“What the heck is it?” That’s what most people ask when first laying eyes on the F6B, a Gold Wing whose big touring trunk and full-size windshield have gone AWOL. Without those key items, the F6B couldn’t possibly be the same dominant over-the-road touring rig as always. Could it?
Nope. Honda instead bills the F6B as part boulevard cruiser and part tourer, perfect for around-town riding or a weekend getaway.
Uh, isn’t that a description of most baggers? Yes it is, but Honda’s stance would seem to be confirmed by the F6B model designation, which, we’re told, stands for “Flat-Six Bagger.”
Gee, baggers always are equipped with saddlebags and some sort of windshield or partial fairing, but they’re traditionally based on big-inch V-Twin cruisers.
Whatever this Honda might be, it’s not a V-Twin and it sure ain’t a cruiser. So, how would an F6B stack up against a conventional bagger?
To find out, we pitted the Honda against what arguably is the ultimate traditional bagger, the Harley-Davidson FLTRXSE CVO Road Glide Custom Anniversary. Besides having the longest name in the history of modern commerce, this limited-production, 110th- anniversary model apparently made a mad dash through H-D’s Parts & Accessories catalog and glommed something off every page. This includes a 110-inch Screamin’ Eagle V-Twin engine with Heavy Breather air filter; H-D’s Assist & Slip hydraulic slipper clutch; high-output audio system with two—yes, two—200-watt amplifiers, plus a pair of speakers in the saddlebag lids and an included 8GB iPod nano; Daymaker LED headlight array; Contrast Chrome Agitator wheels and front brake rotors; low-profile two-piece seat; black 1.25-inch internally wired handlebar; elaborate 110th Anniversary Diamond Dust and Obsidian paint with Palladium graphics; and a superabundant supply of chromed P&A hardware from nose to tail.
- LED headlights turn night into day
- Coolest LED fuel gauge ever
- Paint & graphics are show-stoppers
- Rocker shifter locks left foot in place
- Rear speakers eat too much bag capacity
- Heated grips not standard ($229.95 from the accessory catalog)
All that bling and zing comes at a price—$33,999 for the Anniversary edition, a grand less for the slightly less glitzy standard CVO Road Glide. That contrasts mightily with the F6B, which goes for a “mere” $19,999. For another thou, the Deluxe version, our testbike, adds a centerstand, heated grips, a passenger backrest and self-canceling turnsignals to the standard model’s 1832cc flat-Six engine, sportbikey aluminum frame and single-sided swingarm, four-speaker (woofers with integrated tweeters in the fairing) premium sound system and big, clamshell saddlebags. But contrary to the Harley, the Honda has had other equipment removed—notably, the reverse gear, cruise control and electric rear-suspension adjustment—to help the F6B accomplish its 62-pound weight reduction over a standard Wing.
Nonetheless, both of these bikes are luxury baggers. So, our destination for an overnight “weekend getaway” was Death Valley’s famous Furnace Creek Inn, a $350-to-$450-a-night resort smack in the middle of what often is the hottest place on Earth but can be very temperate in winter.
Accompanying me were Don Canet, CW’s peerless Road Test Editor, and my wife, Rosanne, serving as Official Pillion Evaluator. About half of our ride was on freeways and open highways, the rest on roads in and around rugged, starkly scenic Death Valley, giving us plenty of opportunities to evaluate both bikes’ ride and handling qualities.
Naturally, we packed our bags first. The Wing’s have convenient clamshell lids, are rated for 20 pounds each and have slightly better capacity than do the Harley’s top-opening, 15-pound-each bags. The CVO’s bags are useful and have enough room to pack for two, but the stereo speakers/amps mounted in them take some capacity and their cables are mounted with plastic clips that caught on our cargo and snapped. Ultimately, both bikes make good weekenders, but the Wing’s bags are bigger and more convenient to use.
Droning along mostly straight, featureless roads for miles was, with a couple of exceptions, a joy for all. The F6B’s silky-smooth engine, fabulous seats, compliant suspension and faultless ergonomics made both rider and passenger feel like they truly were in the lap of luxury. I never squirmed in the very least atop the Honda’s saddle, and Rosanne—who has logged countless miles on many different bikes as my co-pilot—said the passenger compartment was the most comfortable she had ever experienced. “Everything was ideal,” she noted, “the seat shape, the backrest location, the footpeg placement. I could have ridden back there forever.”
Canet also had high praise for the F6B’s ergos. “The F6B saddle felt more cushy, and its shape allowed more freedom of movement,” he reported. “The Honda peg placement was more to my liking than the Harley’s footboards, especially when the roads got interesting in a curvy kinda way.”
Life also was good in the CVO’s rider saddle, which is more than an inch lower than the F6B’s. Its dished shape cradled Canet’s self-described “bony butt” and my slightly more-padded backside with utmost care. What’s more, the FL-style rubber engine mounts quelled all the major vibrations from the big-bore, long-stroke (4.0 x 4.38 in.) engine, leaving behind only the soothing throb of the V-Twin’s staggered firing order.
One of those aforementioned exceptions is the CVO’s passenger seat, which Rosanne was unable to tolerate for more than an hour or so. “After that,” she said, “I was in sheer, agonizing pain.” The pillion pad is short, narrow, flat and comparatively hard, an imperfect match for a human derriere. It’s more suitable for short jaunts on a cruiser than for long rides on a bike with touring aspirations. Combine that with the harsh thumps frequently delivered by the H-D’s exceptionally short (2.0-in.) rear-wheel travel, and you have passenger accommodations that are far from luxurious.
Exception two is the F6B’s absence of cruise control, a feature that would have made long drones on the open road aboard the Honda even more of a five-star experience. The Harley has an excellent cruise control, though, which Canet would immediately switch on when the road got long and straight.
As a big-time fan of classic rock, Don also took full advantage of the CVO’s powerful Harman/Kardon sound system. Whether he had the supplied nano or his own iPod touch plugged in, he enjoyed rocking the miles away, the Harley’s four woofers and six tweeters letting him hear the tunes above the wind noise and the thrum of the big V-Twin, even at highway speeds. But on the Honda, music was impossible to hear at any speed above 30 or 35 mph. Even at full volume, its speakers were unable to overcome the roar of the wind streaming around the rider’s helmet.
- Linked brakes = better stops than CVO
- Handy locking tank-top “glovebox”
- It’s still a Gold Wing
- Always need key to open bags
- Shifter sometimes fails to engage next gear
- No cruise control
Blame most of that wind noise on the F6B’s abbreviated windscreen. It, along with the fairing, diverts most of the elements away from the rider’s torso but allows onrushing air to reach the helmet of anyone six feet tall or more. The CVO’s slightly higher screen with upturned upper edge directs more air away from the rider’s head, but it also produces a bit more buffeting than you get on the Honda. For long rides, taller screens on both bikes would be more appropriate. And the F6B’s full fairing provides leg protection that the half-faired CVO can’t equal.
Besides its rock-concert sound system, the Road Glide served up another pleasant surprise: engine performance. We didn’t expect the 110-in. V-Twin to come even close to running with a proven six-cylinder powerhouse pushing a bike that’s more than 60 pounds lighter than the full-dress version. We were wrong. In peak horsepower, the CVO, at 91.3, does fall 12 horses short of the F6B, but it’s a dead heat in peak torque: 109.9 foot-pounds for the H-D and for the Honda. Plus, both bikes weigh within 11 pounds of each other, the Honda the lightest at 813 dry.
So, in any measure of acceleration, the Honda outruns the Harley, but not by a huge margin. Both do killer launches, and the F6B (11.84 sec. @ 110.97 mph) didn’t embarrass the CVO (12.49 @ 104.83) in the quarter-mile. For a pushrod V-Twin versus an overhead-cam Six, that’s impressive. The Honda’s roll-on acceleration in top gear also was a little better, edging the Harley by about three-quarters of a second from 40 to 60 mph and 60 to 80. But amazingly enough, both bikes posted identical top speeds: 124 mph.
“I like the gobs of grunt the 110 pounds out at low revs,” wrote Canet, “and its smooth-running sweet spot at a freeway pace. Clutch feel and shift action is super-forgiving, not demanding a refined riding technique to achieve smooth gearchanges up or down through the box.” The F6B is snappier-revving, making it a little more demanding when pulling away from stops, executing seamless upshifts and matching revs when downshifting.
These two even handle very similarly. Both are stable at speed yet peel off into corners remarkably well for such big machines. At full lean with a passenger on board, the Honda remains a little more composed; the H-D wallows slightly, no doubt due to its abbreviated rear-wheel travel. But when both are pushed hard through corners solo, it’s pretty much a toss-up. Same for less-intense turning: These two carve through traffic and navigate city corners without drama.
What we have here, then, are two motorcycles that are completely different yet very much the same. Each takes a vastly different approach to transporting its cargo with class, a fact that was instantly apparent as we jumped back and forth from one to the other. But regardless of that design diversity, the end results are unexpectedly similar.
So, which one is the bagger of choice? That depends. If, like Don Canet, you love road music, cruise control, ultra-smooth throttle response and that incomparable V-Twin resonance, or if outright, in-your-face bling is your thing, the CVO Road Glide might be what the doctor ordered. Just hope he also prescribed a medication that’ll help you scrape up the 34 Large needed to buy it. Money aside, though, this is a charming motorcycle that fulfills its intended role very well.
But the Honda excels in too many important ways to play second fiddle. It’s faster, smoother and, when both rider and passenger comforts are taken into account, more luxurious. And unless you’ve either won the lottery or are prospering in these early recovery times, you can’t dismiss the $13,000 MSRP discrepancy between the Honda and the Harley. For that amount, you could buy any one of numerous full-size, top-quality motorcycles—or even a compact car!
Harley-Davidson has been building baggers for as long as anyone cares to admit, but Honda has had this touring business figured out for quite some time. Deep-sixing a top trunk and cutting down a windshield hasn’t diminished their mastery in the least.
View full-size images in photo gallery:
CVO Road Glide Custom
Gold Wing F6B Deluxe
|Dry weight||824 lb.||813 lb.|
|Wheelbase||64.3 in.||67.0 in.|
|Seat height||27.4 in.||28.5 in.|
|Fuel mileage||33 mpg||32 mpg|
|Load capacity||498 lb.||404 lb.|
|0-60 mph||3.7 sec.||3.3 sec.|
|1/4-mile||12.49 sec. @ 104.83 mph||11.84 sec. @ 110.97 mph|
|Horsepower||91.27 @ 4970 rpm||103.66 @ 5580 rpm|
|Torque||109.9 ft.-lb. @ 3750 rpm||109.9 ft.-lb. @ 4160 rpm|
|Top speed||124 mph||124 mph|