There are times when the word ‘iconic’ can be used a little too often when describing a particular motorcycle, but in the case of the Honda Gold Wing, it’s perhaps an understatement. It was, after all, the very first Japanese production motorcycle with a water-cooled four-stroke engine when launched way back in 1974. Fast forward 44 years, and it beggars belief that this bike is still being produced in 2018, albeit with a complete redesign for its lighter, more compact 6th generation.
Around town, it’s a very popular bike with groups of riders gathering down Beach road on Thursday nights, but to be fair — the Gold Wing experience has always been about endurance for the long haul, wind protection, a smooth ride, a comfortable seat, luggage storage, and power in abundance. To see what this machine can really deliver, it’s best we cast the net a little wider than the usual Dubai city limits, and so I climbed aboard and headed towards Fujairah on the East Coast.
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Honda has managed to shave more than 40 kilograms off the weight of its predecessor, and power to the shaft driven rear wheel comes from a newly designed very torquey 1800cc flat six engine. It works very well in this layout, keeping the centre of gravity low to the ground and also — thanks to the liquid cooled mill - transfers virtually no heat to your legs. Summer riders rejoice! Shafties usually put a huge smile on your face anyway, as instead of the conventional back end digging down, here the tail actually lifts up as you twist the throttle — much like a hovercraft or a helicopter, whichever you prefer piloting…
I’d have liked to talk about the gears, except here there aren’t any! This model was fitted with Honda’s 7-speed fully automatic ‘box, so if you include the handy reverse gear ‘walking’ feature, the only choice you have to make is to go forward or backwards. I expected this to be somewhat of a scooter-like annoyance, detracting from what should be an engaging ride, but I soon became accustomed — and even enjoyed — the very smooth and slick gearshifts handled entirely by it’s electronic brain. As is the norm with tourers these days, you have a choice of four drive modes too, so approaching the mountainous curves of Khorfakkan I switched to ‘Sport’ and wow, this is no subtle change! The whole chassis tightens up, gears get snappier and those exhausts start howling. It’s a confidence inspiring ride, and even while leaning it over in the tight corners it remains composed, never once feeling squirrely or like a machine on its limit.
Front suspension for this model is also completely new, and now features a double wishbone, instead of the old telescoping fork system. From the riding position, it looks very impressive as you can actually see the dampers soak up the bumps as they pulsate up and down just beyond the handlebar right in front of you. Rear suspension features electronically adjustable preloads, and all together it does a brilliant job as the ride is impeccably smooth and predictable. The electronically adjustable windscreen easily provides that pocket of comfort that makes a long journey so enjoyable as well as keeping bugs out of your teeth. Other new features include throttle by wire, traction control and LED lighting.
Trunk space might not fit two full size helmets but still plenty enough for a big rucksack, and incidentally this is also where the USB port is located. Plugged in my phone to charge and was pleasantly surprised by full access to my entire music library via the on board entertainment system, piped to the crystal clear speakers in the fairing. Cruising along the rocky coastline towards Dibba and the Omani border, Depeche Mode’s live version of ‘Behind the Wheel’ never sounded so good. The rest of the hand controls appear well laid out and intuitive, but I never really got used to the indicator switch, which my left thumb found somewhat of a stretch to reach (my hands aren’t small).
It felt like too soon when I arrived back in the city I’d departed several hours before, and yet with zero fatigue. If it really comes down to it, time in a Gold Wing saddle is truly measured in days, not hours.