by Greg Drevenstedt
photography by the author and courtesy American Honda
The Honda Hoot celebrated its Crystal Anniversary this year, and Old Man Weather gave the rally his blessing. Held in Knoxville for eight of the rally’s 15 years, eastern Tennessee in June has a reputation for muggy heat and frog-choking rain. But this year the mercury remained low and the skies stayed blue.
Sponsored by the Honda Riders Club of America (HRCA), the Hoot is run by scads of helpful HRCA member-volunteers in red T-shirts. Although it is the Honda Hoot, the rally is open to all marques. Maybe so, but walking around the parking area at Hoot headquarters in Chilhowee Park or at events, you’d think riding a Honda Gold Wing was a requirement for admission, or at least got you free drinks. According to Bill Savino, former manager of HRCA and current head of Honda’s motorcycle press department, about 90 percent of Hooters, er, Hoot attendees, ride Hondas, and among those about 80 percent ride Gold Wings. Do the math and that comes to nearly three-quarters of rallygoers on GL flagships. I’m much obliged to Honda for giving me the keys to a GL1800 for the duration of the rally (see sidebar on page 68). The only downside was feeling like I was part of the herd, which left my outsider-rider desires wanting.
Methinks the Honda Hoot would be more aptly named the Honda Who’s Hungry? since the rally’s self-guided rides are scenic treks to notable destinations where a buffet-style lunch is served under a big tent. Rather than a cute little owl on the Hoot logo, perhaps a salivating rider holding up a knife and fork? I chowed down on barbequed ribs and beans before the Tennessee Smokies baseball game (the Smokies beat the Mobile Baybears 4-3 with a tie-breaking run in the ninth inning), on roasted chicken and pecan pie at the Bikes and Boats at the Lake gathering and on fried catfish and hush puppies at the Best Dam Ride and Fish Fry. I’ve gained more than 10 pounds since joining Rider’s ranks, and I blame the Hoot for at least a couple of those!
Other popular daytime events include the Cherohala Skyway Ride, Cumberland Gap Ride and Beans, Beans and More Beans, which includes a tour of the Bush Beans factory. New events for 2008 included Bikes and Boats at the Lake, where attendees got free rides on Honda Marine-powered boats on Fort Loudon Lake (big shout-out to the sassy, all-female bluegrass band that sang the scatologically funny “Chicken Truck”); the Capes and Caverns Ride, which included a quarter-mile hike down into Cumberland Cavern where lunch was served among stalactites; and Ghost Town in the Sky,
A ride to a Wild West theme park…in the East (why not base it on the more regionally appropriate Hatfield-McCoy feud?). Mad Maps provided handy full-color maps and directions for all rides. Some rallygoers prefer to chart their own routes through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along the Blue Ridge Parkway or to slay the infamous Dragon on U.S. 129.
After the daily rides, festivities continued at night. The Hoot opened with a Welcome Party on Tuesday night. Wednesday night featured the Hoot & Holler at Cotton Eyed Joe, a honky tonk that featured blackjack, Texas hold ’em and country dancing. Bike Night at World’s Fair Park was on Thursday night. Hoot attendees got to ride into the park, which featured food and drink vendors, live music, a metric motorcycle show and fireworks. Honda reps, including Bill Savino, got wet in the dunk tank to support a local charity.
It was strange to be back at the site of the 1982 World’s Fair, which I attended with my family as a tow-headed nine-year-old. The most striking feature of the park, and one of the few surviving remnants of the ’82 Fair, is the Sunsphere, a 266-foot-high steel tower topped with a 74-foot gold-colored glass sphere. I don’t remember going up in the Sunsphere as a kid, but Honda hosted a press dinner there before Bike Night and the 360-degree view of Knoxville was stunning. Believe it or not, the glass panels are layered with real 24-karat gold.
Friday featured A Night at Volunteer Landing, a gathering at the park along the banks of the Tennessee River. Food and drink vendors represented different countries, singers and dancers provided live entertainment and activities included a gaming tent with blackjack and roulette and a spa tent with massages and manicures. The evening was capped off with an impressive fireworks display over the river. Bright pyrotechnics illuminated Baptist Hospital on the opposite bank, with loud booms echoing off the large concrete building. Our shuttle bus tour guide said the psychiatric ward is on the river side of the hospital. I wonder what the patients thought of the show, or if it made for an interesting night for the staff.
The eighth annual Knoxville Ride for Kids took place on Saturday morning. More than 225 motorcyclists and supporters arrived early for coffee and doughnuts before the police-escorted ride from Chilhowee Park to Douglas Dam. The event raised $55,986 for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Chilhowee Park is where you can wander around the vendor area, sign up for demo rides and watch motor officer and trials exhibitions. Having attended the Hoot in 2005, I could say that this year’s outside vendor area was noticeably smaller, the demo rides were limited to Honda rather than various OEMs and attendance seemed to be down. There were more than 13,500 attendees at the 2008 Hoot, down about 10 percent from 2007.
The closing ceremonies took place on Saturday night at the Civic Coliseum in downtown Knoxville. Headlining the evening was multiplatinum country singer Wynonna Judd. Judd owns a Honda Rune and a Harley, but she told the audience she doesn’t ride much now that she’s got two teenagers. The crowd loved Judd, who promised to be back next year, apparently to the surprise of HRCA. After the show, the Honda Hoot Grand Prize winner was selected. Minnesotan Paul Wagener won a VIP tour for two to Japan to attend the 2009 Twin Ring Motegi MotoGP races and to visit the renowned Honda Collection Hall Museum. Lucky guy.
Honda Hoot XVI will return to Knoxville, June 17-20, 2009. Brochures will be available and online registration will open in early January 2009. Advance tickets are required for all ride events and they sell out quickly. I recommend browsing www.hondahoot.com, deciding which rides you want to do and signing up early. And come hungry!
The Hoot’s Big Bird
2008 Honda Gold Wing GL1800
by Greg Drevenstedt
photography by the author and courtesy American Honda
Nearly 75 percent of the 13,500-plus attendees at the 2008 Honda Hoot were on Gold Wings. Two weeks later, roughly 10,000 members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association rolled into Greenville, South Carolina, for the 30th annual Wing Ding over July 4th weekend. That’s two jumbo-sized flocks of Big Birds, probably many of which were at both events.
Gold Wing riders, like riders who read Rider (say it three times fast!), tend to burn serious miles, and the venerable GL1800 provides excellent accommodations for doing so. Honda is known for refinement, and it has continually tweaked, upgraded and expanded its flagship touring machine since the first Gold Wing GL1000 debuted in 1975. Bulking up to its current six-cylinder, 1,832cc configuration in 2001 as part of the Gold Wing’s fourth major makeover, the 2008 model I rode during the Hoot has not changed since 2006 (see Rider, February 2006).
Though perhaps blasphemous to Wingnuts worldwide, the current Gold Wing is more carlike than any other motorcycle on two wheels. That its taillights resemble those from a Honda Accord is rather unsettling. From 2006 until now, four Gold Wing models have been offered, distinguished by their escalating cagelike option packages: Premium Audio; Premium Audio plus Comfort and Navigation; Premium Audio plus Comfort, Navigation and ABS; and Premium Audio, Comfort, Navigation, ABS and Airbag. The base price ranges from $19,599-$24,349. If you think of these models as bronze, silver, gold and platinum, I rode the gold-level Gold Wing with all factory options except the Airbag.
This was my first time on a GL1800, my only other Gold Wing experience being on Rider’s own 2000 GL1500SE. Stylistically, I think the GL1500 has a cheap plastic look, more like a gaudy late-’80s Caddy than a go-anywhere touring bike (then again, judging by all of the pinstripers and Wing-bling accessory vendors at the Hoot, pimping out one’s Gold Wing seems to be a favorite pastime). Honda got is right with the sleeker GL1800, similarities to the Accord notwithstanding.
Riding around Knoxville, I made ample use of the Premium Audio system, with classic rock turned up to 11. Without an instruction manual, fumbling around with the GPS-satellite-based Navi system (which is based, ahem, on that of the Accord) was frustrating, but I eventually used it to navigate my way to a friend’s house for dinner. The cockpit is a busy constellation of buttons and switches compared to most bikes I ride, but the layout made sense and would get less distracting and easier to use with practice. With temperatures in the 80s, I didn’t have any need for the Comfort package, which includes heated passenger backrest, seats, grips and foot warmers. But the linked braking with ABS sure came in handy during aggressive riding.
The true test of the Gold Wing was a couple of passes on the 318-curves-in-11-miles stretch of U.S. 129 known as the Dragon. The GL1800 has been referred to as a sportbike in tourer’s clothing due to its excellent, weight-defying handling, ample cornering clearance and ultra-smooth, powerful motor (98.2 horsepower and 104.8 lb-ft of torque on the dyno in 2006). Hard parts draggin’ on the Dragon is a common sight, but at a brisk pace I only touched down a few times. In tight, technical curves, side-to-side transitions were easy and the chassis remained composed with minimal wallowing (especially compared to the GL1500). True, I was riding solo rather than two-up with loaded saddlebags—a more typical Gold Wing payload—but past Rider tests have shown the GL1800 to shine in fully loaded conditions as well.
The GL1800 was a hoot (so to speak), but riding around on a big touring rig all by myself with no gear within a 100-mile radius of Knoxville seemed like overkill. Next year, maybe I’ll invite a friend or break from the herd.[From the November 2008 issue of Rider]