Initial Impression: First Ride on the 2006 Yamaha Star Roadliner

Yamaha's new 1850cc Roadliner is the first super-twin that lives up the hype. By Art Friedman

Let me say right up front that I am very impressed after my first outing on Yamaha's new maximum twin. That hasn't always been the case with new big-inch twins. Honda's VTX1800 left me cool, and I was actually disappointed by Kawasaki's Vulcan 2000. However, after spending a day riding the Yamaha Roadliner, I think Yamaha has hit a home run.

Part of the Roadliner's success is a result of Yamaha's restraint and common sense. The first prototype produced for this project (apparently Yamaha had caught wind of the Kawasaki 2000) was 2400cc. But, as those who rode it told me, "It was just too big." They reported it was top-heavy and ungainly in appearance. So the second delivery from the drawing board solidly mounted a smaller 1853cc (113ci) air-cooled counterbalanced V-twin.

Intended to be an "image-leading model," the XV1900 Roadliner was to have "artistic style, with room for technology." That technology includes a 37-pound aluminum frame—that's 25 pounds lighter than the Road Star frame—mated to an 8-pound aluminum swingarm. But it's also artistic because the frame is styled at the steering-head area and the swingarm features the windswept shapes that distinguish the bike.

Although its layout, which includes pushrod valve operation and dry-sump lubrication, may suggest that it is just a bored and stroked version of the 1670cc Road Star engine, that's not the case. Though the arrangement is similar to the VX1700 Road Star's, the Roadliner has different cases with different shaft spacing, has its own four-valve, dual-plug heads with very straight intakes and a stout 9.5:1 compression ratio, and features dual counterbalancers on each end of the crankshaft.

The valves are bigger, and the pushrods are 2mm shorter than the XV1700. The XV1900 has a new high-efficiency lubrication system. The cylinders use a new process to machine the ends of the fins, which are deeper for better cooling. Of course, it does have a 2mm wider bore (100mm) than the 1700, and the stroke is 5mm longer, at 118mm.

Inhaling from a single 3.5-liter airbox under the upper (3.7 gallons) of two fuel tanks (the second with .8 gallons, under the saddle, brings the total to 4.5 gallons), the fuel injectors use 43mm throttle bodies with 12-hole wide-spray pattern injector nozzles (a first for a cruiser) to improve power and reduce fuel consumption. Even more interesting is the exhaust system, which incorporates Yamaha's EXUP exhaust valve in the head pipes to significantly improve low- and mid-range power. Owners who replace the complete exhaust system stand to lose substantial power in the places where they use it most. Yamaha broke with its usual policy and made claims for the power output of the Roadliner: 101 horsepower (91 at the rear wheel), and 124 foot-pounds of torque (117 at the rear wheel).

You can feel that muscle when you drop the hydraulic clutch and pull away. The power and the clutch come in smoothly, so it's easy to pull away without jerking your passenger. Shifting is also smooth, and neutral is easy to find. Except for some take-up in the driveline dampers when you decelerate, the drive train is quite smooth. Power is strong and seamless from 2000 rpm. The beat of the exhaust is satisfyingly deep and solid.

It runs up to highway speeds briskly, and at 65 mph is turning just 2500 rpm. Yamaha claims it accelerates harder than the Honda VTX1800 or the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000, and my day twisting the throttle didn't do anything to discount that claim. It will be interesting to

Perhaps more than anything, I was impressed by the suspension. The 5.1-inch-travel 46mm fork and 4.3-inch-travel single-damper rear suspension serve up a low-impact, extremely well controlled ride. At 705 pounds without fluids with a 67.5-inch wheelbase, it can't be considered nimble, but it is predictable and easy to put right where you want it. Cornering clearance improves on the Road Star, but is only average for other cruisers.

Yamaha reps said they wanted to lay out the Roadliner to fit a wide variety of rider sizes. The designers made the rider's saddle section extra-long and provided long floorboards. It isn't too high either, at 28.9 inches off the road. It sure worked for me. Nothing annoyed me about the saddle during my day riding up and down the Columbia River out of Portland: I never felt cramped; there were no hard spots, and I could slide forward or back to change my position. The oversized floorboards were just as accommodating to my size 13 boots, which usually feel awkward on floorboards.

On the other hand, I couldn't cover the front brake lever while holding the throttle, and unlike most other Yamaha cruisers, there are no lever-position adjusters on the Roadliner handlebar levers. This is one place where form has trumped function, though the Star accessory group is working on developing adjustable levers or levers with a different bend for smaller hands. The front brake, two four-piston monoblock calipers working on 298mm rotors, offers plenty of power with good control. The same goes for the rear brake, which provides better control than most cruisers.

Yamaha touts the width of the Roadliner's handlebar as one of its assets, but out on the road, that width makes you work to hold your position against the wind or slide back on the roomy seat to lean into the wind pressure. Included on the bar's switch housings are controls for the big LCD window at the bottom of the classically styled tank-top instrument cluster. The handlebar switches allow you to select the elements—clock, two tripmeters, odometer—and to reset those that can be. They are also used to set the instrument lighting brightness or to enter diagnostic mode. There is also a fuel-reserve tripmeter, which begins to count up when the engine starts drawing from the reserve fuel supply. The instrument cluster includes a small tachometer and fuel gauge.

The February issue of Motorcycle Cruiser will have a full test of the bike, and we'll learn if it lives up to Yamaha's claims for fuel mileage (a range of over 200 miles?) and performance. The first California models are arriving now, and the rest of the country will be getting bikes in October. The first shipment of Stratoliner (a version of the Roadliner with windshield, saddlebags, and passenger backrest) will arrive in December.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Yamaha Star Roadliner

  • Suggested base price: $13,580, $13,880 Midnight, $14,780 S model

  • Optional colors: S model bronze/black add $200

  • Warranty: 12 months, unlimited miles

  • Seat height: 28.9 in.

  • Claimed dry weight: 705 lb.

  • Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

  • Wheelbase: 67.5 in.

  • Overall length: 101.6 in.

  • Front tire: 130/70-18

  • Rear tire: 190/60-17

  • Front brake: Dual 4-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs

  • Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.7-in. disc

  • Front suspension: 46mm stanchions, 5.3 in. travel

  • Rear suspension: One damper, 4.3 in. travel

_Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com. For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

Action photography by Tom Riles and Brian Nelson
There are three cosmetic variants of the Roadliner. We rode the chrome-encrusted S model, which comes in white ($14,780) or the bronze/black ($14,980). The Midnight ($13,880) has the blacked-out treatment on most of the metal and comes only in black. The base model ($13,580) is available only in black cherry.
The Roadliner shows more attention to the shapes of minor parts, such as the fender struts, than any motorcycle in memory. All models of the Roadliner and Stratoliner use tubeless tires (a 130/70-18 front and 190/60-17 rear) on these cast wheels, which are polished on the S.
Smaller hands may find the handlebar levers a slight stretch, and this bike doesn't have Yamaha's usual lever-position adjusters. However, the people at the Star accessory group are working on offering adjustable accessory levers or levers bent for smaller hands.
The Star styling team's attention to detail extended to the shape of the swingarm, which was formed from aluminum for weight and appearance. Although it's longer than the belt used on the Road Star and Warrior, the Kevlar-reinforced drive belt is the same width.
Handling is neutral and precise, but you feel the size and mass of the bike. The suspension is much better than most cruisers'.
That triple chrome trim that extends forward from the tank to the steering head seems likely to be controversial. With all the attention to styling detail, it's surprising to see the wire bundle so conspicuous on the right side of the steering head.
Styled like an early-20th-century clock, the instrument cluster includes tachometer, fuel gauge, and multi-function LCD display. Offsetting the fuel filler to the right side of the tank means that it is possible to completely fill the tank on the sidestand.
Attention to streamlined shapes extends to the shifter and sidestand. The shift levers can be adjusted independently or the rear lever can be removed. Replaceable drag pads under the floorboards keep the boards from being scratched.
Because there is an EXUP valve in the exhaust, owners who replace the entire exhaust system will probably sacrifice a significant amount of the low-end power as a result.
Turn signals and the license-plate light also felt the designers touch.
The dual-element headlight and teardrop-shaped turn signals the the bike's style. This S model has chromed fork covers instead of the brushed.
Even the inconspicuous guards for the passenger footpegs have been styled with a windswept shape. We wish those hoses weren't so prominent, however.
The ignition lock atop the headlight has a sliding cover. When you pull out the key, the cover slides back to conceal the lock and keep out precipitation.