What follows is a somewhat biased comparison between a 2014 or so Honda Goldwing (GW) and an assortment of Harley Electra Glides (HD) I have owned. The last Harley I owned was a 2004 model. This fall I rented a Honda Goldwing to ride around California from the San Francisco area up through Napa to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and back. My comparison may be somewhat biased as I have spent over 600,000 miles on Harley tour bikes, and about 2,000 miles on the Goldwing. This is also comparing the GW with the comfort package to a basic HD touring bike (FLHT) that is slightly modified to have some of the features of an Electra Glide Classic and an Electra Glide Ultra. Ignoring the music and other electronics, these bikes are fairly similar in layout.
This is a touring bike. Luggage capacity is a pretty important area. Nothing creates more marital friction than telling your SO that she cannot bring her third set of shoes.
Side Bags: The side bags of the GW are a lot bigger than the HD. Unfortunately they are a pain to load. Even with a set of cloth bags shaped to fit the entire space could not be used. The HD has bags that load from the top, and you can really stuff them, but the GW always seems to have unused space, even though one must press the doors to close them. Still, the GW wins this one.
Trunk/Topcase: I have been told that the GW trunk is just as big as the HD trunk. That is a laugh. With the nice big, squarish HD trunk, you can fit two full helmets side by side, with plenty of room around them and even some on top of them, so you can squeeze in some riding gear. The GW trunk barely fit the two helmets, and as you can see from the photo, they fit like a jigsaw puzzle. Could barely fit a pair of shorty gloves around them. Sure, the GW comes with external helmet locks, which is less than desirable on a rainy day. The HD trunk lid lifts to the side, so your passenger has to lean slightly forward if you want to open it. The GW trunk lid opens forward, so that your passenger has to scoot to the drivers seat. The HD wins this one by a large margin.
Luggage Rack: This GW did not have a luggage rack, and most of the HDs do not come standard with them either. The HD rack that can be put on sits pretty much level, close to the top of the trunk. We have loaded this thing up to the point that we look like the Clampetts heading out to Caly-Forn-Iay. A couple could easily use the luggage rack for camping gear and still be able to put some dive gear on there (ask me how I know). The GW racks that I have seen either follow the shape of the trunk lid, so are angled down pretty sharply or are raised up to be fairly level. Either one is pretty small. The angled one looks kinda scary as if everything would want to slide off if you hit a bump. The level one raises your gear pretty high up. Either way, the HD wins out by a large margin.
Final Score: HD wins this one. If the luggage rack is included, HD wins by a large margin. If the lids on the GW side bags made it easier to make full use of the room, and the GW trunk was a bit more square, the GW would win, at least until you consider the luggage rack.
Lets face it, this is the key to any tour bike. Well, passenger happiness might be the proper wording, but you can always get a trailer to take extra gear, so comfort really is the key. Both these bikes do quite well in this area. Compare either one to the Honda ST1300 and they both win. The HD is pretty good, with a nice seat and back rest on the trunk. The GW is just better. Not way way better, but just better in every way that my GF liked. Plenty of room between driver and passenger, nice comfy seat, backrest that held her like it was molded to her. Suspension that took care of most of the bumps. The HD is pretty close to the GW, but it does not have quite as much room, the seat is not quite as comfy, the back rest is not quite as good, the suspension is good, but not quite as good. So, the GW wins here clearly. An HD would be fine as well, but if you want your queen to arrive from a long ride still feeling like a queen, you can't go wrong with the GW.
Seating Position: They both have a nice upright seating position, but the GW makes me slouch for some reason which causes my back to hurt after a while. Probably a simple seat mod would fix that. The HD floor boards are ideal for me, very comfortable. I was surprised that the GW pegs were not all that bad. Wide enough not to be an issue. The first time I tried a GW I found the engine to cause too little space for my feet to the point that I had to be careful when I shifted. This one did not seem to be an issue. I don't know if they changed the configuration or if the first one I rode was set up wrong. All in all, I put this as a tie.
Seat: The pilot is not as important as the passenger, but still. The stock HD seat is not as comfortable as the GW. I had slightly modified my HD seats, and in that configuration they were fairly similar in comfort level. Of course, I would have modified the GW seat, so it would be back being the winner again. Not sure if an aftermarket seat on the HD would have changed the competition yet again, but lets face it, the GW seat is nice. If I had one complaint, it was that it held me in one position too well, which made my muscles and joints stiff. By but never hurt. So, GW wins the seat part of this comparison.
Windscreen: Here we have issues with both models. Neither one has an electrically adjustable windscreen. I can understand this for the HD as that would not be traditional, but the GW really should have one. The HD is not adjustable at all. The GW has two handles that clamp the screen in place, allowing you to choose different heights. The HD screens that I have tried buffeted. This was annoying as it would jostle the helmet around slightly on your head. Well, my head. I am tall and sit bolt upright much of the time and modified my seat so that it was a bit higher than stock so your experience may be different. It was moderately quiet though. The GW screen does not jostle my helmet around in any position. But ALL positions create an incredible noise at speed. It actually got worse the more I raised the screen. This bike needs a screen more like the electrically adjustable one on my ST1300. Hell, even the Madstad I have on my Triumph Tiger 800 is light years more advanced than the GW screen. To be fair, there are tons of aftermarket screens for both bikes, so you can probably fix this issue fairly well. I never bothered with the HD because it worked well enough, but always thought I could come up with a good, adjustable screen that would work much better. HD wins this one, barely.
Weather Protection: The bodywork on the GW protects the rider very well from the wind. Maybe too well, since it gets a bit warm sometimes. At least there did not seem to be much engine heat on the rider. Definitely a good bike for cool to cold weather. A few aftermarket goodies could bring some cool air in for the warmer weather so I rate weather protection very good. The HD, with the way I set them up also protects quite well. Engine heat is never a problem as long as you are moving and are wearing some sort of riding pants. I have heard big complaint from a bunch of people that are not as long legged as I am that the engine bakes your leg. That was never a problem for me. In traffic, there can be some heat, but I never found it to be too bad. In very hot weather, I could put my feet on the highway bars and have cool air blowing up my pants leg. I have ridden across Death Valley, mid-day in August and been fairly comfortable. I would rate both bikes about the same, but in different ways and for different reasons. Tie.
Final outcome: Rider comfort of my modified HD's and of a stock GW is pretty much a tie, but a few mods to the GW would put it ahead of the HDs with a decent margin, so I will give this one the GW easily.
The suspension for the GW is better than I would have thought. It holds great in corners, soaks up most bumps very well, and is incredibly stable. Reflectors and small sharp bumps kinda' suck but bigger bumps are taken care of fairly well.
The HD suspension is pretty good, but not as good as the GW. Plus, the HD bias ply tires were not as stable, so high speed curves are not as fun, but still pretty good.
The HD is more nimble feeling, the GW more stable. I mostly like the HD better, but that does not mean I think it IS better. A matter of taste and probably familiarity more than anything.
I am giving this to the GW because I think it is better, whether I like it better or not.
As with any bike comparison, there are some things that are just subjective or a matter of taste. So.... Here goes:
For me, the GW has too many doo-dads, is too heavy, has a slight clutch rattle felt through bars like ST, has a bit of a clunky transmission, no flash to pass switch, and is very wide (see my article on lane splitting).
The HD has longevity issues, used ones are over priced, come with a lot of lifestyle baggage ( I guess the GW has it's own issues with that ), parts that are not painted or chromed are cheap relative to many metric bikes I have dealt with, all kinds of parts are available, mostly easy to repair, unfortunately high mileage people "get" to repair their bikes often.
Final outcome: I like them both, and want neither. If my GF could ride as much as she used to, I would seriously consider a GW. I would also seriously consider an HD. I like an HD better, but think the GW makes a better touring mount. It would be a tough competition. As it stands, I am thinking about putting some money into my ST1300 to make it more comfortable, with a better seat and try to figure out a better back rest for my GF. The ST1300 is far superior to the Goldwing in almost everyway. Passenger comfort excluded. For bigger trips, I will just rent a GW wherever she wants to go.