2006 Honda Goldwing
It's All About The Bells & Whistles...
If you already make the best-selling, virtually undisputed "king of the luxury tourers," that has dominated the market for over 30 years, how do you get people to sit up and take notice when the new model year comes out?
Well, if you're Honda, you put an accessory on it that no one has ever seen on a motorcycle before. In this case, an airbag.
Yeah, I know...almost any motorcyclist's first impression is one of extreme skepticism, if not downright, sneering disdain. "Just what we needed, another high-tech 'safety device' to weigh down the bike, take responsibility and control out of our hands, and very possibly create more safety hazards than it removes."
Well, maybe. Certainly Honda has invested the R&D money to make this system as foolproof as possible. But then again, how many billions went into the space shuttle? And haven't we watched a couple of those turn themselves into roman candles? Maybe the GL's airbag system will end up saving hundreds of lives, and maybe it will eventually get chalked up as a bad idea and abandoned. For now, the jury is still out, and no amount of speculating on our part at this stage of the game is really going to mean much. The airbag system won't even be available until sometime this coming spring, and even then, will strictly be an option, which the customer must request and be willing to pay a premium price for.
For all we know, Honda may not even sell more than a handful of them. From my personal perspective - and this is strictly my own opinion - Big Red really doesn't expect to sell many of these units, and doesn't even see them as a selling point for the bike. Instead, I think the driving force behind the whole project is all about public relations and advertising. Just look at the PR value they've gotten out of it already. Do you think CNN would have carried a story on their national news about the new Wing if it weren't for the airbag? Of course not. And the same can be said for the tons of print the concept has generated, not just in the motorcycling press, but all over the mainstream media. If nothing else, it has created a public perception that Honda is a leader in safety technology, and any marketing expert will tell you that kind of stuff translates into pure gold on the showroom floors.
So, anyway, I don't see this whole airbag thing as the true focus of what a story on the 2006 Gold Wing should be about, and am officially dropping the subject as of right here and now. Instead, let's talk about what the new GL is really all about: Bells & whistles.
Functional Engineering Tweaks
Functionally, from an engineering standpoint, there are only a very few, small improvements to the 2006 GL, and I wasn't even able to verify some of those. For example, on eyeball inspection, it appeared to me that the twin radiators were shaped slightly differently than before - perhaps larger.
Knowing the GL1800s had experienced some overheating problems at low speeds before, I asked an engineer visiting from Honda of Japan if there had been a change in the cooling system. He told me that the radiators were, in fact, slightly increased in capacity, and also that the cooling fans now had "more output." But when I asked a representative from Honda Manufacturing in Marysville about the same thing, he admitted that he "wasn't sure" if there was a change or not. Inquiries to several other sources at Honda got equally mixed responses, and the official press releases make no mention of any such improvements, so I just can't say for sure if these changes were made or not.
"If you want the ultimate in touring comfort, power, handling and amenities, the Wing is still the King! "
What I do know for sure is that the generator output has been increased to 1300 Watts, and the generator itself is now fluid-damped for quieter operation. When I sat an '05 and an '06 side-by-side at idle, it was, in fact, noticeable that "alternator whine" was less on the new bike.
The second item may or may not qualify as a true engineering improvement, but the tail/brake lights now have differently-shaped reflectors, with clear lenses. The result is obviously-brighter tail and brake light functions, though I should also note that the majority of Wing owners I've talked to really don't care much for the looks of them.
Semi-Functional Styling Tweaks
Looking at the new Wing from the back, besides the very-obvious lighting changes, you might notice that the tailpipes are now round instead of oval, and feature a single outlet on each, instead of three to a side. Since two of each set of three were non-functional on the previous Wing anyway, this makes more sense, and almost everyone seems to think it looks better, also. Then, if you look really closely, you might notice that the trunk-mounted "spoiler" is slightly lower and smaller than before. This may or may not be to allow more space for a trunk rack, but in any case, it makes the rear of the bike look slightly less bulbous than before.
On the front, you might notice that the top fairing vents, which were on either side of the headlights, are now gone. Likewise, their outlets on the inside of the fairing have disappeared.
A Honda engineer told me this was done to make room for the new, larger stereo speakers, and was decided upon "because the vents served virtually no purpose anyway." I think most Wing owners, like myself, would agree, and won't miss them, but when riding the bike I couldn't help but notice that this change may have had an unexpected advantage, also. I would almost swear that wind noise behind the fairing at highway speeds is reduced on the new model, and can't help but wonder if getting rid of those air vents didn't actually make the rider's area slightly less noisy.
Bells & Whistles
The improvements to the GL's accessories, as well as the addition of several new ones, is the real news about this bike. The most obvious and most talked about is the integral, fairing-mounted Garmin GPS system. This system features the largest, easiest-to-read color display I've ever seen on a GPS, recessed and hooded so that it is easily visible even in bright sunlight. "Static" controls (those which can only be operated when the bike is sitting still) are mounted on the right lower fairing, and a thumb switch on the left handlebar pod allows you to zoom in and out of the display or toggle the voice prompts while riding.
All the controls are large and easy to operate, even with gloves on, and the on-screen menus and prompts are easy to understand and work your way through with very little practice. I felt entirely comfortable with the unit after only two days of riding with it. In addition, the unit comes complete with a 1GB Compact Flash card, loaded with detail maps for entire US and Canada. On other bike units I've tried, you have to buy extra, larger cards (costing hundreds of dollars) to hold this much information, and will spend several long hours at your computer loading and programming them. Not so with the Honda unit, which also includes tons of points-of-interest (POI) information, on such things as gas stations, hospitals, Honda dealers, restaurants, hotels, etc.
"Bottom line: This is the best navigational system for use on a motorcycle I've ever seen."