2006 Yamaha Roadliner First Ride

Ken Hutchison | October 4, 2005
2006 Yamaha Roadliner
2006 Yamaha Roadliner

The evolution of the cruiser takes a leap forward with the introduction of the Roadliner, the first all-new model created under the Star Motorcycles moniker. With its massive, 1854cc air-cooled V-Twin, aluminum frame and curvy styling, the Roadliner takes cues from the good old days when vehicles were designed to look unique and represented what the manufacturer felt was the wave of the future. Yamaha’s cruiser future is here and it’s looking good.

Starting with the styling, the Roadliner will turn heads wherever it goes thanks to the neo-streamliner appearance and excellent attention to detail right off the showroom floor. Plus, it comes out of the gate with an array of Star Accessories already in place so consumers can personalize it before it even hits the street. Customization is cool, but it ain’t that much fun if your bike can’t run.

That’s why the Roadliner comes equipped right from the factory with a beast of a motor. The air-cooled 113ci push-rod V-Twin, which boasts a 9.5:1 compression ratio and dual counterbalancers, runs as good as it looks. Fuel is fed through a pair of 43mm throttle bodies with 12-hole injectors that better atomize the fuel and decrease consumption in the process.

Spent gasses are expelled through an EXUP valve located just fore of the slip-on mufflers which allows for accessory cans to be bolted on without removing the EXUP unit. What is EXUP, you ask? Introduced on Yamaha sportbikes a decade ago, the exhaust valve increases backpressure at low rpm to boost torque, then opens up at higher rpm to allow for increased top-end power. It’s the first time it has ever been utilized on a cruiser.

The styling of the Roadliner oozes cool from its stylish seamless fuel tank all the way down to the motor. The cylinder’s cooling fins are individually machined for a very custom look and the tapered chrome push-rod covers really stand out against the black engine cases. The best part, however, is how hard it runs. The folks from Yamaha reported running the Roadliner on their rear-wheel dyno where it pumped out 92 hp and somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-plus lb-ft of torque. That puts it right in the ballpark for either our Bruiser Cruiser or Performance Cruiser classes.

Not impressed? Well, you should be because the Roadliner feels pretty damn fast, and with an aluminum frame and other light-weight components, the Roadliner might be in the running for the lightest Bruiser Cruiser if it tips the scales anywhere near the 701-lb dry weight figure claimed by Star Motorcycles.

The Roadliner oozes cool from its stylish seamless fuel tank all the way down to the motor.
The art-deco styling of the Roadliner is what first separates it from the rest of the pack, as it oozes cool from its stylish seamless fuel tank all the way down to the motor.

This bike is not all about looking good and going fast. Well, maybe it is, but it still has other things going for it too, like the fact that it actually handles well considering how much space it takes up. It is long and wide, and when you first swing a leg over it, it feels massive, but once in motion it hides its mass well.

The Roadliner shines once underway thanks to the before-mentioned riding position, wonderfully useful info-system and a feel that exudes more character than you might expect from a metric cruiser. The goal for the engineers at Star was to create a bike with a personality that could be appreciated by three of the five major senses. Don’t run to your Yamaha dealer and start licking and smelling the fenders, that’s not what I’m talking about here. I am referring to sight, sound and more importantly the feel of the Roadliner.

First of all,¬†the bike looks great. Its curves mesh well with the art-deco styling, the big black air-cooled V-Twin is prominently displayed in the center, and the fenders, tank and other body components make the bike look like it’s already in motion while it’s standing still. Fit and finish are off the radar because there is little to complain about in this area.

Fire the 1854cc mill to life and you are rewarded with a brilliant exhaust note from the single 2-into-1 exhaust at idle. Give it a little gas and the good feeling you get from the big Twin pulsing beneath you is only that much sweeter when you consider that the bike pulls like a freight train from the moment you twist the throttle up until it starts to sign off around 4500 rpm.

The story of the evolution of the Roadliner is worth a couple minutes, so here goes: One would think that with all the resources of Yamaha it would be a cinch to take a bike like this from concept to reality on a very short time – but that was not the case here. Like your grandparents used to say: Haste makes waste.

After spending a year on the initial design phase, the first version of the Roadliner was scrapped when the Star Motorcycles team of engineers felt that the model they had created came up a bit short in the styling department. Apparently the massive gas tank and non-flowing lines of the prototype just didn’t provide the look and feel necessary for this bike to blow everyone’s mind, so it was tossed in favor of an all-new from the ground up redesign.

The Roadliner combines beautiful style with a V-Twin punch that is sure to make a lot of people happy.
The Roadliner Midnight shines with its comfortable riding position, wonderfully useful info-system and a feel that exudes more character than you might expect from a metric cruiser.

Many conventions were ignored during the final mock-up. Rather than using body lines that matched the curve of the wheels, it was decided to make them fluid as if they were in motion, resembling the bold fenders of automobiles from the ’40s and ’50s. American Yamaha and Yamaha Japan worked closely together for two year,¬†integrating market research data, the wants and needs of today’s cruiser customer, and the levels of performance necessary to keep the competition in the rear-view mirrors into the current Roadliner design. The end result is impressive.

Yamaha brought the journalistic community to the City of Roses, Portland, Oregon, for a tour of the Pacific Northwest with a fleet of Roadliners at our disposal. The route took us north on the I-5 freeway in the morning for a bit of commuter traffic experience before heading east along the Columbia Gorge for a taste of the Roadliner’s cruising capabilities on our 300-mile ride.

Riding Impression

With the chilly morning wind seeping through the bottom of my helmet I followed a dozen other Roadliners as we maneuvered through traffic on our way up I-5 and across the Columbia River into Washington State. The rumble of more than a dozen V-Twins had my mind off the cold for a while as I tried to decipher exactly what it is about the Roadliner that separates it from the rest of the metric cruiser pack.

Starting with the rider accommodations, you would swear Star engineers have been reading our tests because they addressed many of the often overlooked goodies/gadgets that can make or break a bike. Probably the most unique feature is the hidden ignition switch. Located on the top of the gorgeous headlamp is a long chrome strip that moves fore and aft to reveal the hidden location of the key switch. Then the controls are all laid out in the standard locations, except there is one more little surprise. In order to toggle through the trip-meter and odometer you use a button located on the left handle bar. To reset the odometer you use a button on the right. These are strategically located for easy access when you’re on the move.

In addition to the nifty switchgear, the dashboard is one of the best looking in the business. The white face of the analog speedometer goes beyond 150 mph with fancy script numerals that glow blue in the dark skirting along the sides and top. In the middle are two tiny analog gauges. The one on the right is a handy fuel gauge. On the left is a tachometer. Below the tiny duo is a LCD display that provides odometer, dual tripmeters and an automatic display of how many miles you have gone since the bike switched to reserve. Plus the standard oil, temp, neutral and blinker idiot lights. None of this really pertains to how well the bike rides but it is very relevant to the entire Roadliner riding experience, which the folks from Star Motorcycles are hoping will be the best you’ve ever had.

The Roadliner shines with its comfortable riding position  wonderfully useful info-system and a feel that exudes more character than you might expect from a metric cruiser.
The Roadliner’s stock bars have a nice sweep back to the rider that leaves your arms in a relaxed position and the mirrors provide an unobstructed view of what is going on behind you.

The bike itself is very comfortable and after an hour I had still not come up with much to complain about. The stock bars have a nice sweep back to the rider that leaves your arms in a relaxed position and the mirrors provide an unobstructed view of what is going on behind you. The broad seat is thinly padded yet supportive, which is good news because the Roadliner has a cruising range of just over 200 miles so it is easy to spend extended periods of time in the saddle.

The suspension actually soaks up the road imperfections pretty well considering this behemoth will tip the scales at over 700 lbs. A 46mm fork and link-type single rear shock perform admirably together in the environment offered up at the bike’s introduction. There is also a surprising amount of ground clearance (6.1in.) but the fact remains that dragging the floorboards is only few degrees away. It does offer up cornering clearance on par with many of today’s modern cruisers, so it should hold its position well in a head-to-head battle. Yamaha has taken this into account by designing sliders on the edges of the floorboards so you can replace them as opposed to replacing the entire unit.

Speaking of lean angles it is easier to toss the bike around than you might expect because the Roadliner incorporates a lightweight aluminum chassis as the base for this sexy sled. As soon as you pick it up off the sidestand it’s obvious this is not the typical porker that exemplifies the Bruiser Cruiser class. Instead it’s a fairly light and – for the lack of a better way to put it – easy to ride for a bike with a 67.5-in. wheelbase.

I had a blast during our photo shoot, scraping floorboards and strafing apexes on this so-called cruiser. Just because it doesn’t have clip-on bars and underseat exhaust doesn’t mean it’s not fun to ride fast in the twisties. Kudos to Star for incorporating a competent braking system that includes a pair of one-piece 4-piston calipers mated to dual 298mm discs up front and a massive single 320mm disc on the rear. A set of fat 130/70-18 front and 190/60-17 rear tires offer up decent traction and seem to work well with the stock suspension as they offer up a nice controlled ride on the highway or the back roads.

Probably the most thrilling part of the Roadliner package is the power delivery, torque and related acceleration. Much to my surprise, the big bike motors along with the best cruisers out there – believe it or not this bike should be able to give any stock V-Twin a run for its money. A sensual (a term Star/Yamaha used many times during their introduction of the Roadliner) feeling of power pulses from the 100mm x 118mm bore and stroke are not altogether thwarted by the dual counterbalancers, retaining the loping sensation that is so much a part of the V-Twin riding experience.

We liked the Roadliner s dashboard  including the speedo with blue backlighting.
We liked the Roadliner’s dashboard, including the speedo with blue backlighting.

It’s great to have a mighty motor but the transmission is a vital component in this equation. Like the Gear Pimp says: If your tranny is clunky than your bike will be funky. So, say no to the funk. Fortunately the 5-speed transmission on the Roadliner offers some pretty smooth shifting characteristics, even though there’s so much torque available that once you pick a gear you probably won’t need to shift for a while. Even in top gear the bike pulls hard from 55 mph on up to triple digits, so make sure your helmet is buckled and your S.O. is hanging on tight. There is a bit of clunk when you initially shift into first from neutral, but that’s more of an endearing characteristic than a flaw in my opinion. The belt drive should be a selling point for a number of consumers since it helps the Roadliner look the part, as opposed to a shaft or chain drive set-up.

Once in first and rowing through the gears the bike engages positively during the subsequent shifts and never missed a beat or offered up a false-neutral. Sometimes first-generation machines have glitches like that, but not this one.

In the end there are a lot of items worthy of praise on the 2006 Roadliner, so I hope I made my point clear. This bike rocks and I cannot wait to line it up head to head against the competition. The Roadliner’s accompanying literature compares it to both the Honda VTX1800 and the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. Having ridden both bikes I would say the Roadliner is, at the least, a blend of the best of what both those bikes have to offer. The major difference at this point is that the Roadliner has a much more unique and stylish look compared to the competition, and in this market, style is king.

The Roadliner comes in three trim editions to suit a wide variety of consumer needs – including a touring-specific Stratoliner that will be released at the end of 2005. For now there’s the $13,580 base model Roadliner which comes in a beautiful black cherry color, a Roadliner S that is available in both white and two-tone charcoal/bronze paint with a liberal dose of chrome for $14,780, and the sublime blacked-out Roadliner Midnight that will run you $13,880.

In the end, the most important thing to know is that the Roadliner has set a new standard for fit and finish and it breaks the mold of what everyone has thought a cruiser should be. Instead, it’s what Star Motorcycles believes a cruiser should be.

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Ken Hutchison

By Ken Hutchison Editor-in-Chief |Articles|Blog Posts|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog RSS The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

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