day at least, Honda can rest easy. Because when it comes to luxury-touring, the GL1800 Gold Wing remains the King of Cush.


OFF THE RECORD

BRENT ROSS
AGE: 51 | HEIGHT: 6'1" | WEIGHT: 225 lbs. | INSEAM: 32 in.
Sitting on the BMW K1600GTL, I thought to myself, "This thing is going to spank that new Gold Wing!" For me it did, but not before receiving some solid whacks...

I ride Interstate 40 round-trip from Tennessee to California about three times per year, and I grab the keys to the Honda every time. It offers superior comfort, wind protection and luggage,plus easier-to-operate features. It's also more comfortable for a passenger.

Apart from my blasts to the West Coast, the bulk of my riding focuses on enthusiastically exploring back-roads. This is where the Gold Wing takes its licks, as the GTL provides a more solid platform for spirited riding. Then, of course, there's that oh-so-wonderful inline six-cylinder engine-silky-smooth and fast!

To my eye, these two bikes are not comparable. It's like comparing comps from downtown lofts to country manors. They offer different ways of living or, in this case, riding.

JAMIE ELVIDGE
AGE: 45 | HEIGHT: 5'10" | WEIGHT: 145 lbs. | INSEAM: 34 in.
Part of me was dreading this comparison. The Gold Wing is a legend. For years it's outshone everything in the luxury-touring category. You hate to see a champ get knocked out, and that's exactly what I believed would happen.

The moment of truth for me came when I had to ride back to California after our test. Before the trip, I'd been whining that it was the Honda that had to be returned immediately. By the time I was packed and pointed west, you couldn't have paid me triple to ride the BMW that far!

I made it from North Georgia to Southern California in 31/2 days, and I lost a half-day waiting for some tornados to blow by. I was comfortable the entire way. If I were to consider one of the new K1600s, it would be the GT, not the GTL. And the Gold Wing? Sorry I doubted you, big guy!

By Jamie Elvidge
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