We have now put a few thousand miles on Yamaha's new 1854cc Roadliner V-twin cruiser and have been impressed by the motorcycleits power, comfort, finish, handling, brakes...almost everything actually. As mentioned in our First Ride Report on the Roadliner, although other companies' maximum twins have disappointed, the Roadliner looks like a home run. Because that bike was so comfortable, roomy, and stable, I was looking forward to riding its touring offshoot, the Stratoliner. I finally got that opportunity on the first Friday in December.
I was among the first wave of journalists invited to Palm Springs, California for a day aboard the big Star. Yamaha reps start out these things with a presentation that frames their thinking about the bike, its positioning in the market, and its technical and other features. The Stratoliner was created because there is a clear and growing demand for motorcycles that add some touring function to a cruiser. These bikes, which Yamaha are now calling "cruiser touring bikes," tend to be ridden more miles per year, on longer trips, and to more events according to Yamaha's research. Their riders tend to be slightly older and more experienced, and are more likely to bring a passenger. However, they appreciate the same basic cruiser character that attracts buyers to bikes without the touring equipment. They just want to wrap it to go.
So the Stratoliner is basically just a Roadliner with a windshield, saddlebags, and a passenger backrest. Except for the slightly stiffer spring (more preload) in the single-damper rear suspension, it is technically the same. The Stratoliner comes in the same three cosmetic variations as the Roadliner. The base model ($15,180) comes in one color (Yamaha calls it "copper" but we'd call it a maroon) with slightly less polish and chrome than the S model ($16,580), which is available in silver or a black/cherry two-tone (the two-tone also gets two-tone saddle upholstery). Between those two models is the Midnight ($15,480), which blacks out almost everything.
So it is the touring gear that sets the Stratoliner apart from the Roadliner. The full, quick-detachable windshield is made from a single piece of plastic. Yamaha says its contoursmost noticeably the lower edges that sweep back slightly to deflect wind down and out—deter buffeting. The windshield's bracketry features the same windswept curves that distinguish the rest of the bike. Leather covers the hard-shell bags, which feature lockable push-button latches for easy access. The backrest's pad is mounted high for optimum support and security. Both the backrest and the windshield detach in moments without tools and are lockable, so that somebody walking by doesn't decide to borrow them. The bags feature quick-release quarter-turn dzus fasteners so you can remove them easily to clean behind them, though the unsightly brackets remain, so few riders will want to ride without them.
The Star folks laid out a fun, somewhat demanding route for the Stratoliner ride. It included lots of twisty mountainous roads, some of them in need of repair. The Stratoliner proved every bit as adept at negotiating corners, even bumpy ones, as the Roadliner, which is the best-handling of the mega-cruisers. Adding the touring gear has not created any handling issues or balkiness. Windshields and saddlebags sometimes create aerodynamic handling problems at high speeds, but when I deliberately made it wobble at 110 mph, the Stratoliner immediately stabilized, so that isn't an issue. I also rode the Stratoliner in some pretty stout crosswinds and had no complaints.
The strong brakes are just as effective and controllable with the additional equipment. The suspension was equally well controlled and provided a ride that was just as comfortable as the Roadliner's, even though I was riding solo. Of course, the same roominess of the Roadliner is even more welcome on a bike with a more touring-oriented mission, since it allows riders to shift position and allows the bike to accommodate a large range of rider sizes. In short, you can read our comments about riding the Roadliner and apply them to the Stratoliner.
Some of the original-equipment windshields on other Star models have been so tall that few riders could hope to look over them, which you desperately need to do in rain, bug swarms, etc., especially at night. I was concerned that this windshield would also be excessively tall. So I was pleased when I first settled into the saddle and discovered that I could see the road over it if I sat up straight. What more there is virtually none of the distortion that makes induces headaches when you look through the upper edge of some windshield.
Out on the road, the windshield reduced wind noise substantially and made the bike much warmer in the crisp mountain temperatures we were riding through. It deflected most wind over my head, and the passing air just brushed my shoulders. The shape of the lower edge keeps wind from blowing up under the bottom of the shield, and your knees are in the calm zone. Air passing underneath the windshield doesn't begin to rise until it's about three-quarter of the way down the gas tank. I noticed a slight updraft around my helmet, but there was no forward pressure caused by the air rushing in behind you.
The only drawback to the windshield is that it traps and reflects some mechanical and intake noise, which more noticeable than on the Roadliner. Of course, if you don't like it, feel like cruising without it, or don't need the protection for your next ride, just unplug the windshield and leave it at home or in your hotel room.
The saddlebags open easily with just one hand. Although I rode in a little light rain, it wasn't enough to tell if the bags are actually waterproof. The genuine leather coverings might fit the bike's character, but they are going to be tougher to clean and maintain than if the bags were simply painted. Unfortunately, the saddlebags don't hold much, which is my biggest disappointment about the touring-oriented gear on the Stratoliner. They are actually much smaller inside than they appear, and probably won't be adequate for anything more than an overnight excursion with a passenger. If you plan to tour seriously with this bike, you will probably want to spend $150 for Yamaha's accessory luggage rack.
Aside from the shortfall in saddlebag capacity, the Star Stratoliner is as pleasing to ride and look at as the Roadliner. The added $1600 that you pay to get the Stratoliner instead of the Roadliner buys high-quality accessories that match the unique, luxurious style of the rest of the bike. Aside from the limited saddlebag capacity, the added gear also performs its functions quite well and the quick-detach features of the windshield and backrest mean they only need to be there when you need them.
_Additional motorcycle road tests, first rides, 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.