Actually, “reinvents” probably is an overstatement; 95 percent of this motorcycle, the new-for-2013 F6B, has been in existence for well over a decade. “Redefines” might be a better word. That’s because the 5 percent that’s no longer there has made a world of difference, and not just in the bike’s name or intentions; the effect on its performance is a few clicks short of remarkable.
The F6B, in a nutshell, is a regular GL1800 Gold Wing luxury-tourer with 62 pounds of equipment removed, knocking its claimed wet weight down to 842 lb. The entire top trunk has gone missing, of course, and so has the reverse gear along with its motors and mechanisms. There’s no cruise control, and the big, tall, manually adjustable windshield of the regular Wing has been replaced with a very short, fixed one. Neither did the electronically adjustable rear suspension make the cut; the shock’s damping rates were revised to complement the F6B’s reduced weight, but preload is now only manually adjustable via a knob under the right sidecover.
Otherwise, aside from a few visual tweaks (different lower cowlings, restyled muffler tips, gunfighter-style seat and a new body panel between the tops of the saddlebags), the F6B is a Gold Wing through and through. Same fuel-injected, 1832cc opposed-Six engine, same sportbike-style aluminum frame, same single-sided swingarm, front suspension, brakes, instrumentation, headlights, taillights and so on.
Once you toss a leg over it, however, the F6B is far from the same, even if it has not rolled forward an inch. Flicking it back-and-forth while straddling the roomier, marginally lower seat reveals what the loss of so much mass—in particular, that big, heavy trunk that sat so high and so far to the rear—can do to reduce the Wing’s center of gravity. Shorter riders immediately felt more able to pull the bike back upright if it happened to tilt a bit too far one way or the other when stopped.
But once moving, the difference is so pronounced that the F6B almost feels like an entirely different machine. With 62 fewer pounds to lug around, the big Six can leap away from a dead stop at a rate that, quite literally, yanks your arms straight, and its acceleration through the gears is noticeably more brisk than it was on a couple of standard Gold Wings Honda had on hand at the F6B’s recent press introduction. And roll-on performance in top gear? Thanks to the huge torque output of the flat-Six (122 foot-pounds, says Honda), it’s already outstanding on a full-boat Wing. But on the F6B, essentially a Wing that has been to Jenny Craig, the roll-on is sneaking up on awesome.
Impressive as that might be, the F6B’s handling is the real story, and you begin to realize it the moment the bike starts moving. Whether at parking-lot speeds, in urban congestion or during everyday riding, this weight-loss Wing snaps around corners and dodges through traffic with an ease and quickness that its big brother could never match.
Although the standard Gold Wing has a well-earned reputation for being an amazingly capable corner carver for a bike of its enormity, this one smokes it in any kind of twisties. The F6B flicks into and out of corners much more willingly with less effort on the grips, is more neutral and stable while heeled over at serious lean angles, and exhibits none of the slight tail-happiness of the regular Wing when making abrupt directional changes. Fast cornering on a conventional Gold Wing is nervously exciting because you know that you and the bike shouldn’t be able to do what both of you are doing. Fast cornering on the F6B is just plain fun.
Credit most of this added sportiness to the absence of the trunk. For years, bike manufacturers have been proclaiming the benefits of “mass centralization”—locating as many components as possible as close as possible to the center of gravity—to improve handling and agility, and the F6B clearly demonstrates the effectiveness of that principle. If you had to decide precisely which part of a standard Gold Wing you should remove to reap the greatest benefit in overall handling, you’d Sawzall the trunk off in a heartbeat, thereby eliminating the most weight in the best place for losing it.
When you’re not accelerating hard or cornering aggressively, the F6B is very much a Gold Wing. As usual, the engine is ethereally smooth, the ergonomics all-day comfortable, the tactile elements typically Honda-perfect, the ride plush and well-controlled—though just a teensy bit more taut at the rear than on the bigger Wing. Obviously, the low-profile windscreen doesn’t offer as much wind/weather protection as the usual full-length shield, so unless you’re about 5-foot-5 or shorter, you get nailed with a bit of turbulence up around the helmet. But that’s “the look,” the style so many baggers prefer, so…
The F6B comes with essentially the same AM/FM, iPod/MP3-compatible sound system as before, but because there is no trunk, there are no rear speakers. What’s more, since the levers for operating Gold Wing saddlebags also are normally built into the trunk, the F6B’s bags instead open with a lever under each passenger grabrail and lock/unlock by inserting the ignition key into tumblers just above the left edge of the taillight/brakelight.
Okay, but does lopping the trunk off a Gold Wing über-tourer instantly qualify the resulting motorcycle as a bagger? Well, Honda thinks so. “That was the idea that got this project going to begin with,” said Jon Seidel of American Honda’s motorcycle press department. “We felt there could be a market for a bike that had the same basic character as a traditional bagger but that offered much more refinement and performance.
“Our thinking was confirmed when we displayed the F6B at recent International Motorcycle Shows. There was considerable interest in the bike, including by a surprising number of riders who owned V-Twins. They seemed interested in a bike that could do what a bagger could do but with much better performance.”
Although no Honda representative at the press event could confirm it, the F6B’s model name is further evidence of Honda’s intentions, for it supposedly describes the bike’s intended mission: Flat-Six Bagger.
Well, if any motorcycle is a bagger in the mind of the beholder, then a bagger it is, even if it is not built on a cruiser platform powered by a big V-Twin engine. But the F6B could be all that and more. Based at least on our full day of riding on freeways, open roads and ribbons of twisties, it’s way better than you might imagine as a sport-tourer. Or, if you aren’t hell-bent to get away from it all by taking every last bit of it with you, the F6B can still be a very capable over-the-road touring rig. And its greater agility and maneuverability would make it more suitable for commuting and everyday riding than a full-blown Wing. So, what Honda has accomplished here is a rare feat: made a proven motorcycle more versatile by removing equipment rather than adding it.
Honda plans to offer the F6B in two versions: the standard model for $19,999 and the Deluxe (the same bike but with passenger backrest, centerstand, self-canceling turnsignals and heated grips) for $20,999, both in either black or red.
One thing is clear here: The F6B is not a traditional motorcycle, no matter if it’s called a bagger, a sport-tourer or anything else. But then, neither was the original GL1000 Gold Wing way back in 1975. Since then, Honda has sold more than 550,000 GLs in one form or another.
If Honda is on-target, the F6B could add some serious numbers to that total.