2012 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing | First Ride

More is More

"They didn't change enough," says the guy. "They needed to do something bigger ... more." We're standing around Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort in Robbinsville, North Carolina, kicking tires. Specifically the new Bridgestone tires on the 2012 Honda GL1800-just a few moto-journalists, Honda's media team, the Gold Wing project leader from Japan and Ray Blank, senior vice president of the company's North American operations. It's a tad tense, but the guy is telling it straight. The 2012 Gold Wing isn't really "new" at all, only mildly enhanced. Then the guy adds, "But I'm still going to buy one. I've owned Gold Wings for the last 20 years. What can I say? I'm a Honda guy."

This is, indeed, Honda's guy: the buyer the company is banking on to keep the Gold Wing legacy rolling, despite stress on the yen, an aging demographic and a brave, new competitor on the playing field. At the top of the press introduction, Blank assured us the "new" Gold Wing isn't much different because Honda's field studies have concluded that owners and "intenders" (read: wannabes) don't want it changed.

This Consistency Theory has worked in the Gold Wing's favor since the model's rebirth in 2001. But as prices rise-for 2012 the range is $23,199 for the base model without Navi/XM Radio/ABS to $28,499 with all the amenities including an airbag-and competition stiffens-BMW's all-new K1600GTL comes fully loaded with everything but an airbag for $23,200-it was time do something or get off the proverbial pot.

The most noticeable change is a result of the team's styling wand. Saddlebags have been reshaped to look more modern and dish up 7 liters of additional storage capacity between the two. The fairing has also been reworked, giving the Wing a cleaner, more elegant appearance while increasing wind protection for the lower body. Unfortunately, the windshield is still mechanically height-adjustable, meaning you have to get off the bike and use both hands to release the locking levers, then yank the screen into the desired position before locking it down again.

With so many touring bikes sporting on-the-fly electronically adjustable windshields, this archaic mechanism really dates the Gold Wing. Asked why this item wasn't on the update list, Blank explained it was a matter of tooling and cost. In order to bring the windshield system up to date, the internal structure of the fairing would need to be altered, which would force a change to the bike's frame, and so on.

Therefore, what Honda did change on the 2012 model is ancillary. The most dynamic enhancement is an upgraded navigation system, which incorporates a Trip Planner that allows savvy riders to create and share their routes. As we all know, GPS routing can be a huge asset, but have you ever asked your system to find the best motorcycle roads? What a joke! Now, with this feature, you can work out your route at home using Honda's trip-planning website (www.tripplanner.honda.com), transfer it from your computer to an SD card and pop it into the bike's in-trunk system.

The website planning tools are easy to use, and once you have a route, it's simple to get it up on the Navi screen. Our test unit repeatedly suffered a glitch, however, which involved an on-screen SD card-reader error message that locked up the entire electronics package. Eventually the system would reset, but without rhyme or reason. Sometimes disconnecting the battery for 5 minutes would reboot the bank of gadgetry, other times it stayed frozen despite all efforts of trickery, then would decide to reboot itself in the middle of a ride. At press time Honda's engineers did not have an explanation or solid solution, but assured us the problem would be remedied.

The Gold Wing's audio system, which for many years offered the best amplification and sound quality available on a motorcycle, just got even better with the addition of SRS CS Auto technology surround sound. There's also a new iPod connection, which brings the Apple-specific menu right up on the bike's main screen, allowing you to select music and playlists without fiddling with the player itself. Sadly, as of yet, there is no Bluetooth option, which would allow you to synch the bike to the neat, new Bluetooth/audio-equipped helmets on the market. For now, owners still need to purchase Honda-specific cords and tether themselves to the bike.

Performance-wise this "new" Gold Wing remains identical to the 2010 model, save for some minor tweaks to front and rear suspension adjustability, which don't factor in improving the bike's handling characteristics as much as the new purpose-built Bridgestone tires. The new rubber improves the bike's transitions, say, when you're untangling the beautiful mess of Deal's Gap's famous 318 corners in 11 miles.

As that "Honda guy" said minutes before we blasted up the Tail of the Dragon, "They should have done more." Well, sure, more of a good thing can only be better. But if the Wing stays the same for another decade, enthusiasts will continue to buy it. It's a fantastically well-balanced, super-comfortable beast of a touring bike.

And hey, leaving the Gold Wing alone would free up Honda's engineering team to create a luxury sport-tourer to compete with the new BMW K1600GT; something that slots between the sporty ST1300 and the lavish GL1800. And, of course, hatches a new generation of "Honda guys."

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the GL1800 gets updated aesthetics, a bit more storage capacity and upgraded navigation and audio systems.

BMW K1600GTL, Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Limited, Kawasaki Voyager, Victory Vision Tour.


Price: $28,499 (as tested)
Engine type: l-c horizontally opposed six
Valve train: SOHC, 12v
Displacement: 1832cc
Bore x stroke: 74.0 x 71.0mm
Compression: 9.8:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate
Final drive: Shaft
Transmission: 5-speed, plus electric reverse
Claimed horsepower: 118 bhp
Claimed torque: 125 lb.-ft.
Frame: Aluminum twin-spar
Front suspension 45mm fork
Rear suspension Single shock with electronically adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Dual Nissin three-piston calipers, 296mm disc, linked with ABS
Rear brake: Nissin three-piston caliper, 316mm disc, linked with ABS
Front tire: 130/70R-18 Bridgestone
Rear tire: 180/60R-16 Bridgestone
Rake/trail: 29.2°/4.3 in.
Seat height: 29.1 in.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Fuel capacity: 6.6 gal.
Claimed curb weight: 933 lbs.
Colors: Red, white, blue, black
Available: Now
Warranty: 36 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact: www.powersports.honda.com

VERDICT 4.5 out of 5 stars
More of the same isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Bigger saddlebags can accommodate another 7 liters of your worldly goods, bringing cargo capacity to a grand total of 150 liters with the bags, trunk and all fairing pockets crammed full.
The cockpit looks familiar, but wait: There’s an all-new Sat-Nav system with 3D terrain view, voice prompts and a brighter screen. The surround-sound system has iPod connectivity.