BMW R80RT vs Honda GL 1200
Touring is an acquired taste, but once you've
adjusted your palate to the idea if going not very fast, for very long
distances, one's aspirations inevitable ascent towards owning something big 'n'
Thus it is that Mark Williams takes command of the
good ship Aspencade, and Rick Kemp wrestles with BMS's biggest boxer, the new
If you and the Doris really can't find any better way of spending your hols than
barrelling down the motorways of your mind on a motorcycle, and she insists on
taking half a dozen frocks and an economy sized jar of Preparation H with her,
then a Big Machine is the only way to go. For years, BMW's full-faired boxer
twins were the most obvious choice for anyone of such inclinations, but on the
other side of the Atlantic, Honda started making serious in-roads into what had
hitherto been BMW's well guarded turf. Honda's weapon was the Gold-wing, a
horizontally opposed four that had more cylinders, more weight and more tinsel
and trinkets hanging off it than any self-respecting BMW owners would be seen in
the company of. Indeed, it was Harley Davidson who bore the brunt of the Honda
onslaught, and back here in Europe no-one really noticed the Gold-wing and
Interstate derivatives which were wreaking havoc on 'Glide sales in the 49
Now things are a little different, and although both BMW and Honda are appealing
to different motorcycling sensibilities with their biggest tourers, they are
both aiming at the same overall market.
I know us chaps in the motorcycle press are supposed to know about these things,
but did you know they stopped making the BMW R80 four years ago? With all the
razzmatazz accompanying the K100 launch, the old boxers have taken a back seat.
Four years isn't very old for a Bee Em so they aren't exactly scarce on the
road. But the R80 is back with new numbers for its fans.
Devotees will notice the new cast wheels first, 18in items at both ends with
tubeless tyres. Different side panels will catch the educated eye, too. A closer
inspection reveals big changes at the front end. The fork is largely borrowed
from the K series, internals have been changed to tighten up the action and a
fork brace and large diameter spindle are there to cut down any flex. As the R80
is going to headline the range of twins, the crafty Krauts have designed it to
meet future noise legislation.
The exhaust system is actually 3dB down on the
old model. This is achieved by using a large collector box cum
primary silencer joining the two pipes behind the gearbox. Mechanical noise is
also reduced in the tappet area. The rocker arm bearing mounts now have no play
in the cylinder head. Rocker arm end play is shimmed tighter and a pressed-in
plastic ring in the bearing mount reduces noise from the rocker arm. The extra
good news is that this assembly can be fitted to older models.
The rear suspension is the now familiar Monolever set-up and here again it is
heavily based on the K series. A redesigned crownwheel support shaft and bearing
are used to reduce weight and cope better with the effects of heat expansion.
Finally, the frame might look the same but the main spine has been strengthened.
The R80 comes in two versions; naked and an RT with a touring fairing. Our
interest was in the Bee Em's traditional role as a tourer so not surprisingly we
got hold of an RT. The bike was supplied with BMW panniers but these don't come
as standard. Higher rise bars sit the rider fairly well back and the screen
seems a long way off. The view is very recognisably BMW, two-position choke,
brightly coloured switch-gear, screen height adjusting knobs plus air vents and
glove boxes inside the fairing. Something new sits in the middle of the bars
covering the clamps, a switch panel with one rocker switch and provision for one
more. The symbol on the switch, a handlebar grip with broken arrows through it,
turns out to be indicating heated grips, and heated grips with two settings at
The motor is quieter than on the old model, particularly when cold. Even though
BMW make no mention of improved gear selection, the R80 seems to be better in
this department. First still goes in with a clunk but from there on up, cog
swapping is pretty agile. The firmer fork can be felt straight off as the front
end rise and fall during gear changing is much less pro-nouned than it used to
be. The RT does pay a small penalty for the fairing, 371b hanging over the front
end. But the lighter front wheel and more rigid fork allow a degree of
flickability that would tie the previous model in knots. Braking is no longer
accompanied by the whirr of a drilled disc. An 11.2in single stainless disc is
mated to the new wheel.
No holes or slots adorn this stopper but it works well
wet or dry. If you were riding two up with a big load, more stopping power might
be handy. A second disc is an optional extra, so the right fork slider has all
the lugs to take another caliper. The rear drum brake is good enough, though a
light touch seems to induce a fair amount of squeak.
The old model whacked out a fair amount of torque and BMW
claim even more for this one. Certainly, the motor will pull from 1500rpm at
which point it's lumpy but not uncomfortable . The RT does have a geared down
final drive to compensate for the extra weight and this makes it snappier
through the gears. The motor is really at its smoothest between 80 and 90mph in
top gear which should make it comfortable on the motorway. Unfortunately, the
top half of the fairing isn't quite right. Despite the adjustable screen height,
I couldn't find a position that eliminated wind buffeting - the type of
turbulence that makes your visor rattle constantly. It's all very well having a
quiet motor and the flat twin design is particularly good with a fairing because
top end noise doesn't get thrown back at the rider, but why spoil the effect
with an inadequate piece of plastic?
The bottom half of the fairing is
brilliant, legs and feet are extremely well protected. While we're having a moan
about the screen, don't put anything in the right hand glove box unless it's in
a plastic bag. When it rains and you park the bike on the side stand, the water
runs straight off the screen into the glove box. I know, I am the owner of that
What the R80RT is much better at doing now is going fast on twisting A-roads.
The new fork really helps the handling; the bike will still get a weave on in
long bends, though it never gets out of hand. It's on the tighter bends where it
makes the difference. You can brake deeper and power out without the whole thing
pogo-ing. The tyres should also take some credit, the low profile Metzelers are
tenacious little covers.
Taking the bike equipped with panniers through busy urban centres is no
hardship, overall width not being a problem and, of course, BMW's panniers are
accepted by porters at all the best hotels. The indicator switch doesn't feel
quite right, no problem on the motorway, but in town when you've got a handful
of clutch as well, it's a long reach to that button. The suicide stand you love
or hate. The fact that you have to get off the bike stand next to it then bang
your shin on the left pot to get the stand down puts me off. At last they've got
rid of the kick down prong on the centre stand. You know, the one that breaks
off when you try and lift the bike with your foot on it.
BMWs have never been cheap and most people who aspire to ownership see this as
proof of quality. The quality is not in doubt, value for money is a bit
borderline through. The
asking price is £3620 which makes it £515 for the fairing. I think I'd prefer to
fit my own fairing and have two weeks on the Costa del Whatsit with the change,
but proper BMW owners wouldn't go there anyway.
The R80 also represents the largest of the BMW twins available. The R100 has
been dropped for good. This fact alone will guarantee a good number of sales.
The RT is a good mid/ long range tourer if you can put up with the
aforementioned carps. For the price, I'd like to see a couple of extras thrown
in - a clock and perhaps hazard flashers. Also fuel consumption isn't all that
clever considering the increased torque, 40mpg at best, 35 at worst. But
all-in-all, if you liked the old model, you'll love this one.
"Not so much a motorcycle, more a bungalow on two wheels", is how one
uncharitable wit put it, as he watched me exerting effortus maximus getting the
Aspencade off its centrestand. And he had a point. Honda's GL1200A-F Goldwing
Aspencade, to wring out its full nomenclature, is the heaviest (7231b dry),
largest (98.6 x 59.4 x 38.2 in) and certainly the most lavishly equipped bike
I've ever tested. Although Kawasaki's Voyager both outweighs and outprices it,
the Aspencade is the grossest machine available in the UK, and that it's here at
all is, curiously enough, the result of market pressure.
Yes, despite our climate and the relative twistiness of our tarmac, enough
full-dress fanciers exist aboard our little island to persuade Honda UK to
import machines that were hitherto brought in somewhat surreptitiously from the
States by individual dealers. Honda don't expect this £6000+ model to turn into
the next CB125T in the sales charts, of course, but if they flog 100 this year,
they'll be happy. But can the same be said of the punters who'll be taking on a
second mortgage to buy an Aspencade?
To answer that question requires a rearrangement of the whole arsenal of the
tester's rhetoric (to say nought of his
Earameters). The person who buys a 'Cade is not interested in gut-wrenching
acceleration or white-knuckle handling, in fact he's probably not even
interested in what pushes this mobile home-from-home through the atmosphere, or
why it sticks to the road. And so its in the sprit of the the technical irrelevance that I shall conduct my appraisal completely arse-about-face.
The first thing you do when confronted with the prospect of riding an Aspencade,
is study the handbook. Cavalier hacks, like moi, normally just grab the ignition
keys and go, but with the 'Cade's extensive array of switches, LCDs and
attendant gee-gaws, an overwhelming sense of bewilderment obliges even the
smartest-arse to do it by the book, and a hefty little 272-page tome it is too.
Almost 100 pages of this are given over to 'Equipment and Controls', wherein you
will learn how to adjust the air-suspension from a panel in the right wing of
the fairing (using the dual purpose coolant temp/ air pressure LCD to advise you
whether you've got 6 or 56psi keeping you afloat), the complex nature of the
programmable tripmeter and stereo cassette radio (23 pages for the latter item
alone!), and how to adjust the lateral position of the voluptuous king/queen
saddle to best suit the girth of your loved one, (according to the book, a catch
under the fake fuel tank affords about one and a half inches of fore and aft
movement, but our Aspencade was mysteriously bereft of this device).
I spent a good hour going through the book and a further 20 minutes trying out
my new knowledge on the bike itself. And still I remain baffled. The tyre
inflater, which slots into the air suspension unit, stubbornly refused to work,
and having not yet mastered the art of IBM computer programming, I just couldn't
sort out the Digital Trip Meter Mode Selector system which sits below the
ignition switch and is supposed to tell you how far you are from your
destination, how far you've travelled, and the time in Rio de Janeiro. These
niggles apart, the Aspencade is, in fact, a benchmark in motorcycle technology.
Apart from the aforementioned facilities, what other bolide offers an optional
two-way intercom, CB radio (at least in America) and passenger armchair, vanity
mirror, headlamp beam and dimmer adjustment and adjust-able ventilation louvres
Unnecessary or impractical (at least in our climate) some of these features may
be, but they are impressive to behold and, somewhat surprisingly, familiarity
with the 'Cade's rolling department store actually breeds a contention that the
machine in question is all the better for them.
To make sense of this you've
got to get out on the open road, flick the mute button on the left 'bar off, and
depress the station search switch until you get your fave pirate station blaring
comfortably above the wind noise. (There are optional speaker earphone pads
which fit in your helmet, if you want to whisper sweet nothings to the
girlfriend). And that wind noise is eminently limited, for the design of the
Aspencade's ozone cleaver, refined over the years via several Interstate
models, produces a pocket of calm behind which the rider is almost totally
protected - only your mitts are in the air-stream, although a strong man could
obviate this by fitting shorter 'bars.
Warm air rises up from the boxer four and kept this rider's ankles nicely
toasted during the latter-day ice age that passes for March, and even
rain-showers had minimal effect on all but my bonce-bin, provided forward motion
was maintained... shorter chappies might remain totally water-free.
A glance at the digital display evinces that all is well with the world outside
and in. Coolant temperature and fuel levels are on show (the latter wildly
inaccurate), and the tacho and speedo read-outs, whilst perhaps optimistic, are
okay once you get used to a non-analog way of life. (They are both 'buffered' to
avoid brain damage as the eye tries to register wildly spewing numbers).
So there you are cruising along on your technological high horse, the muted purr
of the engine, the gentle rush of air and three million decibels
of Lazer 558 assailing you, and it all seems very pleasant, very effortless. The
integrated braking system takes care of any need for a sudden stop, the fat, 15
and 16-inch Dunlop Qualifier tyres and a hefty suspension package keep you
toddling along safely, surely and smoothly, and an optimum of 10.7kgm torque
from the 94bhp engine means that you don't have to stir up the gears or shake
the throttle around very much to get where you want to go.
This symbiosis - a harmony rarely if ever found in motorcycling - is no mere
accident of course. The Aspencade is just the latest in a long and hugely
successful line of GL models which stretches back a whole decade. And last year
it went through its most dramatic revamp, amounting to no less than a new engine
and a new chassis - although even committed Wing fans could be forgiven for not
realising such drastic upheavals had taken place. Although Honda Japan claim
otherwise, the 1984 changes corresponded with the impact Yamaha and Kawasaki had
made with their V-four and straight-six touring behemoths on this hitherto
bastion of Americana. Both bore and stroke of the base engine were upped to
produce an extra 97cc while compression was dropped slightly and camshaft lift
increased. These alterations, allied to smaller intake valves, significantly
improved gas-flow velocity, and the whole deal meant more grunt in the low and
This is perhaps why Honda now refer to fifth gear as overdrive, for when 'OD'
appears in the gear position LCD, the revs can be as low as 2000 and still the
big beastie will pull away without complaint. (Of course, one is tempted to apply
a wider interpretation to the legend 'OD\ namely 'Over-Dose'. . .).
Certainly, the 'Cade is no pavement scorcher, quarter-mile times in the mid-13s
are about the best you can expect from it, but neither that, nor its realistic
top speed of around 115mph, are the issues here. Instead we have a need for
smooth, but strong-shouldered power, an ability to cruise endlessly and
effortlessly at low engine revs, thereby avoiding fatigue and gas stations (over
40mpg can be expected under true touring conditions, and with a 4.8 gallon tank,
there's plenty of range on tap).
The designers chose the engine update as the moment to introduce hydraulic
tappets to the Wing, first seen on their spunky little Nighthawks a year
earlier, and a clutch mechanism that engages a damper spring into the
counter-rotating generator drive above 3000rpm. This makes for a smoother,
quieter-running and, above all, even lower maintenance requirement for what was
already an ultra laid-back mill. The cams are driven by belts from the front of
the crank, which was enlarged from40 to 52mm in a moot example of
over-engineering, and the clutch - which had an extra plate added to it at the
same time - is driven from the rear as is the coolant pump.
In fact, the transmission is on the bike, for
neutral is annoyingly hard to locate when the engine's warm and, despite a
wonderfully light hydra-activated clutch, 'clunky' is not an unfair word to
apply to the gear change generally. Drive-train snatch is, however, all
but absent, which was particularly gratifying on the wet roads that I
spent most of my time pootling over on the 'Cade.
Naturally, you don't mistake a machine like this for
an RD350, so leg-out merchants
need not apply. But the bike, aided by a low C-of-G and those damn great tyres,
sticks to a line with decent determination, even if you ground large chunks of
metal long before they reach the end of their tether. The chassis was revised
last year to take account of an engine larger both internally and externally
than of yore.
In fact, Honda chose this moment to pull the engine a couple of
inches forward and a tad upward, leaving the rider a little more room for his
bootees and thus pushing more weight onto the front wheel. In so doing the swing
arm had to be lengthened by two inches and proportionally beefed from 51 to 58mm
tubing. Having not ridden earlier GLs, I cannot record to what extent this
improved two-up stability, but even with the wiry S. Phillips in-back, I found
the front end just a little too skittish for my liking.
However, ridden solo,
the steering is a perfect balance between ease and feel, and only when
manhandling the thing at walking speeds is the rider aware of its porcine
qualities. This is some kind of testimony to the integrated brakes and the TRAC
adjustable anti-dive forks (systems which have greater relevance on a 700+lb
machine than on many thus cosmeticized 'sport' bikes).
I had actually intended to nip for a dirty, sorry, relaxing weekend in the
country during my tenure of the 'Cade, but a combination of weather and work
deterred me from doing so. Nevertheless I did get a chance to utilise the
commodious storage that is an essential part of the deal. Rather than fit easily
demountable luggage, Honda decided to include strong nylon hold-alls in each of
the three bins. This makes for better security, less faffing around with head
porters, and less overall weight for you and the memsahib to chuck around the
honeymoon suite. There are a couple of compartments in the fairing - one
lockable - but these hold little more than the proverbial fag packet. There's
also the best toolkit I've ever seen on a Jap bike, complete with analog tyre
pressure gauge and socket set, and more crash bars than you can shake a welding
But inevitably, what it comes down to is . . . should this thing called a Honda
GL1200 A-F Aspencade really be judged as a motorbike? Or as a bungalow on two
motorised wheels? Well it would be cute to ignore the tastes of a rich (and
predominantly American) minority, and opt for the latter. But there's a
fundamental flaw in that opinion, and I should know, 'cause I've tested it; you
absolutely cannot get a kitchen sink into any of the Aspencade's luggage boxes.
Source Witch Bikes 1985