Tech Specs

Honda GL1800

Engine: 1832cc SOHC fuel injected 12 valve flat-six

5 speed transmission with electric reverse


F -
130/70 R18
R - 180/60 R16

Brakes: Twin 296mm three piston floating discs to the front, single 316mm three piston floating disc to the rear. Honda ABS & Combined Braking System.


Length: 2635mm
Width: 945mm
Seat Height: 740mm
Fuel tank: 25 Litres
Dry weight: 363kg

Recommended price:


What was in my
CD changer?

Chris Rea Road to Hell
Meatloaf Greatest Hits
Alex Harvey Faith Healer

Orff Carmen Burana
The Eagles Best of
Blues Brothers OST

What would you have included?


one very big bike . . .
Words and Pictures: Simon Bradley

Once upon a time someone at Honda decided that actually what they needed to compete in the lucrative long distance cruiser market, especially in the US, was not an air cooled vee twin because someone else did that, and they did it rather well. No, Honda decided that they needed to approach the problem from a totally different angle. The result was the GL1000 - a spectacular technological achievement back in 1975 with it's giant 1000cc flat four engine, water cooling and shaft drive.

Looking at it today it's hard to imagine that this rather quaint looking machine was stuffed full of real ground breaking technology. Or that it would prove to be one of the most enduring motorcycles ever created. Indeed I'm pushed to think of any bike that has lasted thirty years with no more than constant revisions and updates. All the other bikes which have the same name as their '70s predecessors share no more than the name. And although the Goldwing has changed a lot since then, the basic concept has stayed true - a horizontally opposed water cooled engine with a fairly conventional chassis all optimised for long distances and mechanical relaxation.

Before very long, someone realised that what would make a merely competent long distance cruiser into something that might be considered a capable tourer instead would be the addition of a barn door sized fairing. Add another 100cc to make up for the extra drag and weight and there you have it. A Goldwing which, in 1981, was considered the pinnacle of touring. And which is actually recognisable as a Goldwing by pretty well anyone, even today.

And that's one thing about the Goldwing - it may polarise opinions like little else but it has, over the last thirty years, grown into something of an icon in that it's instantly recognisable by bikers and non bikers alike. And it rarely fails to draw a comment, either. Not always favourable comments, it must be said, but love it or hate it, you just can't ignore it. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Over the years, the Goldwing has grown some. The biggest change came in 1988 when the four cylinder 1200 (as it had by then become) was replaced by the new, six cylinder 1500. This was at the time the largest production motorcycle engine in the world, and it brought with it many of the criticisms that have plagued the Goldwing ever since, as well as many of the advantages that have blessed the marque. And that was it - minor tweaks each year in the normal manner of Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, upgrades to the stereo, new paintwork and so on but nothing really earth shattering.

Until 2001, that is, when the new 1800cc Goldwing burst onto the market with a fanfare. And rightly so. Over the years the previous model had grown to a massive 370kg or 820lbs if you prefer. It was underpowered and didn't really handle very well when compared to rivals, especially European ones. It was brilliantly well equipped, of course, but was now long enough in the tooth that it was starting to become a bit of a parody. And although everyone knew that there was a new bike coming, Honda managed to keep it hidden until the very last moment. So when it arrived it was a very pleasant surprise indeed.

Proof of just how good the new Goldwing must be was evident as soon as I collected the press bike from Honda. Walking around it before mounting up, I couldn't help but notice that this press machine is over a year old. Yes, that means that a 2003 bike is still current for the 2005 model year, something almost unprecedented in the fast moving world of Japanese motorbikes.

But as we have started talking about the new model, let's take a look at a few things that changed. First of all, the frame is now aluminium rather than steel, and manages to be both far stronger and far lighter. In fact, the 1800 Goldwing is a whopping 20kg lighter than the 1500 and with far more sophisticated suspension and much better brakes the riding experience is an altogether more enjoyable thing. In fact, and this may be a little hard to believe, the new engine produces enough power to get this behemoth hustling along at a fair old lick. But even better, the new chassis allows you to take advantage of that instead of gently weaving and wallowing whenever the pace is raised.

There's no getting away from the fact that, regardless of the new clothes and crash diet, the Goldwing is a very big motorbike. It's physically imposing, with a huge presence. There's lots of chrome, which may not be to everyone's taste but which somehow makes the bike seem bigger. The headlights are immense and completely dominate the front. They also, incidentally, melt eyeballs at a thousand paces and light the road ahead quite well. The back is concealed behind cavernous panniers and an enormous top-box, all of which are locked and unlocked from the key-fob. Yes, central locking on a bike - how cool is that? The top-box can also be opened by remote control as well, just like a car. Well, it looks good and I'm sure there must be a reason for it. Surprisingly, despite the size of the luggage, the fairing is the widest part of the bike - very useful and rather important when filtering through traffic. The seats are, as you'd expect, huge but extremely comfortable. The screen is as efficient as it's size would have you believe though the lack of electrical adjustment is a bit of a disappointment - that's an easy toy to fit and one which is such fun to play with as well.

But Honda made up for this shameful omission in the toy department with one of the best stereos I have ever had at my disposal in or on any vehicle, let alone a bike. The top box contains the six disc CD-autochanger in a beautifully neat installation that takes no space up at all. There are four speakers fitted, though the rear ones are an optional extra along with the natty bootlid spoiler and the chrome disc covers on the front. The whole stereo system, and the CB radio if you've gone for that option, and the built in as standard intercom, is controlled from a cluster of switches on the left hand bar. There are more controls in front of you to allow you to swap from radio to CD and so on as well as giving you access to things like the air temperature, the display and audio menus and so on. The left knee panel has the controls for the air suspension, including two memory settings, while the right manages the heated handlebar grips. The right hand bar carries with the cruise control. And there's one other really cool thing as well. OK, in fact there are several, but while we're talking about controls, the switches are illuminated. All of them. And it looks fantastic at night, I can tell you.

So we've established that the GL1800 Goldwing is a bit of a beast. And we've established that it has more toys than a hedgehog has fleas. Both of these are good things in their own way and neither of them will be much of a surprise to anyone who has ever seen the word Goldwing and associated it with a motorbike. The trouble is, at least half those same people - those who knew what a Goldwing is before reading this - would not be in the least surprised if I said that it handled like a camel in quicksand. While the rest would be reaching for their heart pills and breaking keyboards in an attempt to express their outrage at my maligning a fine motorbike. And one of those groups would be right.

Let's look at the simple numbers, shall we? This gigantic motorcycle, fuelled up and ready to roll weighs the best part of half a tonne. No matter how good the suspension is, how sophisticated the brakes or how impressive the technical specs of the engine, there's no way that something of this size and bulk is going to go, stop or handle in anything other than a severely compromised way, is there. Is there?

Um. Well, it would seem that the numbers alone don't tell the whole story. Yes, there's an awful lot of weight. But the vast majority of it is very low down so the overall effect is one of great stability. Yes, the engine is complicated and has a lot of weight to haul. But that flat six contributes to keeping the centre of gravity low and it really is a stonker of a motor. Yes, the brakes have a lot of motorbike to pull up. But they have third generation ABS, a third generation linking system and, when all is said and done, they are huge as well. Add that to very fat tyres and a suspension geometry that allows maximum forward and reverse thrust to reach the road and you have something that stops as well as it goes as well as it handles.

And, astonishingly enough, it does all three ridiculously well.

The GL1800 has taken the name Goldwing and shifted it from the self parodying lardbucket image of the 1500 to a genuine contender for one of the best long distance bikes ever made. It goes far better than something of this size has any right to go. While it's no scratcher, smooth riding and a bit of anticipation allows you to hustle the beast along at a very decent pace with the only limit to cornering that I encountered being courage. The new chassis really is that good. Ultimately, ground clearance would prove the limiting factor but on winter roads that was not a problem. And yes, there's a lot of kinetic energy to get rid of. And the excellent linked bakes setup is pretty well up to the job of it once you get used to using the pedal and the lever together.

Recently I have had to ride across the middle of London, twice a day, in the morning and evening rush-hours. I have to tell you that I was not looking forward to using a Goldwing for the journey. I mean, how do you filter in something the size of a mini? I was seriously expecting to take as long on the 'Wing as I would in the car, the only advantage being that I wouldn't pay congestion charging. As a result I got to work ridiculously early as I found the 'Wing to be a spectacularly effective town bike. The sheer size seems to encourage (some might read that as intimidate) car drivers to move over while the brilliant on-board sound system made damn' sure they knew I was coming. And, for that matter, that much of London knows my musical taste. Um, sorry if I woke you up...

Now of course I would be failing in my duties, as well as being dishonest, if I didn't tell you that there was something I found that I didn't like. When it rains the combination of a super effective fairing and screen and a big comfy seat means that you, the rider, end up sitting in a small lake. And you get a wet bottom, the novelty of which pales after a couple of hours.

But posterior dampness aside, the 2005 Honda GL1800 is one of the most complete motorcycles I have ever ridden. I wouldn't want to try for the lap record at the Nurburgring on one but I'd quite like to ride it there before swapping to something a little sportier. Honda have thought of just about everything. They even supply a cable to connect your i-Pod or similar into the stereo system. And a grommet to stop water leaking around the cable. And a fairing pocket to put the thing in. No, all it needs is an electric screen and the spec sheet would be utterly complete. But even now, I'd be happy to have one in my fantasy garage. Just need some rubber overtrousers...

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