by Tim Leary
Originally, I wanted an ’84 to ’87 Wing. I figured the bike would fit my 5’11” and 165 pound frame better than the newer models, and, with a 1200cc engine, it would still have the juice to haul my wife and me to all corners of the earth. The electrical problems of these Wings (the stator specifically) raised some concerns with me, even though I knew Honda had worked out most of bugs by 1987.
However, the closer I got to actually buying a bike, the more I began lusting after the sexy curves of the newer Wings&emdash;the powerfully sleek fairing, the sinister headlight, the aerodynamic saddle bags and trunk. Once this passion set in, I found all kinds of reasons to justify spending more money on the newer model.
Sitting on the ’89 Gold Wing for the first time felt like I was straddling a Honda Civic. (I think they share the same dashboard and windshield.) There aren’t enough “i’s” in “wide” to describe this bike. The fairing measures almost three and a half feet from mirror tip to mirror tip.
The seat height for the ’89 is only 30″ (29″ on ’95 and newer models), but it is quite wide. It does become fairly narrow near the front of the seat to help us short skinny guys balance when stopped. I prefer squishy seats (on motorcycles only, thank you), and this one is soft yet very supportive and well positioned. I’ve ridden the bike for many hours at a time without discomfort. Because I’m a serious sloucher, my body requires a driver’s backrest. For those of you who listened to your parents and are slouchless, the deep seat and its high, vertical lower back support will probably keep you happy. Except for the lack of a remote, a ball game and a beer, you’d swear you’re in a La-Z Boy.
The handlebars are not so perfect for us smaller people. Although they are slightly adjustable in height, they seem to be a little bit short. I have to reach forward to grab the grips near the thumb controls for the high beams, stereo, etc. This gets tiresome on medium to long trips.
Any apprehension a driver may have when mounting this Wing for the first time disappears at mph one. With the majority of its 850 lbs. (wet) centered less than two feet off the ground, this bike is extremely agile. The rear end waggles slightly in tight, high-speed turns when pushed hard with the shocks set too low. By pumping up the shocks a smidge, the bike stays suctioned to the road convincingly even when flip-flopping from left to right in tight S-curves. This bike handles a far higher skill level than most riders can deliver. (Dare I say this behemoth might satisfy the urges of some sport bike enthusiasts?)
Suspension adjustments are infinite and fairly quick thanks to the bike’s on-board air compressor. However, the bike must be on the center stand. You can go from a cushy Cadillac feel for cruising to tightening it up for the twisties in less than a minute. The suspension soaks up the road and handles so well that it is very easy to snooze your way up to 90 miles per hour. (Ooops, sorry officer.)
Acceleration is definitely one of the Goldie’s strong points. The bike won’t thrill too many riders right out of the hole, but it might in second gear on up. Cranking up the 1500cc engine makes it sound like a jet and feel like one, too. By the time you get to the bottom of the freeway on-ramp, you’ll be hitting the brakes hard to blend into traffic. As for passing semis? One word: Ferrari.
The Wing is a hot ride in more ways than one. The bike’s engine has large, fan-assisted cooling vents that pump hot air away from the engine. Unfortunately, it is pumped right on to your legs when your feet are on the highway pegs. It’s only slightly cooler to put your feet on the main driving pegs. Directly in front of the rider’s legs are smaller vents that are supposed to provide both cool and warm air with the flick of a lever. The warm air is plentiful, but the air flowing through the cool vent is still heated by the engine and is much warmer than the outside air.
The weight of the bike mainly comes into play when stopping with a passenger aboard. Rolling in too quickly and throwing out a leg changes a simple stop into a wrestling match if the weight of the bike leans to one side. Since the bike is so incredibly controllable at very low speeds, it is best to ease into your stops.
If you do have to stop in a hurry, you have one of the finest integrated braking systems working for you. When stepping on the rear brake, you also activate one disc of the front brake. Potentially dangerous situations become controllable because of this technology.
The reality of driving a rig this big rears its ugly head at the gas pump. Driving 55mph will get you about 38mpg. 65 gets you 34, and 75+ gets you 28 or fewer. With a 6.3 gallon tank, that’s 175 to 240 miles between fuelings&emdash;more than most butts can handle.
Don’t plan to bring the kitchen sink along on your trips. The trunk and saddlebags aren’t as cavernous as you might think and have 20 pound max weight restrictions. Touring two-up with tent, two sleeping bags and rain gear leaves little room for clothes. Hotelling it can greatly improve your wardrobe.
Mechanical annoyances are minimal. I bought the bike with about 17,000 miles on it. At 22,000 miles, I began to hear a faint clicking. Honda remedied this problem by re-engineering the rocker arm bearings in the ’91 and newer Wings. Honda recently recalled the Bank Angle Sensor and replaced it for free. The gizmo cuts fuel flow to the carbs if the bike tips. Faulty sensors cut the fuel prematurely in simple corners. Make sure any newer Wing you buy has the new sensor. The most annoying problem is the chronically loose steering head nut. Even that only needs tightening every 8,000 to 10,000 miles.
Aesthetically annoying is the lack of chrome goodies for the newer Wings. I think chrome looks best as a complementary accent on oddly shaped metal pieces like engine parts, shock absorbers, chain guards, etc. Since all of those items are shrink-wrapped in plastic, there is not much left to chrome. Using double-faced tape (actually true!) to slap flat pieces of chrome on this beauty is sacrilege.
Financially annoying is the fact that expensive luxury bikes have expensive replacement parts. Cracked headlight? $285.00. Scratched windshield? $218.00. Air cleaner? $40.00. Even a Hondaline oil filter costs nearly ten bucks. And all of that body covering adds time to the shop clock. Changing the air cleaner borders on major surgery. It’s buried just above the middle of the engine. The oil filter can also be frustrating without the right wrench. Just getting near it requires considerable finesse to keep from breaking any of the plastic clips that hold the lower cowling in place. A twenty minute oil change can sometimes take an additional twenty-five heated minutes when the cowling won’t go back on right. It’s best to either buy the correct tools or have a shop do the work.
The bike does have many handy little features. The stereo automatically adjusts its volume when the bike slows down. It can play through the intercom speakers in your helmet, and it cuts out automatically when someone speaks. The trunk and saddlebags lock from a single lock. The saddlebags’ doors attach with a stable hinge reducing the chances of scratching your paint and have emergency latches in case the main latch fails. There is an air hose from the compressor that couples with an accessory hose that allows you to inflate your tires or an air mattress. The tire valves point to the side to ease checking pressure. The windscreen’s height adjusts quickly with two external clamps. The helmet hooks are underneath the trunk, so the helmets’ interiors won’t get soaked in rain. There are probably more small things I haven’t yet discovered.
Of course there is the most ballyhooed do-dad on a newer Wing: reverse. If you take a second to park the bike properly, you really don’t need reverse. Reverse is helpful when very narrow or steep conditions prohibit proper parking. Personally, this situation has only happened twice in my 10,000 miles of ownership.
Before I bought my Gold Wing, all I heard from others was “Gold Wing? Oooh, great bike.” I have tried to give you a full picture of what owning a ’88 to ’97 Gold Wing is like. The negative points are simply discoveries I have made during ownership. I am in no way trying to discourage anyone from buying one of these great machines.
The ’88 to ’97 Gold Wings are luxury touring machines on which riders experience very few discomforts. Unfortunately, some of those minor discomforts make motorcycling a fun, rugged adventure. You may want to test ride one of the other big bikes out there if you enjoy taking shorter trips, prefer to stop frequently or have an itch for the classic aspects of motorcycling.
If you enjoy going great distances over the course of many days especially with a passenger, I highly recommend an ’88 or newer Gold Wing. It’s comfort, reliability and performance will excite you every time you ride.