By now you’ve all read about Yamaha’s adventurous Roadliner that is the flagship of Yamaha’s new Star brand of cruiser motorcycles. This Stratoliner is basically just a Roadliner with bags and a windshield, so you might wonder why Yamaha would hold a separate press introduction for the Strato.
The answer, of course, revolves around revenue.
According to Yamaha, the cruiser-touring category – consisting of cruisers with a windshield (but not a full fairing) and saddlebags (but no top case) – accounts for nearly 60% of high-end cruiser sales. In addition, sales in this category are up a massive 350% since January of 1998.
And the revenue doesn’t stop when the bike is sold. Yamaha tells us that its Road Star Silverado customers spend close to $2500 in accessories for their bikes, and more than 50% of that at the time of purchase. What’s more, Yamaha expects Stratoliner buyers to easily exceed that level of spending.
It all adds up to a solid business model, augmented by the free-flowing money in the accessories trade. Among Japanese OEMs, Yamaha is the acknowledged leader in the custom scene, whether it’s mild bolt-ons from Star’s extensive catalog or ground-up builds of wild choppers made possible by using air-cooled motors that don’t require bulky radiators.
This ability to be readily customized is paying off with a loyal brand following. The Star lineup has grown more than 30% in the past year, and the “My Star” section of the Star Motorcycles website had 31,000 owners who registered after just four months. Yamaha also makes its presence felt at many biker-style events around the country, having not just one but two Star-branded tractor-trailers to support motorcycle events with displays and demo rides.
So here we are with a $15,000-plus cruiser-tourer. That’s a lot of money, but the Stratoliner looks like it deserves it. The Roadliner is one of the coolest cruisers extant, and the Strato’s windshield, bags and backrest only adds to its substantial appearance.
Like its Roadliner sibling, the Stratoliner is based around a 113 cubic-inch V-Twin with four valves (and dual plugs) per cylinder. Fuel makes its way via 43mm Mikuni throttle bodies and is squeezed at a relatively high 9.5:1 compression ratio (as compared to the 8.3:1 in the Warrior), requiring 91-octane fuel.
The Stratoliner looks the part of a $15,000 cruiser and Yamaha can expect to rake in more than just the sticker price whenever they sell one, thanks to an ample aftermarket catalog of components that captures the desire of the cruiser customer to personalize their ride.
The Road Star has been a successful line for Yamaha/Star, but it wasn’t as reliant on technology like the Roadliner/Stratoliner brothers. One area that’s clearly evident is the chassis. While the Road Star’s frame was made up from no less than 64 steel pieces, the Roadliner/Stratoliner’s frame consists of just 8 aluminum parts. The result is a 40% reduction in the frame’s weight, now at 37 lbs instead of 62.
It’s a similar story with the bike’s swingarm. Yamaha’s controlled-fill casting process reduces the aluminum swingarm’s component count from 23 to five, with the new piece weighing a whopping 54.6% lighter than the steel 26-pounder on the Road Star. Yamaha claims the Roadliner is 50 lbs lighter than its competition (Vulcan 2000, VTX 1800).
Kenny covered most of the bike’s technical details in his Roadliner First Ride article, so let’s get directly to how the Stratoliner works as a cruiser-tourer.
First off, the Stratoliner makes for a fine piece of curbside jewelry. Yamaha’s attention to detail with the ‘Liners is superb, and no longer do metric cruisers deserve a second-class citizen tag. This is a machine that draws in eyes, and lingering glances are rewarded with lovely components from stem to stern. Shapely fenders imply motion, instruments look like a high-fashion wristwatch, and the paint quality is impeccable. The days of Japanese cruisers being seen as low-rent Harley knock-offs is over.
Picking up the Stratoliner from its sidestand takes less effort than you might imagine, and the view from the cockpit is every bit as good as it is from the curb. A fat 1.25-inch handlebar sweeps back to comfortably reach the rider who can’t help but be impressed with the smooth and curvaceous brake and clutch master cylinders unique to the ‘Liner brothers. Its switchgear wiring is neatly routed inside the handlebar, although the exposed brake lines and throttle cables spoil the clean look, and its slinky levers are nicer than most.
Once in motion, the Stratoliner delights with a healthy bottom-end pull and a delicious V-Twin exhaust note. It’s uncannily smooth for a solid-mount Big Twin, especially at 3000 rpm and below, thanks to its dual counterbalancers, which means the motor can be mounted rigidly in the frame to yield a stiffer chassis. Enough muted vibes are fed back to the rider so that it’s not forgotten this is a pulsing mechanical horse. The effort required from the hydraulic clutch isn’t light, but its modulation would make a Shriner wet his fez.
With 101 horsepower claimed at the crankshaft, the ‘Liners lay down about 86 ponies at the rear wheel, a number that exceeds all the players in our Performance Cruiser shootout except for the Harley Street Rod, though it’s just barely above Honda’s liquid-cooled VTX1800. We expect rear-wheel torque to edge just over the 100 lb-ft mark, once again nipping the VTX and handily stomping the rest of that group.
This isn’t a Fender Stratocaster, it’s a Stratoliner fender. Four-piston brake calipers and twin 298mm rotors provide plenty of stopping power.
Helping make for a flat torque curve is the addition of an exhaust powervalve for the first time on a cruiser. Yamaha’s EXUP system increases backpressure at lower revs before opening up after 2500 rpm. Once past this point, the rumble from the exhaust increases to a point where I don’t think I’d bother fitting an aftermarket system. Those who do will be happy that a slip-on canister can be mounted without disturbing the EXUP valve, which is “a big benefit,” according to a Yamaha rep.
The Stratoliner’s broad seat is shared with the Roadliner, which is fine because it proves to be comfy and supportive during long stints. In fact, there are very few differences between the Road and Strato Liners. Mechanically, the only change is an increase in the rear shock’s preload to better accommodate passengers and luggage.
Functionally, the Stratoliner’s perks include a windshield, leather-covered hard-shell saddlebags and a backrest. The Strato comes equipped with a 21-inch shield as standard, a decent compromise that fits the average male well. The eyes in my 5′-8″ body were able to barely peek over the top of the stock windscreen, allowing me to crouch down for shelter or sit tall for a clearer view forward. Star offers 17- and 24-inchers as options. We’re impressed with the shield’s clever quick-detach design, as it can be removed in mere seconds for those rides that don’t require protection from the elements. It’s also lockable so that it gets detached only by its owner.
While we’re impressed with the Strato’s windshield, its luggage is, pardon the expression, a mixed bag. A black leather covering obscures the hard-shell plastic interiors for the appropriate cruiser look and they are lockable, but their design isn’t perfect.
First of all, the leather cladding can look a bit lumpy as it attempts to match the contours of the bags. Second, the bags will need to be augmented by some other luggage if you plan on taking yourself and a partner on a weekend trip. We’d complain more vociferously if this wasn’t the norm in the cruiser realm. Finally, although the saddlebags are conveniently detachable, the remaining bracketry makes the bike looks odd without them. Yamaha admits this detach feature is more for ease of cleaning than for stripped-down profiling.
Yamaha says 37% of cruiser-touring riders take along a passenger, a figure quite a bit higher than the 25% of regular cruiser riders. With this in mind, the Stratoliner comes with a backrest, one they claim is higher than some of its competition for better support. It’s also quickly detachable for solo rides.
To back up its outward appearance, the Stratoliner’s 113 cubic-inch V-Twin gives it more than enough oomph to run with its metric competitors, the Vulcan 2000 and VTX 1800, especially since the stylish Strato is claimed to weigh in at 50 lbs less than its burly rivals.
Dynamically, the Stratoliner is far more adept than you might expect from a big-inch cruiser. The aluminum chassis is not only light but also strong. It cranks into corners with no delay, unlike some other more flexible cruisers that feel as if the rear wheel lags out of line with the front during sharp steering inputs. It handles sweepers nicely, but in aircraft terms, it’s more a B-29 than P-51. Although some bikes with a fork-mount fairing are susceptible to crosswinds, we’re happy to report that 40-mph desert gusts did little to upset the Stratoliner’s chassis.
A nice thrum oozes from the engine at relaxed cruising speeds. An indicated 70 mph equals about 2800 rpm, which is information provided by a cruiser rarity: a tachometer. Although its small size is difficult to read at a glance, the rev counter is a welcome addition. Dial up around 3300 rpm and you’ll be seeing 85 mph on the very attractive speedo face, at which point the ‘Liner’s engine remains relatively silky.
Touring riders will appreciate the bike’s roomy floorboards. Shifts are relatively smooth for a big-inch cruiser and are aided by a stylish, chrome heel shifter so you don’t scuff the toes of your fancy engineer’s boots. Yamaha, er, Star designed the shifter so that the heel part is removable for those who prefer the total toe tango.
Also on the plus side of the ledger are strong brakes, convenient self-canceling turnsignals, and dual horns with different frequencies for extra volume and a punchier tone. We also like its swoopy and streamlined handlebar clamp, flush-mount clear-lens taillight and its groovy turnsignals lens shape, kinda like that wacky bra Madonna once famously wore.
The Stratoliner is such a stellar and well-engineered package that it was difficult to find things to complain about. Still, we always dig for nits. Its suspension, while a nice compromise that provides a comfortable ride, lacks adjustments except for rear preload. I’d wished for a bit more rebound damping at the rear under my trivial load.
While we’re griping, we should note how the chrome-rimmed instruments reflect into the windshield after dark. Finally, we’d like to whinge about the sound of the ‘Liners’ wheezy starter motor. Although it performed mechanically trouble-free, it’s difficult to feel like a bad-ass biker when the first thing by-standers hear invokes memories of your Aunt Thelma’s 20-year-old cat coughing up a hairball.
It’s not often you find a tachometer on a cruiser, but the Stratoliner serves up a small one inside an attractive and stylish instrument cluster.
In a perfect world, the Stratoliner’s saddlebags would hold more stuff and would detach without exposing nasty brackets. But, to be fair, they aren’t really any worse than the offerings on other similar bikes.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle to membership in Club Stratoliner is the entry fee. The base Stratoliner lists for $15,180, a hefty $1600 premium over the comparable Roadliner. The price climbs $300 for the Stratoliner Midnight that looks vaguely like a Vincent Rapide with its blacked-out headlight shell, fork, engine covers, triple clamp and controls. The Stratoliner S might stand for Slathered, as in with chrome, including its fork, hand controls, rear fender stay, engine covers and polished wheels. It retails for a not-insignificant $16,580.
For reference, the Victory Kingpin’s Deluxe (touring) package adds $1500 to the bike’s $15,999 base price, making the Stratoliner look like more of a bargain. The Kingpin looks and feels lighter, but the Strato feels faster and burlier. Plus, the Kingpin Deluxe’s saddlebags are even smaller than the Stratoliner’s.
In case you haven’t been paying attention (or you cheated yourself by skipping to the end), we’re mightily impressed with the latest offering from Star Motorcycles. It’s got buckets of style, irreproachable attention to detail, and the versatility to tackle a variety of roads with sure-footed aplomb. It also has the cojones to run with the junkyard dogs of the performance-cruiser class.
During the presentation for the Stratoliner, Yamaha’s media relations manager, Brad Banister, said, “We think we have a home run with this product.” I initially wrote that off as just another dose of PR babble.
The fact of the matter is the Stratoliner/Roadliner platform has not only raised the metric cruiser bar, it’s moved the goal posts for cruisers of any origin.
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