2014 Star Bolt | First Ride

The Curiously Cool 950 Surprise

" I think it's right up here."
" Are you sure? That sign says 'Pavement Ends 500 ft."
"Uh... Let me check the tablet."

We were tooling around somewhere in the hinterlands of San Diego's east county, Motorcyclist's Thomas Kinzer and me on two of Star Motorcycles' new 2014 Bolt models. All we had was basic riding gear, our wits and a small computer tablet Star had given us before the ride, preloaded with directions and photo stops for us to make. "There's no way you can get lost," insisted Tim Olson, Yamaha Media Manager as we blasted out of the parking lot. Good thing about that tablet.

Kinzer and I were blundering around San Diego to suss out the essence of Star's new "performance bobber" (their words). One look at the thing tells you it's unashamedly aimed at the affordable custom segment of the population -- call them Gen Y or Millenials, they're the same cool 20-to-35-year-old cats who have been flocking to Harley's stripped down Dark Custom line of late. The Bolt differentiates itself from the others by virtue of being a complete, purpose-built design, with a new frame and new components arrayed around the excellent V Star 950 motor. Rather than being inspired by the Sportster, as everyone thinks, the Bolt, says Yamaha, is actually a riff on the old XS 650. Over a couple of beers (no, they weren't PBRs) Derek Brooks, Product Planning manager told me he was especially proud of the Bolt. "i've got a couple of XS 650s in my garage and I just can't wait to go home and work on them" he confessed.

We decided to lose the rest of the hoi polloi by jamming out to the Cabrillo National Monument at the tip of San Diego's long, hooked-finger peninsula, the long way -- through the neighborhoods. The Bolt's 942cc engine may not be a drag-strip screamer, but it's in its element around city streets, giving you a light clutch pull with a 5-speed gearbox willing to accommodate numerous shifts and a super user-friendly, consistent powerband that's not too forceful, but not wimpy either. The riding position was neutral enough, with mid-mount pegs and a dirt-style handlebar putting controls easily within reach, and the low solo seat was turning out to be plenty comfortable. I could see riders 5-foot-10 and up feeling folded up on the thing though. The cool digital instrument gauge stuck on the handlebar was another pleasant surprise and was easily manipulated; I was scrolling through time, trip, and odometer within a few minutes of settling in. Stirring the cogs was a breeze too, with the straight-cut gear dogs engaging readily, and we were snicking away like we didn't have a care in the world. Until The Man showed up.

On our eight mile jaunt, we counted four police cruisers (one followed us for a couple of blocks) and a motor officer parked under a tree with a radar gun. "America's Finest City" sure didn't feel all that welcoming, and if we were being profiled, I was sure glad to be trolling around on the unassuming Bolt. So we took it real slow. But despite being air-cooled, the engine never ran hot enough to worry us, likely because of its ceramic composite cylinder liners -- they're designed to dissipate heat any heat generated by the forged aluminum pistons.

There are some other welcome modern touches in the 60 degree v-twin, like fuel injection and modern four-valve heads and overhead cams, as well as roller-type rocker arms with needle bearings to reduce friction losses. It may have been a fairly cool and windy day, but we were revving out the engine pretty regularly, with no complaints. That was all good, but right now we had to find the first photo stop.

Making matters worse was the fact that both Kinzer and I, in our infinite editorial wisdom, had opted to wear virtually the same gear for the big Model Introduction Photo Shoot: Burnt orange Bell 500 lids, black leather jackets, dark blue jeans and clunky black boots. As we skidded up to the first photo stop, rear brakes in full lock, our photographers -- the ever-suffering duo of Brian Nelson and Tom Riles -- shook their heads in disbelief.

"Are you guys really professional journalists?" quipped Nelson.

"Two nuts on Bolts", someone else shouted in the background.

"Frick and Frack" retorted Kinzer.

Questionable sartorial choices aside (hey, I didn't get the memo), and despite overwhelming odds, it was all working out - even with an occasionally clueless operator, the tablet functioned just as advertised, and the bike turned out to be the perfect tool with which to explore the freeways, manicured streets and pockmarked back alleys of San Diego. Our semi-charted course had so far taken us all over San Diego country, and the trusty Bolt flat-out delivered in nearly every situation we encountered. I say 'nearly' because there was one where it wasn't ideal.

Remember that "Pavement Ends" sign? Yep.

Let's recap: The bike has 2.8 inches of non-adjustable rear suspension. A solo seat. A rigid-mounted motor. And we were looking at a totally washboarded dirt road with big patches of deep sandy flats. What could possibly go wrong?

It was speed bump hell magnified by a series of clammy palm moments as we made a couple of lame passes for our iPhone cameras. Luckily there were no dumps, but we didn't really snag any flattrack-style hero shots either. Still, we were having nothing but fun.

25 minutes later, we had the Bolt back in its element, cruising through East San Diego proper. It's where the bike was put to the test once again, this time in slicker conditions. We had gone from pristine avenues and soulless skyscrapers to dilapidated shacks and rippled asphalt. Or, as Kinzer put it, from zero to crack in 2 blocks. With junkies on one side of the street and a line of indigent souls lined up near the mission on the other, we were thinking that this was the kind of "urban environment" Star envisioned the Bolt would shine in. Except this wasn't a catalog photoshoot.

Nevertheless, the Bolt's easy-steering and handling qualities came in handy a few minutes later. As we turned down Sampson Street near the Mision De Cristo in east San Diego, some unfortunate soul hocked a loogie right in front of the Bolt's 19 inch bias ply. No problem. With a quick handlebar correction, and a flick of the cable-actuated clutch and a quick downshift, the Bolt firmly tracked over the offending snot puddle, dispatching the green slime with a forceful, sludgy roost off the 16-inch rear tire. Star claims a 58.2 ft.lb torque peak, and we were happy to have it in this case. We couldn't get to the next whisky bar fast enough.

Except it was a coffee joint. Café Moto, a modern well-developed roasting operation with a small but sleek retail storefront/cafe up front, was a welcome sight among the weathered shacks of this neighborhood, and we pulled into the bike-only parking slots in front for a much-needed rest break and to inspect the Bolt's quality paint for any dings . Nothing turned up, but we both agreed the tacky tank seam on this bike doesn't do it any favors.

The smell of fresh- roasted beans permeated our dirt-clotted nostrils as we shoved into the surprisingly clean establishment. It was a nice enough joint, but as far as we could tell there was nothing 'moto' about it, unless you count the bike parking spaces up front and the cool welcome mat with a tachometer stenciled on it. The coffee was pretty damn good though, so we soaked up the atmosphere and two machiattos later, we were outta there.

Trundling back to the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter, we took stock of our day's ride on the new Bolt. This is a solid well-built motorcycle with refined finishes and solid components, and not the price point bike you'd expect at this MSRP ($7990). We love the blunt-cut, forward mounted pipes, the less-is-more styling, comfortable rider's triangle and the user-friendly motor. Sure, there are criticisms, like a lack of cornering clearance with very little lean angle, a limited rear suspension and less-than stellar brakes, but that's about it. And maybe it's just that we're not the target demo. In fact, as a Baby Boomer, I know I'm not.

Regardless, I think Star's got a bona fide hit on its hands. Sorry about the dirt road thing, Star -- it wasn't planned, and kids, don't try it at home (though I can see a JackPine/scrambler version of the Bolt doing very well on the sales charts).

The base model Bolt can be had in two colors -- Raven or Pearl White -- and will retail for $7,990, with bikes hitting dealerships right about now. The Bolt R-Spec comes in either Matte Grey or Camo Green, and will retail for $8,290, with those models coming in July. Star plans to unveil a complete line of custom accessories for the Bolt and Bolt R-Spec shortly, (different handlebar options, seats, mini fairings, air cleaner covers, sissy bars), and we're kind of stoked about the possibilities. No matter what the sign says.

See the July issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine (on sale May 25) for more in-depth riding impressions of the new Bolt. More info at www.starmotorcycles.com too.

2014 Star Bolt Specifications

MSRP: $7990.00 (standard); $8290.00 (R-Spec)
Colors: Black, White (standard); Camo, Grey (R-Spec)
Warranty: 12 mo., unlimited mi.

Type: 60° air-cooled v-twin
Displacement; bore x stroke, displacement: 942 cc; 85.0 x 83.0mm
Valve train: SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Fuel delivery: EFI
Transmission: 5-speed, multiplate wet clutch
Final drive: Belt

Frame: Steel, double cradle
Front suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, 4.7 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual shocks; 2.8 in. travel (remote reservoir for R-Spec)
Front brake: 298mm wave-type disc, 2-piston caliper
Rear brake: 298mm wave-type disc, single piston caliper
Front tire: 100/90-19M/C 57H tube type
Rear tire: 150/80-16M/C 71H tube type
Wheels: 12-spoke cast

Overall length: 90.2 in.
Wheelbase: 61.8 in.
Rake/trail: 29° / 5.1 in.
Wet weight: 540 lbs.
Seat height: 27.2 in.
Fuel capacity: 3.2 gal.