The Honda Goldwing conjures up many images among motorcycle enthusiasts who ride anything but the mighty Wing - none of them particularly flattering. As a long-time Harley rider and current BMW enthusiast, and having owned and ridden at one time or another some of the best bikes Europe, Japan and the USofA have to offer, I’d like to think that I’m open-minded when it comes to riding choices.

One bike that I’ve never had much interest in and could not have ever imagined myself piloting is Honda’s venerable six cylinder, all-singing and dancing flagship touring motorcycle, the Gold Wing. Just mentioning it brings to mind a slew of images stored away in my brain’s moto files:
  • Very old people riding two-up in short sleeve Madras plaid shirts and tennis shoes, with open-face helmets sporting boom microphones. 
  • Chrome front wheel hub caps ringed with orange lights.
  • Twin-axled camping trailers.
  • Trikes.
  • Buttons. Lots and lots of buttons.
  • Reverse gear and outriggers.Willie Nelson (I have no idea why).
So in I walked to Eagle Rider’s Las Vegas main depot, wading through the bearded and bandanaed line of customers picking up their Harley’s, and asked the nice lady at the front desk if she had the paperwork for my one-way Gold Wing rental (which I had already surmised was the bright blue beauty parked out in front).

Fifteen minutes and seven lines of signatures and initials later I thumbed the starter (which I couldn’t find at first) and whispered out of the lot into the 100 degree midday desert sun en route to the coast, and then north to San Francisco. 

The first thing I noticed about the Wing is her heft. She’s a big-boned girl, weighing in at over 900 pounds. With a long wheel base and slack slow speed steering the one thing you don’t want to do is touch the front brake during parking lot maneuvers. If this one decides to have a rest, good luck righting her. 

The next thing I noticed was the power. I haven’t seen the dyno charts for this 1800cc flat six motor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this mill produced a torque curve as flat as a Mojave salt pan. Shifting up through all five gears ends with an overdrive light illuminated on the very automotive-looking dashboard.

From there the ultra-smooth motor behaves more or less like an automatic. You don’t really need to shift gears at all - the Wing will happily glide through town turning 1500 rpm at 30 or 35 mph without complaint.

Then you just roll on some throttle and in less time than it takes the radio to find a new station you’re back up to whatever the posted speed limit is - and then some if you’re not paying attention. 

Looking at this beast one could be forgiven for assuming that it handles about like its land barge looks would suggest. That would be a mistake, particularly if said assumption led one to skip the twisty little lines on the map in favor of the wide green ones marked with interstate numbers.

I made no such assumption, figuring that it would be more fun to tiptoe the Wing through some of my favorite twisties in Central California rather than eat slab for six hours while trying not to fall asleep or die of dehydration. I couldn't have known what a treat I was in for.

First I sampled some big sweepers at highway speeds on a four-lane, leaving me plenty of room to experiment. I delayed initiating turns as long as possible to give me a chance to see how easily she’d tip in. 

Crisp and responsive are two words I would not have expected to use in this review, yet that is exactly how the big Wing felt to me as I wound my way up a long mountain pass on a nice stretch of freeway. Change line mid-corner? No worries. Hold the line through bumps, whoops and ruts? Check. Who’d a thunk? "This thing actually rides like a motorcycle," I mused.

Next up were some real motorcycle roads, California style. I’m talking two-lane blacktop winding through hill country. These tar-snake infested ribbons of motorcycling happiness drop you into blind, decreasing-radius turns that may or may not have gravel on the inside line at the apex, forcing an immediate change of attack. 
Add the odd quad-cab duallie pickup pulling a horse trailer coming the other way and you have the perfect recipe for quickly finding out whether this elephant can dance.

While “flickable” may be a bit of an exaggeration, I found the Wing was just as capable of tipping in and executing precision line changes in the tight stuff as she was out on the freeway. 

The chassis felt taut, and I experienced no twisting or lethargy at all no matter how hard I pushed. I did have the electronically adjustable suspension dialed up to levels more suited for a plus-sized couple of retirees pulling a trailer, rather than little old me riding solo. But I didn’t really mind using my legs to soak up the occasional bump, rather than sacrifice the tight, sharp handling that the firmer suspension setting seemed to impart. 

The linked brakes worked well, too, easily hauling the Wing down to a stop from speed using only one or two fingers. They were a little bitey for my taste on initial application, which may have been more a function of my riding style rather than any inherent negative characteristic.

And even without ABS, I never once felt like I might need it. I imagine it would take a pretty heroic effort to lock up the front on this bike - and why would you drive this bike that hard in the first place? (Ok, in the wet ABS would probably be nice to have - but we don’t have much of that out here these days). 

As for wind protection and general rider comfort, it’s a Gold Wing. What more can I say? This may be the only bike I’ve ever ridden where I actually didn’t mind looking through the windscreen, rather than over it.

A surprisingly low seat height means flat footing it for all but the most vertically challenged, and gives you the feeling that you’re sitting in this bike, rather than on it. As I transitioned from the summer desert heat to the fog-shrouded central coast the temp dropped about 40 degrees, yet I didn’t feel any immediate need to pull over and don my riding jacket. I was comfortable in my short sleeved shirt (NOT Madras) and riding pants, even though I usually won’t ride without a jacket if it’s under 80 degrees outside because I get cold.

I came to find out that the Wing has a vent system that directs warm air to your feet. I had this on the whole way across the desert and never knew it, but maybe that was because it was so hot out there the "heat" coming off the motor felt like air conditioning. As things cooled off near the coast, I did sense warm air coming from somewhere, though, so this isn’t a gimmick - these things actually work.

All in all I had a fun time on the Gold Wing. There are other touring bikes that perhaps have more personality, if quirks are what make up a bike’s personality. The Wing just does its thing, and does it flawlessly. Even the reverse gear comes in handy, and is surprisingly easy to use. 

If you’re looking for a ride to explore a continent two-up and have some fun on the scenic byways in the process, don’t overlook the the Gold Wing. It just might be your cup of tea. 
I'd like to thank Mo Maduro at Eagle Rider in San Francisco BMW and Honda for organizing this great one-way adventure; and the Las Vegas Eagle Rider team for getting me set up on the Wing and on my way in short order.
Tom Short is an avid, lifelong motorcycle enthusiast originally from the Midwest. In 2006 he and his wife moved to California where they both have found their bliss. He works as a business consultant, and sometimes wishes he was a professional moto writer.
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