Five Yamaha Royal Star Customs That Make Up A Royal Flush

A handful of customs dealt from the top of the deck

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

We combed our archives and found this article that showcases five Yamaha Royal Star customs that we thought were worthy of the limelight once again...

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Desperado: Jeff Palhegyi's Royal StarDean Groover


In the space of a minute, our whole day changed. When Yamaha’s public relations manager said we had one day—and one day only—to photograph Jeff Palhegyi’s latest Royal Star creation, before it spent four months on the consumer show tour, we dropped everything. Within the hour, the photographer was booked, a location selected, and a chauffeur sent to pick up the Star.

As we discussed the genesis of Desperado, Palhegyi said (in the offhand way that creative-types discuss their work) the motivation behind producing this custom was simply the desire to build a bike around spoked wheels and a big headlight. Although the wheels are eye-catching, the headlight is clearly the centerpiece of the bike. Unlike with deer, turning off this headlight doesn’t keep passersby from stopping in their tracks. A Headwinds headlamp and passing lamps form the heart of the assembly. The sultry headlight nacelle’s metalwork flowed from the talented hands of Evan Wilcox, who spent countless hours getting everything to line up just right. Palhegyi crafted the passing lamp mounts, and flawless chrome from Quality Chrome and Polishing provided the finishing touch. The rest of the handlebar area is dressed up with braided steel and Yamaha billet accessories.

The wheels are notable in their own right. Hallcrafts laced the rims—four and one-half inches in front and six inches for the rear—to a pair of Hallcrafts hubs, and installed the company’s trick mercury self-balancing system. On the hubs, a pair of Performance Machine’s chromed rotors (yikes!) get clamped by six-piston calipers up front, with a four-piston caliper doing duty in the rear. Or, at least, they will when hydraulic fluid and brake pads are installed after Desperado leaves the show circuit for road use. A 160/60-18 Dunlop front and a 170/60-18 Dunlop rear negotiate the exchange of forces between the motorcycle and the road.

The Palhegyi-designed fenders maintain the Royal Star profile, only longer. The front fender shed its steel makeup for fiberglass, while the rear steel fender grew five inches longer at the tip. The stretched tank leads the eye to the Corbin saddle. Palhegyi created the seat rail, and it proved to be so popular that it should be available from dealers by the time this article hits the newsstands. Taylor Design’s two-tone paint scheme gives this Star a clean profile, but the detailed pinstriping—as anyone who saw Desperado at Yamaha’s consumer events this summer will attest—must be seen to be believed. An understated Joker Machine taillight and license plate frame give some shine to the rear.

Once again, Palhegyi delivered a crowd-pleasing Royal Star. One that, only days after our photo shoot, thousands of people would see at Yamaha events. You can bet we felt the weight of the responsibility as we backed this bike down the ramp out of the van…and remembered that Desperado had no brakes.

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Royal Knight: Tom Dovolo's Royal StarMark Langello

Royal Knight:

Even in stock form, the royal Star caught Tom Dovolo’s eye. Since he had read the magazine reviews, he knew his 28.2-inch seat height would fit the Yamaha nicely. The five-year warranty only piqued his interest. But seeing a Star at a local car show made him pick up the phone. Soon he was the proud owner of the first Royal Star in the Rochester, New York area.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. The first change Dovolo made to the bike, dubbed Royal Knight, was to cut down the stock seat. Wielding a bread knife, he thinned the foam by two and one-half inches. A hacksaw narrowed the seat by three inches. Once black leather was slipped over the newly shaped saddle, a project had begun.

Dovolo immediately found that, although Royal Star dress-up products were in development, none were yet available. No problem—with the help of Fab-weld of Rochester, he designed and built his own. The brake caliper covers and the radiator shell were constructed from cardboard, then duplicated in metal by Fab-weld. The curved seat rail rivals those produced by the aftermarket. Dovolo crafted a cover out of steel to fit over a leather bib, while still allowing access to the pocket. Each new part was lovingly ground and shaped to a perfect fit before being shipped off to Brown’s Plating Service for chroming.

Another notable modification is the trick handlebar. Starting with an aftermarket bar, Dovolo had holes drilled into the bar for all the wiring. Not content to stop there, he had metal plates welded to the risers. All the seams were ground down to a smooth finish before the chrome bath. The master cylinders and the rest of the front end also got dipped. All hoses and cables donned braided stainless steel. Yamaha accessory grips, mirrors, and light bar make the scene. Most of the chrome parts can be found in Aeromach and Yamaha catalogs. Jardine forward controls give Dovolo a casual stretched-out look. Harley parts, like the beehive taillight and the front fender rails, look good on this metric cruiser. The crowning touch on the black-and-chrome Star is the replacement of virtually every nut on the bike with Colony’s raised acorns.

Where the rubber meets the road, Dovolo got some assistance from Pro One’s almost-too-cool-for-words blade wheels shod with Dunlop D205s. The rear tire did pose a problem, however. It seems the fat tire is three-fourths of an inch wider than stock and rubbed against the chromed swingarm, causing an unsightly mess. Shaving an eighth of an inch off the tire fixed the problem. The engine breathes in via K&N filters and a Baron’s Custom Accessories carb kit, and out via four Samson straight pipes.

Readers might wonder where Dovolo keeps a bike that he’s put this much time, effort, and money into. The living room, of course. If that’s what it takes to create a bike this pretty, we say take the living room—and the dining room.

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Detail Work: Jay Gershen's Royal StarMark Langello

Detail Work:

Cruiser/customizer Jay Gershen doesn’t know when to stop. Case in point: His ’96 Royal Star won contests… the first time he customized it! While his Star was pretty before, only the skull covered tombstone brake light and B1KER license plate look as they did on the first version. Now the bike is a showstopper with so many mods that it’s impossible to take in all the details in one glance.

Like a mosquito at a nudist colony, a viewer’s eye doesn’t know where to land when Gershen’s bike rolls up. Since the bike is covered with paint from end-to-end, we’ll start there. Gershen credits Mike Tewilliger with the detailed application of pigment. The patriotic paint scheme features eagles and flags, which are set off against black leather. One of the more unique tricks employed within the paintjob was the torso of a guy in a black leather jacket. The speedo is his head while a muscular chest is visible through a partially open leather jacket. Gershen said the image was designed to hide the tank’s center seam by incorporating it into the texture of the picture. Other parts of the paint scheme blend almost imperceptibly from one body panel to the next. For example, the eagle’s feathers move from the metal covering the Corbin seat’s subframe onto the rear fender. The frame was also handpainted with beads, feathers, and Native American eagle icons.

The engine blocks were powdercoated, and the calipers were powdercoated and chromed before being obscured with Aeromach caliper covers. The triple tree, risers, master cylinders, levers, light bar, fork covers, and stanchions wear electroplated clothing. Even the stock wheels were chromed through a wheel exchange program offered by Baron’s Custom Accessories. Gershen also handpolished the stock rotors and crafted his own “mini-hubs” for the rotor centers. A glint of gold stands out on the triple clamp; Gershen inset a Rolex watch into the steering neck nut!

Even while incorporating off-the-rack modifications on his ride, Gershen still managed to inject his own flair. The Aeromach carburetor covers sport red anodized velocity stacks. An old Harley seat rail was modified to fit the Royal Star. Every light on the bike sports a visor, each with an eagle head at its peak. The skull valve stem nuts are carved out of real bone. He also spooned in performance products from Baron’s. Each of the four Chrome Werks pipes wears a sandblasted etching—a tattoo, if you will—in a traditional Navajo pattern. The engine cases and the glass covering the instruments also benefit from a similar delicate translucent inscription.

Gershen’s ride has won the approval of most people who are lucky enough to see it. This year his Star was one of 250 bikes to be invited for display at the Motorcycle World’s Fair. But if you didn’t get to the show, don’t despair. You’ll find Gershen cruising in New York, year round.

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Britt Bike: Scott Britt's Royal StarFran Kuhn

Britt Bike:

A Yamaha dealer since 1976, Scott Britt (owner of Britt Motorsports in Wilmington, NC) has been around Royal Stars since they hit the market. He’s also one of those rare dealers who enjoys customizing bikes. The fact that customs help sell stockers only sweetens the process. Before we met Britt at Daytona Bike Week, we spoke with him on the phone and saw pictures of his Star. Nothing, however, prepared us for the impression his custom makes in person.

The lines of the bike naturally lead to the seat. Britt Motorsports’ Parts Manager Mark Roberts welded up the shapely, steel sub-frame and the swoopy tail section, while Britt performed the smoothing and molding work. The thin, padded seat is as curvaceous as the metal it’s attached to. Every weld on the frame was ground down and smoothed to seamless perfection. The triangulated area of the steering head is a prime example of careful attention to detail. Taking the sleek look one step further, Britt stretched the gas tank and cut out an inch and a half from the height of the tank. While he was at it, he sculpted the speedometer housing into the top of the tank.

Since the rear fender no longer needed to support the rider, it was moved to the swingarm and chopped front and rear to allow it to sit closer to the wheel. In fact, the fender’s new location interfered with the rear brake system, requiring Britt to mount the caliper under the swingarm. Up front, a Ness fender covers one of the Kosman wheels specially constructed for this Star. Britt Motorsports’ Chief Mechanic Garry Lane installed Pro-One’s carburetor kit, cams, valve springs, cams, and CDI box to sweeten the V-four’s combustion process—making sticky Metzeler radials welcome. A free breathing D&D exhaust system finishes off the performance mods.

The House of Kolor candy-apple red metalflake paint screams for attention. Britt painted the frame, swingarm, radiator shroud, calipers, and even the shock housing the same striking color. Ghost flames add more curves to the already shapely machine. If the glitter of the paint scheme’s metal flakes doesn’t get this Star noticed, the chrome doled out by Brown’s Plating Service sure will. Other shiny bits include: Baron’s Custom Accessories triple trees, Ness master cylinders and mirrors, Pro-One forward controls, and Aeromach carburetor covers. Braided-steel cables and lines bring the appearance and performance of these necessities in line with the rest of the bike.

Although Britt feels a sense of accomplishment from creating this custom, he says the contests he’s entered the bike in have given him the most pleasure. This year at Daytona the bike took first place in the Beach Street Ride-In, and second place at another show. However, finishing eighth in the famed Rats’ Hole Bike Show during Daytona Bike Week ’97 still ranks as one of his life’s most memorable moments. Out of 94 entries in the 1000cc Radical Class, Britt’s bike was the only import custom. Pretty impressive, eh?

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Composite Custom: Stephen Stringer's Royal Star.Dean Groover

Composite Custom:

Stephen stringer wanted to create an orignial Royal Star that wasn’t restricted by the styling limits of steel. His weapons of choice? Modeling clay and composite fibers.

Stringer, a clay modeler, teacher, and consultant for the automotive and aerospace industries, wanted to build a pretty Star; but he also wanted his project to showcase how the strengths and versatility of composite materials could be applied to motorcycles. (For information on the clay modeling see page 22.) A cursory glance at Stringer’s Star doesn’t reveal any major differences from other traditional steel-and-Bondo sculptures often found at bike shows. However, a detailed examination of Stringer’s bike illustrates the freedom he enjoyed while crafting this beauty.

Stretching a gas tank may not be new, but making the tank stronger isn’t usually considered. What makes this possible is an outer skin of carbon-fiber and Kevlar molded into the shape Stringer wanted. Since the outside lengthened by three and one-half inches and widened by one and one-half inches, foam fills the space created between the composite shell and the steel of the tank. According to Stringer, the entire tank is stronger and less likely to rupture during an impact or long slide—even on the top of the tank where the composite cloth only increased the tank’s thickness by 20 one-thousandths of an inch. This safety cell tank alone was enough to get Stringer’s Star voted the best technical innovation (out of more than 1000 entries) at a composites industry trade show.

The fenders received the reshape-and-rebuild-’em-with-composites treatment. The front fender lengthened by three-quarters of an inch, and transformed from metal to carbon fiber and Kevlar. The rear fender’s new shape allowed Stringer to create two, almost invisible, luggage compartments on both sides of the fender. The 24x14x2.5-inch compartments are basically a fender inside a fender, which takes advantage of the space between the tire and hub by tucking in under the rim next to the spokes. When installing the rear wheel, the Dunlop tire just barely squeezes through the narrowest point before being positioned in the open space above the compartments. The black knob below the stock fender rails hides the lock. Also, the wider lines of the rear fender actually allowed Stringer to clean up the back of the bike by insetting the turn signals into the fender.

With all the high-tech craftsmanship heaped on the bodywork of this Royal Star, the other additions seem almost pedestrian. The turned-down rear section of the tank merges with the made-to-order Corbin seat; handgrip electrics were routed inside the Cobra bar; and Dynojet, Jardine, and K&N handled the tuning department. Stringer painted all the bodywork himself, but left just enough of the carbon-fiber covers (like the front disc hubs) visible to whet your appetite.