“Dear God, would you please, please, make it stop raining? Pretty please? If you do, I promise never to drag a footpeg or break the speed limit ever again. I’ll even return the invisible-ink pen I stole from Patrick Gorman in seventh grade…if I can find it. Deal?”
Well, I tried, but The Big Guy Up In The Sky must not have been taking calls that Tuesday. Because what we got on our ride from Lorton, Virginia, to Roanoke wasn’t just your typical afternoon shower; it was an all-day inundation, a deluge of Biblical proportions. I wondered if we had somehow made a wrong turn and were riding under Niagara Falls.
But we were nowhere near the U.S.-Canadian border; we were on the Blue Ridge Parkway, splashing our way to Roanoke during Honda’s press ride for the 2012 Gold Wing. Representatives from nine motorcycle media outlets were participating in a five-day press event aboard the new Wing; and since the big GL is one of the world’s most popular two-up machines, Honda also invited wives, girlfriends and significant others to come along for the ride. Accompanying me was my wife, Ro (short for Rosanne), who endured the deluge without the slightest whimper but did want to talk about some trust issues after learning about the Patrick Gorman caper.
Honda called this event “Planes, Trains and Motorcycles,” parodying the 1987 “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” movie starring Steve Martin and John Candy. The “motorcycles” part needed no explanation, and “planes” referred to the flights required to get participants from their home cities to the start of the event in Orlando, Florida. But “trains”?
That was just one part of this unusual motorcycle press function, which began with a Sunday evening dinner and Gold Wing tech briefing in Orlando. On Monday morning, we were given a backstage tour of the World Showcase exhibit at Disney’s Epcot Center, and then we all boarded an Amtrak Auto Train for a 17-hour overnight trip to Lorton. Coupled at the back end of the train in special auto/motorcycle cars were the 2012 Gold Wings we would ride from Lorton to Knoxville, Tennessee. We guests wondered what on Earth train rides and Disney World tours had to do with Gold Wings and why we couldn’t have begun our ride in Orlando; but we had to admit that the train trip—which included private sleeping compartments and excellent meals in the dining car—was an interesting experience.
Immediately after arriving in Lorton, we donned our riding gear in the train station’s parking lot and headed south toward Roanoke. It wasn’t raining when we departed, but about 25 miles later, the skies opened and the non-stop downpour began. Like several of the other riders, Ro and I had not put on our goofy rainsuits at the start of the ride, figuring that as soon as we felt the first sprinkles, we would stop and slip into raingear.
Bad idea! The rain began not gradually but instantaneously, dumping on us as though we had suddenly ridden into the Green Giant’s carwash. Almost immediately, Ro and I were soaked to the skin, despite our water-resistant riding gear. At that point, we didn’t need rainsuits; we needed to round up the animals two by two and head for the ark. So, we just rode on, finally arriving at the historic Hotel Roanoke for a hot shower, dry clothes and a great dinner at downtown’s trendy Blue 5 restaurant.
Mercifully, we enjoyed better weather on the last two days of the event. We dodged a number of storm cells on the Wednesday ride from Roanoke to Asheville, North Carolina, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, with only a few drops ever splatting on the Wing’s windshield. We spent the night at a four-star, 213-room hotel on the grounds of the lavish, 8000-acre Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Before dinner, we were given a tour of the Estate’s centerpiece, the 250-room, 175,000-square-foot Biltmore House. Built over a six-year period between 1889 and 1895, it is meticulously maintained and ranks as the country’s largest privately owned home.
At last, near-perfect weather during Thursday’s ride from Asheville to PT&M’s conclusion in Knoxville. Ro and I and Honda’s provided photographer, the appropriately named Kevin Wing, separated from the group to shoot some exclusive riding photos on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then we booked straight to Knoxville on I-40.
We never had to deal with extremely hot temperatures during our ride, but we did experience a reasonably wide range of conditions over the three days ranging from the mid-40s in the pouring rain to mid-70s in blue-sky sunshine. That helped us get a good sense of one of the new Wing’s improvements for 2012, its fairing design. The upper part of the fairing is about the same, but the lower half has been redesigned for better aerodynamics and rider/passenger protection.
It works as advertised. Ro and I spent a week riding a 2010 Gold Wing on our honeymoon this past July, and compared to that bike, the new model provided better wind and weather protection from the waist down. Nothing could have kept water off of us during Tuesday’s cats-and-dogs rainstorms; there are, after all, limits to the protection any motorcycle can offer.
Both of us also were able to ride for longer periods on the ’12 Wing without squirming around, thanks to the seat’s new and improved internal padding and cover material. Revised suspension settings further smoothed the ride, and a new Bridgestone front tire helped the big GL turn in more easily and remain neutral in corners.
Other changes include the saddlebags, which were restyled to integrate with a new taillight and turnsignal design while also providing 7 liters of additional storage. The navigation system has been given a major upgrade, and the audio system now offers direct MP3 and iPod connectivity via a trunk-mounted USB cable that also can be used to charge most smartphones.
Those are all very useful changes and improvements, but the 2012 Gold Wing is far from all-new. The engine and drivetrain remain unchanged, as do the aluminum frame, single-sided swingarm, manually adjustable windscreen and linked braking system. So, despite the changes, the new bike still acts, feels and sounds like a classic 1800 Gold Wing. Because that’s exactly what it is.
Ro and I were a little disappointed, though, that the new GL does not use Bluetooth technology that would provide wireless connection to the sound, navigation and rider-to-passenger communication systems. I asked Bill Savino, Honda’s Powersports Press Manager, why the GL is not Bluetooth compatible, and he said, “When developing this bike, we did extensive research with Gold Wing riders who told us they wanted more comfort, better wind protection and, surprisingly, better handling, but Bluetooth was not prominent on the list. For future models, we will investigate the use of wireless communication but won’t adopt it unless it works at least as well as the plug-in system we now have.”
That’s too bad. The Wing has a serious new competitor in BMW’s K1600GTL, which includes Bluetooth connectivity along with a host of other technological features that the Honda does not offer. But still, the 2012 model is a Gold Wing, a true icon in the realm of American motorcycle touring, and that will no doubt help the Honda hold its own in that market segment. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out.
Oh, and because The Big Guy refused to stop the rain, I retaliated by deliberately dragging the Wing’s footpegs as often as possible and exceeding the speed limit at every opportunity. And the truth is that Patrick Gorman’s hokey pen didn’t work, so I threw it away. A long time ago.
Look for more about the 2012 Gold Wing and the Planes, Trains and Motorcycles press ride in the August issue of Cycle World.