2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT | First Ride Review

Wheeling in the Years

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
How well does this 2021 model hold up to more than 40 years of Honda Gold Wing testing and scrutiny? I love it all. Except for one thing… (Photos by Drew Ruiz)

EIC Drevenstedt asked me a simple question: “How many Honda Gold Wings have you ridden?” My answer required lots of mental calculations: maybe 75 or 80 total? “Okay,” he said. “Then you go ride the 2021 Gold Wing Tour DCT and tell me how it fits in with all those past Wings.”

Back in the late 1970s, I worked at Cycle magazine, and we rode the living snot out of every test bike, including the big ones. So full disclosure: I’m an outlier regarding performance standards. I’ve always pushed motorcycles far beyond the typical pace, and I prize light and lively handling above all else. Since 2000 I’ve ridden over 40 different fifth-gen Wings (2001-2017 GL1800s), but I had yet to ride the sixth-gen GL1800 that was introduced in 2018 and updated in 2020.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Comfy accommodations fit better than ever, fore and aft.
Ken’s Gear:Katie’s Gear:
Helmet: Schuberth R2 CarbonHelmet: HJC IS-Max ST
Jacket/Pants: Aerostich DarienSuit: Aerostich Roadcrafter R-3
Boots: Tourmaster Response WPBoots: Tourmaster Trinity

The mechanicals, measurements, electronics, and such of the sixth-gen GL1800 have been thoroughly covered in previous Rider tests (September 2020, November 2019, May 2018, and January 2018). But there are several updates baked into this 2021 iteration:

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2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Katie praised the rear seat armrests and heaters. But no drink compartments!

Revised passenger accommodations: The passenger seat backrest reclines more and has thicker foam and a taller profile. Both my wife and daughter prefer this setup compared to the previous-generation GL1800s we ride (2003 and 2008; see “SIDEBAR: A Tale of Two Gold Wings” below). They especially like the longer armrests but regret the loss of the two rear storage compartments.

Larger trunk: The top trunk now holds 61 liters (up 11 from before; total luggage capacity is 121 liters) and can now stow a pair of full-face helmets. The low back lip facilitates easy loading, but care must be taken to tuck in the cargo’s stray straps, sleeves, etc. so the lid latches securely.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
The trunk’s sloped rear face eases loading but stray straps can foul lid closing.

New seat cover and rear turn signals: The seat’s new suede-like material has a premium look and feel to it, and the colored seat piping is a nice touch. The rear turn signals are now all red for a cleaner look.

Updated audio: Improvements include upgraded, 45-watt speakers with richer sound, optimized automatic volume-adjustment level, a standard XM radio antenna and new Android Auto integration in addition to the previous Apple CarPlay integration.

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2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Electric windscreen, fancy dash with navigation, four ride modes, and a modern 4-valve engine. What’s not to like?

My other impressions of the sixth-gen Wing? Awesome brakes. Truly awesome, much like sportbike binders. I never felt the brakes on my 2008 Wing were lacking, until now. Equally important, rider ergonomics are vastly improved. I’m a big guy, and I’ve always felt cramped and confined by the previous-gen GL1800’s seat/bar/peg configuration. The latest iteration offers much more natural and comfortable ergonomics.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Gold Wings are engineered to be run hard — really hard — and they’ll go better and faster than the vast majority of owners will ever suspect. For 2021 the overall feel is taut and modern, much closer to the sport-touring side than ever before.

The Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) is also impressive and relieves some of the rider task load, especially while riding around town and dealing with traffic. Its shift points in Tour mode are accurate, if a bit relaxed, while Sport mode’s power delivery feels much crisper and even a bit abrupt. Sport mode holds shift points so much longer you really need to be totally sport focused, not even a little bit lazy in your planning. And that’s not a complaint; Sport is my preferred setting on tight back roads. The DCT can be a little tricky during ultra-low-speed maneuvering, but I adapted fairly quickly. I do, however, miss being able to slow-roll a tight turn using the clutch during gas station maneuvers and such.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Although the 6th-gen GL1800 displaces only 1cc more than the 5th-gen, the flat six was completely redesigned.

As for styling, the new machine looks stunningly sleek and remarkably athletic parked beside my 2008 GL1800. However, I am not much swayed by a machine’s cosmetics; it’s what she’ll do that counts. And Gold Wings have long been unfairly maligned for their size and looks without proper respect for their high level of full-throttle performance.

It’s hilariously revealing when anybody bad-mouths the Honda Gold Wing as an “old man’s bike,” especially if their opinion isn’t based on actual riding experience. When I wrote the test for the then-new GL1200 for the February 1984 issue of Cycle, my conclusion was: “This year the Honda engineers have pulled off an unbelievable trick — they’ve taken a 790-pound machine and made it nimble and manageable. The choice is clear. Why put up with a big-feeling touring mount when you can have something as close to magic as we’ve seen in a long time?”

Cycle magazine 1984 cover Honda Gold Wing GL1200

Whew! Lofty praise indeed. But it reflects how much Honda engineers have always invested in the basic bones — the chassis and engine — of every generation of the Gold Wing to create a good-handling package.

Things got bigger and better with the gen-four GL1500. I didn’t spend much time on full-dresser 1500s, but I fell deeply in love with the stripped-down 1,520cc Valkyrie muscle bike — unvarnished, rowdy fun! Do you have your October 1996 issue of Rider handy? That’s my story, “The Great Escape,” with our daughter Kristen joining me on the new Valkyrie in Montana. After completing that trip I had more Valkyrie miles logged than any non-Honda employee. And I loved it.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
The Gold Wing has been Honda’s flagship touring model for 46 years. It has set and reset standards for comfort, performance, reliability, and sophistication, and won Rider’s Motorcycle of the Year award in 2001 and 2018 (and the Gold Wing-based Valkyrie Tourer won in 1997).

Rider’s 2018 Motorcycle of the Year: Honda Gold Wing Tour

Within the realm of big tourers, I am especially enamored with the fifth-gen Wing for both its handling and power. When I dove into the first corner aboard the GL1800 back in 2000 during the bike’s press intro, that previously beloved Valky instantly turned to toast; the GL1800 simply smoked it on handling alone, not to mention the big boost in power. For riders with a serious sporting bent, it was a real revelation thanks to its delightfully agile handling and precise steering. (We have former Large Project Leader Masanori Aoki, who was responsible for several CBR sportbike models before heading up the GL1800 project, to thank for that.) It felt nothing short of wondrous at the time and it remains a wonder and a mystery even today, which is why many uninitiated “experts” still foolishly look down their noses at Wings.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
Solo or with a passenger, there’s no motorcycle touring experience quite like the Honda Gold Wing.

Fact is, I’ve personally schooled more than a few leather-clad sportbike riders by treating them to a sudden appearance of a Wing in their mirrors — followed by polite passes, of course. I’ve logged thousands of miles on dozens of different GL1800s and I know exactly how well they get down a road, twisty or straight. Until you’ve ground down a GL1800’s footpegs to half-length smoldering stubs, you’ve got nothing to say about how a Gold Wing supposedly cannot perform.

Honda Gold Wing footpegs ground down
A well-used set of Honda Gold Wing footpegs, courtesy of the author.

That brings us to this 2021 Gold Wing Tour DCT, which is an impressively sporting, fun, and stylish package. It’s so good in so many ways it really outshines the early fifth-gen GL1800, a bike I love dearly. In my book, the sixth-gen’s main shortcoming is that its Hassock-style front end that lacks the delightful steering agility of its predecessor. And that nimble feel is what originally set the GL1800 apart from other big rigs. The 2021 may be 80 pounds lighter, but that benefit is largely offset by heavier steering and muted front-end feel and feedback.

Honda Gold Wing model timeline
After rolling up thousands of serious test miles on all of these models and more, which is my favorite? It’s probably just me, but the nimble steering of fifth-gen Gold Wings still holds sway in my heart.

I regret that loss, but then I’m a nut for steering agility. In the real world, for every rider with a sport orientation like mine, dozens more will line up for all of the comfort, convenience and technology features that make the latest Gold Wing Tour DCT such a sweet touring machine.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT review
The 2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT in Candy Ardent Red. It’s also available in Metallic Black.

2021 Honda Gold Wing Tour Specs

Base Price: $28,300
Price as Tested: $29,300 (DCT model)
Website: powersports.honda.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, longitudinal opposed flat six, Unicam SOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 1,833cc
Bore x Stroke: 73.0 x 73.0mm
Transmission: 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission automatic (as tested)
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 66.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 30.5 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 29.3 in.
Wet Weight: 838 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.6 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 40 mpg

SIDEBAR: A Tale of Two Gold Wings  

2003 2008 Honda Gold Wing GL1800
The author with his son-in-law Gregg and daughter Kristen, and their two fifth-gen Gold Wing GL1800s.

Motorcycle industry gurus talk about expanding the touring market with younger riders. But nobody seems to do anything about it. So I did.

Back in 2019, I had one motorcycle — my trusty Honda 919. My wife Katie had basically quit riding with me even though a pair of artificial hips let her hop on a backseat freely again. A GL1800 seemed a nonstarter. Yet next thing I knew, I owned not one but two Gold Wings.

How’s that? Well, we had invited the entire family to vacation with us in Tuscany last June, including motorcycle rides with a private guide. Sweet, huh? That commitment meant Katie needed seat time prior to Italy and a Wing in the garage would supply necessary incentive.

In November of 2019, I found a used 2003 GL1800 showing 29,000 miles. It was a cream puff, and for $5,500 it was a steal. Katie and I mounted up and she fell in love with riding all over again. Life was grand. And then COVID-19 hit. Even worse, serious health issues sidelined me for nearly all of that cursed year.

So I told my son-in-law Gregg (not Drevenstedt!) to come and take the Wing so my daughter Kristen could enjoy a break from the pillion of their Yamaha R6. Kristen had logged thousands of miles with me on Wings and Valkyries from her teen years onward, so she’d surely dig it. But to my surprise, Gregg immediately fell in love with the whole Wing thing and they headed out riding most weekends, having a blast. Months later, I’d feel like a heel by repossessing it. So I bought another GL1800, this time a 2008 for $7,800. And I gave them the ’03. Growing the touring segment one young couple at a time … for less money than that trip to Italy would’ve cost us! — KL

14 COMMENTS

  1. Ken,
    I just now skimmed your Gold Wing test ride story pretty darned quickly. That is until I got to the ground down foot pegs (Oh Yeah!) I then realized that you were a “real” motorcycle rider! Now, when I get a little more time, I’ll go back and read “the rest of the story”, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s good to read reports from a “real” motorcycle rider! My dad used to tell me stories of how he and his buddies ground the floorboards on their Harley’s. Now that he’s past, I joyfully carry on the tradition with my Road King. “If it ain’t scrapin’, ya ain’t turning”! -jp

  2. Hey Ken,

    I bought the first GL1000 to come in to my dealership, Cycle Center Honda in Fremont, CA. I was 19 when I ordered it (sight unseen) and 20 when I picked it up. I put about 80,000 miles on that GL over the next 4 years.

    Today, I have a R1200RT in the garage. In the intervening years I have had a variety of touring bikes, including a 1981 CBX (gorgeous bike), K100RT and RS’, R100S and RS’, and ST1100.

    The new Gold Wing is leaving me drooling as a 66-year-old biker.

  3. Great story! My father-in-law gave me his ’99 Valkyrie Interstate in ’05 when illness ended his riding days. He was able to enjoy short rides around town for a few years after that on my little VLX Shadow. In those days my commute to work was my ’98 Concours.

  4. Great article, Ken!
    I’ve been considering the latest gen Goldwing purchase (sans passenger accommodations, as I’m a solo rider) Your in-depth review and personal history with the ‘wing may have just swayed me to make the purchase. Not really a fan of auto trans for low speed maneuvers though. I’ll stick with a clutch. As usual, Honda got it right!

  5. I’m on the fence again about my next bike. I’m on a K1200LT and love it for the handle more than anything else. To hear it’s a bit vague on the latest GL has me concerned. My wife must be comfortable, and she certainly is on the LT which is why I’ve been a bit hesitant on the K1600GTL, passenger comfort has been compromised. She’s not a fan of the previous gen GL looks, but that could be worked on. I have much to consider now! Thanks for a great article!

  6. Ken,

    Thanks for a great review. How does this sixth-gen bike compare to the latest K1600GTL or Grand America?

  7. Great article Ken. I’ve owned 3 5th generation wings and now ride a 2018. I agree 100% with your assessments with 2 exceptions. The new front suspension is way better then the old traditional forks. The old bike’s forks flexed and were way under sprung and dampened. The new forks feel solid and ride so much better. You failed to mention the much smaller saddle bags on the 2018+. They are good for a weekend two up. We solved the storage problem with a Unigo trailer. Ride on!

  8. Bring back the ST1300, updated with DCT or 6 speed manual. Cruise control and heated grips please. Some of us Honda fans still struggle with the idea of a 900 pound couch at $28k+.

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