"THAT'S not a bike. It's a mobile home!"
"Does that thing come with a toilet?"
If you want to hear jokes, just take a Gold Wing for a spin, because that's pretty much all you'll hear. Long maligned as the motorcycle you drive rather than ride, the new Honda GL1800A gives even more ammo to the argument that the Gold Wing isn't a bike so much as a car on two wheels. The 2006 model comes with a satellite navigation system, anti-lock brakes, a six-speaker sound system — and sometimes, even an air bag.
All it's missing is a cup holder.
I readily admit I'm not the prime demographic for this bike. I'm not a married, fiftysomething empty-nester with a lot of disposable income and time on my hands to travel. I'm a thirtysomething mom with a full-time job who needs to be home to cook dinner at night.
So of the rides I took on the Gold Wing, the longest distance I was able to manage was a round trip to Rancho Cucamonga. I'd never been there before and was armed only with an address. Ordinarily, I'd plan my route via Mapquest, writing out the details on a slip of paper I'd either stuff in my pocket or tape to the tank, depending on how complicated they were.
But for this particular trip, I used the Gold Wing's navigation system, which has so many features it comes with a perfectly bound 151-page manual (the owner's manual is a separate 271-page book). I've never used a GPS before, and I'm generally tech averse, but the controls on the interior right fairing were relatively intuitive, and I was able to program the address in about 10 minutes.
I popped the lid on the 60-liter trunk and loaded the CD player with the new Gnarls Barkley and Wolfmother albums, tossed my purse in one of the streamlined, NASA-efficient saddlebags and was ready to fly out of my driveway when a graphic appeared on the nav screen, displaying the bike's hind quarters and an animated saddlebag that said "open."
I thought I'd closed it all the way, but I'm happy the bike let me know. There isn't a woman alive who wants to see her lip gloss kissing the pavement.
You can tell a lot about a motorcycle within the first few minutes of riding it, and the Gold Wing was no different. First impressions: Even my couch isn't as comfortable as the bike's saddle; the seat is La-Z-Boy caliber. And what a blast to ride with a soundtrack. Unless you count overhearing car stereos, I'd never listened to music while riding.
Gold Wings have been equipped with sound systems for decades, but the 2006 edition blows the woofers off previous years' models. Powered with an external amplifier located in the bodywork, the system boasts 80 watts per channel (instead of 30) and six speakers (rather than four).
The volume and disc control tuner are mounted on the tank, with a duplicate set of controls near the left grip, in easy reach of an agile thumb. That handlebar is home to eight other control buttons, though, so it took some practice to know which was which without taking my eyes off the road.
Between the right and left handlebars, right and left fairings and the lower and upper parts of the bike's body, I counted 51 knobs and buttons on the Gold Wing, controlling everything from bare basics like turn signals to amenities such as the AM/FM radio, cruise control and seat and grip heaters.
That's the downside to having a bike that's built for luxury riding. Although the controls are meaningfully clustered and well placed, their sheer quantity gives me pause because accidents happen when riders aren't paying attention to the road. A split second is all it takes.
Perhaps that's the reason Honda has pioneered the world's first Motorcycle Airbag System. Sixteen years in the making, it's finally being included on some 2006 models. Mounted on the body of the bike in front of the rider, the three-part system is designed to deploy only in frontal collisions, which make up 62% of all motorcycle crashes in the United States.
In a chain of events that unfolds in 0.15 second, four crash sensors attached to both sides of the front forks detect the acceleration changes in a frontal impact and relay that information to a computer that analyzes that impact and determines whether to deploy the air bag.
If the air bag inflates, it pops up immediately in front of the rider to absorb the kinetic energy that would ordinarily throw him forward off the bike and into other objects, vehicles or the road.
Honda doesn't elaborate on the details of what happens after the bike has T-boned to a stop, successfully preventing the rider from catapulting through the air. But it seems there's no way a bike with a dry weight of 838 pounds won't fall over and, potentially, pin the rider to the ground or crush a leg. Such a scenario is, of course, preferable to a spinal injury, brain hemorrhage or death, but Honda doesn't go there.
The presumption, of course, is that riders will keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down, as the saying goes, and that's where this 1,832-cc brute shows its muscle. It's pure bliss to ride at high speeds, whether I was on an obscure two-lane road out in the sticks with the stereo blasting and its navigation system pointing the way, or on Interstate 5, where it more than holds its own against the gale-force winds blowing from 18-wheelers.
The only drawback to such a behemoth was riding it in traffic, which is inevitable in L.A. More than a few times, I was stuck on slow-moving, stop-and-go freeways. On my own bike, I would have split lanes, but the Gold Wing is too fat to ride the white line. Forced to stay in lanes, I felt like a pig on a tightrope trying to keep the thing upright. And stuffed in leathers and a helmet, I was a sweaty sausage by the time I got home.
If only the Gold Wing had a shower.
2006 Honda GL1800A
Price, as tested: $22,499
Engine: Four-stroke, horizontally opposed six-cylinder, liquid-cooled, SOHC, two-valve cylinder head
Displacement: 1,832 cc
Bore and stroke: 74 by 71 mm
Seat height: 29.1 inches
Dry weight: 838 poundsCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times