REVIEWING THE 2018 HONDA GOLDWING
Tarrakaner – Wikimedia Our friends, FRED & DIANE HARMON just moved from Dallas, Texas to Mountain Home, Arkansas, with everything but his two bikes — a 2018 GL 1800 Goldwing and a 2009 Kawasaki Concours. I offered to help him get them back to AR, so we left from Harrison at 11: am Saturday morning on a nine passenger prop (that’s right, Harrison actually has a tiny COMMERCIAL AIRPORT), and were on two wheels by 2:30 that afternoon. For those who will invariably want to know, I am 6’2″ and slightly over 200 lbs, and have been riding wings since I was 25 (my first was a gently wrecked 88 that I got in 94. I currently run a YELLOW 91, and previous to that I ran a Yamaha XS1100 Special with a Windjammer fairing.)
Let me start by saying that this was the DCT model, with the 7 speed automatic transmission. It also happened to be equipped with Traxxion’s “Full Monty” suspension upgrade, which, if you can afford, I highly recommend (my 91 has the triple tree on the front but is stock in the rear, with an upgraded spring). Since Fred’s recently-sold home was at the far western edge of Fort Worth, it took about two hours to get out of the metro area heading east. It was hot and the traffic was, in my estimation, bad for a Saturday afternoon. Thankfully we went through several pop-up thunderstorms that cooled things down to about 75 degrees. The bike did great in the rain.
For starters, the 2018 is much narrower than previous models, fairing and windshield included. No big deal, but when we took off on Sunday morning from Idabell, Oklahoma and started rolling up into the mountains, it was in the lower 60’s. The narrower shield lets you to feel the cool temps on your shoulders and arms (for winter riders like myself, you’ll definitely be pulling out your heated jacket liner at higher temps than you used to). As for the windshield, it is fully adjustable on the fly and is designed like my highly regarded MADSTAD (for those who are interested, I’m a look over the windshield guy, as opposed to a look through the windshield guy). As to the headlights, since Fred was leading I never really got to check them out, although they seemed fine (I’m spoiled by my LED Rider auxiliary lights that Fred installed a number of years ago — I call them my “deer sweepers” because they truly turn night into day).
Day two is where the fun began and I finally got to see what the newest Wing would do. We got an early start, heading into the Ouachita (sounds like Washitaw) Mountains, and picking up the TALIMENA SKYWAY at Big Cedar. First, if you haven’t been on the Skyway, put it on your bucket list as the views are second to none. Secondly, make sure to eat at the lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park (their breakfast buffet was excellent).
My first and overall description of the 2018 Goldwing is that it’s nimble, quick, and fast. I’m not going to kid you and tell you that it could keep up with Fred’s souped up CONCOURS 14, but it held it’s own. Compared to the 01-17, the 2018 is light (it’s shocking the difference that 100 lbs makes). Also, because it’s so narrow, it handles better, is quicker in and out of corners, and leans nicely. There is, however, something different in the set up of the foot pegs between the pre-2018 and the 2018. I’m used to dragging my pegs on tight corners, and on the 2018, my boots always wanted to drag first.
Compared to my 01, the handlebar controls are space-age. However, they are well thought out and with a couple one minute lessons from Fred, were extremely intuitive. Part of what made it so easy to pick up is that the controls (turn signals, horn, cruise, etc) are very similar to pre-2018 Wings, making the learning curve that much easier. The transmission can be run in fully automatic mode if you want, (which I was leery of at first), or run manually with your left hand.
The automatic mode not only works extremely well, you can have the best of both worlds because when it’s in automatic mode, it can be overridden manually simply by shifting up or down (left thumb downshifts and left pointer finger upshifts). I rarely used the manual feature to upshift, but frequently used it for downshifting. The beauty of this scenario is that when you get ready to pass or are heading into or out of a tight curve, simply hit the button once or twice with your thumb to grab lower gears without letting off the throttle. Once I figured this out and started using it, I have to say that it was far and away my favorite feature of the bike. It does take a bit of getting used to not having a clutch, as I constantly found myself reaching for it, especially when stopping. Again, compared to the previous models of Wings, quick and nimble.
The Seat: The seat was comfortable, but I will warn you —- it’s much (emphasis on much) narrower than previous model year’s massive “saddles”. This is doubly true for the passenger seat, which compared to non-2018’s can only be described as extremely narrow and flat (it is not “cupped”). Not sure if there is an aftermarket way to remedy this, but if you lean toward being a FBG, you will not like this bike. Did I mention that the passenger seat is narrow? And while it’s true that the trunk and saddle bags are significantly smaller than previous models, they were fine as far as I was concerned.
Navigation and Stereo: Since I took my own helmet which was not wired for bluetooth (everything on the new Wing is wireless), I listened to the stereo through the external speakers, while watching the GPS navigation screen (I honestly did not mess with the navigation system, so I cannot comment on it). Like virtually all GPS systems, it does not show many of the small, minor roads that we all love to take, although there may be a way to load them in. I stuck the stereo on Sirius XM Channel 25 (cassette-era classics) and never really messed with it. It sounded excellent even at 85 mph, with bass that I could actually feel. This was true even though I wore earplugs as I always do to filter out engine noise and road whine.
Were there any issues or problems with the bike I could see in my ten hours in the saddle? Other than the passenger seat, which I did not actually sit in, there was nowhere to tie down my travel bag in the passenger seat. I have a nifty little back seat bag (similar to THIS but a cheapie) that I bungee into the back seat of my 01′ using the passenger hand holds to strap to. The new hand holds are metal and are designed purposefully not to be able to strap to. There is no where else to strap to. Also, there are no engine guards, which means there is nowhere to install highway boards, which means that I can’t kick back and put my feet up. No big deal on the twisties, but on the open road, that was a little bit of a bummer.
I was also surprised by the design of the gas tank. Fred had a special rubber mouth made to keep the gas from splashing out when filling. Also, since overfilling is almost unavoidable on this bike, there is a drain hose underneath so that the overflow spills out onto the ground at the gas station. I’m guessing next year’s model will get this fixed, but I just have to ask myself what Honda was thinking with this design?
Overall, my impressions of the newest Wing were excellent. It was so good that honestly, for the first half hour of my ride back from Mountain Home to Mountain View (it’s about an hour and fifteen minutes, taking the MM to K shortcut from Caufield to West Plains) my 01′ felt oversized, big, bulky, slow and clunky. I could certainly understand that with the Wing’s redesign leaving it looking and handling more like a sportsbike, there will be detractors switching to one of the other big dressers — the Harley Tourglide, Indian’s Roadmaster, the Spyder, the Victory, or any number of others. And while I have not ridden one, best guess is that this bike closed the gap with the amazing BMW 1600.
Now, allow me to make a quick and shameless plug for my buddy Fred. Fred Harmon is a retired engineer from Lockheed Martin’s F-16 program. He also happens to be the best GL 1800 mechanic anywhere. Period. Far too many Honda dealerships are well-versed in taking care of cruisers, four wheelers, and side-by-sides, but have little real experience with Goldwings, secretly cringing when they see one pulling up. Fred has worked on hundreds of Wings (he is now working on the 2018’s) and can be reached via his website at ANGEL RIDE ENTERPRISES or on the GL1800riders dot com site. The work will be done better and at less cost than any dealership.
And lest you think north central Arkansas is too far to take your bike to get worked on or have Traxxion installed (he is an authorized dealer / installer), think about the consequences of having someone work on it that doesn’t really know what they’re doing. Just plan on making a vacation of it. Mountain Home is in the very heart of the Ozarks, nestled between two amazing lakes (Bull Shoals and Northfork), near the White and Buffalo rivers.