As a very committed GoldWing fan (I’ve got three of them) it’s almost heartbreaking to have to write this report.
The developments in the 2012 Model GoldWing are not entirely without merit but the response from Wingers and motorcyclists generally on the internet forums to the release of the first pictures and information has been almost entirely unfavourable. In many cases it’s been damning.
The new saddlebags are widely seen as a discordant mismatch with the trunk.
Although some see beauty in the re-shaped front fairing, the majority view is that it does little or nothing to improve the bike’s appearance and it looks almost like like a lift from BMW’s styling manual. Likewise the new saddlebags look to many like a patched on set from the Victory or Harley parts department.
At least everyone seems to like the re-shaped windshield garnish, which shows that re-styling of an existing model can compliment the original styling approach. What a pity that quality of design effort comes across only in this minor element of the 2012 GoldWing’s features.
Electronically the “new” Model is widely seen as disappointing too, with the changes boiling down to sorting (hopefully) the serious design weaknesses of the original GL1800 sat-nav system and provision for a digital music player, the latter being something of a catch-up exercise, after-market accessory suppliers having beaten Honda to it by a couple of years or so.
What on earth have Honda’s designers been doing over the ten years since the GL1800 was launched, while BMW’s designers were working on a genuinely innovative replacement for their K12ooLT?
Does Honda really think that slapping on a pair of Harley-style saddlebags and bulging side panels on to the front fairing of a ten year old model is going to get many people exited about buying one?
Reverting to 2001-2005 trunk lights to try to mitigate the mismatch with the otherwise unchanged trunk isn’t very impressive either. If they were having to dig into the old parts inventory to achieve compatibility, installing a GL1500 trunk over these new saddlebags would have produced a less discordant effect.
I have not seen even a single indication of someone who is keen to buy one of these “new model” bikes, not one, not anywhere on the internet and therefore not anywhere in the world.
Even my free-spending Yorkshireman friend (an unlikely combination I know, but in this case true) who usually changes his GoldWing for a new one every year, is only talking about “warming to it slowly” and seeing the potential for making something less unattractive out of it by making his own paint and trim changes.
The nearest thing I’ve seen to a positive welcome for the new rear end is a comment on an American forum that if only you could remove the trunk easily and substitute a sissy bar, the new saddlebags would look really good. In other words it would stand a chance of competing in the American Harley or Victory market as a cruiser. That will strike most UK Wingers as faint praise indeed.
The really worrying thing about this new model is the question it begs about whether the GoldWing has a future at all on Honda’s motorcycle agenda. The GoldWing has been Honda’s flagship and the world’s best grand touring motorcycle for over 35 years but the crown is definitely slipping and Honda does not seem to be responding well at all.
The BMW K1200LT was an impressive grand tourer apart from the back end, which looked like a block of flats. While BMW have come up with the K1600GTL, which is undeniably innovative and stylish, the best Honda seems to be able to do to the GoldWing is make the front of the GL1800 look more like a BMW and the back end look like something from the 1950s.
Unless, as has been suggested, this new model is merely a stop-gap and Honda’s designers are already well on with the real next GoldWing, it’s difficult to see that Honda are up to anything other than milking the tail end of the GoldWing era with the intention of then abandoning it.
Honda told their US dealers last year that the 2012 Goldwing would be made in the new Kumamoto Factory in Japan so presumably they’ve stuck to that and these new bikes have been built in Japan. The changes involved in the 2012 Model are superficial and modest enough to have been possible as retro-fits to the mountain of unsold Marysville bikes which are said to be stockpiled in Chicago but lets assume that’s not the case and these are genuine, newly-built bikes.
There are those of us who were hoping that these images of the real 2012 Model were yet another internet spoof but unfortunately not; this really is Honda’s 2012 Model GoldWing. It would be nice to think that Honda was showing us it’s sense of humour, as BMW famously did a few years ago with a spoof release, but April 1st is still several weeks away. Unfortunately this “new” GoldWing is for real.
Why on earth have Honda simply transferred the tooling for the original GL1800 and settled for these few relatively superficial and minor changes to re-started production?
Surely Honda cannot expect the GL1800’s basic design, innovative and stylish though it was in 2001, to last for ever? The Airbag was of course a genuinely clever innovation in 2007 but it required quite a bit of shoehorning into the GL1800 and the sacrifice of other space and facilities, like the useful right hand glovebox and the conveniently placed audio controls, which had to go. There comes a point when a new model is needed to take things forward rather than more reshuffling of an old design.
Unless Honda really are careless of the future of the GoldWing or there was some other compelling operational reason to re-start production in Japan with a cobbled-up revision of an obsolescent design, it’s really difficult to make much commercial sense of this new model at all.
Over the GoldWing’s 35 plus years a huge and loyal following has built up in America and across many parts of the world, including Europe and UK. Brand loyalty this sort is usually regarded s having powerful marketing value. So why treat it so disrespectfully? Brand loyalty can be relied upon to help a manufacturer through difficult times and perhaps even to extend the life of a model beyond the onset of it’s technical obsolescence. But there’s a limit.
There are lots of motorcyclists who still aspire to GoldWing ownership and lots of GoldWing owners who wouldn’t dream of riding anything other than another GoldWing but GoldWings are very durable motorcycles. Many Wingers are still perfectly content to hang on to their GL1500 or their Classic GoldWing which, properly looked after, can still provide reliable and comfortable touring. There are now 7,000 or so GoldWings in UK and that’s quite a pool of motorcycles to cater for the needs of enthusiasts for many years to come, even if Honda stop making attractive GoldWings, as may now be the case.
And GoldWing clubs aren’t as rigidly tribal as they used to be. Both GWRRA in America and the new, growing UK Federation of UK GoldWing Clubs are both inclusive organisations in their outlook; they don’t insist that membership is exclusively for GoldWing owners.
There are two members of GoldWings North Wales who have recently decided to swap their GL1800s for BMWs and no one’s going to throw them out of their GoldWing Club. They’ll probably still wear their GoldWing badges with pride as they ride their BMWs in company with their friends and they might come back to a GoldWing in due course, but probably not to a 2012 Model GoldWing.
Wingers are not a captive Honda market. They shouldn’t be taken for granted and it’s high time Honda stopped doing so. That particularly applies to HondaUK; their efforts to build a relationship with GoldWing customers , such as at the 2008 Blackpool Light Parade, have been very encouraging at times but it’s been patchy at best and generally negligent. It speaks volumes that as things stand there isn’t anyone at all in HondaUK who holds a personal brief to keep the GoldWing Market in UK under review, let alone to develop it.
So Honda needs to buck up its ideas about the GoldWing, in customer relations as well as design effort. If there is a genuinely new GoldWing model under development Honda would do well to be more open about their plans for it than they have traditionally been about new models. Obsessional secrecy may have served them well in the past and Honda is a very conservative Company, but they should at least consider being more open these days.
For example announcing that the GoldWing has a definite long term future and that innovative new designs are currently being developed for future models would be helpful, even if they still prefer not reveal any specifics. It would at least help to restore faith in Honda’s long term commitment to the GoldWing model series, which the emergence of this ten-years-on, thoroughly superficial, mongrel-styled revamp has put into such serious doubt.
Work on your customer relations Honda; tell us you’re still serious about the GoldWing, we Wingers need to know that!
And at the same time why not be a bit more open about the ways and the extent to which you listen to the ideas and wishes of your existing customers while you’re at it?
If the changes you’ve made to the GL1800 sat-nav system are in response to customer feedback about the weaknesses of the original design why not say so? It will show us that you listen.
You don’t need to go as far as admitting that the design specification of the original Navi system was poor, even though it was, or to make self-flagellating public apology, but a bit more openness and honesty would go a long way.
It will help us committed Wingers keep the faith – and, in the case of the 2012 Model GoldWing, help us to embrace it, if only as a somewhat eccentric transitional step in the evolution of the GoldWing.
Otherwise we Wingers are going to have to get serious about showing Honda that we’re unimpressed – for example there is talk of organising group rides of GoldWings to BMW dealerships, to have a closer look at their K1600GT. I’ve little doubt that BMW would be delighted to cooperate by laying on lots of demonstrators for us to ride if we give them some notice. Some bratwurst too perhaps.
In the meantime, many Wingers will see the re-styled windshield garnish as the only really attractive part of this re-vamp and they wouldn’t want to be seen dead on one of these 2012 Models.
Wingers will at least be able to console themselves, if they wish, by adopting the re-styled windscreen garnish on their existing GL1800, as the only bit of the 2012 Model worth having. The new garnish panel is likely to fit the same holes as the earlier version garnish, so Wingers will be able to retrofit it if they wish. Honda will probably charge a silly amount of money for a garnish panel in the new style from their parts list of course but the after-market accessory suppliers will presumably copy the new shape or produce something close to it fairly quickly, in chrome plastic or even in matching paint colours. Perhaps the appearance of the new windshield garnish as a retro-fit on lots of earlier GL1800s will become a badge of disapproval of the rest of the 2012 Model.
And for more even more frustrated Wingers, if they are talented enough, there is always to option to “do a Graham Whitaker” and create your own re-styled GoldWing. Maybe Honda should have taken a leaf from Graham’s design book instead of aping Harley, Victory or BMW.
Special thanks to Derek Hendry of Border Wings for assistance with the illustration of this Article.