Harley-Davidson Road Glide | Honda Gold Wing F6B | Dissimilar Metals

Two Modern Baggers, Worlds Apart

By Kevin Smith, Photography by Kevin Wing

Only magazine testers and other heretics will likely push a Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom down a winding road with real intensity. The bike is willing but it’s clearly leaving its comfort zone and the rider has work to do. There isn’t a lot of front brake (you’re expected to prefer the pedal, which works great), and while the wide bars help the bike begin a turn easily enough, beyond just a few degrees of lean angle, you are constantly working inside-bar pressure to keep the bike down and turning. And as the stiff suspension will barely acknowledge imperfections in the road, you must see and avoid them. The foot boards touch down easily, but considering the effort it takes to corner hard on the Road Glide, few actual owners will find this a serious issue.

The Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom does everything it has to do, and does it in a manner completely consistent with the character of the brand and the expectations of the audience. So does the Honda Gold Wing F6B, though that character and those expectations are deeply different.

The flat-opposed six-cylinder engine has a running rhythm different from anything else on the road—and the polar opposite of the H-D big twin—but it uses the familiar formula of big displacement and mild tuning to yield major torque production across the full arc of the rev range. Anywhere from just off idle to right up against the 6000-rpm redline, the Gold Wing engine serves up loads of responsive thrust. And while the exhaust roar—though shamelessly over-muffled—gets busy at higher revs, the engine never feels strained.

A little lash in the shaft driveline encourages the rider to be gentle with throttle take-up, but any other quirks that might require accommodation were refined out of the Gold Wing platform generations ago. You just get on and ride it. The bike appreciates your being smooth and planning ahead, bending into corners gracefully and rolling on the power. But it will happily do pretty much anything you ask of it, including lunging forward really rapidly on a giant wave of torque and Porsche 911-like exhaust thrum.

It’s even surprisingly light to the touch, considering its weight, with all control efforts carefully considered and the wide bars quickly and easily managing lean angle. In fact, cornering behavior is one place the restyle sets the F6B apart from its full-dress Gold Wing forebear: The missing mass of the top box lets the rider more easily initiate a turn and then arrest lean angle where he wants it. This is no sportbike, but it can certainly be pushed on a canyon road with no complaints, feeling steady, predictable and neutral as it swings from corner to corner. The footpegs scrape readily, partly because the Honda doesn’t send you any other “take it easy” messages. It just cranks into bends as hard as you like, until the folding pegs are grating against the pavement.

More sedate riding on the freeway also comes easily to the F6B, as you would expect from something based on a Gold Wing. A little OD (“overdrive”) indicator glows orange when you engage fifth, the engine emits a distant hum, there is almost no perceptible vibration, and you feel like you could sit there happily for the duration of the 6.6-gal. fuel tank.

Functionally different, and aesthetically, too: The Harley puts its big, bright engine center stage while Honda integrates everything into smooth flowing lines that mask most of the mechanical details. The F6B has a pronounced Coke-bottle shape, with bulging visual masses fore and aft of its narrow waist. The Harley looks like a Harley, with a touring fairing and top-loading, flat-sided bags that can lend both long-distance function as well as surfaces to indulge one’s creative flair with custom paint. Familiar and functional—and it doesn’t take 10 minutes to find the latches the first time.

Two motorcycles, two brands, two audiences: at first glance, they don’t have a lot in common. Consider them more closely and they drift profoundly apart.

The Honda Gold Wing F6B and Harley-Davidson Road Glide Custom are both elite custom baggers, sure. But brethren? No.

By Kevin Smith
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Now all Honda needs to do is remove 2 cylinders and 250 lbs to have a great light-heavy weight bagger for the masses. Do that and I'm first in line with cash. Sorry Honda, still too big and heavy.
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