First Ride: Honda Goldwing

Former Superbike magazine editor Tony Middlehurst takes his better half on a journey across the Lakes

Click to read: Honda Goldwing owners reviews, Honda Goldwing specs and to see the Honda Goldwing image gallery.

I stood over the Goldwing lying accusingly on its side, flood-waters raging around it, hailstones pinging off my helmet. A playful gust of wind had just ripped the bike from my grasp, obliging me and the missus to bail out at 0mph.

A few thoughts crossed my mind. Thoughts like, how big should a motorcycle be? How much will this cost to fix? And why had my back chosen this week, of all weeks, to go out?

But then the three of us (a car driver stopped to help) heaved the Wing back up on its feet. There was no damage. That’s what 35 long years of development does for a bike. A Goldwing doesn’t fall very far before it touches down on an engine bar. The bars on our bike didn’t even hit the dirt. Best of all, the airbag didn’t go off. We climbed back into our heated seats and carried on.

I’d been looking forward to a nice cruise up to the Lake District on the Honda. If the glitzy Victory is a Cadillac de Ville with two wheels missing, the Wing is a Peterbilt. You could argue that, at 416kg, it’s too big for the UK: fully loaded with luggage and humans, you’re grappling with over half a ton. Reverse gear is not a gimmick, it’s a bloody necessity! Wing weight is carried low, but there’s no getting away from the sheer amount of it. It gives you kicks in unexpected places, like on the motorway. The barndoor acreage of a two-up Wing on a breezy day adds spice and involuntary nervous giggling to any ride across Shap Fell.

But take away the freak weather and there’s no disputing the Wing’s big-roads ability. Monumental journeys are despatched with ruthless effi ciency. The two-valve, sixpot 1800cc motor’s max torque comes in at 4,000rpm, max power at 5,500rpm. Its redline is lower than that of most cars. Oddly, with only fi ve gears it’s a bit fussy in ‘OD’ top. For ultimately relaxing travel it could do with an OD on the OD.

But that’s the only gripe. This is an astonishingly effective high-miles machine. Unlike the Victory, which is (incorrectly) long and high, the Wing is (correctly) long and low, the classic straight-line mile-muncher set-up. Steering is 80 percent by bum. The bar grips are, in the main, places to rest your hands. Set the cruise control to 80 and you don’t even need them for that.

Shaft drive makes for a sharper connection between throttle and back tyre than on the two belt-driven Yanks. That could have been an issue in the abysmal Lakes weather, but the engine’s benign power characteristics combined with decent bite from the tyres to take the sting out of most wet white line situations. Linked braking is by footpedal and lever, rather than the other way round, and stopping is flat, but you do need to watch out for the ABS. I nearly rammed Grant during an unexpected parking move...

It’s important to spend a day reading the Wing manual. We had a minute. That’s why I had to stop under a streetlamp to locate the high beam switch, ironically the only function not to be lit up on the Xmastreelike control deck. The display screen for the radio and SatNav picks up reflections and, like the switchgear, is not massively intuitive, but familiarity is the key here and hey, you’ve got radio and SatNav. On a bike. Even though the airbag and SatNav bump up the Deluxe’s price by a not unreasonable £600, I think I’d be inclined to choose the straight Wing.

Back in ‘85, when Gold Wings actually were gold, I rode a 1200 Aspencade from Mexico to Canada. It was 2,500 miles over a long weekend. I don’t remember much about the experience other than the fact that it got me there. No other bike gives you the Wing’s uniquely carefree feeling of Armageddon-proof inevitability. Other bikes do often give you more involvement though.

Rear View Missus

Krys Freeman

With heated seats (is this a car? no, I’m wet and cold…) the Honda pillion was sumptuous and warm. It was a little too laid back though, literally, almost detached. I felt unnervingly distant from Tony who seemed busy on his own up at the front. We weren’t quite sharing the experience, an intercom would’ve helped. The Wing had all the bells and whistles but for £19K you could get the same experience from a convertible - without the bad hair. So you’ve got to ask, why? That said, I had huge fun so maybe that’s why!

Honda Goldwing GL1800 Deluxe

Price: £19,321
Engine: 1832cc, SOHC, liquid-cooled, 12-valve flat six
Drive: 5-speed, shaft driven
Power: 116bhp@5500rpm
Torque: 123lb.ft@4000rpm
Front suspension: 45mm air-assisted forks, with antidive
Rear suspension: Pro-link pro-arm electronic preload adjustment
Front brake: Twin discs 296mm, three-piston calipers, combined/ABS
Rear brake: 316mm disc, three-piston caliper
Dry weight: 417kg dry (claimed)
Seat height:
Fuel capacity: 25 litres
Top speed: 130mph (est)
Colours: Red, Black, Silver