In the sport touring world, Honda's VFR Interceptor and ST1100 (known in Europe as the Pan European) primarily compete with BMW for top honors. Honda's line of Shadows, meanwhile, appeal to what little cruiser market isn't gobbled up by Harley-Davidson.
If there is, however, one market segment where Honda enjoys absolute sovereignty, it has to be luxury touring. Introduced in 1975, Honda's Gold Wing (with the help of Vetter) arguably spawned the luxo-touring genre. Since then, Honda has heaped on the cubic centimeters and slathered on the luxury.
And Gold Wing riders ate it up. They formed clubs, organized rallies, logged countless highway miles and exhibited fanatical customer loyalty. Although it looks like a yellow peanut M&M, the new 'Wing will not melt in your hand or your mouth. The first serious threat to the Wing, however, appeared spring of 1999 in the form of the BMW K1200LT. The big beemer offered all of the Wing's luxury, plus amenities like heated grips, a CD-changer and an electrically-adjustable windshield.
"More importantly, an advanced suspension, tires and brakes enabled the LT to haul serious ass through the canyons as well as the interstate."
More importantly, an advanced suspension, tires and brakes enabled the LT to haul serious ass through the canyons as well as the interstate. As our recent shootout revealed, the soft and comfy Wing was no match for the beemer in the twisties. Though it may seem like BMW forced the issue at Honda, the truth is a revised GL has been in the works for quite some time.
Honda officials said about 10 years ago, they recognized the success of their Acura line of luxury cars. They also noticed the demise of the land-yacht variety of Cadillacs and Lincolns. Seeing this shift towards performance in the luxury car market, it soon became apparent the GL 1500 incarnation of the Gold Wing was more akin to your father's Oldsmobile than a sleek and athletic Acura. So around 1993, Honda put some solid ideas to paper.
In 1996, Honda placed Executive Chief Engineer Masanori Aoki at the helm of the project. Aoki, a performance bike enthusiast, led teams responsible for track burners like the CBR-600 and the NSR-250. Aoki believes that while most riders don't strive to drag knee or travel at triple-digit speeds, everyone can appreciate a strong engine and nimble handling.
"A motorcycle's base is performance," Aoki said. "Every motorcycle rider likes a sportbike feeling."
Aoki explained that the mission of his team was to improve handling and braking while increasing power. Other goals included simplifying maintenance, increasing gas mileage and cruising range and also exceeding 2008 California emissions standards. These are daunting goals in and of themselves. But there was one caveat: preserve the spirit of the Gold Wing.
"How do you take a much venerated motorcycle, redo it, and not screw it up?" Gary Christopher, Honda senior manager of press and racing said. Well, Gold Wing fans, unless you have something against getting more of a good thing, the 2001 GL 1800 Gold Wing is anything but "screwed up."
Honda hosted the 2001 Gold Wing GL 1800 press introduction at its Honda of America Motorcycles factory in Columbus, Ohio. The week-long event included a full technical briefing, a plant tour plus two days of riding along the scenic, yet challenging back-roads of Southern Ohio. Gold Wings, old and new. Journalists on hand garnered ample saddle time on both the soon-to-be-released 1800 and the current 1500 model.
While frequent bike-swapping and heavy-handed shenanigans made it difficult to gauge real-life gas mileage or cruising range, the experience made it abundantly clear the 1800 is as good or better than the 1500 in every imaginable way. In a nutshell, the 1800 accelerates quicker, stops surer and inspires newfound confidence in the corners. Available ABS and a redesigned linked brake system promise improved safety. Radial tires, an anti-dive fork and electronically-adjustable rear shock provide predictable handling. Luxury, meanwhile, is enhanced by the availability of a six-disc CD changer and heated grips. Access to frequently-maintained parts is improved while a 600 mile service is no longer necessary. A valve inspection (not necessarily adjustment) only is recommended every 32,000 miles.
Last but not least, Honda just received official word that the Wing's 1800cc, 118 hp, fuel injected six cylinder engine exceeds California's stringent 2008 C.A.R.B. emissions standards by almost 25 percent. But, is the spirit of the Wing preserved? It's safe to say about 95 percent remains happily intact. And considering the 100 percent improvement everywhere else, giving up a scant bit of old school vibe is a true bargain.