When autumn comes to the motorcycle industry, there’s little time for looking back; it’s full speed ahead into the upcoming year. It’s time for manufacturers to begin the building of their latest and greatest products, and for riders—and motorcycle magazines—to begin thinking about what might be waiting for them in the year ahead.

But there always is one piece of unfinished business, one final group of questions to ask before the yearly books are closed. Just how good were the preceding 12 months anyway? How well did the bikes of that particular year rate, and more to the point, which motorcycles were the best the year had to offer?

Once a year, questions like these become all-important in the Cycle World offices. And the answers never get any easier. Because every year about this time, we have 10 extremely difficult decisions to make, 10 decisions that require endless debate, consideration, argument, and, very often, reconsideration. Finally, after the smoke clears and all the evidence is heard, we end up with the winners of our annual Ten Best Motorcycles of the Year awards.

At one time, perhaps, picking the 10 best bikes would have been easier than it is today. But motorcycles aren’t just motorcycles anymore. The sport has evolved into a pastime made up of many diverse, highly specialized types of riding. As a result, evaluating any motorcycle today means first determining what that motorcycle was meant to do. Some are designed as low-speed cruisers, others as high-speed racers; some are extremely narrow in focus, while others are intended to cover a broad range of riding activities. And a few motorcycles simply defy being pigeonholed into any existing category.

So every year, we take it upon ourselves to decide which motorcycles fall into what categories. In effect, we make the rules, then we make the selections. And if, after all is said and done, you find that you don't agree with our choices, well, that's almost to be expected. After all, we never said that you have to like them. We're just saying that we do.—Cycle World, October, 1985

2010: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2010: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
2010 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

Forgive us if you think we're repeating ourselves, but we can't help it: The 1800 Honda Gold Wing has won the Best Touring award five years in a row and eight times in the bike's 10-year existence. Not only that, in the 34-year history of Ten Best, Gold Wings of all sizes have topped this category 20 times. Yes, these bikes are that good. The 1800's ethereally smooth flat-6 delivers a bottomless well of stump-pulling torque that would do a Peterbilt proud, and the chassis offers a ride as plush as that provided by some cars. Toss in a great sound system, cruise control, heated grips and seat, adjustable windscreen, cockpit-adjustable headlights, and rear-suspension preload—plus more than 75 accessories that include a navigation system, antilock brakes, and even an air bag—and you get an over-the-road experience that nothing else on two wheels can match.

2009: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2009: Honda Gold Wing
2009 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

How good is the Gold Wing? Well, except for the addition of a few optional accessories, this big flat-6 hasn't undergone any significant changes since its introduction in 2001, yet it's still the best two-wheel long-haul traveling machine on the market, having won this category seven times in the 1,800cc version's nine-year existence. That's how good it is. Want an even more impressive statistic? This is the 19th time a Gold Wing of any size has been voted Best Touring Bike in the 33-year history of our Ten Best program. Obviously, Honda knows a thing or two about touring, and that expertise is readily apparent the moment you plop down onto a Gold Wing's seat and begin enjoying the smoothest, most luxurious ride in all of motorcycling.

2008: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2008: Honda Gold Wing
2008 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

This isn't just a motorcycle, it's an institution, a rolling example that more can be more, kitchen-sink jokes be damned. The Gold Wing has been winning Ten Best awards—16 in all—longer than some CW staffers have been alive, way back to 1977 when it was a naked roadster that made fairing-meister Craig Vetter a millionaire. When someone at Honda got smart and started equipping the Wing with the touring paraphernalia that owners were adding anyway, the modern big rig was born. Purists and pundits—given fresh ammo a couple of years ago when an air bag was added to the bike's long list of features—may well scoff. Yet, the amazing thing is not how much of a two-wheeled car the Gold Wing has become but how much motorcycle remains.

2007: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2007: Honda Gold Wing
2007 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

Make all the jokes if you must—it’s a two-wheeled motorhome, half a car, a bike so big it has its own zip code, blah, blah, blah. But whatever wisecracks the Gold Wing might evoke, there is no better way to “get away from it all by taking most of it with you” on two wheels than the big GL. The flat-6 motor is velvety smooth despite having locomotive-class power, the aluminum-framed chassis delivers amazing handling for a bike that weighs a six-pack short of 900 pounds, and there are enough creature comforts on board to keep even the crabbiest of riders cozy and content over the long haul. In addition to models with ABS, GPS, and a premium audio system, there’s even one equipped with an air bag. Whether you’re traveling cross-country or merely across town, the Wing is the way to fly.

2006: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2006: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
2006: Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

After two years of watching BMW take home the, uh, “gold” in this category, the Gold Wing is back on the top step of the podium, earning the Best Touring Bike award for the 16th time. Mechanically, the 2006 Wing isn’t much different than the ’05, but Honda finally made available some long-overdue accessories (GPS, as well as heated grips, seat and passenger backrest) this year, and that was sufficient to swing our vote back in the big six’s favor. So, with a smoothie of an engine that could move mountains, a plush, spacious cockpit, great weather protection, and remarkably competent handling for a motorcycle of its size, the Gold Wing returns as the finest over-the-road traveling companion on two wheels.

2003: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2003: Honda Gold Wing
2003 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

It's getting to the point that the Best Touring Bike category should have its trophy retired in perpetuity with the name of one machine etched thereupon: Honda Gold Wing. From the first time our cheeks hit the seat on CW's big "Lap of America" tour following the GL's 2001 press introduction, and every time we've hit the road since, nothing but nothing Hoovers up highway like this big luxo-liner. Comfortable seating, large luggage, a monster of a civilized six-banger, and an accessory catalog so thick it shames J.C. Whitney and the Sharper Image, most other manufacturers just run and hide rather than try to topple the king. Twenty-eight years, 15 wins: Luxury touring has a name, and it is the Honda Gold Wing.

2002: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2002: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
2002 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

There wasn’t much movement in the Touring category this year, unless you were aboard a Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, which returns to collect its second consecutive Ten Best trophy. Then there was almost perpetual motion. The bike that coined the term “luxury tourer” received a stem-to-stern makeover for 2001 with a new aluminum chassis and larger-displacement, fuel-injected flat-6 engine, and returned this year largely unchanged. As reported in our original 12-day, 12,000-mile test, how the GL manages to be so large and luxurious yet feel so small and sporting is beyond us. We’re just glad that it does. As are the tens of thousands of owners racking up hundreds of thousands of trouble-free miles per year.

2001: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing

2001: Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
2001 Honda GL1800 Gold WingCycle World

They don’t get any easier than this! Honda arguably created the touring class with the 1975 GL1000, and a quarter-century later, its six-cylinder successor, the GL1500, was still selling strong. But the introduction of the Ten Best-winning BMW K1200LT in 1999 forced Honda’s hand, and the totally-new-for-’01 GL1800 was the result. And what a tour de force it is! With an 1,832cc fuel-injected flat-6 engine housed in a sportbike-spec twin-spar aluminum chassis replete with single-sided swingarm, all hidden under sharp new bodywork that appeals to Gen X’ers and Preparation H’ers alike, this humdinger of a Wing scores a direct hit and reclaims its rightful position atop the Touring Bike throne. The Wing is dead; long live the Wing!

1989: Honda GL1500 Gold Wing

1989: Honda GL1500 Gold Wing
1989 Honda GL1500 Gold WingCycle World

Answer: Gary Hart and Donna Rice; Crosby; the Honda GL1500. Question: Name a fling, a Bing, and a king. The third part of the answer shouldn’t need explaining. The GL1500 is the undisputed monarch of touring, just as its ancestors were before it. Gold Wings have been on top so long it doesn’t take Carnac the Magnificent to predict that the GL once again is the Best Touring Bike.

1986: Honda Aspencade SE-i

1986: Honda Aspencade SE-i
1986 Honda Aspencade SE-iRon Hussey

When it comes to touring bikes, Honda wrote the rules of the game 11 years ago with the first Gold Wing. And the company has been rewriting those rules every year with newer and better models, while the others struggle to keep up. In fact, in the 11-year history of Cycle World's Ten Best awards, the Gold Wing has won the Best Touring Bike award six times. This year, the Aspencade SE-i comes out on top once more because it is hands-down the best way to cross the country, as we discovered in our six-bike touring shootout in the June 1986, issue.

1985: Honda GL1200 Gold Wing Aspencade

1985: Honda Aspencade
1985 Honda GL1200 Gold Wing AspencadeCycle World

When you’re on the road somewhere between Reno and Winnemucca, you want to have some good company. And if 10 years and millions of miles have proven anything, it’s that the Honda Gold Wing is good company. Other touring bikes have come and gone, and several have, in some aspects, surpassed the Gold Wing. But anytime the competition even comes close to outdoing the Wing, the Honda returns a year later as a better motorcycle. That’s why this year’s Gold Wings are the best ever. And of the three models (Interstate, Aspencade, and Limited Edition), the Aspencade gets our nod as the most motorcycle for the price. But all three are tops when it comes to transforming a long ride into a vacation on the open road.

1984: Honda GL1200 Gold Wing Aspencade

1984 Honda GL1200 Gold Wing Aspencade
1984 Honda GL1200 Gold Wing AspencadeCourtesy of Honda

Honda’s Aspencade is more than just a touring big rig; it’s an establishment, a two-wheel monument to The Long Run, a bike that is as much a part of American motorcycling as open-road touring itself. But just because it’s a Gold Wing doesn’t automatically qualify the GL as the best. In 1983, Honda’s dominance of big-wheel touring was interrupted by Yamaha’s Venture Royale, a bike that was a vast improvement over the barely changed Aspencade. This year the tables have turned once again, and now it’s a redesigned Honda shooting down a virtually unchanged Yamaha. The 1984 Honda is smoother, more sophisticated and as easy to manage as a bike half its size. In, fact, it’s a better-handling machine than any full-dress touring rig in the history of motorcycles. And that does automatically qualify it as the best.

1982: Honda GL1100 Gold Wing Interstate

1982 Honda GL1100 Interstate
1982 Honda GL1100 Gold Wing InterstateRon Hussey

Touring has always defied definition: When we began the balloting for this class, we had votes for Harley-Davidson's new FXRS and Suzuki's GS1100E on the grounds that those were machines their fans would prefer to take on long rides. And they'll do the job, except that Harley and Suzuki offer the FLT and GS1100GK, fairing and bags and all, because the factories know going on trips isn't all touring is supposed to be. Honda worked this out first, in 1975. The result was the Gold Wing, shaft drive, water-cooling, a boxer four, a whole list of different ideas. Mile after mile, week after week the Gold Wing ran and ran, in quiet comfort and reliability. Honda topped the original with the Interstate, factory equipped with full fairing and bags that suited the bike. The Interstate is still the best package. Honda's own Aspencade is a set of extras added to the standard extras, but while sound systems and special paint and compressor for the air suspension are nice, they aren't required. And while the other models with fairings and luggage designed for the bike are good, they still aren't quite as good. Touring bikes are for going where you want, with everything you need, as fast as you can get away with. When you get there, you should be as eager for the ride back. When it comes to all that, the Interstate fills the bill best.

1981: Honda GL1100 Gold Wing Interstate

1981 Honda GL1100 Interstate
1981 Honda GL1100 Gold Wing InterstateCycle World

Touring bikes, like the other subject the Supreme Court justice had in mind, defy description but we all know them when we see them. Honda saw them years ago, and figured the long-haul public would appreciate a big, quiet engine with extras like water-cooling and shaft drive. So it introduced the Gold Wing, and while people scoffed about two-wheeled cars, they also bought GLs by the thousands. And added extras like fairings and saddlebags and top boxes and radios and extra lights, all of which were made by outside suppliers. Honda took a fleet of factory-packed touring bikes out for a comparison journey last year, so when Ten Best time rolled around the choice was easy. The Gold Wing did everything well, and while it wasn't the fastest or the most nimble or the most economical, the GL was the bike most likely to be grabbed when it came time to see what was on the other side of the mountain. Once again the competition hasn't sat still and the accessory companies have come out with different and better equipment. But we haven't seen anything better than the GL-1 when it comes to rolling out of the showroom and pointing the front wheel toward the other coast.

1980: Honda GL1100 Gold Wing Interstate

1980 Honda GL1100 Interstate
1980 Honda GL1100 Gold Wing InterstateRon Hussey

Picking the best touring bike was easy after we finished a full-dress comparison test last May. The Honda GL1100 Interstate was the clear winner of that comparison and it deserves to once again be named the best touring bike made. Unlike most of the competition, the Interstate is a carefully thought-out special-purpose bike, designed to be a touring bike and nothing else. The unusual liquid-cooled opposed-four that powers the machine is as smooth as an encyclopedia salesman, powerful, torquey, and durable. The air-assisted suspension front and rear gives the huge bike excellent carrying capacity while at the same time providing the smoothest ride on a motorcycle. Being designed to carry a full complement of accessories, the Interstate naturally handles a fairing and saddlebags and top box with ease. And the accessories that Honda has designed for the Interstate are exceptional. The fairing provides the best protection available, while offering accommodation for the radio and full battery of gauges. The saddlebags are spacious, well-made, and have removable liners. Even the top box is easy to detach, shaped to carry lots of gear yet not extend past the end of the motorcycle unnecessarily, and the whole package looks beautiful. Add to that the special touches like adjustable seat and windshield position and the new Interstate is just about perfect.

1977: Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

1977 Honda GL1000
1977 Honda GL1000 Gold WingCycle World

Honda's flagship caused a bit of a stir when it was introduced. From conventional 750 to a water-cooled 1,000, opposed-four, shaft drive, dummy fuel tank, and all the rest seemed like a lot of change all at once. Soon as the shock wore off, though, and the touring riders had a chance to learn just how nice it is to cruise for hours in smooth silence, they began buying the GL in large numbers. By the end of the 1977 model year, seemed like every other bike you see on the open road is a GL with fairing, bags, CB radio, and two relaxed people. Honda's planners saw this coming. The GL is a complex machine. Critics contend the GL's number of systems, that is, all those pumps and circuits and thermostats and rheostats make the Gold Wing more like a two-wheeled car than a motorcycle. Something in that. The GL is complicated and Lord knows it surely is big. The defense is that the systems work. The low gearing and water-cooling and mild engine and low center of gravity all mean the GL will run hard and run fast and apparently will run forever. During the model year, we had three of the friendly giants in and around the office, for road tests and evaluation of various add-on items, and the GLs always went on and on with a minimum of care. The suspension isn't perfect and the factory could usefully provide more load-carrying capacity, especially in back, but that can be taken care of by the owner at reasonable cost. Make the changes you want, buy the touring gear you like, and you'll have the best touring bike on the market for the money.