The smell of barbecue and the cool shade of Spanish moss lure Steve Bond deeper and deeper south of the Mason-Dixon line as he explores the 2012 Gold Wing and it’s new stylings.
The combination of warm sunshine, soft breezes and Honda’s 2012 Gold Wing are doing a wonderful job sanding the rough edges off my winter-ravaged psyche. I’m purring along a delightful two-lane highway, somewhere in the backwoods between Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. The dashboard display shows 28C and Dwight Yoakam’s “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” is wailing from the surround-sound audio system.
The road flows through small towns, long-leaf pine forests and isolated farms; some working, many sadly abandoned. People are sittin’ and rockin’ on their front porches and you know that if you stopped, they’d offer ice tea and invite you to “c’mon in and sit a spell.”
I agree with Dwight. I’m a thousand miles from nowhere, but there’s nowhere I’d rather be.
There’s a lot to like about the South.
Southern Belles with Georgia accents and voices like warm honey. Huge shade trees draped with Spanish moss overhanging a sun-dappled road. Pickup trucks with gun racks and bumper-stickers that end with, “…when they pry my cold dead hands from it.”
Anyone younger than you calls you “sir” or “mister.” Waitresses ask, “Y’all want more coffee, hon?” and you naturally answer, “sure darlin’.”
And the food! Barbecue with collared greens, yams and okra. She-crab soup. Cornbread. Biscuits and gravy. Grits. And don’t forget the key lime pie.
It’s the place where “y’all” is both singular and plural. It’s NASCAR country and speciality stores sell NASCAR hats, T-shirts, calendars, lawn furniture and possibly body parts and DNA samples of popular drivers.
As for the Gold Wing itself, there have been subtle, yet significant bodywork changes to improve wind protection to the rider’s lower body and legs. Integrated vents under the topbox T
and tail light smooth the airflow around rider and passenger. New saddlebags have seven extra litres of storage, bringing the total capacity to over 150 litres, or roughly the same as a three-bedroom townhouse. As for the engine, transmission, controls and riding position: same, same, same and same.
As a blend of freight hauler and performance luxury tourer, the Gold Wing is just fine for the northern part of Georgia, which boasts some amazing motorcycling roads. And it’s a comfort-laden platform to view coastal Savannah, which is mainly flat and marshy. Perfect for cotton and peanut plantations but not much in the way of hills or twisties.
Savannah makes up for that by being one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in North America. Twenty-one public squares are scattered around the downtown area, and while the outskirts have the usual strip malls and Walmart blights on the landscape, the heart of the city retains the original architecture and flavour of the Old South.
Riding the 2012 Gold Wing around old Savannah, I’m struck by the cobblestone roads and the number of huge, traditional southern mansions. One of the most famous is the Mercer House, featured in the film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The lingering aroma of horse urine from countless tour carriages permeates the humid air around the town squares. Fortunately, road apples are minimized by horse diapers slung under the business ends of the critters.
Leaving Savannah, I programmed the Wing’s new Nav system to avoid the interstates and toll roads. If something looked interesting, I’d check it out. The system acquires satellites quicker, has a brighter screen and can transfer GPS route files between bikes by using an SD card. A new surround-sound system allows connection of an MP3 player or iPod through a USB port allowing control of the device through the bar mounted switches. As long as the final destination was locked in, the Wing would eventually take me home … on country roads.
Wind buffeting on the 2012 Gold Wing is reduced but still there, all the more lamentable because of the clunky “flip two levers and yank” windshield adjustment. Surely Honda’s flagship touring model deserves an electrically adjustable screen?
The Wing’s handling now feels much tighter and more precise, thanks to new Bridgestone tires, revised suspension settings and new handlebar mounts. You’re more “connected” to the bike, rather than getting a rubbery, vague feel through the bars.
Weight is up slightly to 412 kg (904 lbs) full of fluids, but mass centralization is so good I never noticed it, whether negotiating Savannah’s town squares or Charleston’s stop-and-go traffic. Feet-up U-turns on two lane roads are do-able and when the going gets really tight, the Wing still has the handy reverse gear.
Honda’s surveys showed that the majority of Gold Wing owners don’t care about more power: 105 hp and 123 ft/lbs. torque are still more than adequate. They wanted refinement and better passenger accommodations for their spouses because, “If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.”
Like previous Wings, the 2012 was completely unfazed whether droning along I-95 at 120 kmh, slogging through stop-and-go city traffic or blasting along two-lane backroads.
It would be a major disappointment if the next generation Wing didn’t have the DCT dual clutch transmission from the VFR1200—that technology would be a natural for a touring bike. Still, the 2012 Gold Wing represents a fairly significant revision and, although the differences aren’t huge or earth shaking, they didn’t have to be … y’all.
by Steve Bond, Canadian Biker #272
NOT YOUR DADDY’S GOLD WING
Yes the 2012 Honda Gold Wing is big. Add yourself, a passenger, and luggage in every nook and cranny—of which there are many, and more yet with the 2012 model—and 1,000 pounds becomes a distant memory. But with its powerful six, the mechanicals, and even the luggage sitting very low it doesn’t feel top-heavy. Because of its low centre of gravity the bike handles remarkably well, even in tight parking maneuvers.
The uncannily smooth six-cylinder fits the Gold Wing’s character. Twist the throttle and the bike accelerates as though electrically. The Wing is surprising capable through the twisty bits if the rider stays conscious of the mass being carried into the corner. The key is that the riding is easy: linked brakes do some of the work for you, the extremely predictable power band is not going to cause surprises, and the heated seat keeps you warm. For those of us not used to amenities such as a GPS navigation system (that talks to you), stereo, cruise control, individually climate-controlled seating, push-button suspension memory settings, and electric reverse, it can be a little overwhelming.
During the press introduction of the model in Georgia, I was pushing buttons left and right—and there are a lot of buttons to push. I was a little worried though that if I pressed too many wrong buttons in sequence the bike might arm itself. There are even two sets of buttons for the same functions, some close at hand, some further away. However, certain function changes cannot be made while the bike is moving no matter how hard you push the button.
But you can tune a country station on the stereo and crank it loud enough to scare city dwellers—that’s easy!
I never thought I would use cruise control on a motorcycle, hand cramp was a price you paid to ride. However, on the interstate drone I plugged the cruise control at the speed of the traffic in the fast lane and just let her sit rock steady, freeing my throttle hand for pushing more buttons.
The GPS screen is huge and I wouldn’t have found my way along the programmed route without it but you tend to glance at it as frequently as you check the mirrors.
Honda is aiming the 2012 Gold Wing at a younger audience. Sort of a “this is not your father’s Town Car” kind of thing. The competition in the segment is getting fierce with the introduction of BMW’s K1600GT, a bike meant to serve the same purpose but with a sportier edge. As Steve Bond mentions in his article, “Wings Fly South,” the improvements to the suspension are meant to give the Gold Wing better road feel. This translates into a firmer ride which is something I am not sure all current Gold Wing riders will appreciate.
Like the Town Car, the Gold Wing is as tuned toward the comfort and enjoyment of its passengers as it is to those of the pilot. Often a happy passenger is the key to a happy trip. The better road feel may add to the bike’s handling characteristics but it is something the passenger may not enjoy. Sure the road is down there but how much of it do they really need to feel?
Would I opt for a Gold Wing for a fast and comfortable ride across the continent? Yes. Especially if I were to bring a passenger.
By John Molony