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I haven't been everywhere...
but it's on my list!

Photo by Mark Newton,
Camping in the Mexican desert

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Old 22 Dec 2015
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Veteran HUBBer
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Oxford UK
Posts: 2,106
Winging my way across the USA

Having just finished a 10,000 mile trip around much of the “lower 48” states of the US (I think we went through about 25 of them), I thought I’d review the bike we used. Reviewing and writing up the actual trip is likely to occur over a longer timeline but you have to start somewhere so the bike itself is first in the firing line.

When I mention that it’s a Honda GoldWing I can already hear groans in the background. “This is an adventure bike site and we’re all hard bitten, dust covered, gnarly travellers. We want tales of escaping crazed gunmen, crossing borders with iffy documents and living on bark for six months” Well, for that stuff you’ll probably have to wait until Touring Ted writes up his next trip (although elements of all of those did happen to us) but in the meantime click it all back down a few notches, sit back in a comfy chair and read about a different approach.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve said to me that we might as well have taken a car and that the Wing isn’t a real bike. And to some extent I can see where the criticism comes from. Much of the bike does seem to have its origins in Honda’s car technology - or at least many of the parts (instruments, mirrors, lights etc) looks like they do. In reliability terms though that may not be such a bad thing. I come from an era when Japanese bikes were derided as short lived fashion items that were only bought by people without the sense to see the “quality” and “sophistication” inherent in British bikes of the time. If you have no trouble with the words “quality” and “60’s British bikes” appearing in the same sentence then might I suggest a quick flick through “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” to muse upon the philosophical underpinnings of the term.

The Wing certainly looks like it’s been the recipient of considerable amounts of “quality” engineering insofar as there’s very little to do other than ride it. There’s no chains, very few cables, no electrical interventions needed (points, plugs etc), huge service intervals etc, and many of the components look like they’re more substantial than they need be. It all adds to the weight of course but, as they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. I don’t normally have names for any of the bikes I ride (expletives notwithstanding) but in this case we did think of calling it “Scouser” on the basis that it looked like what you might end up with if you started with a Honda Civic and left it parked overnight in Liverpool (ok,I know, but the old ones are the best ones!).

In case you’re wondering what the hell a GoldWing is anyway let me add a picture. Here it is in all it’s glory somewhere on a dirt road in New Mexico (about 10 miles from Santa Fe if I remember correctly).

And the other side, parked at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite national park:

Under all that plastic lies an 1800cc flat six engine that really could be slotted straight into a car. The panniers, top box, fairing etc all are exactly as the factory intended as are the seats, intercom, speakers etc. I’ve often wondered what the result would look like if the touring accessories were incorporated at the design stage rather than added, scaffolding style, by aftermarket companies or even as an afterthought by the factory, and now I know. It’s not all sunny uplands, but more of that later.

Ok, so let’s get the first question answered straight away. Given that I’ve been posting in recent months about touring on a small antique two stroke what possessed me to abandon my senses and buy this. Well, it was, you know, 〈looks down and shuffles feet〉 the usual stuff - money, women, senility. Actually, as that just about covers all of life’s little pleasures, let me explain it all in a bit more detail. On the basis that if you can’t beat them, join them, my wife has been saying for years that we ought to go on a bike trip together. And I’ve been saying “yes dear” on the basis that I knew it would never happen. At least not on any timescale I could envisage. There was work (hers), money (hers) the kids (err…), all that kind of stuff in the way. I knew she’d never do it. But last year things changed. I injured my left knee while running. Then my left foot, followed shortly afterwards by my right foot. Within a couple of weeks I’d also injured my right elbow (drilling concrete this time). For some time I was hobbling around like I’d aged twenty years overnight. And that changed her mind. She concluded that if this was the future she had to look forward to we’d better start doing the things we’d talked about doing before it was too late. So, she suggested, let’s start with the bike trip.

The first thing to sort out was where were we going to go? Suggestions of Mali and Mongolia were dismissed with the wave of a hand. She’d always wanted to tour the United States so that was it, we were heading west. We were going to see Gracelands and Hollywood and Dollywood and Route 66 and 99 cent Land and some Black Hills and Blue Grass - and preferably in that order. Oh, and Muscle Beach (I had to look that one up). We were going to visit Muscle Beach and that was non negotiable. And she wanted a decent bike to do it on. None of the old wrecks in my garage would do. We were going to do this in style.

After a quick tour of the local bike dealers I understood slightly more precisely what “style” meant. It meant a decent pillion seat. We looked at loads of stuff - BMWs, Triumphs, even, God forbid, Harleys but none of them passed the seat style test. We did find one Harley with some kind of armchair style pillion seat and that got shortlisted but I dodged a bullet by explaining that one of the downsides of Harleys was vibration. As she’d never been on a bike that shook itself to pieces it was difficult concept to get across but a comparison between that and that funny shaped thing her sister kept hidden at the back of the drawer next to her bed eventually did it. Harleys might be ok for the occasional afternoon pleasure ride to the seaside but over the course of a month all that vibration might become a bit wearying. She thought about it, somewhat distantly, for a while, but agreed. So Harleys were out.

Gold Wings, on the other hand, made the short list straight away. Never mind the gargantuan weight or the weight or even the weight, they were smooth, they had an armchair and they looked like a two wheeled version of the open topped 60’s Cadillac that Reginald D Hunter was swanning around the deep south in on tv. Could we get one in pink, like his car?

Fortunately the answer to that was no.

Of course looking at bikes in my local dealers, even ones with armchairs bolted on the back, was one thing, but we needed one in the US, a country that, we were all too rapidly becoming aware, was some distance from where we actually were. Riding there wasn’t going to be an option. So, rental then. Easy peasy - fly in, ride out and just hand it back some time later. Just like you do with cars. Bike rental in the US seems popular and there are a number of companies doing it so it should be possible.

I did look at a few and there were some that listed Wings as being available, mostly in the “premium” section of the price list. One of the biggest (or the flashiest website anyway) was Eagle Rider based in California. However they wanted $200 per day for a GoldWing and we needed one for six weeks. I did contact them asking whether there were any discounts available for longer term rentals as $8000 seemed a fraction more that we were thinking of paying but sadly, no. We’d be needing it “peak season” so the price was the price. If we wanted to go in January however … “Oh, and you’ll need insurance on top of that and there are a few taxes to chuck in as well”. “Why don’t you consider a Harley, some of those are quite a bit cheaper”…

Actually I’m pleased we didn’t end up with Eagle. Some time later when we saw one of their vans in Barstow it was trying to make a missed turn on the interstate and it brake tested us to the point I really thought we were going to hit the back of it. If we’d been riding one of their bikes at the time that really would have been adding insult to injury. The thought that whoever had been driving the van might have responsible for maintaining their rental bike brakes made me pleased we’d gone elsewhere. Cowboy is as cowboy does. I did think of ringing the “how’s my driving” number stickered on the back of the van and something I’d had a closer look at than I’d really wanted but sadly by the time I’d found the phone I’d forgotten the number.

In the end we decided to buy rather than rent. Cutting to the chase, back in February a friend in New Jersey found a 2002 Gold Wing for sale about half an hour away in Pennsylvania and after a few visits to check it out we decided to pay just slightly more than it would cost to rent and buy our own. While you can never tell with secondhand bikes it ticked all the boxes: low mileage, just dealer serviced with new tyres, close to totally unmarked and a mature owner who looked like a vicar who’d only used the bike to go to and from Evensong. We sent money, John collected the bike and rode it back to his barn in a mid March snowstorm.

A few weeks of sorting out the legal side of things (it was going to be his bike with me as a named driver as far as the authorities were concerned) and it sat there awaiting our arrival some months later. We’d do the trip on it and sell it afterwards. Even if we lost a couple of thousand dollars at the sale stage it would be cheaper by far than renting. And we had two other options available; we could leave it there for future use or we could even bring it back to the UK. Time would sort out that decision but now it was time to hit the road.

Hitting the road was something that worried me. Literally hitting the road, as in falling off. The thing weighs a ton; one small mistake, get it unbalanced or have your foot slip and gravity would win every time. I began to blame my parents for not feeding me more cod liver oil or milk or whatever it was that would have seen me grow up big and strong. If only I’d been six inches taller with another 20kg of solid muscle it would have been perfect. Actually, my life might have taken a few other turns had I been built like that but as this is a family review that’s a tale probably best glossed over. In the case of the Wing the bigger me would have been too big to be comfortable riding it but the smaller me struggles to hold it up. What were Honda thinking, did anyone ride this before they put it on the market? Panic was starting to set in. If it was this heavy empty what was it going to be like when it was loaded up with luggage and with the light of my life perched on the back.

Not only that but the first time I went out on it I noticed a red flashing light in the instrument panel. Now what. In my panic it looked like an open book symbol - as in consult the manual. It continued flashing every now and then for the rest of the ride but nothing else happened. With a growing sense of unease I consulted the manual when I got back. It wasn’t an open book symbol but the stylised letters O and D - OverDrive, or Honda’s way of telling me I was in 5th gear. Well, thank you, but counting to 5 isn’t something I’ve had a problem with since I was five. When my wife arrived a few days later we took our first trip together on it - to Walmart. After slowly wobbling into a parking space we had someone come over and say “Wow, what a great looking bike. That the six cylinder one? You folks off somewhere on it?” “Yeah,” I replied “ just as soon as I get it turned round we’re heading off to Los Angeles.” He looked kind of startled, shook his head and said slowly “you be careful now”.

I eventually worked out that the way to approach the Wing was to do everything slowly and somewhat deliberately. Half speed was too fast. Under 20mph you really had to consider any move you were going to make very carefully. We worked out a system a bit like aircraft pre flight checks for my wife to get on and off without upsetting the balance. If we had to manoeuvre anywhere she got off first and for going backwards reverse gear was an absolute godsend. Reverse on a motorcycle previously just seemed like joke to me, something completely unnecessary - until the first time I had to use it. From then on it was my method of choice. Rather than turning the bike round by riding in a circle and risk dropping it I’d do a three point turn, car style. So much easier. It works off the starter motor and is limited to one or two miles an hour so there’s no chance of roaring (or whispering) your way backwards at 20mph into a wall. Just start the engine, select reverse by pressing a button and then when you press the starter button a second time the bike moves backwards via some arrangement of the starter motor. It’s a bit like starting a car in gear in that it lurches but in the Wing’s case it’s meant to do that.

Actually, most of the Wing’s issues vanish as soon as you’re doing about 20mph. On the road it’s super stable. It doesn’t wobble or weave or pitch and because of the long wheelbase you have to be quite forceful to move it off line. Round bends it’s very easy to lean over - so easy in fact that I often overdid it and found I had to bring it back up as the weight took over. Round a series of S bends you had to be careful to get each corner right as it was easy to get carried away as it fell into each one. Once you got the hang of it it was a bit like being at the tiller of a large sailing ship; push the lever, lean it into the bend, balance it on the engine and then sloooowly it would come round. On a long trip you just learnt not to rush things. You’re not on a sports bike, just relax, you’ll get there.

The engine though encourages spirited riding. It really is a masterpiece and one of the nicest touring engines I’ve ever encountered in any vehicle, car or bike. If only it wasn’t so damn heavy. As you’d imagine, an 1800cc engine has quite a few torques (as Top Gear would put it) - or it should have (my 2500cc Land Rover doesn’t but that’s another story as well). You hardly have to use the throttle, it just pulls and pulls and then you change gear with a loud clunk and do it over again. In 10,000 miles I never used full throttle. I never had to. Up to the time of writing I don’t know how far the twist grip goes round. In fact I’ve just gone out and tried it with the engine switched off and been surprised at how far round it does go.

It’s a pity really that revving the engine isn’t necessary because it sounds great if you do. One of my other bikes is another Honda six, a late 70’s CBX1000 and wound up around 8/9000rpm it sounds like the second coming of the Lord is imminent. The GoldWing isn’t that far behind in the sound GP believe me. It doesn’t rev as high (red line at around 6000rpm) and it’s quieter but those extra cylinders do have their impact on your ears. It’s also really flexible as you’d expect from a six and combined with the torque available from tickover you can take horrendous liberties and get away with it. I’ve actually started from a standstill in fifth gear and not had much of a problem. I wouldn’t want to do it very often but for the odd distracted traffic light moment it doesn’t lurch and stall as most of my other stuff would. The joy of six, as the overworked cliche would have it. There were times as we rode along when I started wondering what my XR600 would be like if there were six small pistons going up and down inside the cylinder instead of one large one. A 600 six single or something like that. The 1800 though is a very impressive engine and it’s just a pity that things go downhill a little when all that enthusiasm makes it through to the gearbox.

That’s being a bit harsh really. The gearbox is fine, with well chosen ratios and positive changes. I just wish it didn’t clunk so much. Some of the interstate trucks that pulled up alongside us at stop signs had quieter gearchanges. Internet forums say try different oils to improve things but it clunked just as loudly after changing to the oil many the forums recommend. It’s probably an exaggeration to say that small children hid behind their mothers in terror when you changed gear near them but compared to how quiet the engine was both mechanically and exhaust wise it really stood out. People really did look, particularly when changing from first to second when it sounded like something had broken.

I did wonder at one point whether something really had broken, or at least was on the way to doing so, but later in the trip when we came across a number of other Gold Wings they all sounded much the same. The rest of the bike though was whisper quiet. The mechanical silence of the engine together with the almost inaudible exhaust note did get me an unusual comment one evening when we were riding out of a campsite heading for the local town. Desperately trying to keep the thing upright on loose gravel at around 6-7mph one of the other campers said as I passed “you’re very quiet, thank you”. I can only assume he was more used to the concussive hammering from open piped Harleys blasting the leaves off trees or bursting eardrums as they passed. If loud pipes really do save lives the death statistics for Wing riders must be horrendous.

So, I hear you say, other than the clunks and the weight, you liked it then? Hmm, lets look at under 20mph first before answering that question. With a bit of thought and care you can ride the bike down to about 3-4mph and it remains quite stable. And that’s almost stopped isn’t it. Just keep the brakes on and in a few seconds you’ll be stationary. Well, yes, but it’s both stationary and upright that I was hoping for and somewhere between 4mph and zero, as the bike loses the last vestiges of gyroscopic stability, the weight suddenly reappears. In an instant you have to go from laid-back relaxed cruising mode to Olympic weightlifter, with leg muscles of steel straining every sinew and do whatever else is necessary to hold the thing up. In urban situations with frequent stops or in a traffic queue that quickly becomes wearying.

On all bikes as gyroscopic stability is lost as you slow you have to turn the bars left and right slightly to compensate. On most bikes it’s done automatically and often you don’t even realise you’re doing it. Not so on the Wing; each slight turn of the bars means the weight is off centre and if you stop like that you’re going to have to hold it up. I found it very hard to predict which side the weight would go when I eventually got to zero mph so I developed a technique of braking hard from about 3mph so it would stop quickly before the weight had a chance to move from the vertical. That helped but my wife did wonder why she was being launched out of the seat every time we stopped at lights. In close to 10,000 miles on the bike I tried every technique I could think of to come to a relaxed halt but to no avail; every stop felt like a semi controlled crash. If we were stopping on a loose surface or on a cambered road it could be a real cause for concern and my heart rate would only subside as the side stand went down. For a bike dedicated to easy riding it could be very stressful at times.

There’s another paragraph or two to be written about slow speed manoevering (U turns etc) but as it’s more likely to read like an expose of my riding ability shortcomings I’ll draw a veil over it and move on to some of the good stuff. Suffice it to say that there were many times when a combination of trying to balance the weight and a revvy engine with buckets of torque led to some unorthodox manoeuvres and not a few red faced moments. In the past I’ve seen other Wing owners wobbling around on their bikes, looking like they’ve only been riding for a few weeks and wondered why a beginner would chose to ride something so unsuitable. Well now I understand. The bike makes beginners of us all. It’s a bit like having a cat for a pet and then upgrading to a lion; while there is some familial connection much of your previous experience doesn’t really help that much. Treat it like you normally would and it will bite you. As you can probably guess I didn't do much offroading on it.

Lets move on to some of the stuff that did work - the lights for example, what were they like? Well, there’s loads of them and they’re always on - something I’m not used to with my other bikes where getting any light at all needs something close to divine intervention. They were unbelievably good too; the front lights were as powerful as any car lights I’ve ever used and way way better than most bike stuff - and Honda kindly give you a little dial on the fairing to adjust them up and down as you ride. And the dial actually works, the lights do move up and down. The rear lights are both big and built into the panniers - with another set built into the top box “just in case”. And at night, with them all working, and indicating and braking as well they’re blinding if you’re behind. Or so I’m told. There’s so many lights both front and rear flashing and blinking away it’d only need a bit of tinsel and the bike would look ready for Christmas. It felt quite at home on the strip in Vegas amongst all the other lardy lumps lit up like Christmas trees - and that was just the punters.

Also ticking the “good” box were the brakes. You’d hope they would be with all that weight to control but at first glance they just looked like regular bike brakes as fitted to “lightweight” Hondas. Visions of boiling brake fluid and looming 1000ft drops in the mountains were quickly dismissed though as they turned out to be more than good enough, with two fingers on the front lever easily capable of supplying any necessary force. Honda have “wired” the brakes up in some complicated way so that bits of force goes to all the brakes no matter what you push or pull and then backed it all up with ABS. I never managed to get the ABS to kick in on the road and didn’t dare try it on loose surfaces as, because of the complicated hydraulics, I had no idea which wheel might lock and then whether a. the ABS would work and b. whether it would then make any difference. It was less stressful just to go slowly.

Talking of toys, the Wing came with car style cruise control. Run it up to a suitable speed, click the button, and release your grasp of the twist grip. The bike would then slow a couple of mph, surge a couple of mph over your chosen speed and settle back. it would then maintain that exact speed, uphill or downhill, until it ran out of fuel. Or you touched the brakes. You could adjust your speed in 1 mph increments and it would return to your last setting, after shifting back to “manual” at the touch of another button. All very easy, and kind of useful on long straight roads.

Once you’d been running on cruise for a while though you could find it annoying when someone pulled out in front of you or something else happened so you had to take charge again. Of such things are road rages made - “I had to switch cruise control off to get past you - take that”! I eventually discovered that on very straight roads ( around Bonneville salt flats for example) the Wing was so stable that with cruise engaged I could use both hands for other things (operating a video camera in case you were wondering). Probably a stupid thing to do but with 40 miles of empty arrow straight road to traverse you have to do something with the time.

Also entertaining, if not quite so useful, was the radio / intercom / mp3 player system. We never got the intercom working because we lacked the necessary headsets for our helmets. We didn’t buy them because internet forums said the Honda system was useless and our Autocom ones wouldn’t fit. And it didn’t seem that important. So we didn’t bother. That was either a mistake (my wife’s view) or not (mine).

You could listen to music on the built in speakers though and that worked well up to about 60mph - as long as it was in the desert. If you used it in town the automatically adjusting volume ended up so high people would give you funny looks. Annoyingly the rear speakers didn’t work. John had mentioned it during his pre purchase checks and I’d assumed it was just one of those things - a chance you take when buying second hand and not the end of the world. When I was prepping the bike I thought I ought to see if it was an easily fixable problem but after my eyes glazed over looking through the fault finding section in the workshop manual I gave up and Googled “GoldWing rear speakers don’t work”. Lots of other people with early 1800 Wings also seemed to have the same problem but the answer came as a bit of a surprise. They didn’t work on our 2002 Wing because Honda didn’t fit them until 2005. They fitted the housings and the wiring but just didn’t put anything in them. I suppose it must have made sense to the marketing men at the time. I was only grateful they didn’t think of supplying a pillion microphone so the front speakers could be used as a one way p. a. system.

So how was it to tour on? Once you got going and could ignore the weight it was surprisingly good. The fairing was fantastic. It kept just about everything off - rain, bugs, noise, wind and anything else I haven’t thought of. The nearest analogy I can think of is driving along in your car with all the windows open and wearing all your bike gear. In Britain you might think that sounds good but there was an unforeseen (by me anyway) downside to it. In really hot weather, despite the vents that Honda built in, there was no cooling breeze at all. It’s a very strange feeling having a pocket of completely still air in front of you on a bike with just the odd bit of buffeting coming in from the sides.

I’d been told you could ride along at 80mph (legal in some states) with your jacket unzipped and your helmet visor up without any problems but I was a bit sceptical until I tried it for myself. It was true though, the fairing and screen deflected everything. I rode most of the way across the US with the flip front of my helmet flipped up and really wished I’d brought an open face helmet instead.

Likewise with noise, There was almost none from the mechanical parts and most of the wind noise seemed to be deflected elsewhere. I started the trip with a pair of custom fit earplugs and 20 pairs of disposable foam plugs and used none of them. And I’m very sensitive to noise on a bike, tending to use earplugs all the time. The lack of noise is probably why Honda thought a set of loudspeakers might be a useful addition.

Once over about 30mph the fairing deflected most of the “wet all day” gentle type of rain and it was possible to ride in jeans while others were struggling into waterproofs. About the only thing that still got wet was my gloves. Thunderstorms type downpours were a different matter though as, short of a roof, nothing could stop that level of deluge. Every time it stormed we got wet How wet depended on how close to a bridge or a McDonalds we were when the rain started, so usually we got very wet. It was probably God’s way of reminding us that no matter how many car parts Honda used this was still a motorcycle.

I mentioned hot weather briefly above and that was probably the biggest issue we had with the bike. When it got hot you baked. And it did get hot - it hit 40C a couple of times according to the built in thermometer and we spent many days in the mid to high 30’s. And that was shade temperature. In the direct sun it must have been considerably higher and sitting there in full dark coloured bike gear hour after hour with no cooling breeze came to feel like torture. On one 40C day I swapped jackets with my wife as she was feeling faint (mine had vents, hers was black and didn’t). I survived about an hour before I started feeling faint as well and we were forced to stop. Neither of us wanted to ride on a truck infested interstate without protective clothing (didn’t seem to bother the Harley riders though) but riding in a jacket without some sort of cooling breeze was impossible. That was only the second time in nearly 50yrs of riding I’ve had to give up through heat. Many of the other Wings we saw had some sort of aftermarket vent set into their windscreens and now I understood why. After another Google search I realised it would have been the best $50 I’d ever spent had I known about or anticipated the problem before we started.

So where does that leave us? Oh yes, where do you put all your luggage? The Wing is meant to be up there, slugging it out for the title of best touring bike with a whole load of bantamweights BMWs etc so carrying capacity is important. Surely, with all that weight, loading up the top box and the panniers hardly makes any difference, you wouldn’t really notice it? There is some truth in that but mainly because unless you’re planning to carry gold ingots or lead diving weights it’s hard to get much weight into them. The panniers in particular are a little disappointing. They have wonderful clean lines externally with a fancy remote lock releases hidden under the top box but it comes at the cost of using internal space. The rear lights, the mounting mechanism and the dual locks all reduce the amount of internal space you’d think the panniers should have.

Because of that you have to careful when packing to use up all the little nooks and crannies and corners otherwise you won’t get much in at all. Things have to be shoved in individually to maximise the capacity - which comes as a problem when you roll up at a hotel as you can’t dismount the panniers. Carrying armfuls of dirty washing through reception tends to bring about a sniffy reaction in more ways than one. Initially we tried stuffing things into lightweight walking bags ($4 from Walmart) and pushing those into the panniers but eventually found a couple of net style laundry sacks ($2 for two, also in Walmart) were a a better option as they could be deformed into the corners more easily. But they didn’t exactly shout rich couple touring (just as well really!) when you pulled them out. In fact if we'd had a couple of broom handles to hang them from we could have doubled for Dick Whittington and his wife as we walked into hotels. The top box, on the other hand, just seemed to take everything we shoved into it - most of the time that was a six person tent, something I’d never have taken on any other bike.

Many of the other Wings I’d seen were sporting a small rack on the lid of the top box and, anticipating storage issues, we thought we ought to add one. We got the official Honda one because a. we thought it would fit properly and b. (unusually) it was cheaper than most of the others. Fitting it involved drilling holes but Honda not only supplied a paper template with the rack, they’d thoughtfully cast small locating marks into the underneath of the lid. These lined up exactly with the template so it looked like an easy job. However after we’d drilled three of the four holes it became obvious that even if the casting marks were correct the rack wasn’t going to fit as it had been welded slightly askew. It wasn’t out by much but there’s no going back once you’ve drilled the holes and we didn’t have time to return it for a replacement. With the aid of a file to slot some of the holes, some very careful measurement and some invisible reinforcement we did get it on eventually but it was quite some time before we’d trust it with even close to the stickered 0.9kg weight limit.

Most disappointing though was the lack of useable space around where the fuel tank would normally go. You couldn’t fit a tankbag because there was nothing to fit it to. The tank was under the seat and the space where a normal tank would be was taken up by the radio controls. It did feel very self indulgent piling it all on the back and leaving the handlebar / tank area free of all intrusions. In fact it reminded me of my early touring days when I couldn’t afford a tank bag so it all had to get piled on the back - to the detriment of front wheel traction. At least that wasn’t going to be a problem on the Wing.

Actually it probably was responsible for some of the low speed instability as it did improve slightly with empty panniers and no pillion but for most of the trip that option wasn’t terribly practical. A few rough edges, particularly around the handlebars, would also have been helpful as there was nowhere to fit stuff like sat-navs etc. The aftermarket world has obviously struggled with this as well as the best they’ve been able to come up with (if you don’t want to drill holes) are things like extending the fixing screws for the clutch master cylinder cover and bolting your sat-nav to those. That’s only one step up from what I’d do and very amateur night looking.

So far this is all very touchy feely; no hard numbers, no speed testing, 1/4 mile times, that kind of thing. Well there’s loads of that stuff on YouTube if you think it’s important but here’s what I’ve got: most of the time it did somewhere between about 42 and 50mpg. That’s US mpg. Converting it to the butch 1.2x bigger UK gallons it comes out between 50 and 60mpg. And yes I know that seems ridiculous for a half ton bike with an 1800cc engine but unless the mileometer was miles out (and it wasn’t because I checked it a couple of times) that’s what it did tank after tank after tank (about 50 of them). It hardly mattered though because fuel was so cheap. It ran out, you filled it up and paid for it with pocket change. At about 30p/litre (east coast) it wasn’t a major (or even a minor) concern.

It used just under a litre of oil in 10,000 miles and it came back with 3mm of tread on the front tyre and 4mm on the rear. Mostly we cruised around 65mph on back roads and about 10mph quicker on interstates (although I did once see just under 100mph on the clock while getting past a bunch of trucks). Other than the oil I did nothing at all to it. Nothing broke, nothing went wrong, nothing needed adjusting - retuning the radio a few times as we went state to state was about as much as I had to do. The bike went over once while stationary in a car park when my foot slipped (my wife just stepped off), fortunately with no damage and, much to my annoyance, I caught the underneath of the crash bar on the corner of a low wall while trying to take a short cut to a hotel car park, leaving a small scrape mark on the chrome.

Over the course of the trip I suppose I saw about 50 other Gold Wings - mainly 1800s but a few older ones. Many of them had caught Harley-itis and were blinged to a standstill with custom paint and even more chrome. Most of the owners of the two wheeled ones were either much bigger than me or fatalistic about the weight but probably half of them had been converted to trikes (and then customised). The trike owners had a certain smugness about them and they all still seemed to have the normal compliment of arms and legs, lack of some of which via military service seemed to characterise the few Harley trike owners we met. I suspect that most Wing trike owners buy the bike and love its characteristics but quickly realise that sooner or later the weight is going to get them. Adding a third wheel is the obvious health and safety answer and trikes are acceptable in the US to a level they’re not here so there’s little downside other than the cost of the conversion.

How other bike(r)s react to it is interesting. Probably 75% of Harley riders would wave, including many sporting the patch jacket and storm trooper helmet look. Almost all the Wing riders did - some more enthusiastically than seemed justified (one ran out of McDonalds to say hello as we pulled into the store next door), but hardly anyone on a BMW did and I can’t remember a single rider of a bike under 750cc waving despite me doing it first.

To anyone on an “adventure bike” though we were just two old codgers on some lardy cruiser and not worthy of their attention. They just saw Darby and Joan on a day trip with the bike as a stand in retirement home. One guy on a “fully loaded” dirt stained Vstrom went out of his way to ignore us as we rode more or less side by side south out of Moab for about 10 miles. He may have had other things on his mind but his reaction wasn’t that unusual. I eventually worked out that it all came down to seating position. If you rode the sort of bike where you leant forward to reach the bars (sports bikes, some trailies, that kind of thing) you’d ignore the sorts of bikes where you leant back (Harleys, Wings etc) - and pretty much vice versa. How you sat on the bike reflected your priorities in life; booze and burgers vs adrenalin fueled, dirt covered action. All I would say is that there’s more than one way of taking the road less travelled. It’s a good job I’m confident in my masculinity (that’s a joke by the way).

In the end we put off the decision about what to do with the bike. As I write it’s back sitting in John’s barn, cleaned, polished and semi serviced (it needs new brake pads before doing much more than local trips) and awaiting me sending the insurance certificate and registration slip back to him before he can use it. If it didn’t cost £500 for a transatlantic flight first I’d certainly use it to explore other parts of North America as it fits right into the culture there and despite some of the drawbacks I’ve mentioned above it works well as a touring bike. If nothing else its convinced my wife that bike travel can be an enjoyable experience and the likelihood is high that we’ll use it for at least one more long trip. If we do it’ll tilt the economic balance of buying, riding and then selling even further from the fly / hire alternative as, other than consumables, the next trip will be close to free. She’s already drawing lines on maps of the deep south while I’m wondering whether a subscription to a body building magazine might be good forward planning.

Last edited by backofbeyond; 13 Jan 2016 at 15:53.
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Old 24 Dec 2015
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This is a very enjoyable read. Well written, amusing and informative. Thanks for taking the time to put it together and post it. Funnily enough the missus has volunteered to go on a tour around Europe this year. I wasn't thinking Goldwing before and now I know I am right!!
Seriously, thanks for taking the time to post this. Very entertaining!

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Old 24 Dec 2015
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I have more than 1 bike in the stable and a GL1800 is one of them. I've had a wing for over 12 years and I believe there is no more dependable bike out there. I drive my wing to Cabo San Lucas and did a fair amount of off highway driving. Of course we're talking just dirt and sand but it was surprisingly able given the weight.
I think the handlebars would get in the way of a tank bag and it would cover your radio controls.
The wing handles like a dream on the road with a full traxxion suspension set up. If I go long distance the wing is my weapon of choice.

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Old 24 Dec 2015
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Great stuff! Only read a few paragraphs in so far ... but will get through it all eventually!

An occasional Pic between paragraphs would really make this tome easier to read!

Two friends bought NEW Goldwings back in round 2010 or so. Love them. Both guys also own R12GS's, one a Tenere and dirt bikes, DR650's and such. Very experienced riders with decades experience, dozens of bikes owned.

I've followed my buddy as he rode 2 Up on his Wing through some challenging bends, me behind on my 1050 Tiger. His pace was remarkable! But of course he had his Wing's suspension totally re-done. Apparently, in Wing world there are several "specialists" who do ONLY WINGS. This same guy rode 2 up to Alaska ... did lots of dirt, gravel and mud roads up there. Harrowing but he claims he never fell down!

I finally got a short test ride on his Wing. I was astounded how light the bike rides. But bit scary to come to to stop on uncertain surface ... I'm only 5' 6", 29" inseam. But somehow survived and did not fall over. The thing is just SO HUGE ... but I guess you get used to it?

Looking forward to continuing the story ...

PS: I hope you found the real "Muscle Beach". Original is no longer really there. The Muscle head guys now all go to Venice Beach, (just 1.5 mile South from Santa Monica pier) to the Venice Paddle Ball courts, where "new" Muscle beach is. You can even meet Arnold there on occasion, as his gym is near by.
I am a native of the area but now live in Nor Cal.
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Old 26 Dec 2015
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Just read through that and I agree it is well written !
I'm still not convinced I need a Goldwing though
Fortunately my wife rides her own (light-ish) bike and like you you I have been able to fend off the "need" for an intercom system

Looking forward to more of your story.

Cheers, Ard
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Old 26 Dec 2015
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Originally Posted by mollydog View Post

An occasional Pic between paragraphs would really make this tome easier to read!

Two friends bought NEW Goldwings back in round 2010 or so. Love them. Both guys also own R12GS's, one a Tenere and dirt bikes, DR650's and such. Very experienced riders with decades experience, dozens of bikes owned.

I've followed my buddy as he rode 2 Up on his Wing through some challenging bends, me behind on my 1050 Tiger. His pace was remarkable! But of course he had his Wing's suspension totally re-done. Apparently, in Wing world there are several "specialists" who do ONLY WINGS. This same guy rode 2 up to Alaska ... did lots of dirt, gravel and mud roads up there. Harrowing but he claims he never fell down!

I finally got a short test ride on his Wing. I was astounded how light the bike rides. But bit scary to come to to stop on uncertain surface ... I'm only 5' 6", 29" inseam. But somehow survived and did not fall over. The thing is just SO HUGE ... but I guess you get used to it?

PS: I hope you found the real "Muscle Beach". Original is no longer really there. The Muscle head guys now all go to Venice Beach, (just 1.5 mile South from Santa Monica pier) to the Venice Paddle Ball courts, where "new" Muscle beach is. You can even meet Arnold there on occasion, as his gym is near by.
I am a native of the area but now live in Nor Cal.
Yes, apologies for the layout - it just goes to illustrate how different media have different requirements. It was actually intended to be one chapter of the book of the trip I'd eventually get round to completing and, as a work in progress, the pictures and the words were still living separate lives. I'm still not even sure all the paragraphs in the report will stay together happily ever after. I'll hit the edit button, chop the text up and rummage around the photo pile to see if I can make it read a little easier.

We did find the area of Venice beach you mentioned - with all the weights and other gym paraphernalia, but much to my wife's annoyance there was a lack of six packs on show on the day we were there. The whole area was being used for some glamour photo shoot with pouting bikini clad models draped suggestively over various bits of equipment and surrounded by lights and reflectors with photographers shouting "ooh, that's lovely, keep it up, more of that" and other inanities. I'd have been happy to stay a little longer but Helen decided that she really wanted to see Santa Monica pier instead!

The Wing report was really intended to be just that - focussing in closely on what I thought of the bike after riding it around 10k miles. In the wider context of the trip there's a lot more to be said. For example, John, my friend from NJ, came with us on his late 90's Triumph Sprint - a 900 triple as you probably already know.

The Triumph getting new tyres fitted in Salt Lake City

On the way back we swapped bikes every now and then and the comparison between that and the Wing was interesting - or it will be if I ever get round to writing it. We did think at one point John was going to use his 1976 original Gold Wing for the trip instead of the Triumph, but 10k miles on a reasonably tight schedule (he had business meetings arranged with clients in LA and Salt Lake City) on a bike that hadn't done much more than local trips in decades was a bigger chance than we thought sensible. It would have made for an interesting comparison though.

That "then and now" comparison is what prompted me to post the report without giving much thought to the layout. After rummaging around the debate over in the pub section about the weight of the new Africa Twin and its direct competitors and how it affects their suitability as serious overlanders, it seemed to me that the Gold Wing hasn't been the only bike that's been suffering from epigenetic obesity. Each new generation of adventure bikes has been getting bigger and heavier and gaining "presence".

Most of the bikes in that "adventure tourer" category seem to be optimised for the road but advertised for the dirt. Of course dirt hasn't changed that much since we (you) were ploughing through it on featherweight (by comparison) Japanese two strokes decades ago. Neither have people changed that much. I'm told that the average (male) Brit is 5' 9" tall these days and I remember being told as a (young!) schoolchild back in the 50's that 5' 8" was the aspirational height then. Ok, McDonalds has done its best to ensure our horizontal dimensions match our vertical ones but give or take a few inches we're roughly the same as we've been for quite some time.

What has changed of course is/are the road(s). Cars, trucks, pickups / vans etc are bigger - much bigger by and large - than they used to be (that's a Euro observation but true (imho) in the US since my first visit in the mid 80's). They're also more powerful and more refined and as roads have improved the amount of power a bike needs to keep its place in the road hierarchy has also increased. I would guess a bike needs twice as much power now as it did in (say) 1970 to "make similar progress" and with that power comes the weight of heavier parts to control it.

That's where we are with a lot of bikes - bigger, more powerful and heavier to cope with changing road conditions and, rather than being an island of avoirdupois excess, the Wing is only somewhere further along that spectrum. With a "statistically std" rider more bike weight impacts on the dirt performance first but doesn't change that much on the tarmac - in fact it improves it in many ways. The Wing however is living proof that if you add enough weight even road performance is compromised.

Actually, I remain to be convinced that the real problem with the Wing in "soft road" conditions is all down to the weight and my lack of ability. There's something slightly unstable about the way it rides at very low speed - under 5mph for example and the sorts of speeds you'd be trickling along at on dirt. It seems to roll more than it should and you notice it both at low speed and when setting it up for a corner when it'll fall in faster than you expect. I thought it might be something to do with the profile of the tyres (and it did become slightly more stable as they squared off) or maybe more weight than I'm used to being kept both high and left/right of the centre line. That's what really put me off riding it on loose surfaces.
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Old 23 Jan 2016
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Great review BoB. I have also ridden the 'Wing and have similar plans to ride one stateside again in the future (although I better hurry up if I want to do it whilst I am stil lfit enough) and you have re-inspired me.

I definitely agree that the low speed instability you experienced is NOT an inherent feature of the GL1800, as a matter of fact, I feel it is easily the lightest and most stable of any of the 1,000cc+ bikes on the market (if you want a real behemoth then try a Victory Vision, HD Ultra Glide, Rocket III or R1200GS - all of these are tricky big bikes to ride around town, a properly shod GL1800 feels like a 250 by comparison).

So I'm not sure what tyres you had fitted to yours but I suggest going back to the standard factory fitment, and hopefully you can become your own uncle (BoB) again. :-)
Garry from Oz - powered by Burgman
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Old 20 May 2016
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Thanks BoB others have said what I want to say but I would add brilliant.
I,m dare I say it a GS rider but my only adventures have been in tarmaced Europe.
It might be an age thing at 65 but I have finally got the "Goldwing" thing.

Why that has happened was because at The Chalet café Sussex I met a group of GW riders and got chatting to them.
One of my first jocular comments was that they must all be wealthy and it was explained to me that they can be as cheap or expensive as you want them to be. Like most marques of bikes I suppose.
We had a good chat and as they pulled away I envied the comfort they all had with he music playing.
However my wife is still not convinced.
Thanks again.
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