Touring Bikes Comparison - Long Rangers

Four Philosophies, One Purpose

Photography by Kevin Wing

Honda Gold Wing
OK, so the styling might reek of the late '90s, but Honda's powerful, super-smooth and amenity-laden luxury tourer is still a sweet ride. You could tell by the end of the first day, when we were all Jonesing for another hit off it! Yet there's not one best thing about this full-dresser; it's the overall package that works so well. Typical Honda to put efficiency first: We're not saying the Gold Wing is bland, it just doesn't wear its personality on its sleeve.

Our test unit was Honda's fully loaded Premium Audio/Comfort/Navi/ABS version in Pearl White, and the stereo kicked butt! If you don't have helmet speakers, you might as well turn off the typical bike stereo once you hit freeway speeds. Not Honda's Premium Audio, which is highly amplified and nearly distortion-free at all times. The audio controls are spread between switches on the handlebar and atop the faux fuel tank, where you'll find a veritable smorgasbord of toggles and buttons that control everything from cruise control to headlamp position, heated seat and grips to rear suspension preload. It's a little overwhelming at first, but you quickly realize all of the controls are intuitive and glove-friendly.

The Gold Wing and Vision were the only two bikes equipped with GPS. The Honda comes with an integrated Magellan unit and the Victory with an optional Touratech from Garmin. We all preferred the positioning, display and overall usability of the Victory's unit, and not just because you can't operate the Honda's while the bike is underway-irksome that. For long days on the road the Wing's seat is comfy, although a couple of riders complained that the step up to the passenger's seat is intrusive. The seat's heating elements are comfortable on cold days, and the heated handgrips are especially useful.

The Honda's luggage is more spacious than the others and easy to access. Though we've had problems on other test bikes with the internal latch system (actuated along the bottom edge of the trunk), this unit's system worked flawlessly.

In the power arena, the Gold Wing's 1832cc flat-six is sexy-sounding, super-efficient and eerily smooth. Output is delivered via shaft drive and a five-speed overdrive transmission, with no need for a sixth. Handling is another Honda ace in the hole, and the bike surprised every pilot with its low-speed control and high-speed stability. We encountered every kind of corner during our ride, including some tricky, decrepit, half-paved sections on a double-black-diamond "shortcut" that had the other bikes yawing like crazy. The Honda offers respectable cornering clearance for a bike of this stature, with its footpegs dragging late and long during aggressive riding.

Unlike the other bikes in this group, the GL sports footpegs instead of floorboards to make room for its six horizontally opposed cylinders. Anyone taller than Danny DeVito will feel hemmed in by the lower body ergonomics and fantasize about crash-bar mounted pegs, even if they'd have you doing a split. The upper body is more pampered, enjoying a neutral stretch to the grips that's universally comfortable. The Wing's windshield isn't electrically adjustable like the Victory's, but its louvered venting system changes cockpit temperatures dramatically. The Comfort package we enjoyed also incorporates adjustable vents that draw engine heat onto the rider's feet.

We had mixed views on the Honda's linked braking system, most of us preferring a standard arrangement. We all agree the optional ABS is a bonus on a touring bike and the GL's works efficiently. The electric reverse gear came in handy in a few parking situations, though mostly because the possessor of such an innovation is given a free pass to park indiscriminately. We didn't miss it on the other bikes.

The GL comes loaded in Pearl White with Audio/Comfort/Navi/ABS for $23,399, which is a few dollars more than the Anniversary Edition Ultra Classic. Hmmm...

Off The Record
David "Applejacks" Russell

I'd recommend the Gold Wing to anyone looking for the ultimate touring bike. It's composed over any road surface, at any speed and is comparatively nimble, masking its considerable mass. Silky-smooth, glitch-free power, well-balanced linked brakes and a solid chassis add up to the only bike in the test that I actually felt like owning. The Vision is comfortable, and has a stout heart under its designer skin, but it's not for the meek. The Ultra Glide succeeds as a mount for the H-D Faithful. Smooth above idle, easy controls and relatively light steering are unexpected surprises, though acceleration happens at a glacial pace, especially in sixth gear. The Rocket III's brutish motor defines it: Big torque with vibration to match, this is the bike to run down Main Street-two counties over.
Age: 52 Height: 6'2" Weight: 170 lbs. Inseam: 34 in.

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