The aftermarket may not be as strong as for the ubiquitous Harley customs, but by what we’ve seen so far, the only limit to customizing a Star-cycle is the owner’s imagination.
Go to Sturgis on something other than a Harley and you’ll receive more than a few glares from the capital-B Bikers – traditionalists who bow every morning in the direction of Milwaukee. Hey, at least you don’t get punched anymore if you’re wearing a Honda jacket.
While many of the eagle-tattooed brethren are currently sleeping off their Sturgis experience, what better time is there for a small-B biker bash in Arkansas?
Star Days is a Yamaha-sponsored event meant to engender a more communal spirit among the metric cruiser rider. After drawing about 2000 people in Bowling Green, Kentucky last year, this year’s festivities are centered in the northwest corner of Arkansas in Springdale.
This, the fourth year of Star Days, is packed with usual assortment of poker runs, charity events, demo rides, parties and bike shows. Festivities begin today in Springdale and run through Saturday night.
And it’s not just Yamaha riders who are invited, as all makes of motorcycles are welcome. The metric cruiser gang is generally much more open about appreciating other brands of bikes. In fact, a rule for the Star Touring and Riding Association‘s website guidelines is that “Everyone has the right to ride any motorcycle they choose, without the fear of being harassed.” Sounds a bit more accepting than some other biker events, doesn’t it? With that in mind, we thought it might be interesting to check out the scene of a metric cruiser event. Lots of black leather and cool bikes, we’re sure, but will there be any public intoxication? Tattoos? Bare breasts?
Stay tuned to MCUSA for a daily update of all the goings-on in Arkansas. We’ll bring you photos of trick custom bikes, interviews with the attendees, and riding impressions of a few of Yamaha’s neat cruiser-oriented bikes, including the still-wild V-Max – the first real performance cruiser.
If you’re thinking of attending Star Days and are looking for camping or lodging information, check out Stardays.org.
Looking down from the metal tube at the ground interspersed with varying green shades from forest groves and lush fertile land, I could tell I wasn’t in the brown hues of California anymore. Rolling hills that puff up from the valleys look like the top of a freshly baked pie, hinting at the meandering roads that wind through the bucolic environment.
This was my first impression of Star Days, a Yamaha-supported event in Springdale, Arkansas that provides a venue for Yamaha V Star, Royal Star and Road Star riders to gather on common ground.
Anything goes at Star Days. An epic battle between Taz and Mighty Mouse is just one of the many custom-painted tanks we saw.
There isn’t much evidence of Sturgis- or Daytona-like behavior during our first day. No shouts of “Show us your t**s!” and no booze-soaked riders frightening bystanders with tire-smoking burnouts. In fact, the event – put on by the 22,000-member Star Touring and Riding Association – has a no-burnout policy on the event grounds. Thankfully for the rebels among us, tire-smoking displays are allowed for “pre-approved demonstrations.”
A steady stream of customized Yamaha cruisers mixed in with a smattering of Hondas, BMWs, Suzukis and Kawasakis were on display. Leather vests, a fixture at other “biker” events, are prevalent here. Notably absent, though, is the absence of snarling attitude that pervades some other gatherings. Walk down the rows of chrome- and leather-festooned bikes and catch the glance of a bearded, leather-clad biker, and more than likely the otherwise intimidating person will offer a friendly hello. How refreshing.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t alter-ego outlaws in the throngs of Star riders. The sounds of open exhaust pipes filter through the exhibition grounds in the parking lot of Springdale’s Holiday Inn parking lot; the difference here is that rural quietness takes over the town after dark. The emphasis here is on people making friends, not antagonistic, hooligan behavior.
Riders have congregated to share their love of riding and swapping stories from all over the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast. One rider, Matt Kennebec, rode 5300 miles from Fairbanks, Alaska to take part in the event. Kennebec had an eventful ride down, explaining that he rode though herds of caribou, a bear eating an elk on the side of the road, got hit by a wayward duck, and still made it to Seattle in just three days! The way-up-north rider was getting Baron’s performance crew to fit a jet kit and air filter to his V Star 1100 for the ride back home. That’s dedication.
Somewhat surprising is the amount of aftermarket and Yamaha-produced accessories for these metric cruisers. There seems to be no end to the plethora of gadgets, gizmos and do-dads that are available to transform a stock Star into its owner’s personalized scooter. And there’s no shortage of fully chopped, hacked, billeted, trick-painted examples, either. The aftermarket may not be as strong as for the ubiquitous Harley customs, but by what we’ve seen so far, the only limit to customizing a Star-cycle is the owner’s imagination.
V-Max Kicks Swamp Azz
Just a few minutes into the 200-mile ride, I’d made a wrong turn, or so I thought. So I turned around only to find the turn I thought I’d missed was the wrong way.
It was a rather inauspicious beginning to the Swamp Azz Ride, so named for the feeling you get when on a motorcycle trip in hot, humid weather. As part of Star Days events in Springdale, Arkansas, it sounded simple enough: Ride a 200-mile loop within a five-hour timeframe. But a combination of haste and unfamiliar circumstances would conspire to make it nearly impossible and put MCUSA’s credibility on the line.
After finding the correct beginning to the route, I throttled up my mighty Yamaha V-Max testbike to make up lost time. I quickly found out that cruising at 80 mph wearing a shorty helmet without earplugs is deafeningly loud, and I cursed the fact that mine were back in the hotel room. Turn around to get them? No way! I was going to complete my mission in the allotted time even if it resulted in Pete Townsend-like hearing loss.
Luckily, Fayetteville wasn’t too far away, so I stopped to top off the V-Max’s underseat fuel tank before running in to a hardware store for earplugs. Sure, it might put me even more behind, but I need my hearing and wanted to ensure I’d have enough fuel to travel the long distances between gas stations in rural Arkansas.
With wind noise subdued and a full load of fuel in Max’s belly, I turned up the wick to catch the other Star riders on the loop. As I was one of the last to leave the start, more than 50 miles were on the odometer before I caught and passed our first victims. The Venture riders left in my wake were next followed by a couple of chopperized Road Stars to witness the voracious speed of Max’s immutable charms. “Piece of cake,” I mumbled to the wind.
My route notes said to stay on Madison County’s (where’s the bridges, anyway?) Highway 16 – a mix of undulating blacktop that squiggled and squirmed through the thickly forested southern countryside. So when I passed a sharp turn from the main road that pointed to Highway 16, I foolishly figured I’d stay the course. The road immediately starting twisting tighter, so I surmised that I was still on the correct route. It took about a dozen miles before I spotted the first sign of civilization that indeed confirmed I had ridden past the turn I was supposed to take.
A quick u-ball and some supra-legal speeds got me back on track before long, and I wheeled into the first checkpoint. By the time I got there, Max’s odometer showed 98 miles when it should’ve read 70. Oh well, what’s 20 miles of serpentine pavement between new friends like Max and myself?
I shared a good laugh at my misadventure with the crew at the checkpoint, got my Swamp Azz card stamped, and quickly set out to catch more riders. About a mile up the road, the ringing in my ears reminded me that I had forgotten to insert my earplugs. After a fruitless search through my pockets, I turned around to check for them where I last stopped, yet again providing amusement for the checkpoint team. More laughter ensued when the plugs were found after a deeper pocket search.
Smiling with a mix of frustration and bemusement, I cranked up Max to take advantage of the V-Boost thrust that hits at 6000 rpm, unwinding the twisty roads with big throttle application.
Before long, the V-Four started to miss, soon followed by the unmistakable starvation of fuel that marks the bottom of the fuel tank. Damn! I guess I shoulda got gas at the checkpoint. A shading hand over the low-fuel warning lamp revealed it was glowing, and a search for the fuel petcock under Max’s “tank” came up empty because the fuel tank is actually under the seat. (V-Max owners, please suppress your laughter for the time being.)
Until then, a trick cool-vest from Marsee had been keeping me air-conditioned through evaporative cooling, but the water that I had soaked into it before the ride had lost most of its dampness and I began to get hot in the 100-degree temperatures. Swamp Azz, indeed. Thankfully a right-neighborly passing motorist stopped to offer assistance before too long, and I was backtracking my way to the previous checkpoint once again. Surely, this was the end of my goal to complete the ride inside the time limit.
Good-natured giggles greeted my third arrival with the checkpoint crew, and a gallon-sized water jug was procured into duty as a pseudo gas can. My motoring savior drove me back the dozen miles where Max was waiting thirstily for its go-juice.
As I looked down to thumb the starter, I was surprised to see a switch above it that I previously hadn’t noticed. Yup, that’s right: The V-Max has a handlebar-mounted reserve switch! Not wanting to let my rescuer in on my ignorance, I kept that information secret while I berated myself that I could easily have made it to the next town on the reserve tank.
By this point, the pair of Yamaha FJR1300 riders that comprised the ride’s “sweep” crew had motored by in a silver blur, so I knew I was the last Swamp Azz rider on the course. More disheartening, even, was the fact that I still had more than half of the ride ahead of me.
Mad at myself and roasting hot, I took out my frustration on Max, enjoying the exhilaration of the massive thrust as the 9000-rpm redline was visited over and over again. It was at this point that Arkansas reminded me of the Isle Of Man. I hadn’t seen a cop all day, and in the midst of V-Boost-blinded acceleration I thought that maybe this rural setting was never visited by The Man.
I made a quick fuel stop at the next town and hightailed it down the road – only to find the FJR duo stopped at a construction zone. We waited impatiently for our path to clear, and once it did I was happy to see the FJR guys were willing to utilize the speed of their steeds. Like Japan’s bullet train, we inhaled the road ahead at a furious clip, with me riding one-handed for much of the time as I covered my open face with my gloved hand to thwart the constant bombardment of omnipresent insects and flying asphalt.
Don’t tell my mom, but there were several times that the speedo registered over 100 as Max and I latched onto the rear of the supersonic FJRs. I bonded deeper with Max as he didn’t lose a step to his young cousins, despite his advancing age. Born in way back in 1985, Max nevertheless didn’t lose a step to his young-buck family members. The carbureted V-Four lump remains as one of the all-time great monster motors – smooth and torquey with a wholloping top-end hit.
At this pace, it wasn’t long before Max and I hit the final two checkpoints, and there was an outside chance I still might be able to make the deadline that was extended 30 minutes because of the construction zone.
A pathetically slow crawl through the endless tourist trap of Eureka Springs dropped our average speed so, once cleared, it was back on the gas – hard. The frenzied pace was too much for one of the FJR riders, and he wisely decided there wasn’t anything to be gained from riding like an animal.
For me, though, I couldn’t stand the thought of MCUSA not finishing the ride on time, and my remaining cohort Don Blodgett, Star Riding & Touring’s VP of events had his pride as ride coordinator at stake. Suffice to say that Max and I were quite familiar with ton-up velocities by the end of the day.
However, there was to be another wrinkle to this tale during the home stretch. Don was pulling out to pass (yet another) line of traffic when he abruptly chopped the throttle after he spotted Johnny Law coming the other way. I could see the cop pulling a 180 in Max’s rear-views, and Don quickly pulled over. I pretended I couldn’t stop as quick as he, and pulled over about 70 yards up the road to wait to see what happened. Apparently the fuzz wasn’t interested in me, and after waiting for a minute I blasted off back to the Star Days headquarters.
Fabricating an excuse in my head that I didn’t know that lane-splitting wasn’t allowed in Arkansas like it is in my California home state, I wormed my way through stationary traffic and wheeled in to the finish to get my time card stamped. I didn’t think I’d made it in time, but I was proud to have given it my best effort.
“Ka-cheghh.” The time stamp read 4:30. My departure time? 11:01. I made the cutoff by one single minute!
So Max, despite his small fuel capacity and hard-to-see low-fuel light, came through for me in the end. Sure, like an old man, he wobbles a bit when asked to go fast. But like many old-timers, he’s got a young soul, made clear every time he clears his V-Boosted throat. It may be time to pass the torch to a new generation, but grandfathers and war veterans always have lessons to teach the young ‘uns.
As for Don, he talked his way out of the ticket. And, by the way, I’m pretty sure we both had swamp azz by the end of the day.