Once upon a time, anything with a set of saddlebags thrown over it was called a Bagger. It could’ve been an inline four with a batwing Vetter fairing, all the way down to a lowly single. It didn’t much matter. Nowadays Baggers are in a class all on their own. They combine the low, lean, bad-to-the-bone styling of a cruiser, with a fork-mounted fairing, and some hard saddlebags – without the top box. Honda’s Gold Wing F6B and it’s matte silver finish encompass all the elements of the modern day Bagger, in the heavyweight division.
The Gold Wing is the pioneer, innovator, and leader, in touring motorcycles. The Honda GL line up has been consistently raising the bar in motorcycle touring dating back to the original; the 1974 Honda Gold Wing GL1000. While Honda was running its “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” campaign promoting bikes such as the Honda Cub, Benley, Dream, and the CB350, they were simultaneously unleashing this certified-beast on the world: 1,000 cubic centimeters, twin disk brakes up front, single disk brake in the rear, four cylinders, liquid cooling, electric starter with backup kickstart, and shaft-driven final drive. Much has changed, but the Gold Wing is still every bit as dominant in its class, and Honda’s latest installment, the F6B takes the Gold Wing in a new direction.
Honda’s entry ticket into the Bagger wars was the F6B. It’s not so much an all-new model as it is a variation of the popular Gold Wing, less a few goodies, with a couple tweaks. The F6B weighs in at 851 lbs (386 kg) wet, about 70 lbs (31 kg) lighter than its 919 lb (417 kg) Gold Wing ABS sibling. The center rear bag has been knocked off. Most chrome accents have been blacked out. Other small comforts are missing as well, from heated grips for the rider, to a passenger backrest and a passenger heated seat. The good news is that the F6B isn’t just 70 lbs lighter than the Gold Wing, it’s also $7,000 CAD more affordable in Canada, or $3,500 USD less expensive in the United States. You can add a lot of goodies to the F6B for the money you’ll save, if you feel there’s something missing.
Hondaphiles will try to sell you on this being Big Red’s très bad ass, less-is-more touring cruiser, à la Harley-Davidson Road Glide. While the Gold Wing often gets dubbed as the couch-on-wheels of the motorcycle world, at first glance the F6B struck me as a slightly lighter, slightly less practical, slightly less comfortable Gold Wing. I began to question whether all of the changes will take away from the legendary Gold Wing experience.
Honda did do a good job with what’s left of the Gold Wing platform. The F6B comes standard with ABS, AM/FM radio with Auxilary in (no Bluetooth or controls for MP3 playback), intuitive cruise control, a 25 litre capacity fuel tank, excellent H7 lighting, integrated turn signals, electronic fuel-injection, ABS, combined braking, anti-dive system to ensure stability while braking even at highway speeds, and more buttons and turn-knobs than I can count without taking my socks off.
In other words, while you might be missing some of the bells and whistles, the F6B is still getting the full benefit of Honda’s renowned research and development in the Gold Wing. Unlike heated grips, that’s something you can’t buy.
The display screen is visible, even in sunlight. It isn’t touch screen, and is surrounded by buttons, though you’ll end up using the buttons by your grips more often than not. The system is extremely intuitive in some instances (setting or changing the time), and a little more tricky to grasp in others (cycling through commands, controls, and options). Everything is neatly arranged, and while the gamut of radio controls are beneath the rider’s left hand and away from the grips, you’ll find most of what you need, including an excellent cruise control system, right at the grips.
A standard auxiliary audio jack is found in the front fairing left side storage. The jack bends at a 90-degree angle and those planning on playing tunes through their cell phones may need to remove their cell phone from their cases in order for the jack to fit. It’s an unnecessary nuisance that Honda could easily fix from factory, but F6B riders may need to find ways to modify their cell phone cases to accommodate the jack. Given the anticipated use of devices in this area in particular, it was surprising to see no charging options present either here, or anywhere on the F6B.
Audio is controlled by convenient left-hand activated switch to adjust the volume, change radio frequencies, and even mute the speakers for a quick chit-chat between you and your passenger, or so that the cager who almost killed you can hear you yelling. As the auxiliary audio jack is neither iPhone nor Android specific, the Gold Wing F6B does not have any controls for skipping to the next song or pausing while riding.
Once seated on the F6B you’re entering familiar Gold Wing territory. The F6B borrows its powerplant from the Gold Wing, bringing with it absurd smoothness and what feels like a noiseless engine. It’s about what you’d expect from a magic carpet ride, Aladdin. The big 1,832 cc, six cylinder horizontally-opposed motor puts out about 100 horsepower and 105 lb. ft. of torque, with a 0-60 mph (0 – 96.6 km/hr) in 4.15 seconds. The bike is impressive, but the performance is smooth and un-intimidating.
The five-speed transmission with overdrive shifts positively. My demo unit (with all of 13 km when I picked it up) never slipped or left me wondering which gear I was in, nor was shifting clunky, either. I did find that, ironically, I could not wear my clunky Harley-Davidson riding boots while riding the F6B as they were too big and made shifting cumbersome. Big-footed folks, watch out for that. Final drive was via low-maintenance shaft drive. The motor’s parallel two-valve cylinder-head design uses direct shim-under-bucket valve actuation, along with camshaft chains with automatic adjusters provide maintenance-free operation.
Even in overdrive, Honda’s F6B cruises comfortably at 130 km/hr (80 mph), with roll on power still left.
Everything is all very cleanly routed on the F6B, all cables and hoses are well hidden and the bike’s overall appearance, and sometimes engine sounds, are almost a little too perfect and borderline-robotic.
Most cruiser suspension leaves aggressive riders wanting more. Honda’s F6B delivers 4.8″ of travel in the front over 45 mm front forks and 4.1″ of travel in the rear. The overall suspension, front and rear, does a good job of soaking up all of the imperfections of urban roadways, and a missing patch of tarmac on the highway was no problem for the Bagger.
The Honda stops well, thanks to front dual 296 mm disks, and a single rear 316 mm disk, all with three piston calipers. The F6B is also equiped with technology such as ABS, Dual-Combined Braking System, and an anti-dive system to stiffen up the front suspension on hard braking in order to help keep the bike stable.
The F6B has a 28.5″ (725 mm) seat height. I’ll be honest, at somewhere between 5’10” and 5’11”, I wished it was a little lower. The F6B’s 851 lbs wet weight, though lighter than the traditional Gold Wing, is still a heavy beast. Coming to a sudden stop, especially with a passenger, means having to quickly be able to put your feet down to stop the half ton heft from tipping over. Which isn’t so bad if you can flat foot your motorcycle, but I couldn’t do that without sliding forward down the seat. The seat itself isn’t cramped for the rider, but on a long ride my passenger complained of wishing the F6B had the Gold Wing’s backrest. A backrest is available in Canada, but it will cost you an extra $430 CAD. In the United States a backrest will cost you $400 USD.
Despite it’s 66.5″ (1,690 mm) wheelbase the Gold Wing handles relatively well once at speed. Honda has given the Gold Wing family low and forward leaning engine placement to help handling and maneuverability. Unfortunately at parking lot speed the F6B shows her size. Walking her backwards is an exercise in patience, and navigating her on your tip toes through a gravel parking lot will make you wish you had drank more milk and done more stretches when you were younger.
While the fairing keeps cold breezes from the rider’s hands and chest, the hacked-down-to-nothin’ wind screen creates wind noise. A lot of wind noise. Sure, it’s great to look over a windscreen, rather than through one, but the effect definitely takes away from the patented Gold Wing couch-on-wheels experience.
Fuel economy was about 37 to 40 US-MPG (6.4 to 5.9 lt/100 km). A 25 litre tank should get you a cruising range of over 375 km before you’ll want to make sure you’re pulling over at the next sign for a gas station. When I’m travelling, I like to pull over every hour or two anyway just to stretch and have some water, so I never came near running low on gas on the F6B.
The F6B is Honda’s Bagger, promising “Gold Wing comfort and performance, with a clean hot rod style.” While it does live up to the hype, the thousands of dollars saved versus the cost of purchasing the traditional Gold Wing do bring with them the absence of the bigger Gold Wing’s amenities. The Bagger is up against the Yamaha V-Star 1300 Deluxe, Harley-Davidson’s Street Glide and Road Glide, and Kawasaki’s Vaqueros. Many of these competitors can be had for significantly less. Some of these competitors arguably offer a lot of bang-for-your-buck in comparison, specifically the V-Star 1300 Deluxe which retails for $9,000 CAD less in Canada, and comes with GPS, 220 lbs less weight, and a 1.3″ lower seat height.
The F6B is stylish and when riding it at speed it becomes clear that this bike is an offshoot of Honda’s flagship motorcycle. It offers more in the way of technology and development than its competitors, but it weighs in heavy, and short to average riders will be conscientious of this whenever they put their feet down.
Wind noise does draw away from the traditional Gold Wing comfort, but the F6B makes an excellent bagger. If you don’t need all of the extras, the motor is so remarkably smooth and quiet, you’ll almost forget that a better Gold Wing exists.
MSRP in Canada is $23,499 CAD, and $20,499 USD in the United States.