Commonly referred to as a couch on two wheels, the Honda Gold Wing is probably the motorcycle most commonly made fun of by riders who have never ridden them.
They're big. They're bulky. There is a lot of fairing and so many buttons.
Quite frankly, they are intimidating. I will admit I was one of those riders poking fun at the "couch," but decided to actually ride one to back my opinion and I was shocked to discover that under all that decor lies a sport bike.
"Well, it's official," I said as I got off the bike, "I can no longer make fun of the Gold Wing."
The model I rode was a 2010, but structurally, there are no changes with the 2012 model. Cosmetically, a "winger" will notice the differences" but to the average rider - there is no mistaking it is still a Gold Wing.
The Honda Gold Wing has been in production for about three and a half decades and remains the No. 1 choice of grand touring bikes, providing the best of luxury and handling in one package.
Hitting the production line in 1972, the M1 was created to push the boundaries on the Grand Touring concept.
The technology would embark on a whole new way to build motorcycles with a 'top-secret prototype'. The M1 featured a liquid-cooled horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine with shaft drive that would become a Gold Wing standard as the years went on.
By 1975, the original GL1000 Gold Wing was born, boasting a 999 cc liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine and the world became a rider's playground.
By 1988, with the introduction of the GL 1500 Gold Wing, Honda would introduce a six-cylinder engine and dominate the motorcycle touring market.
Fast forward to 2012 and the Kumamoto, Japan, production line sometimes produces as many as 1,800 motorcycles in a single day.
The 2012 engine is a powerful fuel-injected, 1832 cc, six-cylinder engine, but the power is consistently delivered.
The technology of the Gold Wing is quite complex and the statistics may not make sense unless you regularly ride one.
What I can tell you from my experience is the centre of gravity of the bike is below the rider, making for a well-balanced, easy-to-control ride.
Cosmetic changes for 2012 include styling and
I would expect the 'couch' to be comfortable, but what surprised me was the handling of the bike under all that comfort.
"With the flat six engine," said Nick Smirniw of Honda Canada, "instead of the cylinders sticking up like they do in a typical motorcycle, they stick out the sides so the engine can be positioned very low in the frame - about ankle height - so despite the bulk of the bike, the centre of gravity is very low.
"We are talking about a 900-pound motorcycle but it rides much lighter than that."
Anything that weighs 900 pounds is enough to intimidate an individual, but the Gold Wing rides more like a 400-pound cruiser with a whole lot more protection surrounding the rider.
Surprisingly, I had no trouble balancing the bike at traffic lights. Upon accelerating, the power is delivered quickly, but evenly - not too much torque. Not as much punch between gears, but consistent gradual power.
Riding and handling is one thing, but manoeuvring the bike in a parking lot is completely different. Leg strength is key to move around a bike and a bike that large is a challenge unless, of course, it comes with reverse.
Are you kidding me? Reverse?
As odd as it seemed, if any bike should come with reverse, it just seemed to make sense that the Gold Wing has it. With a simple push of the button within the rider's controls on the right handlebar, a slow-speed, electric reverse system is engaged and allows the rider to confidently back up the bike without compromising balance or strength.
A new GPS navigation system allows the rider to program favourite routes that can be shared with friends online. A brighter screen with a quicker satellite connection gives the rider a 3D view of the terrain and comes with Canada and U.S.
"You can do a lot of programming with the navi system now," said Smirniw. "They have gone from a compact flash card to an SD card. Once you have programmed your route onto the card, you plug it back into your Gold Wing, your friend's Gold Wing, or you can email a favourite route to your friends so they can ride it."
"There's pretty much no luxury feature that is missing from the Gold Wing," said Smirniw.
The luxury referred to applies both passenger and rider. Features include:
- Five-position heated grips for cold-weather riding
- Five-position heated seat/backrest combination with individual rider and passenger controls.
- Foot-warming system channels engine-heated air over the rider's feet.
- Adjustable and closeable windscreen vent, routing fresh air to the rider's face or chest.
- Redesigned fairing adds extra wind protection.
- Revised suspension settings front and rear create a better ride and more comfort.
Last but not least, the bike has an airbag. Positioned directly in front of the rider, the Gold Wing offers the industry's first fully integrated rider airbag on a motorcycle. It is an optional feature.
As great as this bike is, I would need a whole lot more time in the saddle to fully appreciate what the bike offers and to gain confidence. I am still a little overwhelmed with its possibilities.
I recommend riding a Gold Wing. It is truly an experience.
MotorcyGal is written by Marissa Baecker. Visit MotorcyGal.com, like on facebook.com/motorcygal or follow on twitter @motorcygal.