Motorcycles: Gold Standard

  • Marry Sorensen

Long-distance rides wear you out, mentally and physically. To stay alert, some of us who log 500 miles a day play mind games. We hold the proverbial carrot out by promising ourselves, if we tough out another 175 miles, a posh hotel room, or if we make it home that night, drinks at our favorite establishments.

I stay sharp with a form of gasoline roulette. I won’t stop for a break until the fuel light has been blinking for at least 20 miles—aching knees and numb rear end be damned!

I planned to play the same game the day I spent in the saddle of a 2002 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing, with 50 miles already logged on the trip meter and the 6.6-gallon tank down about a quarter. With no schedule to follow and no destination in mind, I steered the pearl orange car-on-two-wheels north onto the Pacific Coast Highway. At first I was tentative about wrangling this 800-pound luxury tourer at low speeds, but I was soon amazed at how well balanced it is. Once you are moving, a wide handlebar and low center of gravity make the mighty Wing a snap to maneuver.

On the highway, I bopped my head and tapped my toe to Golden Earring’s ’70s classic “Radar Love,” a road trip favorite blasting from the AM/FM stereo. The tune sounded great, thanks to the Gold Wing’s expansive and adjustable windscreen, which not only shielded me from the wind, but also turned my seat into a mini-amphitheater. Too bad I had left my CDs in the bike’s spacious trunk.

The fuel light blinked on as I approached Santa Barbara, some 150 miles from home. By now, I would usually start my tank-testing game to dispel my discomfort. Yet I felt great. I had none of the soreness that typically tells me to stop and stretch every 120 miles. The Gold Wing’s supportive seat, ample legroom, and back-stretched handlebar delivered complete comfort. Besides, I was just plain having fun.

On the previous Gold Wing—a GL1500 that had remained mostly unchanged since 1988 before its introduction as an 1800—you would collide with the rev limiter when accelerating through third gear. But revised gearing and a new 1832cc, liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder engine deliver nothing but kicks on the new bike, giving the GL1800 an extra 25 horsepower. Quarter-mile time is near 12.8 seconds at more than 103 mph, outperforming such four-wheelers as the Lamborghini Diablo VT. A twin-spar aluminum frame gives the Gold Wing steering precision appropriate for a bike half its size. The bike is practically flickable on twisty roads, while its ride remains smooth, true, and comfortable on straightaways.

Then there are the bells and whistles. The trunk is bigger than many in two-seater cars. The bike has cruise control, a push-button adjustable suspension, and anti-dive technology that uses brake-fluid pressure generated in a secondary master cylinder. The Gold Wing also offers options such as CB, CD changer, heated handgrips, and ABS. Best of all, you do not have to play quirky games to keep your aches away—back pain is unknown on the Gold Wing.

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