As before, with ad hoc bike rental, I continued my trend of riding bikes I haven’t had a chance to ride yet. I figured Miami to the Keys is essentially a straight motorway run, so I’d rent a tourer. My choice was limited to just about any Harley ever produced (and that’s not happening. Ever!), a Honda ST1300, which I rode in my UK trip last year, or a Honda Goldwing.
So my trusty steed for this adventure was the Goldwing. A brand new, 6-cylinder, boxer engined, 1.8l “car on two wheels,” complete with 4 speaker radio, reverse gear, and acres of luggage space. As other bikers disparagingly refer to as “an armchair.” Of course if you’re going to spend entire days on straight motorways, without so much as a bend, fire trail, or bump in sight, you’d probably rather be in an armchair than on a super bike or dual-sport.
This is a BIG bike. A beast that makes the 240kg BMW R1200GS feel like a moped. If this baby falls over, you simply are Not. Lifting. It. Up. Ever! And I don’t even want to think of a leg trapped under this machine. Best not to have reason to.
Initial impressions are of surprising acceleration considering the bulk of the bike. It’s shaft drive, so you’re not going to beat any sports bikes at the lights, but it would be a +$100k sports car to give you a serious run for your money. Of course this bike is so big you’re never going to filter to the front of the lights to find out. But navigating the 4 & 5 lane Florida Turnpike down to US1 was a treat.
You do have to roll power on as you lean into a corner, rather than waiting for the apex. It has a serious tendency to oversteer and drop. Of course counter-steering just makes this worse on a bike, but a handful of throttle gets you around without too many underwear stains.
The weight of the bike lends to a stability that misleads the senses. I noticed Archie dropping way behind as we left Miami, and a quick glance at the speedo brought me up; I was cruising at 95 mph (152 kph). You simply don’t notice the speed. The engine is hardly breaking a sweat, there is no vibration, and whilst there’s turbulence over the top of the windshield, it’s not noticeably different at higher speeds.
I’m in Florida, so 5 of the 6 pre-set FM radio stations are Hispanic, which was ok for the time it took me to get used to the layout of the controls and dashboard. Of course you need serious volume to overcome wind noise above 40 mph, and the speakers certainly crank it out. But that doesn’t detract from the actual wind noise. I found the Bluetooth headset in my helmet produced far better quality music, without ads, and knowing glances at traffic lights.
As to that armchair. There is no question that your butt sinks into the plush bucket shaped saddle. Together with the suspension, and simple bulk of the bike, it soaks up most highway impediments. We took 5 hours to get to the Key, and 4 hours back to Eagle Riders next to Miami airport, and there was no hint of iron butt syndrome. And the pillion seat looks even better, with a plush back rest, and footboards rather than pegs. If you’re ever going to be a pillion, this would be the bike to do that on.
Peg-to-seat distance is ok. You’re low down so you can put your legs down at the lights whilst straddling a baby hippo. But the pegs are under you, not in front like a cruiser. This means you don’t get lower back crushes when you hit a pothole. It doesn’t feel like your knees are around your ears, which is how I felt on the ST last year.
The handle bars, however, are another story entirely. I found them too low, which caused serious back pain across my thorax. Nothing I could do, short of standing on the pegs, would alleviate the pain in my back. Perhaps I’m too used to the high, wide, adventure tourer style bars, or simply too old. I did have a massage when we got to Key West, and that along with a couple of Ibuprofen midway through day two, made this manageable. But if I was to buy a large tourer like this, I’d be testing the BMW’s, or installing risers.
Another gripe was the windshield. Bizarrely this is electronically controllable on the ST (i.e. you can raise or lower the windshield), but a fixed feature item on the GW. Its height put a bunch of turbulent air right at my brow. At anything over 40 mph with my visor open, the buffeting would shake my head so hard I couldn’t focus my eyes and my neck hurt. With the visor closed there was still significant buffeting and the greenhouse effect of the Florida sun. Of anything, this is the one item that would put me off ever buying a Goldwing (not that there’s any threat of that).
This is an expensive piece of kit. And one view would be all the value that you get for your money.
If your riding is on the motorways of Europe or the Interstates of the USA, and you’re going to be spending weeks of long days in the saddle, with perhaps a significant, non-rider, other in the back seat; I could see this being a viable option. There’s no question that the luggage space, audio, and seat comfort lends itself to the grey nomad lifestyle.
But be prepared to spend a LOT of money. This thing guzzles fuel like there’s no tomorrow. I easily used more than double what Archie did, over the identical distance at the identical speed. I reckon this thing used more fuel than my car. Certainly a lot more than the Duc.
Then there’s the non-std mod cons you’d be adding: An aux input for your MP3 player, GPS, and adjustable windshield for starters.
If, however, you want to ride your bike more often than the annual motorway tour, or retirement plan, I just don’t get the attraction.
Perhaps it’s a Ducati thing.
I’d love to actually run the numbers, and compare this to an open top roadster. I’m not sure there’d be a lot in it.
There’s Never Too Bad a Day…
…to have a great ride.
I certainly needed to cross this bike off the “bikes I haven’t ridden” list, and I’ve done that.
Was it fun? Sure.
Archie and I had a great time. What’s not to love cruising down the Keys alongside Azure Blue water on a motorbike? Any motorbike.