There's a lot of hubbub around Honda's new-for-2018 Gold Wing. It was redesigned, stem to stern, and has made an impact on the motorcycle touring world. As we learned in our first ride review in Texas, the new G-Wing is as smooth, stable, and friendly to use as any touring bike we've ever tested. The whole staff agrees, it's a treat to ride.

In planning a multi-day, 1,100-mile road trip to really get to know the Gold Wing, it got us wondering what could face off against this touring titan. An American V-twin from Harley-Davidson or Indian might do the trick, or a big metric touring bike like Yamaha's new Star Venture—they're high-tech, sure, but conventional forks and lumbering twins don't quite align with the G-Wing's ethos. After some arguing and scoping website specs, we found just the machine.

Gold Wing
A good way to see how much smaller the Gold Wing has gotten is to pose it next to acres of black BMW bodywork. Even still, the K1600 weighs 810 pounds—28 less than the Gold Wing’s 838 pounds.Jeff Allen

BMW’s K1600B goes stride for stride with the Gold Wing on the spec sheet: It packs a six-cylinder engine, a funky front-end design, swoopy lines, and plenty of touring chops. The latest version of the K16B is the Grand America, equipped with a top box, integrated GPS, and heated seats for rider and passenger. Arguably the biggest difference between the Gold Wing and the Grand America is that the Honda has made a big splash while it feels like nobody is talking about the BMW. We settled the spec-sheet debate with a roundabout journey from SoCal to Laguna Seca Raceway and back, answering all of the questions that are most important (we think) in this class of machine.

BMW’s floorboards
Both machines are ready for modular helmets and lots of miles. Note the BMW’s floorboards (in addition to pegs), which move the rider’s feet forward, if desired.Jeff Allen

Who Won The Luggage Battle?

The first thing you’ve got to do on a trip is pack, and one of the biggest complaints about the all-new Gold Wing is that Honda sacrificed some of the mammoth, 150-liter luggage capacity from the previous generation for the sake of being sleeker and smaller. With two 30-liter bags and the 50-liter top case the new G-Wing sports 110 total liters of luggage (not including the nifty “frunk” pouch in the cockpit, and we’ll get to that). BMW’s K1600 Grand America totals 123 liters, 37 in each side bag and 49 in the top case. Sleek, electronic buttons trigger the Honda’s cases to open (and lock out when the fob is far away)—lockable buttons open a mechanical latch on the Beemer’s bags.

Top-case capacity is technically almost identical, but the BMW’s swallows two full-size helmets. It’s also lined nicely, and lit. Classy.Jeff Allen

Practically, what we found was that the BMW’s luggage is better. A rolled-up Aerostich suit fits in one of the K1600’s bags but not the Gold Wing’s. Two Shoei Neotec modular helmets fit in the BMW’s soft-lined top case but not in the Honda’s. It sounds dumb to complain about 13 liters of storage, but the Germans clearly did their homework. For soft goods, the Gold Wing’s top case has a nice shape, with a lid that closes over the case, rather than a split-in-the-middle clamshell on the K1600. At the end of the day we like the mechanical latches a little better on the BMW too, since they opened and closed with more consistency and authority.

Which One Is More Comfortable?

Comfort, we always say, is in the butt of the beholder, and that being said it’s hard for us to claim which one you will like better. Luckily the differences are clear to feel. The redesigned Gold Wing has a wonderfully neutral riding position—upright, feet slightly behind your knees, and a comfortable reach forward to the handlebar. There’s a wide seat but it’s not dished like a worn-out recliner as on some big touring rigs. Overall, the G-Wing is relaxed, commanding, and an easy place to click off 100 miles in one go.

Wing action tracking
Comfort, personified: Honda’s Gold Wing has good wind management and a great seat. There’s a reason it has long been the king of the road.Jeff Allen

BMW’s K1600 Grand America is accommodating too, but more polarizing. Compared to the G-Wing, you feel like you’re sitting in the bike rather than on it. The seat feels low (our bike actually came with a 1.2-inch-lower accessory seat) and the pegs feel high, even if the discrepancies are small. German as the K16 is, this Grand America leans a little more toward American V-twin ergonomics. (Probably not an accident considering BMW already has the K1600GTL, a top-box traveling machine with a similar chassis but more sport-touring bent.) That also helps explain the odd, looped handlebar that brings the grips back toward a seat that is slightly narrower than the Gold Wing.

America action tracking
You can see the bend in the knee is more severe on our version of the Grand America; floorboards, to the rescue! That’s a 17-inch front wheel, instead of the Gold Wing’s 18-inch hoop, which looks small on the bike.Jeff Allen

The dash and windshield on the BMW are prominent from the cockpit, in part because the K1600’s face is wider but also because of that low-in-the-middle feeling of the seating position. BMW also chose to include forward-set floorboards (another nod to the Grand America name) as an option if you want to stretch out your knees and let that plush seat do all the work—which would be understandable, on account of the oddly tight seat-to-peg ratio.

If The Weather Is Crummy, Which Bike Is Better To Be On?

Sharp readers of the last few paragraphs will think, “Sounds like the BMW covers up more of the rider’s body.” Those readers would be right. Since the K1600 was announced in 2010 it has been an imposing figure on the motorcycle landscape—that is to say, it’s big. The new Gold Wing is sleeker and smaller than it used to be, and for that reason it might give up a little bit of weather protection. However, we need to clear here: Don’t avoid a Gold Wing because you think you’ll get wet when it rains. It still blasts wind away from the rider very effectively.

America action dash
The cockpit of the K1600B is stately and comfy. Yes, that was a beautiful dash in 2011 (and it still works well) but times have changed. Also, a speedo that goes to 170 mph is a little excessive on a bike that’s limited to 101 mph.Jeff Allen

Both windscreens adjust electronically. The Beemer’s rises up a little taller in the rider’s view, but the wind management is arguably best as soon as the air around your helmet goes quiet. To combat feeling smothered on a hot day, all K1600 models feature a hinged piece of bodywork on either side (just below the mirrors) that swing out and direct air into the cockpit. It’s not a reason to buy a motorcycle, but it’s a clever feature, especially on a bike that can be punishingly protective of air.

Wing action dash
Apart from a few oddities, the Gold Wing’s command center is beautiful, modern, and classic all at once. Apple CarPlay allows unprecedented connectivity with iPhone and iPad devices, though it’s still a little clunky.Jeff Allen

The Gold Wing, on the other hand, has a small pop-up airfoil atop the dash that’s supposed to help channel some wind at the rider when the screen is up. It works when, well, it works. The latch that releases the vent got sticky on our bike (in much the same way the frunk button did, as a matter of fact), so it was a feature we didn’t get to use as often as we may have liked.

How Do These Big Boats Handle?

General handling is a category where the two bikes are especially different. Both are easy to manage, it has to be said, but the character and feel are totally different. The Gold Wing is a picture of stability. It almost feels like if you set the cruise and bailed out, it would just go until it ran out of gas (we didn’t try that, and we wouldn’t recommend it). A rear tire with a wide and flat profile surely contributes to the Honda’s rock-solid feel, and it is admittedly a little bit more effort to sling from side to side on a twisty road, but overall its manners are amazingly graceful.

Gold Wing Foot Peg
Honda’s Gold Wing is arguably less sporty than the BMW, with less cornering clearance and more weight—but it still encourages beveling footpegs, and dances down a twisty road quite nicely.Jeff Allen

The BMW is more agile, and also more skittish. Heavy crosswinds on the freeway, for example, got the K1600 dancing around a little bit, whereas the Gold Wing was freight-train stable. Carve down a canyon or through a twisty section of forest road and the BMW really shines. It’s incredibly light on its feet and settles into corners brilliantly. There’s a lot more feedback from the front end, and to some people it will feel like instability—but in our experience, neither machine was ever unstable to the point of worry, and the fact is they both handle well enough that the limiting factor is ground clearance. We beveled the footpegs on both bikes, and even dragged the cylinder-head guards on the Gold Wing as well as the floorboards and the low-slung fog lights on the BMW.

They Both Have Weird Front Suspension—Is One Better?

Good question. BMW's famous Telelever system (used on the R1200GS) is replaced on the K1600 by the less-well-known Duolever. The Duolever system ties a girder-like fork to two wishbones that compress a single shock. It is similar in function to a Telelever in that the dive that a conventional front end suffers from can be lessened via tuning the geometry. Honda's solution was a Hossack-like double-wishbone arrangement which allowed Gold Wing engineers to give their front end anti-dive like the BMW's. The cited reason, however, was that the G-Wing's new front suspension allows the front wheel to travel straight up and down, which made room to move the engine forward. Pretty clever.

As for which one is better, it’s hard to say. Like we explained in the discussion of overall handling, the Gold Wing is ultra stable, while the K1600 is much more agile and flighty. One big win for the team at Honda was deciding to leave the tie-rods that connect the bottom of the handlebar to the top of the fork exposed. This means you can see the suspension in action as you ride along—it’s interesting enough to watch that it’s a little distracting. Still, damned cool.

Both bikes have electronically adjustable suspension, but the Honda’s settings are less noticeable. You can adjust preload (for a solo rider, rider with passenger, rider with luggage, and rider with passenger and luggage) with the push of a button on either bike, and while the Honda has more damping settings (one for each of its four throttle maps), the BMW’s two damping schedules have a more pronounced impact on ride quality, so the bike is more adaptable.

Gold Wing controls
BMW controls are familiar, with the same switches and multi-controller wheel we’ve seen on other top-end models. Honda’s switchgear is all new and significantly streamlined.Jeff Allen

Which Motor Dominates?

Even though the K160B’s 1,649cc straight-six is smaller than the Wing’s 1,833cc flat-six, the BMW’s motor steals the show. With 184 fewer cubic centimeters it somehow slams down 26 more horsepower and nearly as much torque as the Gold Wing’s 108 pound-feet output. That straight-six also sings a sweeter song at full throttle and revs several thousand rpm higher. It’s a much more dynamic and exciting engine, but that might not be what others are after in this category.

The Gold Wing’s mill is magical in its own way—it’s also thoroughly, comprehensively new for 2018—and aimed at a different kind of riding. Honda’s powerplant favors low-rpm thrust and smoothness, as evidenced by the fact that 92 percent of the motor’s prodigious torque is available right off idle. That kind of grunt means you can slot the transmission in a high gear and pretty much leave it there, which is a good thing considering the G-Wing’s gearbox was somewhat sticky. On more than a few occasions the shift lever failed to return after grabbing the next gear. That was never a problem for the BMW, in part because it has a smoother gearbox, but also due to the fact that it has electronically assisted shifting. That last feature is a gem, but it’s worth mentioning that it comes as part of the $3,550 Premium Package which also includes keyless ignition, auxiliary LED, an alarm, and other add-ons.

Talk To Me About Features

In this luxury touring category you expect features, and these bikes deliver. They’ve got everything from satellite-assisted navigation to electronically adjustable windscreens and suspension to cruise control, traction control, linked brakes, and ABS. The Gold Wing Tour comes with all of these features standard, whereas the BMW has to have a few upgrade packages applied to be on a par. But even if these bikes can go blow for blow in terms of features, each punch doesn’t pack the same power.

Gold Wing Front Brake
Big bikes, big brakes. The Honda sports radial six-piston calipers, but two of those slugs are operated by the rear-brake pedal. Both bikes stop with authority and absolute stability.Jeff Allen

Take the heated seats and grips, for example. The BMW’s heat up quicker and crank out more BTU, so much so that on the maximum setting the grips are too hot to hold. Both bikes have spacious top boxes (though, as mentioned earlier, the Honda’s won’t accept two full-face helmets), but the BMW’s is more luxurious with a felt lining, automatic illumination, and a power port. The Honda’s top box is raw plastic, and frankly it and the sidecase lids feel a little flimsy compared to the BMW’s stout and plush luggage.

The Honda does have more places to store your stuff, including a glove box-like compartment (the aforementioned frunk) below the dash as well as a small chamber integrated into the fairing ahead of the rider’s right knee. The frunk in the center includes USB power and a foam pocket to cradle a phone—easier than accessing the USB port in the BMW’s right saddlebag. Oddly, the little storage nook in the right fairing also holds the trigger button to open the gas-tank lid. It’s sort of a Rube Goldberg way to grant access, and probably the reason you can’t open that compartment while the bike is moving.

Frunk ports
When the gas tank is under the seat, you can you use conventional tank space for storage. The Wing’s “frunk” provides a great place for your wallet, Chapstick, and cellphone—which can be charged via the provided USB port.Jeff Allen

Aboard the K1600, there is one feature that stands above any in motorcycling: a headlight that sees through corners. BMW’s Adaptive Xenon lamp uses a mirrored beam, with the mirror tied to a servo that rotates according to lean angle and speed data from the ECU. Soaring up the last 40 miles of California’s Big Sur coast after dark was the perfect test, and it was utterly majestic. It’s almost distractly good at what it does, and it changed the dynamic of the ride. The Gold Wing’s LED headlight is strong but, to borrow an old phrase, doesn’t hold a candle to the K1600’s brilliance.

BMW saddlebag ports
BMW’s right side case includes a pouch with USB plug for charging electronics. It’s a handy feature, but it would be more handy if it was closer to the cockpit. Point to the Gold Wing.Jeff Allen

Where the BMW falls behind is the dash, which in 2011 was cutting edge. However, one of the most significant changes for the 2018 Gold Wing is a revised dash that’s simplified and significantly more sleek than the previous setup. The crown jewel is a crisp 7-inch full-color TFT display that makes the BMW’s screen look dim and pixelated by comparison. Both bikes have equally vast (and equally intuitive) menu systems and controls, but as with any complicated interface it’ll take a few hundred miles to get fully acquainted.

Which One Should I Buy?

Even though these motorcycles reside in the same market space and have comparable specs, there are some significant differences. The BMW offers more performance, more fuel (its 7-gallon tank holds an additional 1.5 gallons), more luggage capacity, and, if you get an unadorned base bike, the BMW even has a lower price. It’ll cost you $26,700 to buy a Gold Wing Tour, or $23,195 to hop on a Grand America. That $3,500 is a big delta, but our bike obliterates it with the Premium Package and Safety Plus Package, which push the bike’s MSRP to $27,015. Which, at this strata, is in the noise.

Saddling up to a Grand America may seem like the sensible decision, but it’s hard to reconcile the bike’s odd seating position with the idea that this is supposed to inhale hundreds of miles at a time. The Gold Wing is more comfortable, more graceful, and more appropriate for the kind of long-distance riding this category of bike is designed to do. We were frustrated by the clunky shifting and annoyed by the sticky latch mechanisms on the dash vent and frunk, but as a total package the new G-Wing is a stellar heir to the long-distance throne.

Then again, if the K1600B’s exciting engine, quickshifter, and other assets still appeal to you, there’s always BMW’s K1600GTL. Rather than being Americanized with a low-slung look, floorboards, and a pullback bar, the GTL is pure German practicality and demands a look in this category. One thing was extremely clear at the end of this test: Six-cylinder touring bikes are more than just four cylinders ahead of the competition.

dyno test
The name of the game is low-end grunt, and the Gold Wing wins. Then again, BMW’s 1,649cc engine is no slouch at lower revs, and its higher redline and high-rpm performance is thrilling.Jeff Allen
BMW K1600B Grand America Honda Gold Wing Tour
Price: $23,195 ($27,015 as tested) | $26,700
Engine: 1,649cc straight-six | 1,833cc flat-six
Measured Power: 125.9 hp @ 7750 rpm | 97.9 hp @ 5500 rpm
Measured Torque: 106.1 lb.-ft. @ 4200 | 108.4 lb.-ft. @ 1250 rpm
Rake/trail: 30.5°/4.3 in. | 25.3°/4.2 in.
Wheelbase: 63.7 in. | 66.7 in.
Measured Weight: 810 lb. (wet) | 838 lb. (wet)
Seat Height: 30.7 in. | 29.3 in.
Fuel Capacity: 7.0 gal. | 5.6 gal.
Fuel Economy (hi/low/avg.): 44/36/39 mpg | 42/38/40 mpg
Range: 273 mi. | 224 mi.
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited miles | 36 months, unlimited miles
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