2012 BMW K1600GTL vs. 2012 Honda Gold Wing Shootout [Video]

The heavyweight luxo-touring fight of the decade

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2012 Honda Gold Wing

When the American automotive industry was at its peak, the Cadillac stood head and shoulders above all others in terms of dimensions, heft and luxury. And so it has been and still is with the Honda Gold Wing. This, until recently long-time American-made Honda, is synonymous with motorcycling opulence. The modern Gold Wing set an unassailable benchmark in two-wheel comfort, which no manufacturer’s been able to surpass, not even the new BMW K1600GTL.

From seat to stereo, the Gold Wing remains the epitome of rider and passenger comfort. The shape of its seats and their foam density and material comprised to give both rider and pillion a superior experience compared to the K16. During aggressive riding, Maria remained in one place due to the seat’s hugging nature, and when on the freeway, the armrests and floorboards elevated comfort levels for her well above the passenger accommodations of the BMW. My only complaint is that the seat’s width (which is part of its comfort equation) forces even taller riders to move to its forward (narrowest) portion when coming to a stop in order to get good footing, essential for holding up the 900-pound bike.

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

“Rider ergos left me wanting nothing at the end of our long trip,” remarks Pete. “Honda’s years of ergonomic refinements to the Wing are patently obvious.”

When it comes to performance it’s no secret that a bike with a 136-pound weight advantage and 25 more horsepower will be faster and more nimble than the heavier, less powerful bike.

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

“The Beemer transitions with minimal effort between turns as it rolls smoothly across its axis in one fluid motion, with confidence-inspiring stability from upright to full lean,” Pete raves. ”Whether riding the K16 like a comfy sportbike-hunting missile in the canyons or ambling casually down the boulevard or interstate, this bike is a smooth operator, and yet a thrill-inducing ride at the same time. If you’re a retiring sportbike rider looking to move into the comfort and distance realm, the K1600GTL is the bike for you.”

However, with all three trunks loaded with gear and Maria riding co-pilot I managed to keep the Gold Wing on the heels of Pete and the K16 until running out of ground clearance. After bashing the exhaust cover into the apex of a downhill left-hander and forcing the front wheel to skip an inch to the right, I received the “slow down” tap from my co-pilot.

When we switched bikes, Pete also praised the Gold Wing’s surprising, albeit ground-clearance-limited, performance. “When you sling the big Wing along winding, snarled canyon roads, its ability to gobble up the corners in rapid-fire succession is at times astounding! Build a good rhythm and the GW flows like melted butter on hot toast. However, my foot would get snatched off the peg by contact with the road when dragging a peg. That’s too bad, ‘cause if the bike is otherwise willing to lean in and rail, why hold it back?”

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

Both bikes have impressive sound systems, but, as Pete says, the Honda’s is “hands down the better sound system.” It’s more powerful, has better clarity, offers speakers for the passenger and has a Mute button – these latter two things are missing from the BMW. The XM satellite radio adds a level of entertainment, and the USB connection in the trunk supplies full iPod integration.

When it comes to storage the Gold Wing has the BMW beat by a significant 31 liters, 146 vs 115 (43 liters in each saddlebag with a 60-liter trunk for the Gold Wing vs. 33-liter saddlebags with a 49-liter trunk for the K16). However, the BMW’s saddlebags and its trunk are removable, which can be a huge advantage when it’s time to pack or unpack. The saddlebags dismount and remount in a flash, but the trunk’s release is at the bottom, beneath whatever is packed inside. At least it’s removable.

Both bikes feature a key fob with remote locking of the bags at the push of a button.

2012 Luxury-Touring Shootout

Although our K16 wasn’t equipped with its optional ($850) dealer-installed GPS system, our Gold Wing was delivered with Honda’s Garmin-built Satellite-Linked Navigation System. At the Honda Trip Planner website, where you can share travel routes with others, I was able plan our route with the same accuracy and shortcomings (six turns to go around the block) as using Google Maps. I then downloaded the route onto the supplied SD card then uploaded it into the Gold Wing’s on-board computer.

The system worked like other automotive GPS systems... as long as we kept to the pre-programmed route. Any divergence from the route upset the system on our test bike, causing it to reboot instead of simply re-routing from our new location. The GPS, of course, is designed to automatically re-route after diverging from the programmed directions. Honda reps said this is the first time they’ve ever heard of a failure of this nature, but they admit they were able to recreate the glitch on our test unit. Honda Japan and Garmin are investigating the issue. “We’re going to look into it and make it right, as we would with any customer bike,” Honda’s media rep commented. We’re promised an update when further info is found. 

Pete appreciated the color screen display for the GPS, but notes that, “during direct light the concave shape of the protective lens covering the display often distorted or obscured the view of the lower half of the screen. It was downright difficult to see at times.”

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