A Luxury-Touring Rethink

J. Joshua Placa
by J. Joshua Placa

Riders of luxurious touring bikes are sometimes derided by younger motorcyclists as a group past their prime and ready for a retirement home, if not already there. This class is best typified by Honda’s iconic Gold Wing, a bike often described by younger sportbike riders as something akin to a Winnebago.

But during the launch of the updated 2012 Gold Wing, we were reminded that its surplus of luxurious amenities doesn’t preclude the ability to tear up a twisty road. Our group of Wing riders departed North Carolina’s infamous Tail of the Dragon just in front of a Suzuki DR-Z400 supermoto, and I expected it to quickly pass us on one of the Dragon’s 318 corners in 11 miles. But the surprisingly sporty Wing was never overtaken.

Contributor Josh Placa has also been thinking about the luxury-touring class, and he shares his views below. –Kevin Duke, Editor-in-Chief

a luxury touring rethink, Despite their size luxury touring rigs like this Honda Gold Wing can still perform admirably in the twisties
Despite their size, luxury touring rigs like this Honda Gold Wing can still perform admirably in the twisties.
a luxury touring rethink, There comes a time in a motorcyclist s life when climbing into a well appointed Honda Gold Wing is much more appealing than zipping around on a CBR600RR
There comes a time in a motorcyclist’s life when climbing into a well-appointed Honda Gold Wing is much more appealing than zipping around on a CBR600RR.

There’s long been an often persnickety and sometimes pernicious notion that big touring motorcycles are made for little old ladies and geezer-class men. That’s just a pile of poppycock.

Of the motorcycling masses riding the Earth at any given moment, most are over 40 and still zesty. Having long put that mile marker in my rearview, I’d like to think the only sensible explanation for this is that older riders are smarter, tougher and have achieved a level of coolness where they feel no need to impress. It’s a matter of moxie.

Impassioned pundits will argue the point, but at least one thing is certain: pre-geriatric Baby Boomers fueled the motorcycle industry’s wild ride, including unprecedented double-digit growth that began in the 1990s and lasted more than a decade. The cruiser/tourer market exploded like an angry supernova, and kept exploding for more than a decade. The cruiser class caught fire, quickly becoming the largest selling segment in motorcycling history. In a short time, basic cruisers led to power- and luxury-cruisers, then luxo-tourers, and now to shining points of state-of-the-art comfort and go-everywhere gadgetry.

a luxury touring rethink

During the great bike bonanza, Boomers wanting to look bad wrapped their leathered arms around a Brando attitude and bought up tons of choppers and bobbers. These bikes provided just the right profile and coolness quotient, and worked great if you didn’t want to turn much or carry stuff. The romance rapidly wore thin. Boomers began trading in their bad bikes for nice, cozy, pragmatic baggers. “We didn’t go soft; we got smart!” was their mildly edgy rally cry.

A new age for mature riders dawned. Most every streetbike manufacturer offers some kind of long-haul travel machine, but few meld touring comfort and technology like Honda’s Gold Wing, the machine that basically spawned this category of motorcycle. After selling about a million Wings worldwide since its debut during the dreaded disco era, the newly revised 2012 model is entering its 38th year, or 37th, depending on whether you count a one-year hiatus last year while manufacturing shifted from Marysville, OH to Kumamoto, Japan.

The 2012 Gold Wing returned to the market with mildly sharper bodywork, an improved audio system and a better GPS system. The 1832cc flat-Six and five-speed gearbox with electric reverse remain unchanged from 2010. The driveline provides the requisite power and smoothness a luxo-tourer demands, so mods here were not a priority. Instead, Honda focused on creature comforts and conveniences, the core of what makes a super-deluxe road yacht.

a luxury touring rethink, Cozy passenger accommodations are another bonus of luxury tourers
Cozy passenger accommodations are another bonus of luxury tourers.

The new and improved Wing starts with a sticker price of $23,200, rolling up to $28,500, loaded. It packs a faster GPS receiver, the heart of its satellite-guided navigation system, and a long list of other amenities, including remote computer map planning; lane guidance; an upgraded, plusher, heated seat; heated handgrips; remodeled bodywork designed to keep more wind off the rider; iPod and MP3 connectivity; a surround sound audio system that would embarrass Radio Shack, XM, FM, AM and Eminem radio; traffic and weather reports; a very handy tire pressure monitoring system; inter-helmet and inter-bike intercom systems; built-in butt massager; ABS, of course; and even an airbag option (replacing reachable-while-riding storage space) are all available on the 2012 Wing. Except maybe for the butt massager and Eminem radio. No word yet on whether Honda is considering what would be very hip accessories.

The Wing settles you into a world of deep, soothing cushiness, coddling body and mind, seemingly almost on autopilot as rider and passenger sit back, sip espresso, plan their next spa visit and enjoy the passing pastoral scenery. This begs the question, at least to some holdout, semi-hardcore Boomers who put 40 in their rearview long ago: Is true biking dead? Has it been computerized, miniaturized, digitized and electronically wriggled from our gloved, wrinkly hands?

a luxury touring rethink, Hide the women and children the Gold Wings are coming
Hide the women and children…the Gold Wings are coming!

The Gold Wing may be the granddaddy of all luxury tourers, and at few Big Macs over 900 lbs, nearly as big as a Buick. But this is not your grandpa’s bike. As Editor Duke noted in his review of the 2012 model, the Wing’s sure-footed handling and strong engine allow a brisk pace down a twisty road, as he found out on North Carolina’s notorious Dragon.

Nostalgia is often overrated. It’s easy to fondly remember bygone bikes with more style, class, reliability and performance than they actually had. That sweet spot in recent Americana – the ‘50s, ‘60s and maybe early ‘70s—saw a lot of leaky jalopies with calamitous reliability issues. Many were more high-maintenance than a Hollywood diva on crack. Most bikes made then are a lot more cool now; such is the wistful magic of retro.

Modern motorcycles are so well built we’ve forgotten how to get our hands dirty, or even change a bulb. Today’s low-maintenance machines are as close to trouble-free as we’ve gotten as a civilization. Now, if I can just figure out my navi-audio, super-surround-satellite-sound, iPod connected, inter-galactic GPS helmet cam thingie, I might know where on earth I am.

Related Reading
2012 Honda Gold Wing Review [Video]
2012 Honda Gold Wing Review – First Ride
2009 Luxury Touring Shootout
2012 Honda Gold Wing Tour: Day 1
2012 Honda Gold Wing Tour: Day 2
2012 Honda Gold Wing Tour: Day 3
2012 Honda Gold Wing Tour: Day 4

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