Open any magazine that covers the hyperactive world of customized cruisers (such as our sister publication Cruising Rider), and you’ll see a healthy percentage of customs based on Yamaha’s Road Star line. With its big-inch, traditional-looking, pushrod, air-cooled V-twin engine and just-right styling, the bike has been a home run for Yamaha. Add in the abundant supply of custom parts produced for it by Yamaha and the aftermarket, and you’ve got all the ingredients for motorcycle stardom‚Ä¶no pun intended.
The market continues to produce ever larger and more unique high-end factory cruisers. Honda offers five versions of its VTX1800, Kawasaki presents its mammoth 2,053cc Vulcan 2000 stroker, and Victory has several models designed by the father/son team of Arlen (“The King of the Customizers”) and Cory Ness.
Triumph distinguishes its 2,294cc Rocket III triple as being simply the largest-displacement mass-produced motorcycle on the planet. Not to be outdone, Yamaha is now stepping up to the plate with the XV19SV/C Roadliner, an all-new model with art-deco styling and Road Star roots. Holy mother of pearl-when will it ever end? Never, we hope.
Sure, the 1,602cc Road Star was impressive when introduced for 1999, and more so when it grew to 1,670cc (102 cubic inches) a few years later. Now for 2006, while the standard Road Star retains that displacement, the Roadliner comes with a new engine that vaults to 1,854cc (113 cubic inches) and an aluminum frame. In cruiser terms the Yamaha Roadliner S is not just a Road Star with a new suit of clothes, but the next leap forward in Yamaha cruisers.To give the Roadliner unique styling, Yamaha chose an art-deco design that evokes the 1930s and ’40s, a time when discovery and experimentation in speed ushered in an age of streamlining. During this time everything from airplanes to automobiles, from buildings to even radios, took on that alluring look of wind-sculpted motion. Still, underlying the Roadliner’s airy, ethereal whimsy is a functional base of real steel fenders and an honest, thumping engine, a clever blending of solidity and function with fancy.
With its bulbous headlight lunging out over that relatively thin front fender, the Roadliner evokes that age of fast-moving, forward-weighted machines, an impression confirmed by the fat tank over a massive engine. Climb aboard our Roadliner S test bike (three trim levels are available) and notice the clean, chromed vista from the seat. Pull the key from the ignition on the long, fluted headlight, and you can slide a chromed cover rearward to conceal the switch for a very clean look. Should some annoying acquaintance pester you to ride your new bike, you’ll have a lot of fun flipping him the key and saying, “Sure you can take it for a ride-if you can start it within three minutes.”
The streamlined handlebar clamps hold a wide, buckhorn-style, 11.4-inch handlebar that’s adorned at each end with chromed switch hardware and chromed and sculpted clutch and brake master cylinder reservoirs. Switch wiring is routed inside the handlebar for a cleaner look. A wide, chromed avenue leads down the fuel tank and surrounds the gauges. The fine lines on the face of that huge speedometer remind me of those on the big Philco console radio that used to sit in my uncle’s den in the 1950s. Below it are a small, round tachometer and fuel gauge with an LCD panel. Styling touches abound. The custom-look fuel tank has no flange along its bottom and those 12-spoke cast wheels are classy, as are those three flowing, chromed accents on the tank. The engine has tapered, chromed pushrod tubes, and the fin edges have been machined for a bright look. Out front thrusts that classic-looking two-part headlight, and out back rests a clean LED taillight; the cone-shaped rear turn-signal lenses look like Madonna’s pointy bra.
The air-cooled, 48-degree V-twin engine features new cylinders, heads, pistons, crankshaft, cases, balancers and the rest-and with a bore and stroke of 100 x 118mm, it’s situated at the stroker side of the equation. It offers four-valve heads, two spark plugs per cylinder and a compression ratio of 9.5:1. You know those high gasoline prices you’ve been grousing about lately? Well, thanks to that compression ratio you’ll be pumping the 92-octane premium version into your Roadliner if you want to keep it happy. Power reaches the rear wheel via belt final drive.
Slide that chromed cover forward to reveal the ignition switch (that annoying acquaintance has finally left) and start this bad boy with a push of the starter button. Thanks to its twin-bore 43mm electronic fuel injectors it requires no choke or fast-idle lever.
Yamaha has done a lot with vibration control on this huge, single-crankpin engine. Twin counterbalancers allow the rider to feel only a bit of rumble at idle, and a bit more during acceleration in the grips and seat-but not much else. During straight-line cruising, with the engine at steady rpm, the rider can more hear the rumble than feel it. Under acceleration the stock exhaust system, which is bulbous and massive looking with its covers arranged over heat shields, emits an impressive (but not obnoxious) amount and quality of sound. It seems to well up around the rider, providing that desired “mellow” bellow cruiser riders all seem to seek. The collector incorporates Yamaha’s EXUP power valve, which boosts torque at low- and midrange.
The Roadliner is a big motorcycle designed for big people, an impression gained from its wide handlebar, the long rubber-mounted footboards and that 67.5-inch wheelbase. Yet, seat height is an acceptable 28.9 inches, and when you pull it up off the sidestand you’ll notice the bike is lighter than you might have expected. That’s because Yamaha put this big-incher on a diet, incorporating a new aluminum cradle frame that weighs but 37 pounds (the Road Star’s weighs 62 pounds), and a new aluminum swingarm that adds only 11.8 pounds (14.2 pounds less than the Road Star’s steel unit). At 758 pounds wet, the larger Roadliner weighs about the same as the last Road Star we tested.
Shifting the five-speed transmission is facilitated by an adjustable chromed heel/toe shifter, and by the fact that everything just works smoothly. The clutch requires a moderate pull and became tiring by the end of the day, but those heavy springs are there to control a lot of power. The Roadliner spun the Borla dynamometer to 87.1 horsepower at 4,700 rpm, and an impressive 107.2 lb-ft of torque at a very lazy 2,200 rpm! By comparison the stock 1,795cc Honda VTX1800F we tested in our May 2005 issue generated 86.4 horsepower, and torque peaked at 100.6 lb-ft; it weighed 778 pounds wet. The 1,643cc Victory Hammer in our March 2005 issue delivered 77.3 horses, 98.4 lb-ft of torque and weighed 704 pounds. The Roadliner’s small tach indicates that the engine is turning just 2,550 rpm at an indicated 65 mph, and with peak torque at 2,200 it means you’ve got a boatload of passing power at your right grip when cruising along at 60 without even downshifting.
We road testers tend to be an aggressive lot who favor sporty bikes over cruisers. That’s because cruisers tend to have marginal brakes, marginal power and suspension systems, and minimal cornering clearance, all of which intrude upon our fun. With that said, however, the Roadliner was a pleasant surprise. Thanks to its 31.3-degree rake and 5.98 inches of trail it turns more quickly than its long wheelbase would suggest, and those twin front discs are gripped by powerful four-piston mono-block calipers that offer fine control; the rear disc is a two-piston caliper. Finally, instead of sparking and grinding as soon as the ride got interesting, the footboards did not touch down for me till I was well into the fun zone.
After about 100 miles on that firm seat I found that the rear of my rear was getting sore; where it slopes upward at the back especially bothered my backside. Yamaha may have made a bike that allows taller riders to spread out, but even though I’m “only” 6 feet tall I still could have used a longer seat. The passenger accommodations are quite commodious, and the seat is likewise firm.
Because of the 3.5-liter airbox stuffed under it the Roadliner’s traditional fuel tank holds only 3.7 gallons, but there’s also a 0.8-gallon sub-tank under the seat for a total capacity of 4.5 gallons. A big bike making big power needs to eat, and our test bike turned 40.5 mpg, which gives it a theoretical range of 182 miles.
The Roadliner is available in three trim levels. The basic model ($13,580) comes in Black/Cherry with painted wheels, fender stays, hand controls and painted or chromed engine covers. Its fork tubes are brushed and stainless. The Midnight version ($13,880) features a blacked-out treatment with black controls, top triple clamp, headlight, fork legs and engine covers. The S model we test here ($14,980) features chromed fork legs, engine covers, shifter, hand controls and fenders stays, and it’s otherwise polished with two-tone Charcoal/Bronze paint. Or, you can have the S for $200 less in pearl white. Yamaha tells us that Road Star buyers spend close to $2,500 in accessories for their bikes, and that the more than 50 Roadliner accessories include bags, a windscreen, pipes, apparel and (of course) more chrome.
If you’re interested in the touring accessories for the Roadliner, there’s also the Stratoliner to consider, a dressed version that comes from the factory with a detachable windscreen, locking leather-covered hard bags and a passenger backrest. Standard, Midnight and S versions of the Stratoliner range in price from $15,180 to $16,580.
What’s not to like? While the art-deco look is certainly cool, to my eye the front fender is cut so thin at its back edge that it appears it could rub the tire. While the exhaust system provides a wonderful sound, with its covers over covers it looks to be about the size (and possibly the weight) of a mini submarine; the muffler can be changed without losing the EXUP system. The seat’s a pain in the rump, and I was a bit disappointed that the chromed trim pieces on the tank were plastic. Jeff Palhegyi (of Palhegyi Design in El Cajon, California), who built the mockup for Yamaha, told me that a lot of thought had gone into them; the conclusion was that billet pieces there would have been prohibitively expensive, and they would not have looked as good.
We expect that Yamaha will once again have a huge hit with the Roadliner. The S-model is not only an impressively styled bike for its $14,980 price tag, but when you consider its size, power, handling and relative comfort (OK, chuck the seat) it’s also one enjoyable and impressive ride. It makes a good amount of power right off the showroom floor, is noticeably lighter and more powerful than some of its competitors and its styling makes a true statement. If the era of streamlining was truly about combining flowing shapes with the power to push them forward, then the Roadliner truly introduces an era of Star power for Yamaha.