Nearly concurrent with the birth of the magazine you’re reading now was the introduction of a motorcycle that would become virtually synonymous with two-wheel touring, Honda’s Gold Wing. The first Wing, the GL1000, grew larger and gained displacement over the years until in 2001 it reached what some riders considered the apex of its evolution, and others saw as an unfortunate step past perfection.
Nobody complained about the engine, a smooth flat six with fuel injection, two valves per cylinder, a hundred horsepower and a torque curve that seemingly had no beginning and no end–it was just always there, whenever you twisted the loud handle. The shaft drive that had been standard since the beginning was now incorporated into a single-sided swingarm for easier rear-wheel service. Also standard was a reverse gear–not just handy but almost mandatory for maneuvering the nearly 900-pound Wing in tight spaces–and linked brakes, with ABS an extra-cost option.
Where the GL1800 significantly departed from the script written by its ancestors was in the handling department. Its grace and stability at speed was almost physics-defying, giving many touring riders their first taste of dragging hard parts in the corners well before the chassis sent any alarms upstairs. The frame itself was made of aluminum spars hefty enough to support bridges, and used the engine as a stressed member. Some 2002-model frames, however, were prone to cracking, and were the subject of a factory recall.
That wasn’t the only cause for criticism of the GL1800. Some of the improvements were fine, such as a larger radiator and fans and a higher-output alternator (from 1100 watts to 1300) in 2006. But two-up riders panned the GL18’s smaller bags and trunk compared to the GL1500’s, and felt the pilot’s seat placed the passenger too far to the rear to reap the benefits of the otherwise effective fairing and windscreen. The optional airbag on 2006-and-later models raised a few eyebrows among those who already thought the big Wing was just a car without doors.
The automotive analogy almost perfectly described the GL1800’s reliability, as well as its character, which some riders say is the very definition of bland. But there’s no denying that when it comes to the used market, the Wing gets the job done as well as or better than anything in the class for the same money.
They’re more likely than most bikes to have been dealer serviced for most of their lives, so ask for receipts, and have a local dealer run the VIN to make sure the bike has been brought in for all recalls and service campaigns. Leaking fork seals aren’t too common, but they are a major pain to replace, so look for oil weeping down the fork legs, and check the condition of the brake and clutch fluid; flushing and replacing the fluid in the linked brake system is another service headache.
Try every setting and button on the stereo, the intercom and the navi system, and make sure the rear shock preload adjuster works. Function-check any add-on lights and accessories, and if you’re feeling brave and the seller isn’t looking, give the ABS a workout, too. Expect to pay anywhere from $7,500 for a first-year GL1800 in fair condition up to $12,000 for a 2011 model, excluding value-adding accessories.
2001-2010 Honda GL1800 Gold Wing
Long on power, competence and comfort.
Reliability above average, dealers everywhere.
Short on personality, low-speed maneuverability and ease of service.
Excess weight can become tiresome.
Engine: Liquid-cooled, 1,832cc flat six, fuel injected, 2 valves per cylinder
Final Drive: Shaft
Weight: 898 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 6.6 gals.
Seat Height: 29 in.