Okay, okay, we know. The Honda Gold Wing Tour and the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure aren't exactly direct competitors. It's like comparing a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser to an M4 Sherman tank: apples to oranges. But hear us out: Both bikes are the flagship models of their brands, so they feature cutting-edge tech like semi-active suspension, IMUs, and switchable ride modes (not to mention the BMW's ShiftCam variable valve timing). And they're two of the most iconic motorcycles ever produced. Can you imagine any other models that have accumulated as many miles?

Such storied histories inspire cult-like followings that have created a subculture of riders devoted to their respective machines. Which often means you either get it or you don't. Mention how great the Gold Wing is, for instance, and it's not unlikely you'll be met with an unfortunately snarky response like: "Yeah, for a sofa on wheels." They're not the most divisive motorcycles out there, but it seems like folks sure do like to voice their opinions about them.

Honda Gold Wing Tour and the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure riding through the Sequoia National Forest.
California at its finest. The winding roads through the Sequoia National Forest.Jeff Allen

After waking before sunrise to beat LA traffic, I rode to scenic Kernville, California, at the southern tip of the Sequoia National Forest to meet up with fastest photographer in the West, Jeff Allen, and legend of motojournalism, Don Canet, to put the Gold Wing and GSA through their paces on some of Southern California’s finest canyon roads. Hard parts were dragged. Suggested speed limits may have been ignored. Many cups of coffee were consumed to keep us going.

I’ll just say it up front: If you’ve got preconceptions about these bikes, check them here because they’re both amazingly, unconventionally, surprisingly awesome.

2019 Honda Gold Wing Tour: New Dog, New Tricks

speakers and a comfy seat
It has speakers and a superbly comfy seat. And it can really haul.Jeff Allen

The outgoing Gold Wing was a prime candidate for turning into a trike and riding to Golden Corral for the all-you-can-eat buffet. How many riders under 60 have you seen on the previous generation Wing? Not a ton, I’d venture to say. Which is fine, but as a target audience it’s not exactly a growth market. Last year’s redesign changes the whole Gold Wing image. It’s for a generation of riders who aren’t slowing down.

It's for the rider whose early bird special includes a shot and a beer, whose Kindle is loaded with the large print edition of Slaughterhouse-Five, and whose bedtime ritual includes popping a few Cialis before it's lights out.

Gold Wing
For Gold Wing owners, the question isn’t so much if Honda built a great motorcycle, but if it built a great Gold Wing. The new bike’s 1.1-gallon-smaller tank capacity (which Honda hopes will be compensated for with improved fuel efficiency) and reduced luggage space (50-liter top case and 30-liter saddlebags) will make the answer complicated for some. My overnight bag practically filled an entire saddlebag. Luggage for two? It could be tight. It’s amazing how much more compact the Gold Wing is compared to its predecessor, but it comes at a cost.Jeff Allen

At $27,000, we aren’t exactly going to be seeing too many millennials on Gold Wings, but its Porsche-like flat-six engine and stupid-easy handling will make a scofflaw out of anyone—regardless of age.

In the repose of the Gold Wing’s broad, generous saddle, and staring at the faintly decadent array of screens and buttons, I’ll admit my first thought wasn’t, “This thing’s really gonna slay the twisties.” Oh, Naivety, how you make a fool of me.

central control panel
The central control panel makes it easy to navigate through menus. Ride modes can be selected on the go using a large button on the right grip. Throttle response is tailored to the ride mode. We found touring mode’s smooth response to be our favorite; sport mode was a bit abrupt on/off throttle.Jeff Allen

On the freeway, the Gold Wing is as stable and planted as a Volkswagen. Once the road folds in on itself and lean angles increase, it feels nearly as planted and secure as it does bolt upright, yet it’s remarkably easy to flick from side to side (yes, I really mean “flick”). The chassis is so competent that, as I quickly discovered, it’ll goad you into pushing the envelope. Scraping pegs becomes a game of Truth or Dare. Truth: The Wing weighs nearly half a ton—838 pounds wet on our scale. Dare: See if you can etch your initials into the pavement with the peg feelers.

Gently lifting my inside foot as the peg tickled the tarmac gave me visions of taking it on a dirt oval to do my best Chris Carr (it would be a poor, if not enthusiastic, impersonation). Brimming with confidence, I slung the Wing through one of those divine third-gear left-handers made for tempting fate and shearing off peg feelers, when the plastic bumper on the cylinder head covers started dredging the asphalt, extending the latus rectum of my ruined parabolic trajectory and veering me toward the gravel shoulder while a rectum of a much different sort constricted in sympathy. I kept it upright on a Wing and a prayer, and vowed to stop pretending to be Chris Carr.

Gold Wing Tour front end
Over burgers and beer, Don Canet and I discussed the Honda’s unflappable, competent handling. You can watch the steering arms move up and down as you hustle down the road, and at the same time feel next to no movement on board. Unlike conventional forks, there’s no stiction in the shock, so it reacts with palpable immediacy. And coupled with the Gold Wing’s significant weight, rebound never feels like it’s overreacting over bumps. The result is a super stable and smooth ride. Note: radially mounted brake calipers by Nissin.Jeff Allen

Afterward, Canet and I increased the electronically adjustable preload from “rider with luggage” to “two riders with luggage,” which helped matters, although cornering clearance will always be a limiting factor on the Gold Wing. Damping, I should note, is non-customizable as it’s tied to the selected ride mode.

The whoosh of the six-cylinder motor gives an insistent and linear power/torque curve with smoothness that epitomizes the old “typical Honda” adage. On our dyno, the Gold Wing produced 97.8 hp and 108.4 pound-feet of torque.

Gold Wing engine
The Gold Wing uses an assist and slipper clutch for a light lever feel. The manual gearbox does not have a quickshifter. Gear engagement is affirmative, but requires the right touch to accomplish smoothly; it takes little time to master. It’s a big bike, remember, so shifting isn’t as slick as on a waifish sportbike.Jeff Allen

Cocooned in a pocket of clean air behind the large adjustable electric windscreen, the suspension smoothing out road imperfections, and the engine humming along with next to no vibes, the Gold Wing demonstrates its performance is coincident with its legendary reputation. The bike that defined the big, comfy tourer category continues to be the gold standard. But its best quality is the way it defies its categorization. The whole time I was riding it and thinking, “This shouldn’t be able to do this.” But I can because it does.

Gold Wing Tour technology suite
The Gold Wing Tour’s technology suite features semi-active electronic suspension, electric reverse, four riding modes, Hill Start Assist, Apple CarPlay, and a navigation system. The TFT dash and smaller LCD screens are intuitive to navigate through using the center control knob or hand controls.Jeff Allen

2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure: A Better Boxer

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
Wind protection is excellent by ADV standards. The stock seat leaves something to be desired; after a couple of hours in the saddle I was ready to be back on the Gold Wing.Jeff Allen

After riding the GSA through the wonderland of the Sierra Nevada mountains, I made my way back to Orange County by skirting the edge of the Mojave Desert. Traffic came to a halt and I found myself at a standstill in 90-degree heat, marooned between two belching semis. Eventually, after miles of lane-splitting through LA traffic, the big Beemer carried me safe and sound back to the sadness of a cheap hotel—the kind where you find water bottles filled with urine in the parking lot and cops shine their flashlights in the windows of parked cars. Even after several hours of less-than-ideal riding, I wasn’t ready to get off the GSA—and not because my night’s accommodations were less inviting than LA gridlock.

A base GSA costs $19,945, but our testbike came with the $3,450 Premium Package (you’re gonna want it), which includes next-gen semi-active electronic suspension, customizable ride modes, a quickshifter, Hill Start Control, heated grips…the list goes on. It also came with the $500 Exclusive Package—basically just fancy paint—for a grand total of $23,895. That’s more than $3,000 cheaper than the Gold Wing, if you’re keeping track, but that doesn’t include luggage. The Premium Package includes aluminum saddlebag mounts, but BMW-branded Touratech aluminum side cases cost an additional $1,456. Somehow our test unit didn’t arrive with those bags. No matter, we made do without.

Premium Package
The Premium Package includes an integrated coding plug that activates Dynamic Pro and Enduro Pro ride modes (replacing Dynamic and Enduro modes), each of which enables customization for throttle response (Dynamic, Road, Rain), ABS, Automatic Stability Control (ASC), and traction control (Dynamic, Road, Rain). The non-Pro ride modes are non-customizable in those departments. The Premium Package is the only one that includes necessities like heated grips (with two heat settings) and cruise control.Jeff Allen

The BMW’s 35-inch seat-height, and bulbous 7.9-gallon tank make it look a bit intimidating, and it’s easy to think the whole thing is a bit overkill unless you’re going to McGregor/Boorman it around the world. The base model GS, I should note, has a 1.5-inch lower saddle thanks largely to less suspension travel, and it also has a much slimmer 5.3-gallon tank. Still, the GSA carries its weight down low and after a little acclimation feels human-sized. Preload can be set to Max, Min, or Auto. The latter senses load and adjusts accordingly. I have a 30-inch inseam, and setting the preload to Min enabled both my feet to hit the ground comfortably.

BMW TFT dash
The BMW’s TFT dash is exceptionally beautiful but the user interface is a little less intuitive than on similarly equipped machines. Resetting a tripmeter, for instance, requires going inconveniently deep into menus.Jeff Allen

The GSA does feel like it’s on stilts through the twisties compared to the Gold Wing, and requires a more sensitive touch, but it rewards the rider with its unflappable demeanor. BMW’s updated semi-active suspension enables riders to toggle damping settings between Road and Dynamic, the latter firming things up nicely and offering a ton of support under hard braking toward tight downhill corners. It’s profoundly effective.

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
If your dealer has a prepped GS on the floor, ask them to turn it on for you. Toggle between the “Road” and “Dynamic” damping settings while you bounce up and down on the bike. The difference in damping is immediately obvious. The “Dynamic” setting is evidently firmer.Jeff Allen

Speaking of brakes, BMW switched suppliers, dispensing of the name recognition of Brembo for American brand Hayes. Rest assured, there’s no sacrifice in performance. The Hayes system offers good power, but it’s a tad on the soft side at the lever—even though it has stainless steel braided lines. Interestingly, the rear brake still features a Brembo rear caliper.

I really enjoyed the R 1200 GS, but I have to say, I'm glad I don't own one. If I did, I'd have to come up with the extra cash to trade it in on a new model. On paper the 1250's extra 84cc, 9 percent more horsepower, and 14 percent more torque don't sound like much, but the ShiftCam technology totally transforms the motor (and improves efficiency to meet Euro 5 standards). From as low as 3,000 rpm, the thing pulls and never lets up until peak horsepower at 7,540 rpm. Power delivery is much more immediate and punchy than on the previous mill. For the first time, the GS is kind of a beast. The Triumph Tiger 1200, Ducati Multistrada 1260 Enduro, and KTM 1290 Super Adventure will finally be looking over their shoulders. Click here to read Kevin Cameron's full explanation of how ShiftCam technology works.

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure left grip
For many, it’s going to take diving into the owner’s manual to fully understand the breadth of the BMW’s functionality and operate it from behind the bars. The two-way button to the right of the menu button adjusts suspension on the fly. Press down and hold to adjust preload (Min, Max, or Auto). Press down once to adjust compression (Dynamic or Road). Pressing up on the button activates/deactivates traction control, ABS, and Automatic Stability Control (ASC). That may sound complicated, but the advantage is not having to go deep into menus to make changes.Jeff Allen

The boxer twin has lost none of its character in the process of getting ripped, managing to be refined in the way it delivers power yet characterful in its feel. It also loses the vibes and busy-ness that plagued the R 1200 at highway speeds. The old R 1200 engine was great, but the R 1250 unit brings boxer performance into a new frontier.

Is The Gold Wing Or The R 1250 GS Adventure Best?

BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
And the winner is…Jeff Allen

Even a non-motorcyclist could examine these bikes and comprehend that the Gold Wing is a first-class machine for two-up touring, and the imposing GSA an intrepid terrain conqueror. Comparing apples to oranges means the one that’s best depends on the use-case. But there’s more to it than that.

When we’re talking touring bikes, make no mistake: We’re talking about adventure bikes. Every journey is an adventure—even a weekend blast from Orange County to the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and back. Comfort and convenience make a journey easier, but an adventure on two wheels is about seeking new horizons, pushing boundaries, and being inspired.

Between the two, the Gold Wing is the easiest to ride fast, but its limits are approached quicker than on the GSA. I was most surprised by the Gold Wing. But most taken with the GSA. They’re equally brilliant motorcycles, but the GS Adventure edges out the Wing because to all its technical proficiency it adds unquantifiable charm.

It’s the winner, not because it doesn’t need to stop when the road ends, but because it makes the rider never want to stop regardless of the roads. It’s a motorcycle with heart—the sort that makes even ordinary journeys feel a bit special. Perhaps more than long-travel suspension and rugged crash guards, that’s the quality that makes it worthy of the Adventure badge.

Honda Gold Wing Touring
Both motorcycles have unconventional front ends. The BMW’s Telelever and Honda’s “double wishbone” are less affected by braking forces and throttle inputs than bikes with telescopic forks. It makes both machines very forgiving in the corners. The Gold Wing’s system also helped Honda increase front end weight bias for sportier handling.Jeff Allen
Honda Gold Wing Touring and BMW R 1250 GS Adventure
While there’s no getting around their size and weight, the numbers don’t tell the whole story. As you’re carving corners, both bikes feel unencumbered by the specs and handle with preternatural ease. As far as redesigns/updates go, BMW and Honda were very successful in meeting their objectives.Jeff Allen
dyno comparison
The Gold Wing's impressive 108 pound-feet of torque peaks at an amazingly low 1,210 rpm and stays nearly as flat as a table throughout the rev range. Ultra-linear power delivery builds progressively to peak power at 5,500 rpm. The big news on the BMW is its ShiftCam variable valve timing, which has two separate intake cam lobes of different profiles on a single axially shifting camshaft. The system optimizes valve timing and lift to provide ideal low- and midrange torque and peak horsepower. The rider can't feel when the cam shift occurs, and only experiences a sublimely torquey motor down low with a lusty top-end rush. It feels much gutsier than the R1200 unit.Jeff Allen

2019 Honda Gold Wing Tour

PRICE $27,000
ENGINE 1,833cc, liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed six-cylinder
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 97.8 hp @ 5,500 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 108.4 lb.-ft. @ 1,210 rpm
FRAME Aluminum double cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Double wishbone w/ Showa shock absorber; 4.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Pro-Link Showa monoshock; 4.1-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Radially mounted Nissin 6-piston calipers, 320mm twin discs w/ linked ABS
REAR BRAKE Nissin 1-piston caliper, 316mm disc w/ linked ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 30.5°/4.3 in.
WHEELBASE 66.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.3 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 5.5 gal.
MEASURED WET WEIGHT 838 lb.
CONSUMPTION 37.1 mpg avg.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT powersports.honda.com
dyno comparison
Honda's 2019 Gold Wing Tour produced 97.8 horsepower on the Cycle World dyno, nearly 20 less than the 2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure's 116.9hp. In torque measurements, the Honda was king with 108.4 pound-feet of torque, besting the BMW's 92.1 pound-feet.Jeff Allen

2019 BMW R 1250 GS Adventure

PRICE $23,895 (as tested)
ENGINE 1,254cc, liquid-cooled boxer twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/shaft
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 116.9 @ 7,540 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 92.1 lb.-ft. @ 6,240 rpm
FRAME Two-section steel tube
FRONT SUSPENSION 37mm BMW Telelever; 8.3-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION BMW paralever; 8.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Hayes 4-piston calipers, 305mm twin discs w/ linked ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo 2-piston caliper, 276mm disc w/ linked ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 26.3°/4.1 in.
WHEELBASE 59.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 35.0/35.8 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 7.9 gal.
MEASURED WET WEIGHT 625 lb. (w/o bags)
CONSUMPTION 40.8 mpg avg.
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT bmwmotorcycles.com

Gear Box

Gearbox
Gold Wing gear.Jeff Allen
Gearbox
GSA gear.Jeff Allen