I remember when the new ZX14R came out in 2012 and everyone was saying how much better it was over my 2008 version I owned at the time. And it was for that reason that I didn’t ride one. I didn’t want to know.
I was acutely aware that an outcome of our US/Canada motorcycle tour may mean a touring bike in our future. I have also heard that if you don’t want a Goldwing you shouldn’t take you partner for a ride on one as they redefine pillion comfort for touring. So when we booked the Goldwing for our US/Canada ride I very much saw this as a two week test ride. In the end we didn’t get a Goldwing – link – but rode a big Harley touring bike. Two weeks on the Electra Glide confirmed that a touring bike was certainly in our future as we loved riding around the countryside together on a big armchair bike. But it would not be a Harley.
Last weekend riding out west Deb and I jumped on a friends BMW K1300GT for 50km which from a bike-style perspective is on the touring end of the sports/tourer spectrum. Overall the GT is similar to the Yamaha FJR or Kawasaki GTR in regards to ride style. Over the intercom we discussed our impressions which were very closely aligned. In the end we both found my modified ride position on the ZX14R more comfortable which is consistent with what I’ve found riding similar style bikes over the years. This confirmed that a bike for touring for us boils down to – stay with the 14 or move to a full-on touring bike. The 14 is great but not ideal for an extended trip.
So the options that I want to explore are both the Honda Goldwing and BMW K1600GTL. I’ve not ridden either of these bikes. So seeing a new Goldwing outside of our local Honda dealer (Canberra Motorcycle Centre) was all the invitation I needed…
The salesman gave us a quick run through of all the controls and unlike a regular bike this took much longer as there was so much more to go through. Things like …
- Dual-Clutch Transmission (DCT) controls – there are no clutch or gear levers on this bike, all the gearbox controls are on both left and right control blocks.
- Electric screen control
- Audio system controls
- Cruise control controls
- Grip and seat warmers
- Parking break as you can’t park in gear
- Hill assist
- Electronic suspension settings
- Engine modes affecting both engine and gearbox settings
- Operation of walk mode – forward and back on DCT model
Right block controls – engine start/stop, hazard flashes, gearbox modes and cruise control.
Left block controls – gear selection up/down, audio system controls, display settings, walking modes, indicators, screen settings, headlights, and horn. With this amount of controls the left thumb will need to develop new muscle memory of where everything is.
Centre block – some of the above and then front seat warmer (passenger has their own controls), grip warmers, plus all the overall bike settings setup. I’m sure there’s heaps more…
And finally we made our way out onto the road. The only real concern leaving the shop was the unknown of the DCT gearbox and what that would be like. I’m told it is very intuitive and that you adapt very quickly. I guess we’ll see.
Rolling out of the car park we were in full auto gearbox, in touring mode. The first thing I noticed was just how quick it went up through the gears. And then we came to the first set of lights which of course were red. I instinctively reached for the clutch … not there. It’s really weird just approaching a stop on brakes! Then you have a slight panic, as you roll to a stop, about what happens when you actually come to a stop.
Then the bike turns off. What the… he didn’t tell me about that!
Lights go green, let off the brakes and roll on the throttle and the bike fires back up and moves off without a fuss. Damn that flat six sounds good! It has a real Porsche boxer growl to it. Imagine what it’d sound like with a set of pipes!
Okay now we are on a bit of open road so it’s time to have a play with some buttons…
Seat warmer on. I have to admit that I’m not an ATGATT rider but rather all the gear most of the time. So the seat got real hot real quick even at lower settings as I was wearing suit trousers. Seat warmer off.
Windscreen up, windscreen down, windscreen up. It’s a really windy day today so it’s a bit hard to judge the level of protection the screen offers. But overall there is a nice range of movement from quite low and unobtrusive to high and you are looking through the screen. But I’m left wondering whether the screen needs to be a shade wider.
Navigation – on a bike that costs over $40,000 there is no navigation system.! And there is no option. The only way that you can incorporate navigation is via Apple CarPlay which uses your iPhone for mapping. The brochure states that this will “keep your bike’s technology on the cutting edge.” Okay so what about the other more than half the population that don’t use an iPhone? Sounds like a cost cutting to me. So if I want to use navigation I either have to bolt on my own Navigation system or move from Android to iPhone. Sorry not good enough.
Okay so what’s it like to ride?
Motor – It would be unfair to compare it to the 14 but for a big touring bike this is a great motor with a nice meaty amount of torque way down low. It just does the business and the various riding modes (which affects motor and gearbox characteristics as well as suspension damping) make a very noticeable difference to how the bike feels. Generally I see riding modes as a bit of a gimmick as I run the 14 on full power all the time and use my right hand to modulate power. In sports mode it is surprisingly spritely for such a big bike. If I owned this bike, as it affects both engine and gearbox, I see that I would be largely swapping between Sports and Touring models primarily because of the way it affects the characteristics of the gearbox.
And did I mentioned the sound of this bike.
DCT Gearbox – okay now time to play with the gearbox. It really feels just like an automatic gearbox but the double clutch is both smooth and fast and all you hear is the little man in the gearbox selecting the next gear with a little clunk to be heard. Like most autos you have to give it a handful to go back a gear, or alternatively just hit the “-” button with your left thumb and bike quickly obliges and slots back a gear. After a very short period of time this was certainly my preferred method. Touring mode was very relaxed and would quickly make its way to 7th gear when it could.
Changing the mode to sports made a dramatic difference to the overall characteristics. The biggest difference was how the auto held gears much higher in the rev range and seemed to lock out 7th gear. For tighter windy roads where you’re re not just rolling through the bends sports mode works well. And for open road riding the touring mode is a good option. I didn’t try the economy or rain modes.
Selecting manual does exactly what it says on the box. It’s manual and you have to change gears with your forefinger (up) and thumb (down). But how often would you use it…? Driving an auto car with a manual flappy paddle option is really cool … but I so rarely use it. So it would be interesting to see how often this is used. The only real time I use it on the car is to lock it in to a gear, and this is likely to be the same on this bike. Maybe going down steep hills and riding vigorously on a winding road.
Handling – I don’t have a lot of experience on full-dress tourers. By now I’ve been on the Goldwing for an hour and the Harley Electra-Glide for 14 days there is no comparison. Harley need to hang their heads in shame.! I really didn’t want to push the Goldwing too hard two up to find it’s limits but coming through one of my favourite corners at a respectable clip it just went around with no fuss, the suspension did a great job and we could have easily pushed much harder. The Harley on the same corner at the same speed (no I don’t think that would have been possible) would have been wallowing and been quite a handful. Don’t get me wrong this is a big bike and is no sports bike but for a big tourer I would be more than happy to punt this down a windy road two up.
Ergonomics – overall I found the bike very comfortable. The seat is a nice broad saddle shape which is great for long days on the bike. However the downside with the broader seat is that you notice it when you put your feet down. The only real things that I may want to play with was the handlebar height, and screen shape. Other than that it was a great ride position.
Luggage – there is a lot of discussion around the place about the reduced luggage capacity and I agree that any reduction in luggage capacity is completely misreading what these bikes are used for. More luggage capacity is always better than less. In regards to not holding two helmets – personally I don’t see this as an issue as I understand that the overall size of the top box is a similar size it’s just the shape. When I’m on a trip the top box is full so storing helmets in there when we stop is never a consideration. For me a top box that is said to hold two helmets is more of a measure of its size rather than something that I would actually do.
I can’t comment on the panniers as I didn’t even open them, but from what I’ve read this is where the capacity has been reduced.
From the pillion’s perspective.
One of the biggest considerations for me when buying a touring bike is the pillion’s perspective. If Deb’s not comfortable and happy on the back then she won’t want to come touring and getting a touring bike for us was ultimately a waste of time and money.
The main considerations –
- is it comfortable
- is it easy to get on and off
- is it secure ie does it have good grab handles
- is the pillion sharing the ride or just along for the ride
- can they see
Deb’s thoughts –
Comfort – overall the comfort of the Goldwing was really good. The seat is broader and more comfortable than the Harley. Deb also found the foot boards on the Goldwing a much better shape and location as the Harley’s locked her ankles into an uncomfortable position.
Ease of access – one of the big problems with bikes like the 14 is that they are tall and getting on and off for a shorter pillion can be challenging and over an extended trip this can take its toll.
Deb found the Harley easy to get on and off and didn’t really experience any real problems. The Goldwing was not quite as easy and she would need to develop a different technique but its still easier than the 14.
Grab handles – while Deb very rarely hangs on when we are out riding there are times when the pillions needs to be able to quickly grab the handles to support themselves from sliding forward into the rider in heavy braking or when having a go through a twisty section of road.
Fail. The grab handles are just below the seat level which on the face of it looks like a great location and it keeps the nice clean lines on the bike. However due to the shape of the arm rests Deb was unable to get her arms down by her side to get to the grab handles and her arms aren’t long enough to reach over the arm rests to get the grab handles. (see the video at the end of this post to see the problem).
This model of Goldwing had little triangle extensions to the arm rests which just made the access worse. Trying the lower spec’ed bike in the shop which didn’t include these triangle was better but still not great.
The ride – the reality is that a touring bike is a much different riding experience and the rider and pillion aren’t as ‘active’. As the handling on the Harley was so crap you really couldn’t have fun on the windy roads and that affected both our riding experience, so Deb really just sat for a lot of that ride. After only a short ride on the Goldwing it was quickly apparent that the Goldwing is much more fun. It’s still not as engaging as riding on the 14 but a lot better than the Harley.
Vision – the big difference between a sports bike and a touring bike is that the rider leans forward giving the pillion a largely unobstructed view over the rider. Whereas when you sit up straighter the pillion has a great view of the back of the riders helmet and has to look around the rider more.
Pillion conclusion – overall Deb loved the bike but we would need to do something about the grab handles.
What a great bike.! Overall I’d be more than happy to disappear over the horizon fully loaded on this bike. And I am going to surprise myself and even say that I didn’t mind riding the DCT version. However, I’m not sure I could quite come at buying the DCT version. The biggest issue that we’d need to address is the grab handle and maybe just losing the additional triangle extensions may help but we’d need to try it to see if it works.
So where to from here?
Selling the 14 just isn’t part of the equation as I couldn’t part with it as I just love riding it. So any purchase of a touring bike means an addition to the fleet, not a replacement. Even if I was replacing the 14 I still wouldn’t be in a position to spend this kind of money on a bike. So any purchase of a touring bike will be limited to a second-hand bike, so we need to line ourselves up a ride on the older Goldwing and K1600GTL.
That ride may have been really bad. Remember what I said at the outset. We have now ridden the latest and greatest from the Honda touring stable and now have to settle for an older more tied version… Sometimes it is better not knowing.
But it was so nice…
maybe if they threw in an iPhone……..
a rich uncle maybe?…
Do we actually need a car??
Here’s a couple of videos that may be of interest if you’ve got to the end.
This is a great review from the guys at Motorcyclist Magazine comparing the Honda Goldwing and BMW K1600B Grand America.
And here is an demonstration of the problem of the Honda Goldwing’s grab rail and an alternative grab rail he has designed to address the issue.