2008 Star Raider - First Ride

Can A Custom Big Twin Deliver Style And Ridability? The Newest Star Has A Long Answer.

People frequently describe motorcycles as having "attitude," but everybody probably has a different idea about what that means. Webster's defines attitude as "a feeling or emotion toward a fact or state."

Our feeling is that the attitudes most such cruisers have are "handling doesn't matter" and "comfort is for sissies." That's because the road to attitude usually involves some heavy-handed styling. Everyone knows the classic chopper-influenced look-long, raked fork, skinny front wheel, a little fuel tank over a huge engine framed in a stretched-out chassis, low saddle and massive rear wheel. All those fashionable pieces and tweaks may make for tasty eye-candy, but they tend to diminish a motorcycle's road-worthiness.

Those way-wide rear tires result in sketchy steering, especially when coupled with skinny front rubber. It only gets worse when the fork is pivoting around a radically angled steering head. Trainlike wheelbases make a visual statement and help stability, but they don't do anything for steering response or cornering clearance. Stretching out the riding position doesn't help control either, and it tends to strain the rider. And those skinny, ultralow seats reduce the comfort quotient, too.

Of course, style sells and motorcycle engineers and designers have gotten increasingly sophisticated at packing serious function into radical aesthetics. For example, several manufacturers have learned to keep the steering head reasonably steep for steady steering characteristics while kicking out the fork legs at a more radical angle to net both style and control. Occasionally, however, there's no getting around simple physics-fit an en vogue wide tire on a bike, for instance, and you usually give up handling.

Fortunately for those of us who like to ride our motorcycles first, and gaze at them later, the Star Raider never forgets that it's going to be ridden. Looking at it, you might guess the Raider would need manhandling to go where you want it to. The fork legs jut out at 39 degrees, and at just shy of 71 inches, the Raider has the longest wheelbase of any OE cruiser. And with that minimalist bodywork, there's plenty of room left around the engine-always high on the stylists' wish list-and to let the saddle sit low on the frame. That seat swoops down to 27.4 inches off the road. The tires, however, might tip you off that this bike is more than a design exercise. Though the front hoop is a 21-incher, instead of an ultraskinny tire, it wears 120/70-21 rubber. And rather than a monster rear tire wider than your passenger's butt, the Raider rolls on a 210/40-18R Metzeler ME880 Marathon.

Drop into the saddle and you learn that the designers remembered the ergonomics, too. The handlebar isn't too high, and the reach to the forward footpegs gives room enough for tall riders without forcing shorter ones to scooch forward. The seat is full, roomy and relatively flat.

Instead of the floppy low-speed handling its raked-out fork might suggest, the Raider is pretty neutral and needs just mild effort to negotiate its 730 pounds (wet) through a crowded parking lot (partly because 6 degrees of that radical fork angle are taken up on the triple clamps). Steering is light, if somewhat relaxed. You also notice the bike length when trying to make a full-lock turn.

Bikes with long wheelbases need to lean over deeper than shorter bikes to negotiate the same corner arc at the same speed, so I expected the Raider to be a real pavement-scratcher on the snaking roads where Yamaha held its launch. While it wasn't hard to drag the footrests, it was pretty close to cruiser-normal in this regard. What's more, the pegs fold up quite a bit before anything solid begins to grind. And the extended wheelbase lends stability, giving confidence in corners. That's gravy on top of the well-sorted suspension, predictable steering geometry and solid frame. The aluminum frame's castings allowed Yamaha engineers to tune it to provide the handling and "pulse" characteristics they wanted, as did the die-cast alloy swingarm, which bolts to a preload-adjustable KYB shock. With all that frame length, there was plenty of room for an under-seat fuel tank, which keeps the 4.1 gallons of gas down low. Though the Raider has slightly more steering-head rake (33.2 degrees) than the Roadliner (31.3), it gets back some steering lightness with slightly less trail (102mm) than the classic-style big Star (152mm). Overall, those used to the handling foibles of custom-style cruisers will likely find the Raider easier to herd around than those other similarly styled bikes.

Yamaha didn't shortchange the new Star on brakes, either. Up front, there are two 11.7-inch rotors pinched by four-piston calipers, with a 12.2-inch disc with a single-piston caliper in back. Both provide strong power and good control.

Although you get a better look at it in the Raider's wide-open frame, that 1854cc V-twin is the same motor that drives the Roadliner/Stratoliner. Mikuni injectors with 43mm throttle bodies feed four-valve, two-plug heads. The swoopy 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust includes O2 sensors and two catalysts. It also boasts Yamaha's EXUP exhaust-valve system to maximize power at low rpm. Out on the road, dual balancers mostly mute vibration from the solidly mounted, air-cooled, 48-degree, pushrod V-twin, except at fairly high rpm. With tractorlike tractability, the 113ci engine is a pleasure, whether in traffic or moving fast; a seamless flow of power and unflinching throttle response make it an ideal cruiser mill. The clutch is light and predictable, and the five-speed tranny shifts smoothly and positively.

Yamaha gave us less than 200 miles on the bike, and I found little to gripe about. My butt was sore at the end of the day, which normally isn't the case on the Roadliner. Some of that was caused by the seat design, but I also attribute it to the fact that the Raider places feet farther forward, which puts more weight on your tail. A detachable windshield is available from the Star accessory people, but the front end of the Raider supplies quite a bit of wind protection, even with that 36-inch-wide handlebar.

Most of the current generation of big-bore Japanese cruisers have gravitated toward the classic style rather than the edgier custom profile; the companies that make them spent half a century developing motorcycles that worked well. Pushing that aside to get an attitude that can be summarized as "Born to Look At" simply went against everything they had achieved. The Raider shows that serious custom style can mesh with a "Born to Ride" attitude.

High Points
Looks good, works betterStrong, predictable, easy-to-use powerNicely sorted suspensionYou like 'em looooong?

Low Points
Seat could be betterLittle flexibility in riding position

2008 Star Raider
Msrp: $13,180 (black), $13,780 (S model)Standard colors: Black (standard model), Blue (S model)Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles

Type: Air-cooled 48-degree tandemV-twinValve arrangement: 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, pushrods, hydraulic adjustersDisplacement: 1853ccBore x stroke: 100 x 118mmCompression ratio: 9.48:1Carburetion: EFI, 43mm throttle bodiesTransmission: Wet clutch, 5 speedsFinal drive: BeltLubrication: Wet sump, 4.3 qt.

Wet weight (claimed): 730 lbs.Seat height: 27.3 in.Wheelbase: 70.9 in.Rake/trail: 33.2 degrees/4.0 in.Wheels: Cast, 21 x 3.50 front, 18 x 7.5 rearFront tire: 120/70-21 Metzeler ME880 tubelessRear tire: 210/40R-18 Dunlop Metzeler ME880 tubeless radialFront brake: 2, double-action, 4-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discsRear brake: Single-piston caliper, 12.2-in. discFront suspension: 5.1 in. travelRear suspension: Single dampers, 3.5 in. travel, adjustable for spring preloadFuel capacity: 4.1 gal.Handlebar: 36.4 in., 1.0 in. diameter

Charging output: 448 wattsBattery: 12v, 18AH

Jacket: star apparel
Gloves: alpinestars
Boots: tour master