First Ride: 2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe

Highway 76 drops steeply and fast as it unfurls out of the Palomar Mountain Range into Warner Springs, and the Led Zeppelin opus churning out of the Stratoliner's speakers makes me ride faster than I normally would. So when the two-laner widens and straightens out its relentless kinks, I pull over and contemplate changing the iPod's playlist to something more mellow, like say Johnny Cash, or heck, even Sinatra. After all, we're headed toward the serene-but-swinging desert city of Rancho Mirage.

But then I spy the next leg of our route, Highway 79, shimmying up the other side of the San Jacinto ridge, and I think NAH. I'm lagging behind the rest of the group and 'Communication Breakdown' suits my mood just fine. So I wick it up, upshift into 5th, and begin the chase.

The gang's all here for the official debut and first ride on Star's newest touring machine, the 2010 Stratoliner Deluxe. Why a big cruising tourer, you might be asking, and more to the point, why NOW?

The crux of it (according to Star data) is that, in spite of the gloomy economy and shabby state of the motorcycle industry, apparently cruiser sales are suffering the least. Additional numbers from the Motorcycle Industry Council state that cruisers represent the largest share of total new motorcycle sales in the past five years. Within that group, the single largest spurt of growth has been with the bagger segment, so it's not surprising that Star is taking the plunge into what it calls the "Casual Full Dress Touring" category with the 2010 Stratoliner Deluxe.

Deluxe Destination
The not-so-subtle attempt by Star to frame the Deluxe as a machine for the well-heeled set-by choosing Rancho Mirage as the ride destination-doesn't escape me. The architectural reminders of this desert city's past sync up nicely with the Stratoliner's streamline design too. That swoopy styling has become Star's trademark, and the Strat Deluxe's fork-mounted upper fairing (with short windscreen) continues in the same vein, though it has more width to it than Harley's batwing, while nicely contoured locking hard saddlebags provide enough storage for two on a weekend trip. Tucked in behind the fairing is not quite an audio system-just two speakers-manipulated by a handlebar-mounted control unit that's compatible with iPods only. Other styling highlights include 12-spoke wheels, a flangeless fuel tank (carrying 4.5 gallons) and internally routed switchgear wiring within the 1.25 inch handlebar.

Based on the Roadliner platform, the Deluxe's saddlebags and fairing are also available as separate bolt-on accessories (see the April issue, Between the Lines, "Star Deluxe Doppelganger"). From the big 1854cc V-twin to the aluminum frame and swingarm, the engine specs and the chassis dimensions of the Roadliner, Stratoliner S and 2010 Deluxe are virtually the same.

The Deluxe diverges slightly from the rest of the Roadliner series with less-distinct ribbing on the gas and oil tank. A fork with fat 46mm tubes and a hidden single shock (with preload adjustment) handles suspension duties, while twin discs and monoblock front brake calipers haul the big bike down from speed. The front end is further distinguished by blacked-out fork components, and the Stratoliner Deluxe only comes in Raven for 2010 (though Star says other colors may become available eventually).

With all that, the Stratoliner Deluxe is definitely striking in appearance. It's big yet sleek, and sexy yet masculine. Now, where's my Old Spice?

Our two days with the bike was plenty of time to cozy up to the Deluxe's fairing and saddlebags, both of which were fleshed out by GK Design International (a firm that's done several other projects with Star). 250 miles of riding took us along the Southern California coast, up into the mountains of Northern San Diego County and eventually over into the Coachella Valley. But first we had to endure the freeway blitz out of the urban center.

In the Wind
Along I-5, the Stratoliner Deluxe settled into a nice freeway hum, pulling 75mph at 3300 rpm in top gear. It's not like the bike buzzes at that speed, but a sixth speed would have been okay too. The big Stratoliner chugged through it unruffled, its big bat wing cutting a gap through the wind.

Weaving up into the mountains on Highway 76, the Deluxe served up plenty of ground clearance for the tighter-radius turns, and with 1854cc of displacement-the largest air-cooled standard engine in this class-moving along 800-plus pounds of metal was a simple proposition thanks to a light throttle and excellent fueling from the EFI's 12-hole fuel injectors.

Inside that mill is technology sourced from Yamaha's sportbike division: things like ceramic-composite plated cylinders and forged pistons cooled by oil jets. Four pushrod-activated valves and dual spark plugs in each cylinder head keep the pistons churning within the 100mm bore. The Stratoliner Deluxe sports a relatively high 9.5:1 compression ratio for a bagger, but the engine is one of the smoothest in the class thanks to dual counterbalancers.

When I pushed up the rpm, the 113 cubic inch pushrod V-twin responded with an immediate surge down low, then a healthy midrange whomp and a horsepower kick at the top end. In any gear, the Stratoliner's torque came on at will, and the motor pulled eagerly, if not hurriedly-gotta remember that stroke is over four-and-a-half inches. According to Star, the engine on all three trims is identical, though the gearing may have been tweaked on the Strat. Either way, you're still sure to encroach into license-threatening territory long before the tach ever reaches redline (5700 rpm)in top gear. A beefy 2-into-1 exhaust system spits out a satisfyingly, bass-y note.

Midway through our route, narrow mountain roads intervened to give the Strat Deluxe a chance to prove itself in tight quarters. The bike's center of gravity is low, so control and directional changes were made easily; the motor's huge flywheel kept things moving along unfettered and the well-calibrated suspension-on the plush side-ate up pavement irregularities with reasonable consistency. Making U-turns for photos on the big beast was fairly drama-free.

I shouldn't have been surprised the bike rides so well, given our positive experience with the Roadliner and Stratoliner S models in the past. That same smooth, accessible powerband is still available in all gears, and the suspension-even with the additional weight of the fairing-handles the job gracefully. We were also impressed that the fairing didn't negatively affect the 'Liner's neutral steering either. The Deluxe's four-pot calipers provided good initial bite (though with more lever travel than we'd like) on the dual front discs, and progressive action came with good feel, as we expected it would.

Bits and Pieces
Settling into the Deluxe felt comfortable right off the bat-ergonomics fit my 5'7" frame pretty well considering I'm on the short side. The Deluxe's roomy-but-not-plush saddle situates you 27.8 inches off the ground and the ample floorboards offer an adjustable heel-toe shifter. Throw in the wide handlebars and you have a roomy rider's triangle. The new fairing felt a touch closer than I expected, and I feared excessive buffeting would result from the shorty windscreen.

I was only half-right. The fairing did a good job at keeping the gusts off my chest, but at speeds above 55mph, the wind poured right on over the brief windscreen, the buffeting in full effect. Ducking behind the fairing helped quite a bit-it's wide and has a nice taper at the ends, making for great hand deflectors-but it also provided a lesson in wind dynamics. Strong gusts could be felt from underneath the fairing as well. Lowers would be a big help here (fortunately Star says those will be available in the spring).

Looking into the much-vaunted fairing, I'll 'fess up to some disappointment at the level of finish within. You gaze into what is essentially a black hole bracketed by two speakers; the interior of the ABS batwing looks unfinished. More to come? We hope; this is ostensibly a divisional flagship bike. There's a compartment built into the top portion, since the Deluxe comes iPod-ready with a cable nestled in there. Unfortunately that iPod dock is open to the elements, and many of us wondered why a door for the compartment wasn't included as a matter of course.

A left bar-mounted controller shuffles through the songs as well as handling manual volume control. But the two recessed 5-inch speakers self-adjust too: as ambient noise goes up, music volume goes up or down in relation. Nice. I was further surprised to find that the speaker sound quality was much better than expected. I could easily hear tunes out on the freeway, and the sound punched through crisply even at high volume.

I know I'm picking nits, but a radio tuner would've been nice too. I realize that the iPod interface is an easy way to offer onboard music, but it still requires the user to bring specific gear to the table (an adapter for non-iPod MP3 players is offered for an extra $50).

But luggage is more important, right? And in the Deluxe's case, the polycarbonate hardbags are the bee's knees-at least on most levels. They're well-designed, with integrated, sleek styling that complements the entire bike, and their single lock/pushbutton latch makes opening and closing them a cinch. Unfortunately, the 13.7 gallon capacity seems less than optimal, though the curved spaces can accommodate awkward items.

Star says the Stratoliner Deluxe will be available in dealers in May, with a single Raven paint finish for $17,490. We're thoroughly impressed with this bike, but it's playing in an increasingly crowded field, with machines like Victory's Cross Country and Harley's Road Glide that retail for (give or take) less than $1000 more than the Star. They also offer ABS and cruise control options, as well as 6-speed transmissions and bigger fuel tanks. Baggers are the big trend right now, and the 2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe has the performance, fit and finish-and looks-to be a strong competitor in this market. Let's hope the price doesn't hamstring it.

Specifications

2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe
MSRP: $17,490
Colors: Raven

Engine

Type: Air-cooled, 48-degree V-twin
Displacement, Bore x stroke: 1854cc (113ci), 100mm x 118mm
Valve train: Pushrod OHV
Compression ratio: 9.48:1
Fuel System: EFI, 43mm throttle bodies.
Transmission: 5-speed, multiplate wet clutch
Final drive: Belt

Chassis

Wheelbase: 67.5 in.
Rake/trail: 30.9 deg./5.9 in.
Front suspension: 46mm fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single, preload adjustable damper; 4.3 in. travel
Front brake: 298 mm dual discs, 4-piston, monoblock calipers
Rear brake: 320mm hydraulic disc
Front Tire: 130/70-18 tubeless radial
Rear Tire: 190/60-17 tubeless radial

Dimensions

Overall length: 101.6 in.
Seat height: 27.8 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gallons
Weight (dry): 802 lbs.

2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe