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It’s summertime and about this time there are a lot of men (and a few women) whose thoughts turn to riding. Motorbikes rather than bicycles. My own ride is a Goldwing and I’m fascinated by the number of people who come to admire the bike when I pull up at medical meetings. Funnily enough, the same thing never happens when I’m on a bicycle.
It took some amount of time to decide on the near-perfect motorbike. The biggest, closest rival for me was the BMW flagship model, the K1600GTL. I have ridden BMWs for many years so my natural leaning was to them. I have ridden a few GTL models over the years and I can confirm that they are wonderful bikes. The engine is a beautifully smooth, free-revving, straight six (a lot of cylinders across a bike, I know), tilted forwards and low to achieve the lowest centre of gravity possible. It even has a dry sump, like racing engines (and Porsches), meaning the main mass of the engine can be placed as low as possible. This beautifully smooth engine produces 160bhp, more than a lot of cars, resulting in blistering performance. I would describe it as ‘wish for speed, you get it’. The K1600 was the chosen bike for Carl Reese, who has broken the record for the most miles travelled in 24 hours. That’s 2,116.5 miles in 24 hours and on a test track, not on a public road.
For added convenience and comfort, it has Bluetooth, meaning you can hook up your smartphone, music player or intercom to the bike. That’s if you want to talk or listen to music as you ride. I don’t. Handlebar grips are heated, as is the seat. There is a scroll wheel in the left-hand grip to access a menu giving control of all sorts of things, including what temperature you’d like the seat to be. The grips and seats are so hot they could cause first-degree burns if you’re not careful. The screen is adjustable on the move, a big help when navigating through a town. It also gives wonderful airflow management around the bike as you ride. BMW’s optional sat nav can slot in just above the instrument cluster, and again, controllable by the said scroll wheel. You can even adjust your suspension settings with this. Brakes are ‘rip the tarmac’ strong, and the headlight has a clever mirror arrangement that allows the beam to ‘see deeper in the corner’.
Against all this is the venerable Goldwing. It has gradually evolved over the decades into the magnificent yet elegant colossus of a motorbike that we all know, and, some can actually love. Although production of the GL series started in 1975, the first fully-faired bike we have come to know as first really looking like a Goldwing was the GL1100 in 1980, and it has progressed slowly to the current GL1800 as we know today. Up to this year’s models there was no Bluetooth, no adjustable screen, and it had about 120bhp from a 1,800 engine, compared to 160 off the BMW. And it was nearly 100kgs heavier.
With the latest 2018 model, these issues have been addressed and now it has 21st Century connectivity, including CarPlay for your iPhone. The latest model is still 90lbs heavier than the BMW, and is now a very attractive proposition. In 2016 and 2017, the K1600 (GT and GTL) together have outsold the Goldwing. In saying that, there were eight BMWs sold in those two years and seven Goldwings (Figures courtesy of www.motorcheck.ie.)
Incidentally, while the new 2018 Goldwing is lighter and has nearly the same engine, Honda says it has made sufficient improvements to the fuel economy that it can now reduce the size of the fuel tank, yet keep the same range. There is no independent verification of this as I write.
There is also the supremely smooth and torquey flat six engine, which lowers the centre of gravity to what feels like the soles of my feet, as well as a smooth gear change, much smoother than the BMW. Although both are shaft drive, I have always found the BMW’s drive more clunky.
So I drive the Goldwing. Seeing as the BMW is ahead in so many ways, and I always wanted to like the K1600, you’d wonder why. The deal-breaker was, for me, the Honda’s superior handling. Now, although I have a lot of road miles under my tyres, I cannot get the ‘pegs down’ and ‘go scratching’.
I’m a late-comer to motorbikes and I’m scared. I’m happy being scared, as it keeps me upright. Yet the Goldwing is such a brilliantly handling bike, I can throw it around like a bicycle on twisty roads in total confidence. Some of my mates have ridden motorbikes since their teens (and crashed more than once) and they’ll tell me the K1600 is a better handing bike. But for a simpleton like me, the Goldwing wins out.
And it has a reverse gear as standard. Useful when your bike weighs about 900lbs (400kgs).