Who would build a completely new motorcycle to resemble a
nine-year-old existing model? Who would equip a bike with amenities enough to
make you think you never left home? Who could make a full-dresser feel more
light and nimble than anyone thought possible? Honda.
Hocus-pocus. Sleight of hand. Blue smoke and mirrors: Call it
what you may, but manufacturers often use a bit of chicanery to make a "new"
model look newer than it really is. Using the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't
tactic, manufacturers throw a cloak over an existing older model, chant a few
impressive words, dash some paint on here and there, and- voila - it
looks exciting and revolutionary. Of course, it's an illusion; underneath lies
the same old model.
Then there's Honda, a company with a different challenge for
1984: design a completely new luxury touring bike, but make it look like an old,
familiar friend, the time-tested Gold Wing. Since its introduction in 1975, the
Gold Wing has set the standard for touring rigs, and for years Honda enjoyed
clear-cut superiority over the competitors. With the passing years, however, the
Gl_ was becoming technologically arthritic, a fact made abundantly clear last
year by Yamaha's new XVZ1200 Venture. GL-replacement, please.
Replace a touring institution? How? In the last nine
years the Gold Wing has amassed a large and loyal following. Although Honda
could build an excellent touring machine around the new V65 powerplant, changing
the basic configuration of the company's premier touring rig would insult and
alienate thousands of GL owners. Honda's solution? Build an all-new bike -
engine, chassis and bodywork - and make it look like the same old Gold Wing.
How new can another Gold Wing be? Very new indeed. A quick
ride demonstrates that this new GL is unlike any before. Hopping into the
saddle, you're surprised the GL1200 feels so compact. Tricky, you think; Honda
minimized the bulk around the rider, but this big full-dresser has to be
a handful. What's this? The impression of trim-ness remains once the Wing starts
rolling; the bike feels unbelievably light and nimble for a full-on luxury
touring mount. From parking lot trot to full-honk boogie the new Gold Wing
always steers and handles like a much smaller, lighter bike, following the
example of the Yamaha Venture. The 1984 Aspencade weighs in at a hefty 789.5
pounds fully gassed, measures over eight feet long and spans 63.4 inches in
wheelbase, yet it feels like a down sized version of last year's model.
At walking speeds the Aspencade steers with uncanny lightness;
a touch suffices. You notice the Honda's weight only when you back the GL up or
paddle it around. The 1200 feels equally agile around-town, inspiring further
confidence. And the new Aspencade continues to build confidence beyond the city
limits. On winding backroads the Gold Wing flicks from side to side with little
steering effort, taking readily to mid-corner steering corrections and
responding precisely to handlebar input. The only steering quirk is a tendency
for the bar to push back a touch as you explore the far reaches of the bike's
lean angle; just maintain a slight pressure on the handlebar, however, and
you'll stick to your line. The Yamaha Venture, by contrast, always requires
greater steering effort, but its steering remains neutral at all cornering
angles and speeds.
Several chassis changes account for the Gold Wing's new-found
agility. First, Honda down-sized the wheels and tires; a 16-inch front and
15-inch rear wheel replace past GLs' 18/16 combination. The smaller front wheel
provides quicker steering response, thanks to reduced gyroscopic stability;
together the smaller front and rear wheels lower the center of gravity. These
changes dovetail with the Gold Wing's engine configuration, which gives an
inherently low center of gravity. Honda engineers also moved the steering head
down and back, lengthened the swing arm 2.2 inches and moved the engine forward
2.5 inches, putting more weight on the front wheel and improving mass
centralization. Net result: better handling. While moving the steering head,
Honda increased rake to 30.0 degrees and decreased trail to 4.6 inches; last
year's Wing had rake and trail figures of 29.2 degrees and 5.2 inches.
A stiffer fork likewise improves the Aspencade's handling.
Last year the 1100 benefited from an increase in fork-tube diameter, 37 to 39mm,
and this year the fork tubes have grown to 41mm, good preventative medicine for
fork flex. The rear suspension still employs dual shocks; Honda's Pro-Link
single-shock system would have stolen precious space reserved for the
under-the-seat fuel tank.
Honda stiffened the fork and shock springs this year and
reduced compression damping at both ends - 20 percent less in the fork and 17
percent less in the shocks. The fork rebound damping rate remains unchanged, but
shock rebound damping is up a whopping 46 percent, promising better suspension
performance off the freeway. Neither the fork nor the shocks offer adjustable
damping, but the front end does have TRAC, Honda's anti-dive system. Like past
Gold Wings the '84 version uses air-adjustable springing front and rear, and the
Aspencade suspension pieces connect to an on-board air compressor, a wonderful
convenience encouraging the rider to use the suspension's full adjustability.
The fork offers 5.5 inches of travel, a touch over last year's Wing, and at 4.1
inches rear-wheel travel is up an inch.
The Aspencade delivers a fine highway ride. Gone is the
Cadillac-cloud effect. Now the GL ride suggests a Mercedes—comfortably
cushioned, but also well controlled. The new Honda transmits more road feel to
the rider, who can sense what the bike is doing rather than sitting isolated in
pillowy numbness. Almost taut compared to past Gold Wings, the GL1200 still
holds a small edge over the Venture in freeway compliance. Past Wings, set up as
narrow-spectrum bikes thriving on the interstates, fell short in terms of
all-around ability. This GL has greater versatility in handling a variety of
road conditions. With its suspension set at the lowest air pressures, the GL
glides over small road irregularities and smothers large bumps and dips; pumping
in more air quickly firms up the soft ride for sporty backroad or two-up use.
In its manners on curvy, secondary roads, the new Aspencade is
leaps and bounds ahead of old Wings, which severely restricted any kind of
backroad friskiness. The new chassis angles the nose of the engine up three
degrees from horizontal, and this change, along with the forward relocation,
gives the big Honda more ground clearance than ever known to GL fans. The
Aspencade hasn't the clearance of the Yamaha Venture, but now, at least, the GL
has enough. This new 1200 hustles through the twisties.
As lean angles increase, the footpegs touch down and serve as
the first warning signals. Keep leaning and the center stand tang and pipes
grind eventually, but these limitations fall well within reasonable bounds for a
big touring bike. The updated suspension components are markedly better than
past pieces; pushing the bike through fast, smooth sweepers evokes only a slight
wobble. Bumpy corners still upset the GL's handling as the bike's sheer weight
overwhelms the suspension, an expected occurrence with 950-plus pounds of bike
and rider. Adjustable shock damping would be a nice addition.
Honda engineers equipped the deluxe-version Aspencade with
ventilated dual front disc brakes, and all Gold Wings feature Honda's unified
braking system. This arrangement actuates the right front disc and rear disc
through the brake pedal, while the bar-mounted hand lever operates the left
front disc only. The Aspencade delivers strong braking power with good feel and
progressive action, important considering the GL's speed potential and mass.
Since the two front brakes work independently, Honda equipped
the Wing with dual TRAC anti-dive systerns. The anti-dive feature increases
flexibility in fork damping settings; suspension engineers are free to select
soft compression damping rates and provide a comfortable ride, yet the bike
suffers no excessive nose dive under braking. We turned both units to the full
A-D settings to preserve as much ground clearance as possible under hard stops.
The new 1200 engine bears a strong superficial resemblance to
previous Gold Wing powerplants, yet the similarities are very shallow. The basic
engine configuration and bore centers remain unchanged, but almost all the
hardware is new. The GL grew from 1085cc to 1182, primarily through an increase
in engine stroke; the new bore and stroke measure 75.5 x 66.0mm versus last
year's 75.0 x 61.4mm.
In order to increase intake velocity, Honda reduced the intake
valves' diameters 2.0mm, to 36mm; the 32mm exhausts are the same as the 1100's.
The '84 head uses a combustion chamber with more squish area to centralize the
air/fuel charge, and the new GL has slightly more "radical" valve timing and
more valve lift. The new 32mm Keihin constant-velocity carburetors follow the
pattern of the carbs used in the Honda V-four engines. To optimize power and
economy, a new electronically controlled solid-state ignition incorporates a
vacuum sensor which advances the ignition timing an additional 13 degrees when
the engine is in fourth or fifth gear.
Gold Wing owners will welcome the addition of Honda's
Hydraulic Valve Adjuster system; it makes the GL nearly maintenance-free.
Similar to the system in last year's VT750 engine, the GL's uses an eccentric
rocker shaft to maintain correct valve clearance. A hydraulic lifter resembling
those in automotive engines bears on a flat machined into the rocker shaft, and
a spring-loaded plunger acts in the opposite direction on another flat. As the
camshaft spins and actuates the rocker arm, the eccentric rocker shaft rotates,
raising or lowering the rocker arm to maintain the correct valve clearance. The
hydraulic lifter works against the small spring-loaded plunger to rotate the
rocker shaft first in one direction and then the other, keeping valve lash at
A new hydraulic clutch eliminates yet another small bit of
maintenance; the hydraulic system automatically compensates for any clutch wear
or heating. The clutch has an extra plate this year, and a diaphragm clutch
spring replaces the coil-type used in past Gold Wings. The only maintenance
chores left are oil and filter changes and spark plug inspection.
The 1200's 360-watt alternator, oil-cooled for greater
reliability, puts out 60 watts more than the 1100's, and a new drive system
reduces noise and vibration. Diaphragm springs lock up the system at low speeds
to imitate a solid drive, but at higher engine speeds a ball-and-ramp
arrangement disengages the solid drive and a spring-damped drive similar to a
spring-damped clutch hub takes over.
A two-row radiator replaces the older three-row unit. Smaller
and lighter than the old item, the new radiator flows more air than the old unit
and therefore provides slightly more cooling. An electric cooling fan kicks in
as needed, and the fuel pump is now electric rather than mechanically driven.
The 1200 fires instantly and runs willingly on chilly
mornings. There's a slight hesitation at low throttle openings before the engine
is fully warm. However, the new GL scores much better than past Gold Wings,
which balked at cold starting and proved truculent runners when cold.
Pulling away from a dead stop, the Aspencade feels as though
it's geared a tad high, and with good reason; the 1200 has much taller overall
gearing than last year's GL, thanks to a new final-drive pairing. While the
primary, secondary and internal gearbox ratios remain unchanged, the smaller
rear tire partially compensates for the taller gearing. The new gearing poses no
problem for the larger, more powerful engine; the Aspencade pulls willingly from
just off idle all the way through the 7500-rpm redline and easily jumps the gaps
between cogs in the wide-ratio gearbox. In fifth gear, the GL just loafs along;
at 60 mph, it spins a leisurely 2977 rpm, and calculated top speed at redline is
an impossibly high 151 mph.
With this overdrive gearing we usually called upon fourth gear
for passing, and quick detours around cars often required a downshift to third.
In head-to-head roll-on contests against the Yamaha Venture, the XVZ always
pulls away, whether the two bikes start in third, fourth or fifth. This GL
shortcoming may be relatively inconsequential, however, because the Honda is
still more than strong enough to handle any normal street-riding requirement.
The new hydraulic clutch and diaphragm clutch spring give the
GL a fairly light lever pull, and the engagement point seems broader than that
of other hydraulic-clutch bikes we've tried. The gearbox shifts crisply with a
short throw, and changes are almost always positive, although occasionally
neutral is a little difficult to find. The shaft final drive produces a
tolerable amount of up-and-down torque reaction, and driveline snatch is almost
The 1200 runs remarkably smooth in the cruising mode, though
it transmits that familiar Gold Wing feel; under heavy load or trailing throttle
the engine issues a peculiar mechanical grating type of vibration. Longtime Gold
Wing enthusiasts will recognize this GL idiosyncrasy, and riders new to the Wing
will learn to ignore it.
Honda's Gold Wings have long set the standard for full-dresser
comfort. The roomy seat is well shaped for rider and passenger comfort; slightly
cupped, the seat provides support without restriction. The seat foam is firmer
than the material used in past Wings; most of our staffers liked the change, but
one tester with marginal OEM fanny padding wished for a little softer compound.
As before, the GL comes standard with a seat adjustable for a little more than
an inch of fore/aft movement.
All testers preferred to leave the seat in the rearward position to relieve
some discomfort caused by the handlebar, which reaches back too far and is
slightly too wide. Handlebar shape is largely a matter of individual taste, and
since the GL lacks any kind of fancy two-piece arrangements or spiffy covers,
switching bars should be easy.
The footpegs are nearly perfect when the seat is in the forward position, but
they mount a little too far forward when the seat is moved back; adjustable pegs
like those on the Yamaha Venture would complement the GL's adjustable seat. With
the engine moved forward, the extra legroom makes barked shins a thing of the
past. Passenger floorboards are standard equipment on the Aspencade, a feature
our pillion mates appreciated. Furthermore, between the engine guards, rider
pegs and passenger boards, the solo rider has a wide variety of options for foot
placement and riding positions.
The Aspencade is equipped with a new wind-tunnel-tested fairing which
provides excellent protection. Fixed side wings attached to the windshield
deflect all the main air stream off arms and shoulders, and only a small amount
of turbulent air bleeds over. The mirrors serve a twofold purpose, providing
excellent, unobscured rearward vision and neatly deflecting air off the rider's
hands. In warm weather a flow-through ventilation system passes some cooling air
through small fairing vents, but the Wing serves best as a cool-weather machine;
in summer warm engine and radiator air makes the rider uncomfortably warm.
The windshield reaches up fairly high; six-foot riders find the top edge of
the shield right in the line of vision, and shorter riders must peer through the
polycarbonate windscreen. Although a tall shield crossing the rider's line of
vision can be irritating, one positive trade-off is improved wind protection.
Air flowing over the top of the Aspencade hits just the top few inches of the
rider's helmet, creating a relatively quiet riding environment.
The lack of buffeting and wind noise makes the new Hondaline Type III radio
system all the more enjoyable. The new Panasonic system is much lighter and
compact than the older Type II, yet it carries many deluxe features:
signal-seeking AM/FM stereo radio with digital display and four programmable
buttons, auto-reverse tape deck, intercom, automatic and manual muting, and a
handlebar-mounted remote control for manual or automatic radio station tuning.
Additionally, an automatic volume control knob raises the volume as road speed
increases, and an ambience function enhances the speakers' stereo separation
during tape playing.
The reproduction quality of the Aspencade's speakers is good, although some
of the highs get lost as road noise intensifies. The optional headsets ($99.50
each) are a reasonable alternative for riders who wear sound-muffling full-face
helmets; small hollow tubes carry sound to the ear from the clamp-on exterior
mini-speakers. Although stereo separation is good, this setup loses much of the
bass response. The sound has the same quality as from headphones used on
commercial airliners: good enough, because there are few options.
In addition to this array of sound gear, Hondaline offers an optional CB
radio for $325 and a pistol grip control with a push-to-talk button and headset
volume control for the passenger priced at $59.95.
Because the basic Type III system mounts in the center of the fairing above
the handlebar, some of the controls are a little awkWard to operate. The
on/off/volume knob, for example, is small in diameter and difficult to grasp
with heavy gloves. This knob also serves as a push button switch to change to
the radio or tape player; too much forward pressure while operating the volume
control sends the radio into the tape mode, or vice versa. Honda most likely
mounted the sound system up front so the rider's eyes never leave the road as he
adjusts the radio, but the forward reach is unnatural. The old Type II radio,
positioned in the left side of the fairing, was within easy reach, though you
couldn't look at the road and the radio at one time. Either location is
acceptable, but neither perfect.
Above the radio rests the Aspencade's new LCD digital read-out
instrumentation package. Honda dropped last year's bar graph, so the tachometer
readout is now digital-display only. The speedometer, trip mileage computer,
gear position indicator, coolant temperature/suspension air pressure gauge and
fuel gauge all use LCD readout. The odometer is the only mechanical instrument.
Our Aspencade's fuel gauge worked un-proportionally to fuel use. For example,
after a fill-up the gauge showed full for the first 50 miles or so, then began
dropping to the halfway mark, which it reached at about 160 miles. From there it
plummeted to the empty mark in the next 55 miles; at that point about 0.8 gallon
remained in the 5.8 gallon tank. The '84 Gold Wings have no reserve position on
the fuel petcock; so know your fuel gauge to avoid getting stranded. Our
Aspencade averaged 42.9 mpg, a figure that is admittedly low—with the absence of
wind, noise and vibration, we cruised the Wing well above the national speed
limit. Our worst tankful yielded 33.4 mpg over fast mountain roads, and a stint
of conservative cruising netted close to 50 mpg. Riders with prudent throttle
hands should squeeze 200 to 250 miles out of a full tank.
If you like to take it with you, you'll love the new Honda's storage space.
There are so many storage areas, you could pack something away at the beginning
of a trip and never find it again until you unpacked at home. Knick-knacks fit
in the right and left side of the fairing, inside the "gas tank" storage
compartment, in the two pouches built into the passenger's elbow rests, or in
the main trunk and saddlebags. And the main luggage compartments are cavernous.
Total trunk and saddlebag capacity is about 25 percent greater than that of last
year's GL or Yamaha Venture. The three cargo compartments contain soft luggage
for easy loading, and the wide lids offer ample access. Newly designed rubber
seals make the luggage watertight; recessed into the tops of the luggage bodies,
they should prove more durable than last year's lid-mounted seals.
The 1984 Aspencade is unquestionably miles ahead of last year's GL1100. Is
it, however, better than a Yamaha Venture? The Yamaha Vee engine is stronger
than the Honda's, and the Venture handles well for a big bike. But there's the
catch - it also feels like a big bike.
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?