Kazuho Nakai, the second engineer on the new Gold Wing project, explains: “We wanted to give the Gold Wing customer a more premium experience. We wanted to appeal to younger riders and make it sportier.” But Nakai’s description only hints at the balancing act that Honda has whenever it comes out with an all-new Gold Wing—a balancing act that Bill Savino, product planner at American Honda, says became so intense that Honda seriously considered giving this new motorcycle a different name.
That’s surprising because this 2018 machine, an 1,833cc, flat-six-cylinder touring bike with integral saddlebags, sure looks like a Gold Wing. Yes, it has a fancy new front suspension, a modern and zoomy LED headlight, tauter lines, and no place for an ignition key, but if a time traveler showed you a hologram of it and told you it was a bike from the future, about all a motorcyclist could say is: “Cool. They’re still making Gold Wings.”
It’s been in the works for a while; Nakai said the project began four years ago, compared to the usual two-and-a-half-year length for most new motorcycle projects at Honda. “There was a lot of testing,” he offers, surely with some understatement. The design shares no components other than fasteners with its predecessor. And it is very much an integral design, with the desire to build a sleeker, lighter, and sportier Gold Wing manifesting itself in hundreds of subtle ways.
Start, however, with the biggest obvious change: the twin-A-arm front suspension. It’s a version of Norman Hossack’s invention from the 1980s, similar in concept but different in detail from BMW’s later Duolever suspension. In Honda’s execution, roughly parallel-twin arms pivot from the frame at about the height of triple clamps on a normal motorcycle, supporting a tube in the front that looks much like a steering head on a conventional frame. Two very ordinary ball bearings in that “steering head” support a cast, forked, rigid upright that carries the front wheel. The handlebars pivot on their own frame-connected bearings and have ball-jointed arms that transmit steering commands to the upright. Damping is by a single shock absorber, just as on a rear suspension. The Honda execution forgoes any ball-jointed bearings other than in the steering links. The two arms pivot at both ends on a combination of a ball and a needle bearing, a very robust solution.
What’s this all about? A cynical answer might be because BMW has something like it on the K1600, but the real answer is that such a suspension has real advantages. First, it’s virtually frictionless in comparison to a telescopic fork, so bumps are better absorbed.
Second, it’s tunable (at the design level) so it can eliminate the pro-dive tendencies of the telescopic fork, allowing softer springing without bottoming under braking.
Third, Honda has set these up for neutral response under braking, neither pro- nor anti-dive, which means the front wheel travels straight up and down in its travel, rather than rearward as on conventional telescopic forks. This allows the engine to be placed forward—more on that later.
"As to the rest of the redesign, the desire to peel weight from the previous model drove many decisions, some of them complexly interrelated."
Fourth, as only the front wheel and upright turn during steering, and because the upright is pulled in tight to the steering axis, there’s less inertia in the steered mass than with a conventional fork. Honda, being Honda, has measured these things. The impulse the rider feels from the front wheel going over a bump, says Nakai, is reduced by 40 percent at the handlebar and the steered mass inertia by 30 percent. Having experienced back-to-back steering inertia changes on other motorcycles, I can tell you that such reductions make a bike steer lighter and more precisely, especially at low speeds.
As to the rest of the redesign, the desire to peel weight from the previous model drove many decisions, some of them complexly interrelated. The completely redesigned engine retained the configuration of its predecessor, but it moved to a square bore and stroke configuration—with a tighter bore spacing—so it could be a few millimeters shorter than the prior engine. Between the movement of the engine forward allowed by the new front suspension and the shortening of the engine block, the rider footpegs and the overall seating position could be moved forward almost an inch and a half. Both the engine moving forward and the riding position moving forward are something that you typically see on sportbike designs for better handling, but in this case it also allowed the fairing to shrink slightly because a fairing offers more effective wind protection if the rider is closer to it. The slightly smaller fairing designed with the latest CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools allowed a significant drag reduction—11 percent less aerodynamic drag, according to Honda. Less drag and improved engine efficiency allowed the gas tank to shrink by 1.1 gallons (to 5.6 gallons) without any reduction in touring range, Honda claims, because overall fuel efficiency at highway speeds improved by 20 percent. That smaller capacity equals 7 pounds off a fully filled machine.
The new engine was never intended to fight any touring bike horsepower wars—all the changes made were for better rideability, efficiency, and feel, rather than for peak power, as the low 6,000-rpm redline was retained. The new engine was given four smallish valves per cylinder operated by a single “Unicam” camshaft on each head, similar to the CRF450 motocrosser, and for similar reasons of engine compactness. Little, quick-opening and -shutting valves and smaller intake tracts promise even more low-end response and a roughly one-point bump in compression ratio promises to boost both torque and efficiency. Cylinder liners are now aluminum, for reduced weight and better heat transfer, and a single combined starter/generator serves double duty while eliminating 5.5 pounds compared to the separate components of the previous Wing.
Integrated starter-generators are becoming common in the automotive market because they effectively create mild hybrids, allowing engine shutdown at stoplights. The Wing will offer that feature for some markets where fuel is much more expensive than in the US, but American Honda emphasizes only the quiet, smooth way the starter/generator starts the new engine and will not offer the automatic start/stop feature here. All in all, the new engine and its alternator shave almost 20 pounds from the old Wing powertrain.
The transmission was also up for revision—both versions. The six-speed manual transmission is standard and bumps the top-gear ratio higher, to the point where the engine is only turning 2,500 rpm at 75 mph, according to Honda. This is taller than any previous Gold Wing transmission, which were geared in part to maintain good roll-on performance. But the combination of improved low-speed torque, lower drag, and the impressive overall 90-pound weight reduction allows this tall gearing while still maintaining good roll-ons. The optional seven-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission) is the automated alternative and offers the same tall top gear. The seven-speed doesn’t have a greater ratio spread. First is the same as in the six-speed, as is top gear, but the more closely spaced gears give the quick-shifting automatic an extra degree of refinement.
Along with the mechanical changes, all versions of the new Wing get an impressive assortment of electronic features and aids. The more expensive models get more, but what impresses are the ones that come on all models. All 2018 Wings get cruise control, an easy add, as all have the same 50mm electronically controlled throttle body. All of them get a 7-inch TFT color screen with built-in navigation, along with 10 years of free software map upgrades. All get a version of Apple CarPlay that allows your iPhone to take over the screen and display its map system or your music collection or podcasts or phone calls. (Android enthusiasts are limited to a Bluetooth link for audio.) And all versions get four specific throttle maps—from Tour to Sport to Eco to Rain—to tailor throttle response and power delivery to road conditions. And every 2018 Gold Wing will come with a keyless ignition system that allows you to keep the key fob in your pocket—even in your jeans pocket, under your riding gear—and still start and ride away. The fob will even include an off switch, so you can sit at a restaurant table close to where your bike is parked and it will stay locked.
The 2018 lineup consists of two basic configurations, the base Gold Wing and the Gold Wing Tour, both available with either transmission configuration. In addition, there’s a top-of-the-line version with the airbag option, only available with the DCT transmission. The Tour comes standard with a top box as well as side bags, a slightly taller windshield, a heated seat, as well as the base-model standard heated grips, traction control, and an electronically adjustable suspension that responds to the throttle mapping and firms things up when you select “Sport.” Pricing starts at $23,500 and jumps to $26,700 for the Tour, with the DCT adding $1,200 or $1,000 to the base Wing and Tour, respectively. The Tour Airbag DCT tops the range at $31,500.
The redesign has come none too soon, for Honda has seen Gold Wing sales slide dramatically ever since the last recession. There may have been 265,000 Wings sold since the model was introduced in 1975, but the vast majority of those sales came before the twenty-teens. This redesign both gives current and former Wing owners an incentive to upgrade and adds a sportiness and visual refinement that may attract customers who might not have otherwise have considered a Wing. Bridging old and new, Honda made a few choices that may leave traditional Wing customers scratching their heads, such as the reduction in luggage capacity, from 30 liters in each side bag and 50 liters in the top box for 110 liters total, compared to 140 liters total for the previous Wing. But all you have to do is sit on the new bike, shift it from side to side, and instantly feel that missing 90 pounds. It’s still a Gold Wing, but it’s something new and special as well.
|Bore x stroke||73.0 x 73.0mm|
|Induction||Programed fuel injection|
|Transmission||6-speed manual/7-speed DCT|
|Front suspension||Double wishbone, single shock, 4.3-in. travel|
|Rear suspension||Single-sided swingarm w/ Pro-Link shock, 4.1-in. travel|
|Brakes||Dual 320mm discs (f); 316mm disc (r)|
|Seat height||29.3 in.|
|Fuel capacity||5.55 gal.|
|Claimed wet weight||787 lb.|