First Ride: 2004 Yamaha Road Star 1700 Motorcycle

Yamaha has up-sized its flagship, improving performance, comfort, braking and details. By Art Friedman

The surprise with the new Yamaha Road Star isn't that its engine has been updated and enlarged to 1670cc using components from the Warrior. We expected that. The surprises are how much more solid that extra 68cc makes the engine feel and the other changes Yamaha made to the bike and some it didn't make.

We spent most of a day riding the an early-production 2004 Road Star for this report, and came away impressed by the changes which are both more subtle and more impressive than our first glance at the bike would have suggested. We will have a complete test for the October issue cover story in Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

We expected that Yamaha would incorporate fuel injection when it rolled the technology from the Warrior into the Road Star. Instead, it stayed with a single 40mm carburetor, apparently because customers said they preferred the simplicity and tuning ease of that configuration. Of course, that also helped keep the price down, part of the reason that the Road Star, now nominally a 1700, comes in at the same price as the original 1602cc version.

However, the new bike has a redesigned airbox with more capacity, which apparently improves breathing. Yamaha has also juggled reciprocating masses in the pushrod valve train and beefed up some of the structures that support it to let the revised engine rev a little higher and get into the rev limiter a bit more gently than the previous version. With longer cam duration, higher compression, shorter-skirt pistons, and dual plugs in addition to the additional 68cc (which pushes it above the 100-cubic-inch mark), the bike feels noticeably stronger off the line. Cylinder fins have been revised for better cooling too.

The most pleasing difference is up top, where it runs out of revs more gently and pulls longer before you need to shift. In addition, Yamaha gave the 1700 a taller first-gear ratio then dropped the overall ratio slightly, which puts all the gears closer together. These changes make the first-to-second shift less of a jump and eliminated our tendency to bump into the rev limiter in first. Because the engine revs higher, the slightly higher engine speeds on the highway are not at all troublesome, even if you notice them. With horsepower and torque increases of 15 percent or so, you get crisper passes at highway speeds.

The character of the engine is virtually unchanged, however. It feels, responds, and sounds the same. The drivetrain remains admirably free of lash, and once the engine is warm, throttle response is splendid. Shifts are positive and light. The final drive belt is stronger yet narrower. Despite the added displacement and power, the 48-degree engine continues to defy convention, refusing to vibrate significantly despite absence of a counterbalancer. Only up near where the rev limiter comes into play does vibration become an issue.

We were surprised that Yamaha slightly rearranged the ergonomics, which were already excellent. However, the changes are all positive. There is a new saddle, with a roomier and flatter rider portion, offering even more flexibility in riding position. The handlebar mounts slightly differently, but is not overly wide and bends so as to be comfortable on the highway and manageable during full-lock turns. The floorboards now float to isolate what vibration might arise.

The most welcome surprise was a switch to cast wheels with tubeless tires. Yamaha tells us that the change was made because customers asked for it, apparently because they want tubeless tires (which are less like to deflate catastrophically than tube-type tires). The new wheels should also be easier to clean than the wire-spoke wheels of the original Road Star, need no spoke maintenance to keep them round and safe, and are probably more rigid.

The pleasant steering qualities of the original Road Star survive intact. The new bike still points easily, requires little effort, tracks predictably and doesn't sit up excessively if you brake in a corner. Cornering remains limited by clearance. It is pretty easy to drag the footboards in corners (though Yamaha is to be commended for using replaceable inserts where the boards touch down), though the hard parts that drag don't upset the bike much when they touch down. Stability remains solid, and the extra quarter-inch of wheelbase created with a longer swingarm, doubtlessly didn't hurt.

While other companies have been improving the suspension on their cruisers, Yamaha made no change. Although the ride is not awful, it isn't as well controlled as, for example the new Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 (see the Road Tests section of this site for more on that bike).

However, the front brake were upgraded to one-piece calipers (there are two) from Yamaha's big sportbike. They carry pads from the middleweight sporter. The result is more braking power at your fingertips with excellent control.

Yamaha could have taken the opportunity to restyle the bike, but the changes are very minor and related mostly to the functions of pieces like the airbox and wheels. In fact, the wheels are the most-noticed change from our experience. Clear lenses (or more accurately "colorless translucent" lenses) on the turn signals (which have amber bulbs) as well as the restyled low-profile LED taillight are the other substantial visual clues that you are looking at a 1700. The stylists also gave the speedo a fresh face, tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to hide some of the air-injection plumbing on the left of the cylinders, and painted the engine black. The new one-piece handlebar clamp, which we suspect was changed from the two-clamp arrangement of the 1600 for structural rather than visual reasons, evoked appreciative noises from some staff members.

Yamaha has expanded its line of accessories, and existing bolt-ons, even pipes, will fit the new bike. One of the most interesting additions to Yamaha's accessory line is painted hard bags, which should please anyone who felt the stock Silverado bags are a little to confining or not weatherproof enough.

Because the visual changes are minor, the XV17 is clearly a Road Star. If you like the original, you'll like this one and almost certainly like it more. We did, and we do. The changes are not overwhelming, but they are noticeable -- and they are all good.

One thing that didn't change was the price. In the single-color paint scheme (which this year means white only), it's still $10,999. Add $200 if you want the black-red two-tone, and for the all-black Midnight version, which has extra chrome and studs, list price is $11,799. The Silverado model, which includes a windshield, leather bags, a passenger backrest and other goodies, is $12,599 in a gold/tan two-tone or $13,199 with the Midnight treatment.

SPECIFICATIONS
2004 Yamaha Road Star

Designation: XV17A
Suggested base price: $10,999
Standard color: White
Extra-cost colors: Black/red, add $200; Midnight black, add $800
Standard warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles
www.Yamaha-Motor.com

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled 48-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves operated by pushrods; hydraulic and threaded adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1670cc, 97 x 113mm
Compression ratio: 8.3:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Mikuni CV
Lubrication: Semi-dry sump
Minimum fuel grade: 90-octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 746 lb
Seat height: 27.9 in.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Overall length: 98.7 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 5.6 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy; 16 x 3.0 front, 16 x 3.5 rear
Front tire: 130/90-16 Bridgestone G703 Excedra
Rear tire: 150/80B16 Bridgestone G702 Excedra
Front brake: 2, double-action 4-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs
Rear brake: Single-action, one-piston caliper, 12.6 disc.
Front suspension: 43mm stanchions, 5.5 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.3 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gal.
Handlebar width: 33.3 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Battery: 12v, 18AH
Forward lighting: 7.5-in. 55/60-watt headlights, position lights
Taillight: LED tail/brake light, license light
Instruments: Electric speedometer, fuel gauge, LED odometer/clock/dual tripmeters; lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low fuel, engine diagnostics

If you have comments or questions about our coverage of the 2004 Road Star, email Art.Friedman@primedia.com.

Motorcycle Cruiser_'s test of the original Road Star 1600 is available online in the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.