Initial Impressions: Yamaha Star Stratoliner Motorcycle

The Stratoliner, the new 1854cc flagship of Yamaha's Star line of cruiser motorcycles, offers everything that the new XV1900 Roadliner motorcycle provides plus touring gear. **By

We have now put a few thousand miles on Yamaha's new 1854cc Roadliner V-twin cruiser and have been impressed by the motorcycle—its 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 contours—most 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 For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

Action photography by Kevin Wing
The Stratoliner shares the Roadliner's elegant style and attention to detail. (Static photography by Tom Riles & Art Friedman.)
Most of the external parts are blacked out on the Midnight model's motor. The ends of the fins are machined on all three models.
The S model engine has more chromed and polished parts. The tapered pushrod tubes are a distinctive feature of the Roadliner and Stratoliner.
The S model is available in either this two-tone version of the silver seen above, for the same price.
The big reflector-optic headlight does an exceptional job of lighting the road at night, and the stretched shell (shown in the Midnight finish) sets the motorcycle's neo-streamline style.
The key is shown here in the ignition/fork lock, which can be covered when the key is removed by sliding the metal cover ahead of it rearward. The other lock is for the quick-detachable windshield.
The pieces that are blacked out on this Midnight Stratoliner would be chromed or polished on the S model. The clutch requires a somewhat hefty lever effort to release but engages very progressively.
The quick-detach windshield deflects wind top and bottom and doesn't create any buffeting. You can lift it off in seconds without using tools.
The Stratoliner's backrest is tall and the pad is placed high to give the passenger maximum comfort, back support and security.
We were surprised that the designers let this ugly wire bundle sit so prominently in front of the carefully styled steering head.
The fender is smaller than some of those on "classic" cruisers. The tires are tubeless radials, either by Bridgestone or Dunlop.
The Midnight version has blacked-out fork covers and headlight shell instead of the shiny finishes of the other models.
The saddlebags can be removed quickly for cleaning by using the quarter-turn fasteners. Unfortunately there isn't much space inside.
_To obtain—and maintain—the shapes Yamaha wanted, both bags have hard shells, which are covered in genuine leather.
The lock for the quick-detaching passenger backrest is at the bottom of its left leg. All six of the bike's locks use the same key.
The big failing of the saddlebags is that they don't hold very much. Notice the two-tone upholstery on this S model's seat.
_The instruments are the same as the Roadliner's—big speedo, small tach and fuel gauge with controls for the LCD trip/odometer/clock and instrument lighting on the handlebar.
One of the few cosmetic differences between the Star Roadliner and the Stratoliner is the badge on the faux airbox. The actual airbox is a large unit under the 4.5-gallon fuel tank.
The low-profile LED taillight carries over from the Roadliner, along with the long teardrop-shaped turn signal units with white lenses over yellow bulbs. License illumination is from below.