Competition, they say, improves the breed. And applied to the coming year's crop of new motorcycles, the saying rings true. Questions: Would Honda have redone the GL1500 without pressure on the high-end touring front from BMW? Would Suzuki have built its big Gixxer without the runaway success of Yamaha's YZF-R1? Probably not, at least not right now. Which means there is a load of all-new and highly tweaked hardware for 2001, a major bonus for riders everywhere. Here's a sampling of what we were able to glean from 2001 press kits at presstime.
Back when Soichiro ran the show, playing it safe wasn't The Honda Way. Now the attitude is back. Evidence? Try a 21st century Gold Wing that totally contradicts conformist-touring wisdom-and a 111-cubic-inch antidote for retro-regurgitation cruiser style. More? The evolutionary F4 and an ultra-affordable, nasty-boy 750 Shadow encourage rumors that Mr. Honda is calling in the plays from an uncharted Caribbean atoll and splitting a pitcher of margaritas with Elvis as you read this.
The Gold Wing 1800 has six cylinders and its father's eyes. From there, the 2001 GL1800 bins its comfy chair image. What was Lincoln Continental becomes Lincoln LS. That's because Honda figures lots of you would love to go transcontinental in Gold Wing luxury if the Gold Wing image didn't play like a shopping cart full of Depends.
Thus the GL1800 needed a more powerful and more athletic persona without sacrificing traditional Gold Wing luxury. Large Project Leader Masanori Aoki-a.k.a. The Man on the GL1800's mission-had to color within well-established lines.
For example, how do you get GL-class wind protection from a smaller, more aerodynamic fairing? Move the rider 50mm forward, shift weight to the front wheel and get a comfortably sportier riding position in the bargain. Frontal area is down 10 percent and Mrs. Winger gets two extra inches of room. Getting there meant adding Honda's side-mounted radiators, then trimming each cylinder head to accommodate the rider's feet. That latter miracle inspired a new parallel valve train complete with shim-under-bucket actuation and 32,000 miles between adjustments. And how do you get 118 crankshaft horses from an engine that meets California's 2008 emissions standards? Fuel injection. The GL1800 system inhales through two 40mm throttle bodies, each with 50-psi Keihin injectors, marshaled by a closed-loop engine management computer with two maps for each cylinder and catalytic converters downstream.
The new 'Wing's sportier mission statement required equally sporty chassis bits. A single-sided aluminum swingarm makes rear tire changes less painful than before. The pair of 296mm front brake rotors and 316mm rear rotor-each gripped by a three-piston caliper-are connected by Honda's Linked Braking System and an optional Anti-Lock Brake System. And since Gold Wing has always been synonymous with cutting-edge gadgetry, this one's no exception. How about a button on the key fob that locks or unlatches the trunk and saddlebags from across the parking lot? Or a new electronic reverse system that engages via two buttons on the right handlebar? Another switch aims the headlights. A little traveling music? The new Panasonic sound system (with available six-disc CD changer and 40-channel CB radio) sends 25 watts of power to two front speakers while a high-resolution LCD data panel displays relevant road data. And that's just the beginning. The price of such luxury is $17,499, or $18,499 with ABS. Colors? Choose black, blue, yellow or Illusion Red, which changes with ambient light but adds $500 to the bottom line. When? Honda says November 2000, but we will get ours a bit early. If we tell you all about it, will you try not to hate us?
The VTX1800 is Honda's way of saying size really does matter. Its 111 cubic inches are enough to make its liquid-cooled fuel-injected 52-degree Vanguard V-twin the biggest on the boulevard. And if its claimed 117 foot-pounds of torque at 3000 rpm actually make it through the five-cog gearbox and shaft final drive to the 180/70R-16 rear radial, thrust should be more than respectable. The post-modern musclebike look is a breath of fresh air if you're tired of reliving retro dja vu all over again. The 27.3-inch seat height should accommodate all but the shortest of inseams. Choose black, silver, Illusion Red or Illusion Blue. Since the VTX is billed as a 2002 model, there's no price yet and you'll have to wait until late Spring to get one.
The big news on the CBR600 front is that little i at the end of F4. Assisted by other strategic tweaks, Honda says fuel injection buys five percent more power at the engine's 12,500-rpm peak, and cuts exhaust emissions to California's 2004 standard. A svelte new skin keeps the look fresh, too. Tweaks to the black-anodized aluminum spar frame should enhance high-speed road manners. Also, there's a digital LCD speedometer in the cockpit, more fuel capacity (4.8 gallons vs. 4.5 gallons) and the price tag jumps from $7899 to $8199. Color the F4i black on silver, red on white or black on red.