Some Kind of Ultimate - The Gold Wing
In everything there is inevitably a biggest and best. The fastest car, the tallest building, the ugliest baby and so on. It is the sort of nonsense that keeps Norris McSquirter in a job after all. In the world of bikes there are ultimates too. The fastest is probably some mutant built for the dragstrip, the most expensive will be some rock star's gold plated Harley. Bar-room debate stuff, but there is one clear cut ultimate. The Honda Goldwing GL 1500 is without a shadow of a doubt the most extreme motorcycle that you can actually go out and buy. Derided by the purists, sneered at by the hyperdrive loonies, you may not like it but you cannot ignore it. Six cylinders, 1500cc, cruise control, over 700lbs of dead weight, ear-bashing stereo and styling like a tinselled-up garden shed balanced precariously on two wheels. This bike gets your attention.
Speak to any group of bikers, and every one will have an opinion on this machine, very few of them positive. But ask the same bunch how many have actually ridden one, and you will start a carpet staring contest. At over £12,000 a throw, it's perhaps not surprising that this vehicle is not everybody's weekend plaything. As an aspiring biker and ligger, this was a situation I had to cure for myself. I had to ride a Goldwing. It took a bit of doing, but in late summer 92 I finally persuaded the dealers in Edinburgh to let me loose on one, on the pretext that I would write it up as a short road test.
I was more nervous about this ride than anything I had ever tried before. Nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of the Wing the first time you actually grapple with one. The dead weight is colossal, but the first surprise is how easily it moves under paddling feet. Just don't park it anywhere off the level! Formalities over, lets ride. Manage not to fall off in the first five yards, thank God, tension drops by at least 50% as a result. 200 yards later, wobble a little round the first roundabout, but no problem really. Within 400 yards feel really good. Confidence building rapidly, stop for petrol, no mishaps. This is a breeze to ride, I'm going to enjoy the next hour or so!
First surprise, transmission sounds like a Foden truck, you are really aware of it. This lasts about 5 minutes and then I never notice it again, does it quieten as it get warm? or am I just acclimatising? The silence is amazing otherwise, no air in the face, just a rustle from behind and I can feel a breeze somewhere about my waistband. Stall it once (Damn!) but otherwise easy through the traffic. Up onto the by-pass now, lets cruise for a few miles. I would miss the acceleration of a lighter bike, it doesn't zap into the stream of traffic the way my BMW does, but that is to be expected I suppose. Settle to 70 mph (Honest!) and set the cruise control. It is identical in function to Honda's car system with which I am well acquainted so no problems there. This is where this bike really comes into it's own. This is a bike that I could cheerfully ride to London and back and never give a second thought to it. It was conceived as a long distance tourer and it works brilliantly.
With the exception of one small irritant that is. I begin to detect a curious "porpoising" motion. I assume it to be a head-wind, so come to end of by-pass, turn, and head back the other way. Weird, exactly the same feeling. The bike is mechanically stable for sure, but it is generating an aerodynamic instability of it's own. I would guess that the rear superstructure is not cleanly clearing the hole which the massive fairing is punching in the air, and as a result is being pushed about in the bike's own exit vortex. It is not critical or unsafe, but I just know that it would irritate the hell out of me. Unusual to find a mistake like this on a Honda, perhaps it is an inherent weakness on this shape of bike. Is that why this model sports an aerofoil on the top box lid? If it is only there for show, then get rid of it, 'cos it looks plain dumb. If it is there for function, it don't work well enough guys. This supports another long held belief of mine about the Wing. The top box and rear seat back should be detachable, which would make the bike more wieldy in day to day use, and no doubt get rid of what I suspect is an aerodynamic gremlin.
So much for grumping. Otherwise the bike is a jewel. The engine is fabulous, the gearbox a doddle (but why no gear indicator a la BMW, surely the greatest gadget ever on a bike!) and the control environment is just magic. Getting back to the shop I find I can manoeuvre the beast at walking pace, feet up, with more confidence than I can on my BMW. A low centre of gravity works wonders on a bike, whatever the size. So do I want one? You bet I want one, preferably in pearlescent raspberry pink, with no chrome anywhere, and all the hardware in matt black. Damn, it isn't listed as a colour option! Could I live with one as my only bike? Now that's a very different question. A lot of what I currently enjoy is distance touring, and the Wing would unquestionably be superb. Ah but ... I am by no means a crazed Fireblade scratcher, but using the Wing all the time I would definitely miss the acceleration and nimbleness of my 750, it is one of the things I enjoy most about being back on two wheels.
There is only one solution, and that is to have both! Some day... some day!