Yamaha taps the custom world for styling cues on its 2008 Star Raider including a chopped-out rake, raised handlebars, and the widest tire yet in its ‘Liner line.
When Yamaha marketed the 2008 Star Raider as a “chopper-inspired,” “performance-based custom,” I was curious to see how they would pull off this oxymoron. When motorcyclists think of “choppers”, “performance” is not the first thing that comes to mind. A bike with a tricked-out rake, raised handlebars and a hunkin’ front wheel do. Star borrowed cues from this gene pool of classic styling for the 2008 Raider, but that is where the resemblance to a chopper ends. The Raider is no “Captain America.” This thing would blow the socks off Peter Fonda’s iconic scoot.
Central to this claim is the Raider’s 1854cc air-cooled pushrod engine. The merits of the 48-degree V-Twin has already been developed in the Roadliner, but it only takes a light twist of the throttle for riders to realize that what was established in the Roadliner now packs even more punch. The power comes on early and kept me pinned to the back of my seat in every gear. Star claims the Raider reachs peak torque at 2500 rpm, and power numbers from our Dynojet 200i substantiate the claim with a reading of 102.8 ft-lb of torque at 2600 rpm. Getting up to freeway speed is a cinch. The throttle position sensor is dialed in to the computer-controlled twin-bore fuel-injection monitors and keeps the wide-angle 12-hole injectors feeding the forged pistons with a light twist of the wrist. The fuel injectors worked seemlessly for smooth throttle pick-up that starts low in the broad powerband. Better yet, the power keeps on coming throughout the rev range until it finally tapers off slowly between 4000-5000 rpm.
Of course, by then you’re getting the most horsepower out of the generous 100 x 118mm bore/stroke of the 113 cubic inch mill. Our dyno test saw the hp creep over 80 twice between 4400 – 4600 rpm with a peak performance of 80.4 hp. This helps explain why even when we tested the Raider two-up, the bike had an impressive amount of usable thrust still available at higher rpm in 5th gear. The Raider is oozing with unleashable power. But even though it has got plenty of muscle to flex, it would have been a moot point if Yamaha hadn’t done an exemplary job of taming the V-Twin’s vibrations with twin counterbalancers that add bonus points to the Raider’s overall positive rating by smoothing out the bike’s ride.
We didn’t need the dyno charts on the 2008 Star Raider to know that power comes on strong early in the rev range, but the results from our Dynojet 200i confirm Yamaha’s horsepower and torque claims.
But all of this motorcycle’s wonderful testosterone would be wasted if Star didn’t build a chassis capable of taking the power from the five-speed wet multi-plate transmission and transferring it to the 210mm Metzeler radial rear tire. The powerful 1854cc mill is housed in a new lightweight, double cradle cast-aluminum frame and Star’s choice to use a short pushrod V-Twin instead of a taller overhead cam allows Star to tuck the seat in tightly at 27.3 inches. Like the frame, the design of the CF Die Cast controlled-fill swingarm is also a new, lightweight aluminum casting that attributes to the Star being 13 lbs slimmer than the 2008 Roadliner. Star had to design a swingarm capable of holding the 210/40-18 radial as the 210mm-wide rear tire is the widest amongst Star cruisers. And while Star joins the fat-backed movement of the custom world, the low-profile of the meaty Metzeler keeps the rubber side down and will have you aggressively seeking out the next corner. The tire hooks up easy and will leave a smoky burnout on demand.
When I heard that the front end sports a chopper-like 40-degree rake, I was concerned that the combination of a stretched out front end with a wide rear would translate to sluggishness in the turns. This was not the case. While Star went wide out back, it went tall up front. A 21-inch 120/70 Metzeler ME880 on a custom 5-spoke wheel leads the charge and provides plenty of contact to negotiate the twisties with. The stability of the Raider through turns is a testament to Star’s ability to find the proper balance between the tall front and wide rear. The motorcycle is more than manageable in traffic, but is particularly fun on curvy, rural stretches when the combination of power and handling that comprises the Raider can be utilized to the fullest.
Even though Star claims the chrome telescopic fork with 46mm tubes are set at a 40-degree rake angle, the frame head is set at only 34-degrees. The other six degrees comes from the yoke angle, achieved by offsetting the triple clamps. The end result is a fork that, despite its exaggerated measurements, is still centered close to the steering axis and turns in better than other cruisers with similar displacement . The 40-degree rake angle fits well in Yamaha’s grand scheme of advertising a chopper-inspired, custom-style motorcycle, but don’t let advertising tricks steer you wrong. There is nothing chopperesque about the Raider’s handling. On the contrary, for a brawny cruiser with a 70.9-inch wheelbase and a tank-empty weight of 712 lbs., the Raider handles remarkably well. Give an assist to the bike’s ergos where the rider sits low in the saddle, arms out straight aggressively gripping the bars. The low center of gravity established by the 27.3-inch seat height kept me from getting flogged too bad by the wind at 70 mph considering there’s no front windshield.
With plenty of power on tap in a surprisingly agile package, the Star Raider’s ability to carve lines over curvy mountain roads on our Southern Oregon stomping grounds made me forget sometimes that I was on a big cruiser.
And while the function of the Raider’s swingarm and low-profile Metzeler radial are undeniably good, the Raider’s rear end could have used a dash of Tabasco to spice it up. The dual-sided swinger is small and almost unnoticeable. In fact, the silver chainguard above the swingarm on the right side attracts more attention than the black aluminum swinger. And it doesn’t receive much help from the supersized downturned rear fender. Because of the Raider’s low-profile rear tire, there’s a fist-sized gap between tire and fender, and the fender is so big that it obscures the back wheel. Tank-forward the design is clean and well-conceived. From the rider back, we’ve got a case of function definitely taking precedence over form.
Luckily, the view of the swingarm on the left side is overshadowed by the big chrome 2-1-2 down-swept exhausts. The pipes look burly and have an Exhaust Ultimate Power valve (EXUP) that aims to boost the torque numbers in the 2500-3500 rpm range after the mill hits its peak around 2600 rpm. The amount of roll-on power I felt on the Raider in that rpm range supports that claim. But while the exhaust pipes look like they will put out an earth-shaking rumble, the growl that the bike emits didn’t live up to expectations. This is due in part to finding the happy median between what rider’s want and what the EPA will allow. In order for the motorcycle to meet the latest stringent EPA standards, the big pipes include twin three-way catalyzers and an O2 sensor. Great for the greenhouse effect and good enough to test out at almost 39 mpg. Not so great for the car-shaking rumble cruiser riders have come to expect. The pipes also stick out a bit far, so long in fact that they scrape when making sharp right hand turns.
But that was the last area where the Raider did not meet our expectations. In fact, it had a few unexpected surprises in store for us during our test. Foremost of those were the performance of the dual discs up front. A modest right-handed squeeze on the brake lever and the four-piston monoblock calipers put the clamps on 298mm rotors. No single pot chopper-style arrangement here. Yamaha wants you to grab a handful of these front stoppers. The 5.1-inches of travel on the front mean there’s a little dive when the brakes are applied firmly, but overall the stopping power is impressive. Team the front pinchers with the large single pin-slide 310mm disc on the rear and you have brakes that feel solid at the lever and Metzeler ME880 Marathons that grip plenty of asphalt when it comes time to bring the action to a stop.
I was impressed with the comfort level of the Raider as well, even after hours in the sculpted padded leather saddle. This feeling is attributed to the bike’s overall balance. Not only proportionally, even though its weight is distributed comfortably between 46.8 percent in the front and 53.2 percent in the back. Not solely because the twin counterbalancers cut down vibes at the handlebar and give you an exceptional ride. And not well-balanced in the sense that its hidden horizontally-mounted shock and the 46mm KYB fork are up to the task of smoothing out a long day’s journey, which they are. It’s well balanced in the sense that the Raider’s just a blast to ride. I became painfully aware of this when it came time to ship it back to Yamaha. I didn’t want to see it leave our garage. Power. Handling. Boulevard-cruising good looks. Star has done an admirable job of fulfilling the ‘performance-based cruiser’ bill.
The chrome 2-1-2 down-swept exhausts have an EXUP valve that aims to boost torque in the 2500-3500 rpm range and includes environmentally-friendly twin catalyzers and an oxygen sensor. While it keeps the EPA happy, it does cost the bike a little in its growl.
The 2008 Star Raider has enough balance between classic and contemporary cues to make it attractive to a wide spectrum of riders. Traditionalists will like the look of the wide 4.1 gallon fuel cell and the tank-mounted chrome console with its large, easily readable speedo numbers. They might even appreciate custom-style touches like the switchgear wiring running neatly out of sight inside the handlebars. Of course, they might not like the faux chrome molding interrupting the otherwise clean lines of the tank, but it’s simply a matter of personal taste. I’d wager they would still like the shine coming off the custom-machined chrome fins on the engine when it catches sunlight just right and would be proud of the gleam coming off the burly chrome pipes. Especially when the shine is offset by plenty of blacked-out components, from the bottom fork sliders, triple clamps, risers and control housings on the front end to the black primary and swingarm. Black and silver. What other colors would you expect on a bike called the ‘Raider?’
But black isn’t the only color the Raider comes in. The blacked-out version just demonstrates Star’s desire to come to grips with its dark side. The Raider is meant to be edgier than the other ‘Liners, hence the tricked-out rake, the new, aggressive rider positioning and a meaty backside. Yamaha has done its research and has decided these are some of the traits riders are looking for as the cruiser segment shifts from classically-styled bikes in favor of motorcycles with more custom-styling. This should help in attracting a cruiser demographic that is getting younger with riders spending more time in the saddle than ever before. Staying abreast of current trends can mean the difference between sinking and staying afloat in the motorcycle industry. The Raider has the ballsy motor and the crisp handling that could help it pillage the coffers of the American Big Twin makers. With an MSRP of $13,180, it’s competitively priced a little lower than Victory’s 2008 Vegas 8-Ball at $13,599 and Harley-Davidson’s 2008 Dyna Street Bob at $13,795. In the war for power cruiser supremacy, Star has fired a warning shot across the bow of the American V-Twin industry. We’ll keep you updated as the struggle for king-of-the-cruiser hill continues on roadways near you.
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