Despite its jumbo proportions, the Royal Star proved to be more stable in corners than the Harley, aided by its stiffer frame and big tires.
Arriving in the Oregon coastal town of Newport permitted us to take our boat analogy one step further by doing a little deep sea fishing out in the big blue. Judging from the excessive use of Dramamine and dire talk of chum as bait, our test crew feared the boat’s undulations far worse than anything the Royal Star and Road King could dish out. (The only person to donate to the Pacific Ocean? Yours truly.) After a full day of reeling in Rockfish and Ling Cod, we were back on Highway 101 heading north to Portland.
Getting to Highway 101 from I-5 and back requires the use of twisty roads that we eagerly anticipate and even seek out when perched on a derivation of sportbike. Pointing the luxo-cruisers at winding switchbacks brought on a different feeling similar to what inspired the use of Dramamine on the fishing boat. So instead of taking our typical speed-merchant approach to the twisties, we simply slowed down the pace, took the time to notice the scenery and rode the bikes at a pace that was both enjoyable and comfortable. The Road King and Royal Star reinforce the sometimes forgotten notion that riding is supposed to be a fun way to get around instead of a testosterone-fueled measuring stick judged at every apex.
For their hefty 1000-lb fully-laden weights, both machines seemed pretty well sprung. The Road King utilizes a 41mm fork and air-assisted rear shock to provide a respective 4.6 and 3.0 inches of travel, while the Royal Star relies on an air-adjustable suspenders at both ends. The telescopic fork delivers 5.5 inches of travel while the single rear shock provides 4.1 inches of its own. Both bikes offer almost car-like suspensions, although the King’s short-travel rear can emit sharp impacts with the addition of a passenger. The fact is you’ll be dragging the floorboards long before you’re pushing the limits of the springs. The sheer size of the machines, with their elongated wheelbases, negates a lot of chatter and delivers a plush feel.
When it came time to pick a definitive winner, it all came down to a matter of taste. Do you prefer the overall refinement of the Star or the personality of the King?
Sure, it’s easy to find the performance shortcomings of both the King and the Star. They are tough to swing from side to side thanks to their size and weight, they don’t accelerate very well for the same reasons, and handling is hampered by speed-induced frame undulations and the various scraping noises occurring a few degrees off vertical.
Compared head to head, the Royal Star proves to be more confidence inspiring in the handling department, despite its extra weight. It’s a bit of a barge, especially in low-speed maneuvers, thanks to its raked out 29.0 caster angle, longer wheelbase, and fat 150mm front tire. But once into second gear and out on the road, the Star provides greater stability and cornering confidence. Also, the Yamaha’s shaft drive exhibits little of the throttle-induced pogo action common on many shaft-driven motorcycles. On the other hand, the Road King and its sharper 26.0-degree rake is fairly adept during parking-lot scenarios while being less trustworthy in higher speed corners. It gives off a hinge-in-the-middle effect when hitting bumps that is disconcerting until a rider realizes that the swingarm bolt isn’t missing. We also didn’t like how its front tire wanders in longitudinal rain grooves.
But who wouldn’t expect such problems from these types of motorcycles? Instead we tried to focus on the things that these bikes are supposed to do well but somehow fall short.
Topping the list of shortcomings is the Road King’s windshield. Our riders, who vary from 5’8″ to 6’0″, mentioned how its top horizontal cutoff was in the rider’s line of sight. It forced me (at 5’10”) to hunch down in order to look through the shield or crane my neck to see over the offending plastic. And because any windshield’s optical qualities are different than what you see with the naked eye, the road became a tale of two views. Looking far enough ahead requires the rider to look over the windshield, while any nearer viewing took place through it. Shields of different heights are available for both bikes, so get friendly with your dealer to figure out which size will work best for you.
Otherwise, the Harley does an admirable job out on the road. The front brake lacks much power, but the rear brake, operated with a rubber-covered stomp pedal, does a great job slowing the King with little revolt from the chassis. The motor shines in the slow turns with its prodigious torque pulling the rider out of switchback after switchback as the Twin’s echo reverberates off the passing terrain. And all our testers noted the 2-to-1 wave ratio in the Harley’s favor when passing fellow motorcyclists, no matter their steed. Something about that Harley mystique still rings true.
The Yamaha lumbers along in a smoother and more refined manner. Noticeably bigger than its American counterpart, the Star seemingly goes one size larger on everything, from the fuel tank to the floorboards to the jumbo-size levers. Wind protection is provided by the uber-sized windshield for the rider’s head and torso, complemented by the radiator shroud and radiator fairing/airbox isolating the legs from the offending airflow. The amount of helmet buffeting caused by the windshields of both bikes depended on the size of the rider.