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Honda GL 1200 Gold Wing Aspencade SE-i
Honda marks the Wing's 10th anniversary in two significant ways. First, with the Gold Wing so firmly entrenched within the touring realm, Honda decides to drop the standard, unfaired GL1200. Second, an ultra-luxurious Limited Edition arrives, complete with computerized fuel injection, four-speaker sound system, cruise control, auto-leveling rear suspension, a comprehensive electronic travel computer and special two-tone metallic gold paint.
Following the success of its Marysville Motorcycle Plant, Honda constructs an engine plant in nearby Anna, Ohio, to build Gold Wing engines. Just as Marysville's success paved the way for Honda's auto manufacturing in America, the Anna Engine Plant moved from manufacturing GL engines alone to building powerplants for Civics and Accords. At Anna, all the casting, forging, machining and heat-treating processes necessary to turn raw materials into finished, sophisticated engines reside under one roof. As one associate proudly observes, "We do what seven Honda plants do in Japan."
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 zero-tolerance.
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 nonexistent.
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?
Source Cycle 1984