1998 Cruiser of the Year

And the winner is....

1998 Cruiser of the Year
The 1998 Yamaha V-Star Classic redefined middleweight cruising which was why it was named the 1998 Cruiser of the Year.Dean Groover

This article was originally published in the December 1998 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

When we select the annual Cruiser of the Year, we're not touting one bike as being the best cruiser in production. Instead, we look for a bike that has changed cruising. Last year, we felt the A.C.E. Tourer literally expanded the horizon of cruising beyond the boulevard and into the fastest growing segment of this market—the touring cruiser. This year's Cruiser of the Year comes not from the creation of a new category of cruising, but from a refining and re­defining of one of cruising's staples—the middleweight cruiser.

With the release of the $5899 V-Star Classic, Yamaha raises the bar for middleweights. The V-Star has elevated buyers' expectations for middleweight cruisers in terms of size, fit and finish, and price.

Just walking up to a V-Star Classic elicits a favorable impression of the bike. When we tested the V-Star for the February '98 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser, we asked riders and non-riders what they thought the V-Star's displacement was. The responses were never less than 1000cc, with many topping out at more than 1500cc. The V-Star's 96.5-inch overall length (which is longer than all but one of the 800 class of cruisers) obviously played a role in the misperceptions. Features found on Yamaha's Royal Stars add to the full-sized feel of the V-Star. The Classic's full, valanced, wraparound metal fenders are uncommon on a sub-$6000 motorcycle. Stainless steel fork covers add bulk to the front end. The tasteful application of chrome and black paint to the engine helps to make it stand out. The speedometer, odometer, and warning lights are inset in the tank, like the bigger Star's instrument cluster. Even wide levers contribute to the sense of a bike that is more substantial than 650cc. Put a rider on the V-Star, and the roomy riding position builds on the impression of a large machine. But it's not size alone that creates the perception that the V-Star is more than a budget-priced motorcycle.

The V-Star’s appearance is a unified whole. The fat Dunlop front tire leads the eye to the three-inch wide, 16-inch spoked wheel, then rearward over the full fender and fork to the pull-back bar. The 70-degree V and the big chrome air cleaner cover not only look larger than 650cc, but also balance the appearance of the motorcycle’s center.

Riding the V-Star provides another series of surprises. The exhaust note sounds brawnier than most middle­weight cruisers. The engine (based on the reliable but not so pretty Virago 535 mill) provides enough power for most situations, pulling away from city traffic with ease. The light effort clutch also adds to around-town fun. Only when riding two-up or at highway speed does the engine admit to being less than a liter.

How did Yamaha build a bike with so many value-added features for such a low price? Giving the 535-engine a make-over was easier than developing an entirely new engine. Borrowing parts—like the brake light/turn signal assembly, gas cap, and switch housings—from the Royal Star bin also cut costs. Additionally, the Classic’s sibling, the V-Star Custom, sold well for a year in Europe, helping to amortize the costs of the engine’s upgrade. The result is a midsized cruiser with the detail work of a higher-end bike.

After 1998 and the introduction of the V-Star Classic, the cruisers at the lower end of the displacement scale may finally shake off their ugly stepchild status. In response, the aftermarket has supported the V-Star more enthusiastically than other inexpensive bikes. Honda’s decision to upgrade the 1999 Shadow VLX was most likely influenced by the attention paid to Yamaha’s littlest Star.

With a large number of lapsed riders coming back to motorcycling on cruisers, the V-Star’s combination of full-sized looks and appointments make the bike an attractive alternative to more expensive machines. By changing the way we look at middleweight cruisers, Yamaha has effectively redefined this class of motorcycles. For this reason, we name the V-Star Classic Motorcycle Cruiser’s Cruiser of the Year.

Honorable Mentions:

Whenever we sit down to figure out which bike will be our Cruiser of the Year, the debate can get a little heated. With so many great cruisers on the market, finding a clear-cut winner can be difficult. However, once we had selected our 1998 Cruiser of the Year, a few notable bikes remained. What follows are two other cruisers that have helped to make 1998 a banner year.

Note that we only considered ’99 models if (like the Kawasaki Nomad) they arrived in showrooms in time for the riding season. The Victory V92C, for example, is a real ’99 model.

BMW R1200C

Love the unique style or hate it, Das Cruiser has proved to be a powerful force in cruiserdom. Since its introduction last year, the R1200C has become BMW’s best-selling motorcycle and has even outsold Yamaha’s more traditionally styled Royal Star. Thanks to the R1200C, we expect to see other boldly fashioned cruisers in the future.

Kawasaki Nomad

The year after the genesis of the touring cruiser class, Kawasaki expanded the field by releasing the Nomad—a bike that combines the winning personality of the best-selling Vulcan Classic with cross-country comfort. The beautifully sculpted, locking bags give the Nomad an unmistakable profile.