2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B Review
Papa's got a brand new bagger
For better or worse, the Honda Gold Wing has always been in a class of its own. Some Harley guys may decry it as un-manly even while admitting that its flat-Six engine is divine. Cruising and touring guys might view it as over-the-top but concede that its comfort and opulence are impressive. Sportbike guys see it as a ponderous pig, all the while acknowledging its amazing ability to be hustled down a twisty road. Let’s face it, most everyone perceives the Gold Wing as an “old guys’ bike.”
In 2013, Honda is out to change that. The venerable Gold Wing (along with all of its baggage, perceptual and tangible) has been given a bagger-ific upgrade with the new F6B, resulting in the sleeker, lighter, blacked-out package. It features the same 1832cc engine as its forebear and most of the same creature comforts, including stereo, glovebox, and saddlebags. But the F6B has a much sportier look and feel than its older brother, ditching the trunk/topcase (along with its passenger backrest and bridge-scraping antenna) for a narrower profile, shorty windscreen and matte-black styling touches.
If it looks vaguely familiar, it should. In an effort to dump weight and spruce up the bike’s image, enthusiasts have long been making similar modifications to hand-me-down Wings. Now Honda has taken the task upon itself to do this cosmetic work to its aging grand dame’s countenance. Even though Big Red seems leery of relying on the term “bagger” to describe the B Wing, it’s safe to say the denizens of Bagger Nation are square in the bull’s eye of this motorcycle’s targeted demographic.
It’s a New Wing, priced significantly less than the Old Wing, and after a recent ride around San Diego County, we can testify the F6B (“flat-Six bagger”) is poised to appeal to a new generation of Gold Wing admirers and devotees.
Despite the aforementioned reputation, anyone who’s ever ridden a Gold Wing likely noticed it’s surprisingly nimble handling for such a portly motorcycle, and as soon as it’s pointed out, the reason becomes obvious. The horizontally-opposed engine positions the tourer’s center of gravity much lower to the ground than your typical V-Twin-powered dresser.Aside from its updated appearance, the F6B’s greatest achievement is dumping 62 pounds of ballast from the standard Wing. Honda claims the F6B weighs 842 pounds at the curb with its 6.7 gallons of fuel, and the result is an even easier handling motorcycle that’s quicker, leaner, just as comfortable, and far cooler-looking than its forerunner. So get ready to twist the throttle and blow that image of your grandpa’s Old Wing clean out of your head.
From the inside out, both the GL1800B and BD (Deluxe) have the exact same guts as the venerable GL1800 – same engine, same frame and chassis, same transmission and suspension, everything. The differences are chiefly cosmetic. The fairing lower is more slender; the tall touring windscreen is replaced with a shorty; the gunfighter-style seat has the same 29.1-inch height as the standard Wing, but its shape lets the rider settle back into the saddle, as opposed to the Old Wing’s upright perch; and the trunk and passenger barcalounger, er, backrest are eliminated.
Gone are cruise control and ABS. The novel electric reverse gear – a signature character trait of the Old Wing – is also absent, but it’s rarely missed. The 62 pounds of weight Honda engineers were able to strip feels more like 100 in the saddle, and besides, at the curb, the F6B is only four pounds heavier than Harley’s comparable Road Glide Custom.
All of these changes were made to not only make the bike appear younger and more contemporary, but also to drop weight and price. At under twenty grand, the 2013 Honda F6B costs a thousand dollars more than the Victory Cross Country and is right in line with the aforementioned Harley-Davidson, two bikes our Pete Brissette took to task in a 2010 shootout.
But there are compromises. Those American V-Twin baggers offer ABS and cruise control, either standard (Victory) or as an option (H-D). Honda has not ruled out these weighty and pricey accoutrements as optional equipment for future F6Bs, if demand requires. But in an effort to keep weight and price down, they were excluded from this year’s introductory model.
Any other comparisons are really rather unfair: Star has sadly dropped its muscle-bound big bagger, the 1800cc Stratoliner Deluxe, from its 2013 model lineup, and BMW’s comparable inline-Six rests only in its K1600 GT/L tourers, neither of which could ever be confused for a bagger. So its rivals are limited.
But there is competition in the bagger world, and it’s clear that there’s a new contender on the scene. Comfort notwithstanding, the F6B simply has far more get-up-and-go than its American rivals – and it’s really not very close. After a day’s ride it was clear to those of us at the F6B press launch that there’s not a V-Twin around that can truly contend with Honda’s Six, especially when it comes to pulling power at highway speeds.
In his review of the 2010 Road Glide and Street Glide, Editor Duke said he couldn’t help comparing the Harley baggers to a big American car, like a Buick. If that’s true, then the F6B feels like a high-powered luxury import in the vein of the Mercedes AMG or BMW M series – comfortable and well-appointed, but with a tiger under the hood.
Since the F6B beats the pants off its bagger rivals in performance terms, how does it stack up against the Old Wing? With the same powertrain and lighter weight, the F6B’s on-road performance is improved slightly compared to the standard GL.
But here’s the thing: whether the numbers sort it out or not, the F6B feels better than the old Gold Wing. Not only do you ride with the confidence that you look way cooler than your grandpa, this bike’s just more fun to ride. Lighter, and leaner, it translates to increased exhilaration in the saddle. Perhaps these sensations exist because of the additional wind in the face, but a rider will be too busy grinning under his helmet as he beats another contender off the line and into the fast lane. And while the Old Wing’s handling is surprisingly superb for a fully dressed tourer, the sleek F6B outperforms and outhandles its forebear as well as its competition.
As for touring amenities, the F6B has most all of the creature comforts of the standard GL1800 – for the rider, anyway. Most of what’s missing resides in the trunk of the full-dress version. Again, there’s no GPS on the F6B, but it’s available as an option. The saddlebags are just as roomy, and there’s a jack for a passenger comm hook-up. The black grab rails for the passenger are coated with a grippy composite that’s superior to simple paint or chrome. And just like the Old Wing, the stereo features handgrip controls, a jack in the glovebox for your phone or iPod/MP3 player, Bluetooth, and weather band, although without the trunk there are no rear speakers on the F6B, so the “Surround Sound” function which Honda brags about for the bike is only workable with in-helmet speakers.
Like many contemporary baggers, the F6B also features a USB port in the (left) saddlebag, providing even more control over your music via dash scrolling functions. Saddlebag guard rails are standard (and blacked out, of course), and out back the GL’s straight-cut exhaust tips are swapped for a more slash-cut pair.
Two versions are available, and both come in red or black: the standard runs $19,999, while the F6B Deluxe ($20,999) features a centerstand, passenger backrest, heated grips, and self-cancelling turn signals – all of which are also available a la carte, along with a host of other accessories. Fact is, any Honda Genuine Accessory for the Gold Wing will also suit the F6B (teddy bears not included.)
Naturally, in addition to superior performance, Honda’s horizontal-Six engine is far smoother and quieter than any V-Twin, so if you’re the kind of rider who likes to feel every bump and announce your presence with a rumble, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you prefer comfort and performance to go along with your style, the new Honda B Wing could be the bagger for you.
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