I didn’t let out the clutch on the new Honda Gold Wing as we pulled out of the parking lot in Torrance, Calif., and headed for San Luis Obispo’s iconic Madonna Inn.As much of a non sequitur as that might sound, we were aboard the new Gold Wing Tour model, equipped with Honda’s extraordinary dual clutch transmission (DCT). Much has been written by us on the subject and, suffice it to say, I personally am a big fan of the system.Essentially, the seven-speed transmission is split into two parts—one serving up ratios 1, 3, 5, and 7, while the other provides ratios 2, 4, and 6. Each gearbox has its own clutch, so the next ratio is pre-selected. When the gear change happens, it feels literally seamless.
As if that weren’t enough, the transmission is automatic. Each ratio is selected by the ECU, depending on throttle position, engine speed, and load at the wheels. The clutches are automatically activated, so there is no need for a clutch lever or foot shifter.There is a manual override on the left handlebar switchgear, whereby a thumb switch shifts down a ratio, and a trigger pull (like a headlamp flasher) goes up a cog. Going to your preferred ratio merely requires pressing/pulling one of these switches, and the shift immediately happens. There’s no need to switch riding modes or select anything from a menu, though that option is there. You merely click the switch as desired, and the gear changes.It’s worth noting that automobiles and scooters have automatic transmissions that work differently from a DCT system. Cars use a torque converter (aka a slushbox), and a scooter uses a constantly variable belt system. The advantage of Honda’s DCT is that something commensurately happens at the rear wheel when you touch the throttle.This is unlike the scooter or traditional automobile automatic transmission. When you actuate the throttle on those automatics, there’s a lag with what happens at the tires because there is no direct connection between the engine and the wheel. With DCT, there is still a direct connection, as with a conventional clutch and gearbox.It is a massively important point. Motorcycle riders on powerful liter-plus engines have a major need for ‘feel’ at the throttle. Small increments of throttle application in a corner can make a big difference when you’re in a tight twisty section or blasting through a fast sweeper. There, we expect to know exactly what’s happening where the rubber meets the road. We don’t want any lag or delay while the final drive waits for the transmission to catch up with what the engine is asking from the tranny.DCT has been available on production automobiles since the 2003 VW Golf R32, so some readers may be familiar with it already. However, Honda has amazed us by making it compact enough to fit in a motorcycle, and without it weighing a ton. Major kudos, as it works so darn well. Fitted into a platform such as the Gold Wing, where luxury is a prerequisite, the seamless nature of smooth gearchanges is very addicting, especially if you carry a passenger. It seems almost rude not to have it and keep your other half comfortable.The Gold Wing has four riding modes—Tour (default), Sport, Eco, and Rain. These four modes can be toggled through anytime, anywhere, simply by pulling a switch on the right (throttle) side of the handlebar. You then close the twistgrip to confirm, and the mode immediately and smoothly takes over. It can even be done mid-corner if you so choose, although naturally I wouldn’t advise doing that for obvious reasons.Each of the four modes changes the level of aggression at the throttle (Rain mode also doesn’t provide full power) and the revs for gear changes of the DCT. Sport mode is really quite aggressive throttle-wise, holds each of the lower gears a little longer, and typically tops out in 5th gear for maximum acceleration. Tour mode is more relaxed, Eco even more, and Rain mode is beautifully quiet in every respect for low grip conditions. The modes also change the level of traction control intrusion and ABS intervention. TC and ABS are insurance policies that the rider doesn’t typically feel while riding. The power delivery and shift points are most noticeable and affect the riding experience most dramatically.Naturally, the system is really, really good. It cannot be all things to all people, in all situations, of course. On occasion, I find that dropping down a gear doesn’t quite happen quickly enough, such as when lining up for a rapid burst of acceleration to overtake a slower vehicle. Also, when riding hard, and the Gold Wing’s superlative handling demands it when you reach a twisty road, I like to change down a ratio or two for better engine braking when entering a corner—most times, it won’t do that. Given my preference, I take over by using the thumb switch to drop down gear ratios myself. It’s not strictly necessary, but I’m an aggressive rider, and I like the option of having manual control over the gear selection at times.My apologies for the long explanation on DCT. However, if I didn’t feel the system was worth it, I wouldn’t have bothered—and it is often misunderstood, even over 10 years after its debut on the VFR1200F. For me, the system is absolutely amazing, and long overdue on the Gold Wing. If I was buying a Wing, would I order it with the optional DCT? Yes, absolutely I would.Firing on to the giant, ugly concrete slab of Los Angeles’s notorious San Diego Freeway heading north, I reveled in the astonishing turbine-like quality of the Gold Wing’s motor. The flat-six doesn’t disappoint. Not only does it produce monster power, it does so smoothly, as well. Such is the power of the motor, my passenger was very happy to be settled on what is possibly the most comfortable cat-bird seat in all of motorcycling.For 2021, the rear end of the latest Gold Wing is where most of the upgrades can be found, as passengers and long-distance riders will be very happy to discover.The big criticism of the current generation Gold Wing Tour, which debuted in 2018, was of its reduced luggage capacity compared to previous iterations. Honda has addressed that for 2021. The top trunk is 1.9 inches wider, 1.8 inches taller, and 1.3 inches longer. It ups the storage from 50 to 61 liters—a 22 percent increase. The trunk now accommodates added luggage, and it easily takes two full-face Arai Quantum-X helmets fitted with Sena headsets. In addition, the rear left saddlebag now has a second USB port for additional device charging.The seat now features a premium waterproof suede-like cover. As a rider, I enjoy the slightly tacky feel of the seat; it holds me securely and prevents me from sliding around. Yet, it’s not overly sticky, so that if I need to move, I can with ease. My 33-inch inseam allows me to flat-foot when stopped. However, the rider seat is wide at the front, so shorter inseam riders will have more of a challenge in parking-type situations. Fortunately, there are several after-market custom solutions available. As a stock seat, the Gold Wing is exceptionally comfortable for both rider and passenger, and the heating function (with separate controls for each person) is a boon when the weather gets a tad chilly.In direct response to customer feedback, passenger comfort has been dramatically enhanced. The backrest angle has been increased from 17 to 24.5 degrees for a more relaxed ride. It also reduces pressure on the passenger’s hips; this is quite a significant change, as it turns out. My passenger is very impressed with how differently the new seat-back feels compared to the previous generation. Although she is more comfortable and relaxed, the additional rearward lean does not increase wind-buffeting, and she feels just as secure as before. The backrest is also over an inch taller, and the thickness of the foam has increased a touch for improved comfort on long rides.Further, the passenger grab handles on the side of the seat have been raised and reshaped. They are now easily grasped, even with my passenger, who knows from her modeling days, that she has (and I quote) “One-inch shorter arms than average for my height.” The rear floorboards are nicely shaped and at the right height for my somewhat leggy 5’ 6” passenger, so she does not suffer from knee pain at the end of any of our long rides.Arriving in Ojai for lunch and fuel stop, we were pleasantly surprised that the weather was taking a turn for the warmer. Swapping out our Dainese D-Air leather jackets for Dainese Air Master Tech mesh jackets that we’d had wisely stowed in one of the side bags. After eating, we headed up California State Route 33 towards our final destination of the Madonna Inn and Hotel.Highway 33 is about an hour and a half of fun on one of the most glorious roads I’ve ever been fortunate enough to ride. It twists and turns through the mountains, starting with some slow-ish technical corners. The 33 eventually opens up into a series of high-speed sweepers that crest over the mountain and plunge down into Cuyama Valley. If ever there was a road designed to test a Gold Wing, this has to be it. As predicted, neither disappointed. Along the way, we discovered that the larger top box has enough room to spare for the giant four-pound bag of pistachios we bought at the Santa Barbara Pistachio Company in Ventucopa—population 92.The 2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT is simply a spectacular motorcycle to ride. The unorthodox double-wishbone single-shock Showa front suspension reacts well to the road’s bumps, dips, and crests. It gives so much feedback that I always have the confidence to turn in, even at fast speeds. The Wing’s linked braking system adds some rear brake when the front lever is applied, so the balanced stance of the motorcycle is maintained even when braking hard for some of the turns.Naturally, I had the suspension (electronically) set to maximum spring-preload (Rider+Passenger+Luggage) and the damping is ideal for every scenario—even when the going gets bumpy. The flat-six motor carries its weight low in the frame, so the center of gravity works for you, rather than against you. This helps the Gold Wing’s considerable mass to just melt away while riding. As a long-distance, luxury touring motorcycle, the handling is spectacular, with the motorcycle far more nimble than any half-ton-plus all-in package should be. Coupled with the seamless DCT shifting, we were in heaven as the Gold Wing simply flew along the 33.The electric windshield and the Gold Wing’s excellent aerodynamics deserve mention here. While the screen defaults to the lowest position when parked, it returns to its last set position when the engine is restarted. The left handlebar switch raises and lowers it silently and effortlessly.In the lowest position, I can see over the windshield, with most of the blast going over my helmet. There is minimal buffeting of my passenger or me, though we can definitely hear some wind noise through the Gold Wing’s excellent built-in intercom system. With the screen in the fully upright position, the windblast goes away completely, and we can comfortably talk to each other with no problem, whatever the speed.Aerodynamically, the 2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour is very impressive. Both the rider and passenger sit comfortably out of the wind, with only our sleeves being ruffled as the air passes.A central flip-vent in front of the rider can be raised in hot conditions to push some airflow from under the windshield into the rider’s face, and it works nicely. There’s nothing worse than being in hot weather, wanting some windblast, and not being able to get it.Other new niceties for 2021 include Android Auto capability, which joins Apple CarPlay integration. Now, Android smartphones with the Android Auto app can seamlessly enjoy services such as music, phone calls, and messaging. Upgraded 45-watt speakers replace the 25-watt units, giving the audio package richer midrange tones. The Gold Wing Tour we were riding had two speakers at the front fairing and two at the trunk for increased volume capability.The onboard audio system now has automatic volume adjustment. The excellent navigation software has been updated to include speed-limit information and four different map-color options. Also, an XM radio antenna is now standard, making for easier installation of that extra feature.We spent the night in the gorgeous Romance Room of the outrageously over-the-top Madonna Inn and Hotel in San Luis Obispo, where every room is themed, and loved every minute of our stay. Built in 1958, the steakhouse and bar décor continues the Liberace-meets-The-Flintstones motif seen in every facet of the hotel, and we thoroughly enjoyed checking everything out while eating a meal fit for the Gods.Taking U.S. Route 101—El Camino Real—home, the ride was just as pleasurable on the highway/freeway mix, and just as uneventful as the ride up. Overall, the tweaked-for-2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour reflects the customer feedback received, and both of us found it impressive how well the company has listened to its fan base. This iteration of the Gold Wing still has the legendary comfort for both rider and passenger, spectacular motor, nimble handling, and powerful braking that made it such a mammoth hit when launched in 2018. The increased luggage capacity, and the extra comfort (especially for the passenger), are the ideal tweaks to this luxury touring motorcycle. I would only add, get the DCT version—you won’t regret it, I promise.Photography by Drew RuizRIDING STYLEHIS
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week’s episode features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the beautiful new Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST that is loosely based around the original FXRT Sport Glide from the 1980s. Hailing from The Golden State, these cult-status performance machines became known as West Coast style, with sportier suspension, increased horsepower, and niceties including creature comforts such as a tidy fairing and sporty luggage.
In past episodes you might have heard us mention my best friend, Daniel Schoenewald, and in the second segment I chat with him about some of the really special machines in his 170 or so—and growing—motorcycle collection. He’s always said to me that he doesn’t consider himself the owner, merely the curator of the motorcycles for the next generation.
Yet Daniel is not just a collector, but I can attest a really skilled rider. His bikes are not trailer queens, they’re ridden, and they’re ridden pretty hard. Actually, we have had many, many memorable rides on pretty much all of the machines in the collection at one time or another.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!