Once in the saddle, I was met with an array of telemetry, including an AM/FM/CB/CD sound system, cruise control, height-adjustable headlights, variably heated grips, electronically adjustable rear suspension with 25 preload settings and two-position memory and, oh yes, a reverse gear.
With a 29.1-inch seat height, my 30-inch inseam is barely adequate to reach the ground, but by leaning forward in the saddle, my heels are able to find the macadam. The engine turns over with a purr and I back the Honda out of its spot, utilizing the electric reverse gear with some amount of glee.My first proper road test is on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway, a major thoroughfare with unpredictable traffic patterns, and I wait, perhaps a bit too patiently, at the corner for a sizeable gap to appear in traffic. When I see my chance, I put the 800-pound tourer into first gear, make the turn, straighten her up, snap my wrist down on the throttle and shout, “Go, Bessie, go!” Frankly, the response I get is more reminiscent of Secretariat. With an aggressive snarl, “Bessie’s” 1,832cc liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder engine shoots me forward with 125 ft lbs of torque and 118 hp worth of gusto past the unsuspecting Porsche that passed me moments earlier. I would later learn that while the Gold Wing has gained nearly 220 pounds of dry weight since 1975, it now runs the quarter mile a full second faster. (Click image to enlarge)Settling into my cruise, I begin tinkering with the rolling toy store at my disposal. Given the chilly December temperature, the heated grips seem a logical place to start. The minor inconvenience of its right hand fairing placement aside, the five-position thermostat allows for an optimal comfort level no matter the climate. The 16-bit ECU cruise control engages quickly and accurately and is, of course, relieved of duty by activation of the linked braking system. When combined with optional ABS and an anti-dive system that utilizes servo pressure from front brake torque, the big Honda provides perhaps the most intelligent set of anchors available today. The actual grunt work is performed by strong-willed, dual full-floating, 296mm front discs and a single ventilated 316mm rear disc, all squeezed by three- piston calipers. The real-world result is a bike unruffled by emergency braking conditions and more than competent enough to provide a relaxed disposition toward life’s unwelcome surprises.In 2001, the Gold Wing received a twin-spar, aluminum box-section frame that offers nearly double the stiffness and torsional rigidity of the old steel frames. Once tipped into a sweeper, the bike tracks like a slot car and isn’t afraid of a grin-inducing lean angle. Past Malibu’s coastal sweepers, I emerge onto a stretch of open road, and as I bring the Honda up to freeway speeds, the bike’s windjamming capabilities become quite evident. The Panasonic sound system may not be up to Walt Disney Concert Hall standards, but I find that the speakers provide ample bass and volume, and I am unable to conjure up a single skip from the CD player. While I typically prefer a more foot-forward riding position, the Wing’s ergonomics still feel relaxed and opulent after a full day’s ride, and I confess to feeling a bit dismayed when it came time to disembark.
Helmet: Schuberth Concept
Riding Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter
Gloves: Joe Rocket GPX
Boots: Kushitani GP.I can attest that in the new millennium, the bike that virtually invented the touring category, and that has dominated it ever since, has been redefined for the better. Having been thoroughly disabused of any notion that the Gold Wing is little more than a two-wheeled station wagon, I would go so far as to say that between its potent acceleration, confident braking and competent cornering, the Wing feels like, well . . . feels like a real motorcycle.