2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B : First Ride

Lighter, Faster, Cheaper: That was the mandate Honda designers said they had while redesigning the hallowed-but -somewhat-stodgy Gold Wing, long and consistently one of its best-selling models. And while that mission statement may sound like a bad episode of the Six Million Dollar Man, the resulting F6B speaks pretty positively for itself.

The lighter part was almost too easy -- Honda literally just whacked off the top box. Faster? another slam dunk -- just by removing said box, the F6B sheds 62 lbs. off the weight of the standard Wing, and as we all know, less mass means...easier movement. Done.

Other deletions included the electronic adjustment for the rear shock -- now it's a hydraulic pre-load adjuster that's dialed in manually. The electric reverse gear and associated electronics also disappeared, and the windscreen was chopped to a shorty style unit. Meanwhile, bodywork around the engine was cleaned up for a better view of the Big Six, and the F6B gained different lower cowlings, restyled muffler tips and filler bodywork for the bags, as well as a gunfighter-style seat that's a touch lower and a little more spacious than the bigger Wing's.

Stripped to its skivvies, the 842 lb. F6B may weighs less than the big-boat GL, but it's also now short 66 liters of storage - a not unsubstantial amount. Still, it's now in the same weight class as the Kawasaki Vaquero (835 lbs.), a Harley Road Glide Custom (838), and a Victory Cross Country (somewhere north of 800), all of which can, all of a sudden, be considered The Competition. Not only that, but the F6B looks much, much cooler than your Grandpappy's Gold Wing.

Despite missing the signature rear trunk, there's no mistaking the fact that this is still a Gold Wing. Beyond the visual tweaks and below the new bodywork (dressed up with the appropriate blacked-out touches) you'll find the same reliable flat six engine that's propelled countless Iron Butt champs. The current generation Gold Wing's been around since 2001 and not much of the F6B's mechanical design has strayed from Old Faithful, which means you get much of what makes the older Wing work so damn well.; same massive front fork with anti-dive and a single-sided swingarm with shaft drive connected to a twin-spar aluminum frame that you'd think was designed for a superbike if you saw it on its own. Rear suspension is also the same pro-link arrangement as used on Honda's sportier machines. It's even the same handlebar. And just like on big brother, the premium-quality audio system comes standard on the F6B, and offers direct MP3/iPod connectivity. There are the same handgrip controls, although without the trunk there are no rear speakers on the F6B. A large glovebox upfront offers a handy space for your smaller bits.

To be sure this Wing still has a big butt -- we've heard comparisons to Honda's own Accord -- but apparently saddlebag capacity was non-negotiable (and 60 liters is still plenty). There are also some concessions to price on the F6B, as it gets no ABS or cruise control, and the dashboard is the stock non-Navi electronics package from the standard Wing, with analog speedo and an LCD readout down below for trip, audio, diagnostic and other data. Reps told us this Wing was consciously targeted at a sub-$20 K price point, and general consensus was that ABS and /or cruise control features would put them over the limit. Maybe they'll be introduced as options in the future, but insiders tell us that for now those options are not in the short term plan.

But once you toss a leg over it, none of that really matters. The new seat is narrower at the tank junction so that the reach to the ground is lessened, and the F6B instantly feels like an all-new, and completely different motorcycle. The saddle, at just 28.5 inches, is .6 inches lower than the donor bike's and longer, enabling you to slide further back. It not only revamps this Gold Wing's look, it also gives the rider and passenger a more open feel from the saddle.

Then there's the motor: a potent, impossibly smooth 1,832cc, six-cylinder motor that develops eye-bulging, instantly-accessible 125 lb./ft of torque and 116bhp (claimed). Usable power is an understatement here, and just as a bonus, it even runs on regular unleaded. As you can imagine, there's torque everywhere, so just rolling on the throttle in any gear -- while still at walking pace -- will stretch your arms in their sockets and slam your ass against the seat. It's ridiculously linear, instantaneous power, and forget about v-twin-type vibes; even with the engine being rigid-mounted there's just silky smoothness, so you feel everything as it was meant to be felt.

Handling is the real story on the F6B however -- it works in a way its bigger brother simply can't match. The GL's unique, horizontally opposed six-cylinder layout already brought an exceptionally low center of gravity, but the omission of the trunk on the F6B moves the CoG even lower and more forward, making for even more sprightly handling characteristics from the stout aluminum frame and sophisticated suspension. If you thought the Gold Wing had superior maneuverability, the F6B will blow you away. You can throw it into turns more easily, it tracks more stably, and it exits more surely. Even side-to-side transitions feel like they require less effort. Also impressive is braking performance on the F6B; even though it's the same linked braking arrangement (called the Combined Braking System) as on the standard Wing, without all that mass to slow down, the F6B's three-piston binders, in conjunction with dual floating 296mm front discs, do a much better job of delivering even stops. All in all, we're mightily impressed with this Wing.

Naturally, there are caveats: we'd like to see cruise control ABS, an adjustable windshield and maybe even a sixth gear -- at least offered as options. After all, the competition is bringing most of those things to the table already.

Honda is also stepping up with full aftermarket support for the F6B, making available some nice accessories for the model as soon as it is available at dealerships, which Honda says will be in a couple of week. The Deluxe version of the F6B ($20,999) already comes decked out with a few of those accessories, like a centerstand, passenger backrest, heated grips, and self-cancelling turn signals - all of which are also available a la carte.

After a couple of hours of hard riding around the Cleveland National Forest outside San Diego, Calif, we pulled into a roadhouse for lunch - right into a waiting crowd of old-school Gold Wingers. They had seen us roll by earlier and waited, wanting to check out the F6B in the flesh. To a man (and woman) they all were instantly attracted to it, each rider taking his or her turn in the big saddle.

So what do you think? I asked a woman Winger by the name of Joanne.

"I think it's sexy," she replied without hesitation.

Never thought I'd see the day a Wing would be called sexy, but it looks like Honda has just expanded its demographic. Team Red has taken one of the most capable touring machines around, and transformed into something else entirely, with just a few very basic changes. So what if it's not built on a cruiser platform and powered by a big v-twin?

Specifications

2013 Honda Gold Wing GL1800B F6B

Base Price $19,999; $20,999 (Deluxe)
Colors Black, red
Warranty 3 years (limited)

Engine

Type Liquid-cooled horizontally opposed six cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke 1832cc, 74.0 x 71.0 mm
Valve train SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
Compression 9.8:1
Fuel system EFI
Transmission 5-speed (w/overdrive; no reverse gear)
Final drive Shaft

CHASSIS

Overall length 94.3 in.
Wheelbase 66.5 in.
Wet weight 842 lbs.
Seat height 28.5 in.
Rake/trail 29.15 ? / 4.3 in.
Front tire 130/70R-18
Rear tire 180/60R-16
Front brake Dual floating 296 mm discs, 4-piston caliper
Rear brake 316 mm disc
Front suspension 45mm cartridge fork; 5.1 in travel
Rear suspension Exposed shocks; 4.3 in. travel
Fuel capacity 6.7 gallons

For more First Ride coverage see Motorcycle Cruiser's May issue, on sale 3/26/2013.

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Honda put the Gold Wing under the knife to create the sleek new F6B.
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Blacked-out and visually tweaked, the F6B makes for a sporty and more menacing Wing.
Thanks to a shorter windshield, a more exposed engine and a restyled side bodywork, the F6B boasts a totally different profile.
The rear hasn't been untouched either; muffler tips are now slash-cut, and the bags get additional filler panels. It's still a big butt.
You can get the 2013 F6B in red or black, in standard trim or a Deluxe version (Deluxe with heated grips, backrest, centerstand and self-cancelling turn signals).
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The original Wing is still an incredibly capable machine in its own right, but the F6B is a whole new ball game. Those mirrors on the red F6B in the foreground? They're just the original Wing mirrors turned upside down!
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Check out the different cowlings on the F6B; much more aggressive than on the big Wing.
No more junk in the trunk -- 'cause there is no trunk. The F6B is still plenty wide out back. Shown with an accessory rear carrier ($199.95) and backrest ($399.95) here.
The famously smooth 1832 flat six engine gets more exposure on the F6B.
No changes from Big Daddy Wing here: save for the chopped shield (get ready for some serious wind blast, Wingers), the instrument cluster and audio controls are status quo.
Saddlebag capacity is similar too, though the shape has been subtly restyled up top, and passenger grab rails are now sleeker (and hide the saddlebag levers).
Rear shock valveing has changed from the standard Wing, says Honda, and preload adjustments can now only be made manually (no more electronic remote).
The passenger backrest and rear carrier shown here are available accessories; the backrest come standard on the Deluxe model.
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If you're into serious touring, get yourself a tall accessory shield ($199.95); the short stocker
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The standard 2013 Honda Gold Wing F6B in black
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The 2013 F6B Deluxe model, in red
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Whatever you want to call it, the F6B's a winner.