This weather isn’t what Southern California promised. It’s cold and overcast with a chance of “Why is this happening to me?” My trusty passenger/wife, Jess, and I are ready to ride north along a foggy patch of the Pacific Coast Highway on the newest edition of Honda’s sofa on wheels, the . The rain suits are in our hard cases, the heated seat and grips are warming up, and the power windshield is fully extended. With a 1,833-cc flat-six and a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (no shifting) beneath us, I wonder when luxury cruising got so good.
In 1975, the new Honda GL1000 was a normal, stripped-down, street-style bike. It housed a kick-start 999-cc flat-four and five-speed transmission mounted on a steel frame. Although it wasn’t intended specifically as a tour bike, because of its dependability customers rode it long distances and added aftermarket luggage bags and fairings. Honda encouraged the relationship, and soon 800,000 middle-aged, leather-clad adventurists were pursuing their own vision quests on two wheels. That number is now at 800,002. Honda followed up on the GL1000 with the first Gold Wings created specifically to accommodate the needs of its early riders. Subsequent models had bigger engines, electronic ignition, longer wheelbases, more room for drivers and passengers, larger gas tanks, an audio system, factory-installed fairings and luggage bags, and, in 1982, an optional CB radio.
Even with the massive engine on the 2018 model, there’s hardly any noise or shaking. The four drive modes are derived from Honda cars and trucks. In Tour mode, it eats the bumps so well that I have to make sure Jess hasn’t fallen asleep. I pair my phone with the Apple CarPlay system and crank up the music.
Some light rain opens up. Any sane person would pull over. “Ah, let’s go for it,” one of my split personalities says to the other. (Neither of us asks Jess.) I toggle to Rain mode at cruising speed, switching the sensitivity on the ABS and the throttle. The new Gold Wing is 85 pounds lighter than previous versions, with new streamlined fairings that make me wonder how much protection we’ll have. But the bike handles with perfect confidence, and we’re dry.
From the late ’80s to the early 2000s, the Gold Wing experienced its most significant advances. In 1988 Honda added two more cylinders. The 1990s weren’t much in terms of technology, but then in 2001, bam! Fuel injection, an aluminum frame, smoother transmission, and ABS braking. By 2006 the Gold Wing had in-dash GPS and the world’s first motorcycle airbag. In 2009, satellite radio. And in 2012, iPod compatibility.
After lunch, a true miracle: sunshine. I switch to Sport mode in the Malibu canyons, pull the throttle back, and, wow. The Gold Wing tightens up with response that’s overwhelming. The big bike takes the canyon’s tight corners with ease and balance. Jess is a professional passenger, so I’m able to pull the bike down low while the double clutch smoothly downshifts and powers out of the turn. This motorcycle seems to have it all. My only suggestion for next year: self-driving mode.
This appears in the June 2018 issue.