The Gold standard in touring motorcycles
Words by Govind Janardanan
It’s a pretty common sight out on the highways during the weekend and holidays. Vehicles giving way to a convoy of Goldwings rumbling down the fast lane in a formation resembling a motorcycle train of sorts. I used to think what it would feel like to pilot one of those touring bikes whose name is etched in the Motorcycling hall of fame. So when the opportunity came up to have a go in the latest iteration of Honda’s most premium product on two wheels, I snatched up the keys as fast as I could.
First launched in 1975 and grown exponentially larger ever since, the current size of the Goldwing can intimidate any rider first time out, experienced or not. What you see is acres of stylish plastic fairings, side panniers and rear trunks all treated to a luscious premium paint finish. The shiny exhaust pipes jutting out either side from the exposed cylinder heads add to the visual mechanical drama of its wholesome super-sized XL body.
I had the 2019 Honda Goldwing Tour DCT Airbag (yes, that’s the actual model name) for a week which was good enough time to analyze the bike in detail and get to know its controversial transmission better.
This 6th generation model launched in 2018 was a much anticipated update. The last generation Goldwing stood up strong for a solid 16 years albeit with constant updates and revisions.
Honda engineers have put their flagship model through a strict diet and exercise regime and it shows in being slimmer, lighter and more nimble than before.
Gone is the dizzying array of buttons which cluttered the riders’ station making way for a simpler logically designed set up. A lot of similarities to the sedans made by Honda are visible in the switches, gauges and displays. Tucked perfectly behind the front headlight fairing is the central instrument panel which unsurprisingly can look at home on a Honda Accord. The 7-inch full color TFT liquid crystal displays viewing angle is good and the design layout very clear. The Analogue speedometer and tachometer dials are flanked on either side by compact LCD screens displaying key information required for the rider.
The center console is aesthetically designed and the buttons give a good tactile feel even with gloves on. Many functions can be navigated from either the multi-functional rotary knob on the central console or the similar functional switches on the left handle bar controls. The AIRBAG which is still a rarity on motorcycles prominently sits below the center console.
Older generation Goldwing riders will welcome the addition of electrically adjustable front fairing. On full raised position, the rider and passenger are able to tour at speeds over 140kph constantly over long periods without a hint of wind speed induced fatigue. The rear view mirrors are very well positioned and have no vibrations whatsoever, but adding some electric adjustment to them would have been perfect. The riding position is moved forwards thanks to the new front suspension and gives a balanced, relaxed and in control posture.
The left side handle bar controls have no less than 17 switches including the ones for walking modes, up and down shift functions, the volume and media controls and the 4 way switch for controlling the central display. The walking mode is an extremely useful feature. This allows the bike when stopped to be crawled front or back in walking speed. On a lesser scale, the right side controls only have around 7 switches including the cruise controls. But the most important one is the gear shift selector pad which does have a learning curve to its usage, similar to a car with automatic transmission but with buttons instead of levers. Pressing D and twisting the throttle gives access to some touring nirvana.
For some reason, there is a parking brake activation set up on the left side of the fairing. This I often forgot to release and only realized when starting to move on with some restriction. Honda should make this one also electric with auto release.
Passenger comfort is almost equal or may be better than the rider as all my pillion riders were super happy with the rear seats arm chair rivaling comfort and unobstructed view forwards. Rear speakers, rear seat heating and back rest are all standard issue on this version of the Goldwing. The rider too has his separate seat heating controls and heated grips to make touring comfortable in cold weather.
Luggage space, if you look at the numbers, is bit short on the outgoing model, but if your carry on cannot fix into one of the 3 available cargo boxes, then you better not take it with you. Apple Car Play (which is an ironic name on a motorcycle) and Bluetooth connectivity along with the smart key system adds to the convenience of piloting this athletic tourer.
The heart of the new Goldwing is the completely refreshed flat 6 cylinder engine. If I could take away one piece from the Honda with me, it would be this masterpiece of Japanese engineering perfection. The ease with which the rider can navigate this more than half ton (with rider, passenger and luggage) two wheeled behemoth lies in this 1863 cc power pot with oodles of torque on demand. The shaft drive ensures these Japanese ponies are transferred to the rear rubber which I think is the most tortured part of the bike.
As much as the engine commands respect, the front suspension makes you spend some time wondering the physics of its workings. For the technically minded, it is worth to check some videos on YouTube showing the inner workings of this double wishbone set up. But from the riders’ perspective, the front feels well planted and also very much confidence inspiring on tighter turns. It is also a visual delight while riding to see the upper arm and steering tie rods dancing up and down profiling the contours of the road just travelled.
The tested Goldwing variant has a 7 speed Honda Dual Clutch Transmission with automatic shifting without any clutch lever. It does feel strange at first with the left hand missing the clutch lever and eventually its usual job responsibility terminated. But as I racked up the kilometers throughout the week this system felt incredibly at home on the Goldwing. There are different riding modes like Rain, Tour, Sport and Econ and selecting either one of them changes the shifting character of the bike considerably well.
In Rain, you could feel the system mimicking the slow, gradual and carefully placed gear shifts that are manually done during slippery conditions. In Sport, it turns it literally into the quick shifting nimble sports bike rivaling upshift speed. The good thing about the DCT system is once you get confident in it, it removes the mental work required to calculate the gear shifting points from your riding routine. On full auto mode, the system was found to be virtually perfect. If you need to hold on to a gear or downshift then all you have to do is play with the plus and minus switches on the left side controls. All said, I am very optimistic on the DCT system and curious to know how it performs on their legendary Africa Twin adventure bike.
The suspensions set up can be tuned to the load on the bike with options for rider, rider with passenger or with luggage dialed in each making a considerable change in the way the bike handles for good.
Long rides were a breeze, though and as you hit the city areas and encounter slow moving vehicles, the challenge begins to build up. Navigating the red stop signs were the hardest chore on this bike, more so with a passenger. Trying to keep the Goldwing vertical and inside my lane markers proved this is no bike for the city rides. I wish, as would many other Goldwing riders that Honda speeds up development on their self-balancing Riding Assist Motorcycle Concept and brings this feature to the next Goldwing update. If the concept videos are anything to believe, this would literally make the falling over scenario disappear and make navigating through cities in between any tours sound a dream rather than a nightmare.
Touring is what this Honda was designed for and which it can do day and night uninterrupted, except for the frequent fuel stops. This is a complete package aided by the strong and smooth engine, intelligent transmission, well-tuned suspension, class leading electronics and user friendly gadgetry. The 6th gen Goldwing is a perfect synergy of these well engineered components. This is the Gold standard in touring motorcycles. The competition better take not of this.