There are two important things you need to know before we go any further.
Yes, I stole the title of this review from an old REM album, even though I only like two of their songs.
And secondly, a ride on a new Honda Goldwing should not, by any objective expectation, become a savage, rain-lashed, corner-carving, fiend-fest.
But mine did.
It began prosaically enough, as these things often do.
And it usually goes like this:
Borrie presents himself at a dealer. Dealer introduces Borrie to a motorcycle, makes some small-talk, wishes him happy trails, and the show begins.
This is what happened when I came to collect the new Goldwing, except the small-talk was a little different.
“You ridden an automatic bike before?”
“I did once let a really hot stripper change gears for me while I rode through a paddock looking for some soft moss upon which to ravish her. Does that count?”
The Honda bloke looked momentarily nonplussed, but heroically continued to tell me about the auto Goldwing.
“It does your head in a bit,” he declared.
“So did the stripper,” I grinned.
“Look, it feels really weird for about half-an-hour or so, and then you’ll love it.”
I left the stripper comparisons aside at that point (I could have gone on), bade him farewell and set off, feeling all flash and imperious, as you do on a big, luxo, super-tourer.
I was planning on going up Thunderbolt’s Way to Walcha that weekend for my inaugural book club meeting, then spending a day riding the Oxley to Wauchope and back to Walcha, and then riding home the way I came. It would be an excellent way to see if this very new, much-heralded Goldwing was a step in the correct direction for Honda’s fabled model.
After all, the Goldwing is righteously legendary. Until BMW started really trying in recent times, there was no other luxo-mega-tourer that could touch it in terms of comfort, handling, pillion-delight, and mile-eating majesty. I’ve done quite a few massive rides on various Goldwings over the years and I am a huge fan of the model.
So how would a 50kg-lighter version with a weirdo dual-clutch set up (this is the automatic bit), a new six-pot Unicam engine (which offers 125hp and 170Nm compared to 116hp and 167Nm for the previous model), new wishbone front-suspension, flashy Apple CarPlay thingo beaming info at you via a seven-inch TFT screen (with auto-dim), and a host of extras the demographic who buys these bikes demands (and which are listed at the end of this piece), respond to my always unreasonable demands? Especially since I am not that demographic. I do not think I will ever be that demographic and my son has written instructions to end me if I ever even look like becoming that demographic.
Well, I surely did find out.
The Honda bloke was right. Ten minutes into traffic on an automatic motorcycle that is still, despite being substantially trimmer and lighter than its predecessor, quite sizeable and comes with a billion buttons, and my head was done right in.
The sheer novelty of an automatic bike was unsettling my chakras.
“It really is changing gear by itself,” I muttered to myself. “And it’s doing it better than me.”
It does change those gears by itself, up and down, but you can also change the gears with a toggle switch on the ’bars whenever you like – and you will try that until you decide it’s better at changing gears than you ever will be and never do it again.
Thus far, whatever sorcery Honda had installed to make the Goldwing’s seven-speed gearbox do its thing while you rode around in a mild panic hoping it would be in the right gear at the right time, was working.
Much later, over a beer at Longflat, my brother, Andy (I gave him a ride on the Goldwing because I love him and want him to be happy), were discussing this automatic Goldwing business. I had very much come to terms with it by this stage. Andy was still approaching those terms.
This was the problem. Or the lack of a problem I somehow felt it had to have. The bloody Goldwing was always in the appropriate gear. I lashed it up and down the Oxley Highway like I was kinda serious, and it just…well, worked. Every time.
Occasionally, the dual-clutch transmission would make a distant thunking noise as I sawed at the throttle through the endless bends, but each and every time I was in the right gear going in and the right gear coming out.
How such technology was even possible at a time in history when many people believe the return of Jesus is imminent, is a mystery.
Andy and I decided there was a satellite overhead which tracked the rider, and back in Japan, a bloke was watching him on a screen and deciding which gear the rider should be in at any given time. And the bastard is on his game!
I pulled over and stared at the insane array of switches and buttons and dials. None of them made any sense at this point, and I realised I was over-thinking this.
If an old bloke with a bloodstream made thick and languid by liver pills, anti-depressants, heart medication, and cholesterol drugs could make a go of this, then what was stopping me?
Fear of the unknown, I reasoned.
Four days later there was no fear. There was just awe and admiration. Honda has absolutely nailed it with this new Goldwing.
So it’s lost a bit of luggage-carrying capacity. It had too much to begin with in my view. If you can’t take everything you and your missus need for a week away on this one, buy a car. It’s got a slightly smaller petrol tank (21l instead of 25l). So you might do 60-80km less before you have to fill up. So what? These are not negatives, old Goldwing owners. You’ve lost not much at all, but gained an immeasurably better motorcycle to ride.
It’s more comfortable, it handles better, it’s smoother, it’s livelier on the throttle, it’s far more sophisticated electronically, it’s got a sexier and fatter rear tyre, it looks so much more modern and purposeful, it’s weather-and-wind-protection is just as superb (read on and I’ll tell you why), and it’s an automatic so you never have to worry about that pesky gear-changing business.
On any other kind of bike this auto concept is a violation of righteousness. On the Goldwing, it is a perfectly sensational development.
I set off to Walcha accompanied by a really young bloke called Harry on his nasty MT-09, and a slightly less young bloke called Luke, who rides a GSX-750 like there’s a world title at stake.
The ride was, initially at least, pleasant and easy and the Goldwing did nothing but re-iterate in my mind why it is such an icon of touring.
We got to Gloucester, ate lunch, fuelled up, and prepared to climb the range and do Thunderbolt’s Way with a sparkle in our eyes.
We maybe got halfway to Walcha when the clouds we’d been looking at all morning started delivering a month’s worth of rain every 100 metres. It was apocalyptic. And it was also cop-free.
I dialled the ’Wing up to 160 and off I went.
It was as comprehensive a wet-weather test of the fairing and the bike’s road-holding ability as one could get, I reckon. Now and again Harry would appear in my blurry-wet mirrors, but I would just go a little faster and Harry’s headlight would fade into the distance.
Luke was not even trying. He said later at anything over 120 it was like being waterboarded by the CIA. Harry is only in his early 20s, so his suffering threshold is very high. And I’m sure he was astonished to see the old guy on the Goldwing going as hard as he was. I know I was.
I arrived in Walcha and rode straight into my brother Andy’s superb and eponymous motel. I dismounted and took stock. Harry arrived as wet as a human could be and not grow gills. By comparison, I was not that wet – nowhere near it in fact. I was maybe mildly damp. Which was quite amazing.
I have great wet-weather gear, but even that would have failed in that rain. What kept me relatively dry, quite comfortable, and able to belt along at the old ton most of the way, was the Goldwing and its amazing weather protection.
The next day it was dry, and I did the Oxley and was once again cosseted, comforted and assured by the Honda’s immense ability – from fast sweepers to technical 30km/h hairpins – it just performed beautifully.
The new Goldwing is superb. It is a well-thought-out and brilliantly engineered new iteration of a classic grand tourer.
It is the incarnation of the less is more concept.
There may be physically less of the new Goldwing. But there’s just so much more of what made the model great in the first place.
IT’S GOT EVERYTHING
Four riding modes (Tour, Sport, Economy and Rain – mine was only ever in Tour or Sport, even in the rain, and since Economy is for vegetarians, I did not even bother. Just so you know, Sport is the one. It is SO the one), traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, electronic suspension adjustment, airbag, arm rests, central locking, walk-mode (backwards and forwards) hill-start control, anti-lock braking, auto-cancelling blinkers, electric windscreen (finally), LED lights (which will melt animals), a smart key, heated grips, and heated rider and pillion seats.
THE BIG GERMAN QUESTION
So how does the Goldwing compare to its German rival, the six-cylinder K1600GT and its bagger brother, the K1600B?
Well, the Honda is a little more of a relaxed ride. You can get quite mongrely on the GT. The Honda prefers Sir to be more refined with his inputs. It feels and is a physically smaller bike than the two German offerings, both of which have a little more ground clearance to go with their more aggressive miens. But ground clearance really isn’t an issue with the Honda. I doubt anyone who buys one will be doing what I was doing on it. Or on the BMWs for that matter.
I guess one way of looking at it is to imagine the Honda is a General. This General sends his troops into battle knowing they are well-trained and will carry out his orders flawlessly. He observes the battle at a remove.
The German general likes to fight with his troops, in the thick of battle. He is engaged at the pointy end.
But the result is the same. It’s just arrived at from two distinct perspectives.
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Words by Boris Mihailovic
Images by Nick Edards/Half Light Photographic