We took the Road King and Royal Star on a journey up and down the state of Oregon to find out which machine is the better cruising tourer.
Testing motorcycles like the Harley-Davidson Road King and Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe has little to do with actual performance testing. Sure, we can impart all the specifications and features, we know the weights and fuel mileage numbers, and we even put them on a dyno. But what does all that stuff really mean to someone who rides a touring cruiser? Little to nothing would be my guess.
Instead, let’s go the analogy route and compare motorcycle cruising to vacation cruises. And while some might snicker at the prospect of labeling the Road King and Royal Star as boats, I’m talking about how cruising – whether on the open road or open water – is all about the experience. While a cruise ship is an impressive piece of machinery, no vacationer bases the success or failure of their Caribbean cruise by how well their cruise ship matches up to another cruise ship on a performance basis. It’s about how the ship makes what would normally be a long, arduous journey into a comfortable trip worthy of the title “vacation.” The same goes for these motorcycles; they are the platforms by which ordinary people can get out on the open road and enjoy the experience.
These two motorcycles are obviously meant to eat up long stretches of highway but they should not be confused with the likes of the Honda Goldwing. Where the Goldwing is a true touring motorcycle, these cruising tourers can take on Route 66, downtown Sturgis and, with a bit of work, your local custom bike show. And the guys who buy these bikes will be participating in some version of both cruising and touring, so adaptability is the key to success.
In general, the touring-cruiser category consists of bikes that have a removable windscreen, hard saddlebags, a laid-back feel and cruiser styling and attitude. At one time you could have added V-Twin to that list, but Yamaha changed the rules by adding the Royal moniker to the Star name along with a V-4 engine based on the motor from the venerable V-Max.
The fact that the Road King seems compact by comparison is more a testament to the Star’s gargantuan size. All by itself, the King is an imposing figure.
Transforming the bikes from tourer to cruiser is as simple as removing a windshield – something easily accomplished on both bikes without tools. The Star adds a passenger backrest as standard equipment, also removable without tools, to make conversion a snap. A backrest for the King, though not standard equipment, is available through either The Motor Company itself or your choice of many aftermarket manufacturers.
To properly evaluate the capabilities of the King and Star, it was necessary to get them out beyond city limits. We took t he duo on a ride from Southern Oregon up the coast to Portland and then back the scenic route by Mount Hood and Crater Lake. For the first time, we used a Garmin GPS to save our tracks and keep all the details of the ride. In addition to tracking a total of 731 miles, we know our moving time was 14 hours and 42 minutes, we had a moving average of 49.7 mph, and you can even see a picture of the exact route we took here.
Starting our journey in Medford, Oregon, we rode up Interstate 5 approximately 90 miles before heading west on Highway 42 towards the coastal town of Coos Bay. On the straight stretches of I-5 we began to learn about the differences in the Star’s and King’s approach to road-going escapism.
We’d like to downplay the boat comparison but, as all our testers noted, the first thing you notice about both the Star and King is their collective massiveness. The Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe weighs in at an astronomical 816 lbs with its 5.3-gallon tank empty; the FLHR Road King is the relative flyweight at 724 lbs. While some of the added weight can be attributed to the Star’s use of a liquid-cooled V-Four powerplant, compared to the King’s traditional air-cooled V-Twin, the Star is also longer in both length (6 inches) and width (3.5 inches at the footboards). To put our duo into perspective, adding a tank of gas and only 250 lbs of rider(s) and gear to each bike puts their collective mass over the 1000-lb mark.
The American freeway, however, was built for big vehicles. With I-5’s wide lanes and overwhelmingly straight layout, it welcomes the big bikes and their lumbering mass. It takes a serious powerplant to propel these husky competitors, and let’s face it, the Twin versus V-Four face-off is a big part of this domestic/metric comparo calculation.
The massive Royal Star Tour Deluxe measures 6 inches longer and 3.5 inches wider than its Harley rival. It tips the scales at an incredible tank-full weight of 850 pounds.
On its home turf, the Harley approaches the freeway in a typical American fashion, with the 45-degree Twin-Cam 88 churning out the patented Potato-Potato-Potato melody with its belt drive putting power to the ground. The Twin Cam 88 has been Harley’s go-to motor for the past several years, powering most of the Motor Company’s 2006 models. However, H-D’s ’07 models have jumped up to a 96-cubic-inch Twin that has a notable increase in power.
The old TC88 does a great job handling the myriad of duties which get thrown the Road King’s way. The power certainly isn’t overwhelming, but the American mill shines at producing bounteous torque which is thunderously dispensed from its vibration-reducing rubber mounts. Sometimes, however, when passing vehicles or at higher elevations, the King lacks acceleration. Electronic fuel injection makes the choke lever a thing of the past and assisted in the Harley edging out the Star in our fuel efficiency figures over the course of our journey – an even 38 mpg to the Star’s 35.7.
The Yamaha’s 79-cubic-inch V-Four handles its duties in a more refined manner, with smooth power delivery from the counterbalanced engine being the Star’s trademark. The Royal Star can’t boast the EFI of its H-D competitor, but there was uniform praise for the V-Four’s even delivery. Although outgunned in displacement by 9 cubic inches, the Star’s four cylinders provided more power and torque than the Harley’s two. “It can be ridden like a Twin with its prodigious torque,” says our L.A.-bound editor, Kevin Duke, “but then it keeps pulling after a Twin would be signing off.”
On the dyno the Yamaha backed up our perceptions by delivering 76.8 hp at 6,000 rpm compared to the Road King’s 62.6 hp at 5,400 revs. In addition, the V-Four motor churned out 74.1 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, which outguns the Harley’s 66.9 lb-ft at 3,800 rpm. H-D’s new TC96 will likely come close to matching the Yamaha’s peak torque output but will still fall a bit short on horsepower.
The Twin and V-Four are apples and oranges, and this is evident on the dyno where the Star displays a broader and stouter power curve.
These power numbers were a bit deceptive, as the duo didn’t feel that far apart in practical application – the Royal Star’s added 92 pounds sucks up some of its extra ponies. In general, our test-rider consensus rated the smoother Yamaha mill a little out in front of the Harley. But, on the flip-side, everyone felt the sweet sound emitting from the King’s pipes beat the muffled dual cans gracing the Star (which cleverly can be rotated for a different look).
Riding Ponch and Jon style with the Star and King can take some nerve from the participants. Being able to adequately control the behaviors of the bikes is mandatory when quarters get tight, and it could be argued that these beasts deserve one lane to themselves. We discovered as much upon arriving in Portland during rush hour traffic on a day that was unseasonably hot. After having the roads to ourselves, the onset of bumper-to-bumper traffic was bad enough, but throw in jumping from lane to lane on a massive motorcycle pushing out reams of heat into your crotch while trying to figure out where you’re going, and you’ll quickly discover how un-commuter-like the King and Star can be.
Cutting through traffic on these beasts is a test of nerves and physics. The pure size of both the King and Star, especially in the saddlebag width department, could create a mean chrome wedgie when attempting to slide between two stationary cars. These big cruisers require a trial-rider’s balancing skill in order to manage the ballet of slowing, stopping and tipping.
And once you get your momentum up, the question of slowing down in adequate time becomes a real issue. The front brakes, especially on the Harley, have limited bite and take real strength to slow the bike quickly. The Yamaha’s brakes offer more power, but they annoyed by scratching and squealing when subjected to frequent use under the extreme circumstances of heat and traffic.
With time, we did find our way to the palatial La Quinta Inn in Northeast Portland and it was time to unpack the locking hard-shell saddlebags of each bike. The Harley’s bags flip open seemingly in reverse to reveal a fairly narrow slot in which to pack your stuff. They feature quick-turn fasteners for removal but they’re nearly impossible to get to when loaded. The Yamaha’s bags are wider and have a larger capacity, but they aren’t big enough for a two-up weekend.
In torque output the Star outmuscles the King, but some of those extra 7 lb-ft get sucked up by the Yamaha’s almost 100-extra pounds.
The next morning we left the bikes behind and taxied downtown to a work-related meeting with plans to hit the road for Bend after lunch. The meeting dragged on longer than expected and we didn’t fire the bikes until 3 pm, but thankfully the Rose City had mercy on us for a light-traffic departure. The route we selected took us east on Highway 26 through Sandy toward Mount Hood, then through the Warm Springs Indian Reservation before joining Highway 97 at Madras which would drop us in Bend. By the time we were in Sandy, it was smooth sailing.
The open highway is where these bikes truly belong. Sitting back and cruising – really cruising – means being able to take a deep breath, relax and motor. This day would be our best on the Road King and Royal Star. The picturesque terrain that spreads across Eastern Oregon is made all the more enjoyable when the sun dips below the horizon and the hills and canyons are painted deep sunset orange. The miles went so quickly, so effortlessly, that remembering specifics about the motorcycles is difficult. I found myself paying so much attention to the scenery that nuisances which might have sent me into full-on road rage back in Portland’s traffic snarls seemed like nitpicking. My cares seemingly disappeared as I sat back and enjoyed myself.
Ken was the first to mention that the trip from Portland to Bend passed by quickly. Brian and Robin also noticed how easy this trip was, even though we rolled into town after dark with little idea where we were staying. Some quick directions from the gas station attendant and we headed off for a motel which, lucky for us, was directly next door to our favorite eating establishment, the Black Bear Diner. Dinner at the Black Bear with breakfast to follow was just what the doctor ordered.
The final day of our journey reminded me of most vacations that are coming to an end: that get-me-home feeling. We got on the bikes early and blasted down Highway 97 looking for the cut off that would take us by Crater Lake, past Lost Creek Lake, and finally home to the Rogue Valley. We did our best along the way to take notes and get some on-bike video footage, but this was the last day on a fantastic motorcycle trip and we just wanted to get back, see our families and put on some clean clothes. In this situation, the Road King and Royal Star did everything right, everything we needed.
After our trip around Oregon on the Harley-Davidson Road King and Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe, our performance-oriented test crew has a much better feel for what cruising and touring is all about. It’s about having fun riding a motorcycle and enjoying the people who are riding with you.