Thunder Road Comparison of the 1999 Yamaha Road Star

Was the 1999 Yamaha was worth the wait?

This article was originally published in the June 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

1999 Yamaha Road Star
Yamaha may have been late to the game, but its big 1600 was worth the wait.Dean Groover

Building an entirely new en­gine demands a major expenditure, which is why no new cruiser engines were introduced between 1987 and 1998. But the cruiser boom of the 1990s was married to America's affection for big motors. Even before it rolled out its first Royal Star for 1996, Yamaha was at work on a new engine for a bike that was custom-made for Americans involved in the cruiser boom of the late '90s.

If Americans said they liked big, narrow-angle, air-cooled, V-twins with pushrods, then that's what they'd get. At 1602cc, the Road Star mill is the biggest engine made by a motorcycle manufacturer. Set at 48 degrees, its air-cooled cylinders have the most prominent pushrod tubes in motorcycling, in part because both of the pushrods for each cylinder share a single tube. We like those external airboxes, so the Road Star's big triangular chrome airbox hangs alongside the engine to serve air to the single 40mm carb.

Inside the engine, Yamaha’s engineers got to apply their craft with a modern four-valve two-plug combustion chamber atop ceramic-composite-lined cylinders. Surprisingly, there is no counterbalancer to calm the shaking of the single-crankpin big twin. Yamaha relies on the massive 45-pound crankshaft and the location of the engine to smooth the ride. The dry-sump lubrication system stores its oil in a reservoir above the transmission.

Power takes a circuitous route to the belt final drive. A geared primary and five gearbox ratios direct power via a silent chain to a final output shaft located very near the pivot point of the swingarm. This minimizes tension changes in the belt as the swingarm moves. The swingarm is a triangulated type with a single shock under the seat. This gives the bike the uncluttered look of a hardtail. The wheels are 16-inchers with wire spokes. Dual discs apply the brakes up front with a single disc at the rear.

A 5.3-gallon tank integrates with the wide, comfortable look that is fostered by covered fork tubes, full fenders, floorboards and a wide, two-piece saddle. Tank-top instruments help to keep its profile clean, and the LCD odometer/tripmeter display also includes a clock.