Honda GL1800 Goldwing Tourer (2001 - ) review
This classic ‘full dress’ tourer may be aging and lack the sophistication, power and latest gadgets of newer rivals, but it remains the definitive example of the breed with a huge following and equally enormous mile-eating ability
Interested in buying a Honda GL1800 Goldwing?
A triumph of evolution over inspiration. It’s strange to remember that what has become the definitive full dress tourer, started out in 1975, as an unfaired ‘superbike’. That first four cylinder GL1000 was quickly adopted, particularly in the US, as a long-distance mile-eater usually gaining aftermarket fairings and luggage prompting Honda itself to follow suit.
The 1988 GL1500 became a six, setting the benchmark for integrated design incorporating luggage, stereo and more. This was evolved further with the beam-frame, face-lifted 1800 in 2001, although bikes like BMW’s more modern K1600GTL have raised the bar since.
The classic, upright touring position is about as comfortable as a bike gets, so much so that the ‘Wing’s sometimes derisorily referred to as a ‘two-wheeled motorhome’. The seat is wide and plush (for both rider and pillion); feet rest on roomy footboards; controls (and there are lots of them) are all relatively easily to hand; and protection from the elements by the enormous screen is virtually total. Motorcycles don’t get more sumptuous.
The ‘Wing is simply too large, thirsty and excessive to be a sensible commuter, but bulk and cost aside, it is surprisingly versatile. The centrally-locked luggage system has a massive 147-litres of capacity, and thanks to its weather protection, heated grips and more, it makes a comfortable year-round ride (as long as you keep it clean). Dynamically, it is far more nimble and tractable than its looks suggest.
Performance & braking
For a bike – which has been designed and evolved over the past 40 years to provide touring comfort – the big ‘Wing is surprisingly brisk and effective, especially in its latest 1800 form. The opposed piston flat six, or ‘boxer’, engine is incredibly grunty yet smooth, happily propelling all that bulk up to the ton almost effortlessly. In this latest incarnation, the linked, assisted brakes, complete with ABS, are more than up to the job of hauling the whole plot back down rapidly, too.
Ride & handling
The biggest change, apart from the uprated engine in 2001, was the adoption of an all-new, far lighter, aluminium twin beam frame. While the previous 1500 was a surprisingly good handler, the updated version is a bulk-defying revelation. Of course, lighter, nimbler, tauter sports bikes will run rings round it, but the ‘Wing is still amazingly able for such a vast machine, and it delivers an ultra-plush, magic carpet-like ride.
No machine this vast is ever going to be cheap to run. Although effective, the six-cylinder engine can prove thirsty, especially when ridden hard. The huge weight, and tyre and brake pad consumption is a significant factor, too. Add to that an initially high purchase price (although used examples are becoming temptingly affordable), plus high insurance and servicing costs, and you’ve got a bike that’s towards the top end of the running costs scale.
‘Wings of all types have been known to rack up astronomically high mileages, but on the whole its reliability record is excellent and the 1800 version – due to continual refinement – is the best of the bunch. The motor is fairly understressed so is not too much of a worry, although regulators are a typical Honda weak point. Instead it’s important to check for corrosion and that all load bearing areas (some ‘Wings carry lots of luggage) have not been over-stressed.
Warranty & servicing
The big GL1800 ‘Wing benefits from the standard Honda warranty – namely two years/unlimited mileage. More impressive is its service schedule. Despite such a big, sophisticated design, servicing is not too demanding: regular, main services are only every 12,000 miles with the valve train only needing to be adjusted every 32,000 – and there aren’t many bikes that can boast that. That said, it’s a complicated, fiddly bike to work on, so don’t expect it to be cheap.
‘Wing’s have long held a reputation for coming with everything including the kitchen sink. The latest 1800 version takes things to the nth degree – if you want them. As standard it has masses of luggage space and comfort along with cruise control, ABS, stereo and more. But that’s only the start. The list of cost options is as long as the proverbial. On the downside, the 1800 ‘Wing can’t match the latest electronics, rider aids and sophisticated displays of newer rivals, particularly BMW’s stupendous K1600GTL.
A legend in its own lifetime. Few bikes define and dominate their own classes as well as the super GL1800 Gold Wing. That said, the design is now more than a little long in the tooth and more recent rivals, particularly BMW’s ultra-sophisticated and fast K1600GTL, can now both easily show the Honda a clean pair of heels and embarrass it in terms of sophistication. The ‘Wing is still classy and more than up to the job, but a replacement is also more than overdue.