Yamaha V Star And Harley-Davidson Sportster 1100s - Stuck In The Middle With You

1100s Used To Rule The Roost-And Now There Are Just Two

Once upon a time, nearly every motorcycle manufacturer in the land carried middleweight bikes at the core of its lineup. When the class was created back in 1985 with Yamaha's Virago 1100, anything in that range was thought to be plenty powerful-and in many segments of the motorcycle market literbikes are still widely considered to be the big guns. It's the cruiser market that's changed. With many machines now displacing well over 1500cc, a not-as-glamorous "middleweight" tag on a cruiser usually signifies around 1 liter of displacement-still nothing to sneeze at.

Whatever you call it, this in-between class has seen a revolving door of players for more than two decades. But Honda opted not to bring back its popular and long-running Shadow 1100 models for 2008, and BMW abandoned its R1200 cruisers altogether in 2006. We applauded Harley's earthshaking 1130cc V-Rod in our last Tweener Twins test (2002), but apparently buyers didn't share the love. Sluggish sales led the Motor Company to bore out the Revolution mill to 1250 cc, debuting it in the Night Rod Special in 2007. For 2008 all three V-Rod variants displace 1250cc. And Moto Guzzi still puts out 1100cc cruisers, but its sole entry for 2008 is the touring-oriented California Vintage.

In This Corner
In 2002 we could choose from 16 bikes in the 1100-1200cc class. We ended up picking seven contenders from six engine families in our comparison that year. For 2008, however, the choices have shriveled down to two manufacturers, each with one basic engine family (for a total of seven models). The two OEMs remaining in play are Harley-Davidson and Star Motorcycles.

For an update on the state of semi-big twins, we gathered samples from each. Harley launched its Evolution-based Sportster 1100 in 1986, bumping it to 1200cc in 1988 and then rubber-mounting it in 2004. The big news in 2007 was the addition of fuel injection to the entire line. For 2008 the Motor Company's 1200s include the Sportster 1200 Custom, the 1200 Low, the 1200 Roadster and a new model, the 1200 Nightster, all armed with EFI and packing 1199cc of displacement.

We had ridden both the Custom and the Nightster last year and were underwhelmed by their stingy suspension and cramped ergos-both hit the right styling notes but dropped the ball on comfort. The more neutral Roadster model's functionality got our attention instead.

Back in 1999 Yamaha (now Star) phased out its powerful Viragos in favor of the updated V Star 1100 series, which used the same basic engine layout in a new chassis with updated styling. But there hasn't been much movement in the Star camp since-the newest addition to the 1100 line, the Silverado, was introduced back in 2002. Star builds three versions of the 1100 for 2008, all sharing the same 1063cc engine and basic chassis: a skinny-tired, chopperesque version called the Custom, the shield-and-bags Silverado and the retro-styled Classic. We selected the last as the designated hitter for the company's 1100s.

Come Out Swinging
Both our middleweight combatants sport the requisite air-cooled V-twin powerplants (75 degrees for the V Star and 45 degrees for the Harley), and both are fairly refined, considering their disparate origins. Aside from these similarities they couldn't be more different machines. The taller, slimmer Sportster adopts a standard, sit-straight-up riding position with a narrower bar, midmounted pegs and a semi-bench-type saddle. It also uses belt drive and a traditional dual-shock setup out back. The V Star goes for flat-out, traditional cruiser comfort-a relaxed riding position with a wide pullback bar, floorboards with a heel-toe shifter and a broad, dished two-piece saddle. It sports a shaft drive and a pivoting subframe design with a hidden single shock that keeps the lines consistent with the rest of the bike.

The Roadster's minimalist appearance belies its comfortable ergos (except for that hard saddle); the midmount pegs should accommodate even six-footers, and the low-rise handlebar positions hands comfortably. You sit higher on the Sportster, nearly 30 inches off the ground, with the ignition positioned at the neck just forward of the restyled 4.5-gallon tank. Our test bike was fitted with the optional Smart Security System, a hands-free device wired into the bike's ignition system. If the key fob is more than 8 feet away, the bike won't start, flashing its running lights quickly instead.

Even though the Sportster is one of H-D's entry-level models, fit and finish are excellent, and small details like the black powdercoated engine and metal turn signals (rather than plastic) are impressive. The Sportster's smallish dimensions help instill confidence in most riders, although at a standstill you can still feel the engine's heft in the frame.

The Classic on the other hand is more classically styled, meaning it goes for that plus-size look: fat wheels and tires, wide wraparound fenders and staggered dual mufflers. If you feel lower on the V Star, that's because its seat is 2 inches closer to the ground than the Sportster's. The slammed style is emphasized by a fat 4.5-gallon tank with the chrome-framed speedo set on top.

Overall fit and finish on the V Star are impressive considering the price point. Among Star's cruisers the $8799 Classic slots in between the $6299 V Star 650 and the new $10,090 V Star 1300. The bike is good-looking in an unassuming way. Although there's a seam, it's hidden underneath the nicely styled tank. There are polished bits on the triple clamp, and you could easily imagine the V Star with whitewall tires, cutting a graceful profile. The Classic also places the ignition switch behind the steering column on the right (with an integrated fork lock). And if you squint you might even make out the cool flame paint job on our Raven black model.

On The Road
When it came time to start her up, the Sportster's 1199cc Evolution mill purred to life without a hiccup-all Sportsters got H-D's Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection as standard equipment in 2007. Oxygen feedback acts independently on each cylinder, so the system adjusts to changing conditions for optimal performance. Even with the engine's rubber mounts (an upgrade in 2004) you can still feel that distinctive rumble underneath.

The Roadster's clutch pull is the usual Harley situation-that is to say, heavy. It's not such a chore on long trips, but we all agreed the stiff pull gets pretty tiring in traffic. The clutch otherwise engages predictably and firmly with a fairly short throw and heavier clunk than you'd expect. Throttle response is instantaneous, and a low first-gear ratio on the Sportster makes it easy to launch aggressively without using too many rpm or too much clutch-a heavy right wrist can easily spin the tire. Fueling is up to the task, and the switch to EFI answers new, tougher emissions standards. The Sportster rolls on easily and revs freely throughout the range, hitting its horsepower peak just before the 6000-rpm redline with a discernible vibration that's not nearly as annoying as with previous Sportsters. Meanwhile, our dyno shows a healthy torque curve that comes on strong down low, steadily building to its peak at 3500 rpm before falling off.

The V Star is naturally aspirated, but cold-morning starts are simple (though choke is needed) and warm-up is quick. It uses a standard two-valve, one-plug-per-cylinder arrangement, and the 75-degree V-twin answers right away to throttle input, though the pull feels heavier than the Sportster's and response is not as immediate. Dual Mikuni carbs fitted with a throttle-position sensor help keep things dialed in-the engine works so well you tend to forget about it. Part of that agreeable nature is a decent level of low-end and midrange grunt. Our dyno shows an early peak at 2250 rpm with a nearly flat torque curve all the way to 4500 rpm-a highly usable range for the majority of riding situations.

Accelerating and shifting are a breeze on both machines. The V Star implements a heel-toe shifter, while the Sportster goes with a single lever. Both five-speed transmissions perform flawlessly, but the V Star's positive shift action feels smoother at speed. It's a good thing the Classic's clutch lever is so amenable, too-you need to stir the cogs frequently to stay in the meaty part of the rev range, as the Star has especially short gearing.

The Harley's more visceral-a distinct rumble issues from the exhaust along with noticeable vibration and engine noise, even in neutral. The V Star expresses itself with a pleasant enough exhaust note at low revs, but it becomes buzzy at higher speeds. Thankfully not much of the vibe is felt through the Classic's rubber-mounted handlebar.

Both bikes have predictable steering and don't mind being leaned over; you can chuck them into corners all day long without fearing major repercussions (though the V Star's folding floorboards touch down pretty early). The Star's wide bar makes it easy to herd around even at low speeds, and the bike tracks solidly at any speed thanks to its lengthier wheelbase. The chassis also feels a tad more manageable than some of the 1300s we've ridden. But while it's a gas to toss around both bikes, it's much more fun to do so with the Sportster. The Harley's shorter wheelbase and responsive steering geometry lend themselves to aggressive maneuvers, though the engine's heft is readily felt.

If there's a uniform Achilles' heel with these bikes, it's inadequate suspension, and it shows up quickly on bumpy roads. No matter which machine you're piloting, a solid, sharp-edged protuberance means you're going to feel the hit. The problem stems from limited travel and too-soft suspension rates. With the shock preload stiffened the Harley does better on moderate pavement irregularities, but the Sportster's one-piece seat offers little padding and practically no support. The V Star is most comfortable over the widest range of bumps, probably because of its longer 4 inches of rear travel. But its shaft system is guilty of some jacking at the rear when power is applied, even though the Classic motors away from stops pleasantly enough.

No one had any complaints about the excellent dual-disc front brakes on both bikes, but we felt the two-piston calipers binding the V Star's 298mm rotors gave us slightly more feel without being overbearing. The 282mm rear disk with a single-piston caliper also allowed better control than the Harley's.

On the open road both bikes set you out in the wind unprotected, though the Harley seemed less trying at high speeds thanks to a narrower bar and more aggressive riding position. Although we never got the chance to test the fuel-injected Sportster's quarter-mile acceleration, in top-gear, roll-on contests it walked away from the V Star. It simply had more power on tap, especially at higher rpm. Where the Star nips the Harley is in comfort-the wider saddle has a better shape and size but is a bit soft, and heavier riders will find bottom in a couple of hours. The passenger arrangement isn't bad, either, but a heavier passenger will readily bottom out the Star's soft rear suspension.

As we mentioned, the finish on the V Star is impressive. Nevertheless, there are niggles that betray its price point: The exposed back area at the driveshaft and rear hub looks unfinished; the plain-jane air cleaner is as generic as it gets; and headlight illumination pales when compared with the Harley's brighter halogen setup.

Worst of all, the V Star 1100 carries no fuel gauge or low-fuel warning light, which we discovered the hard way while doing 65 on the freeway. As we ran out of fuel, it was all we could do to swerve out of the way of the truck bearing down from behind, switch the petcock to reserve and sputter off.

The Sportster's more utilitarian gauges include a tach next to the speedo (yes, there's a low-fuel light as well as an LCD clock).

But the extremes in price and finish that used to sharply separate the bikes in this group have pretty much disappeared-along with most of the competition. (There's still a style disparity between these two remaining stalwarts, though). The midsized Star deserves a look if only because it's one of those bikes that just cruises well. It stops, turns and rumbles down the road with a capability that never seems to intrude on the riding experience. The Classic's combination of accessible power and predictable handling mean a relatively high degree of comfort along with a lack of bothersome vibes from the 75-degree V-twin. It's a well-balanced, easy-to-ride bike, especially for more entry-level riders, and a great value for anybody. (And we're not so sure Yamaha will keep it around much longer-carbureted bikes are fast becoming a rarity.)

But if you're an edgier rider with a nervous throttle hand and are somewhat long-legged, you'll quickly hit the limits on the Star. The Sportster has just slightly roomier ergos, and 136cc displacement advantage notwithstanding, the Sportster really is the sportier of the two. It revs higher, goes faster, leans farther and is a blast to ride in the twisties. It's probably a slightly better choice for taller riders (once they upgrade the seat, anyway)-inseams longer than 32 inches will likely feel cramped in the V Star's cockpit (one of our 6-foot-tall testers kept hitting his leg against the Star's handlebar on full-lock turns). And the addition of a large passenger on the V Star may hamper performance (though the passenger will be happier on the Star). The good news in this day of $4-per-gallon gas is that both bikes offer superb fuel economy, returning an average reading of 37 mpg.

So while bigger twins might provide more prestige and a little more room for the long haul, it's hard to argue with the bang you get for your buck with these most-middle twins. Who needs glamor, anyway?

'08 H-D Sportster 1200 Roadster
Designation: Xl1200r
Base Price: $8895
As Tested: $9,240 (Incl. Smart Security)
Colors: Black, Red, Blue
Standard Warranty: 24 Months

On The Road
Engine: Air-Cooled, 45-Deg. V-Twin
Displacement/Bore X Stroke: 1199cc/88.90 X 96.77mm
Valvetrain: Ohc, 1 Intake, 1 Exhaust Valve/Cyl.; Operated By Pushrods
Compression: 9.7:1
Fueling: Efi
Lubrication: Dry Sump, 3.6 Qt.
Recommended Fuel: 91 Octane
Transmission: Wet Clutch, 5 Speeds
Final Drive: Belt

Overall Length: 90.1 In.
Wheelbase: 60 In.
Wet Weight: 593 Lb.
Gvwr: 1001 Lb.
Seat Height: 29.9 In.
Rake/Trail: 29.6 Deg./4.6 In.
Wheels: Cast Alloy, 2.15 X 19 In. Front; 3.0 X 16 In. Rear
Front Tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop/H-D D401f
Rear Tire: 150/80b-16 Dunlop/H-D D401
Front Brake: Dual 292mm Discs; 2 Double-Action 2-Piston Calipers
Rear Brake: 11.5-In. Disc; Single-Action 1-Piston Caliper
Front Suspension: 39mm Fork, 5.6 In. Travel
Rear Suspension: 2 Dampers, 2.1 In. Travel, Adjustable Spring Preload
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 Gal.
Handlebar Width: 31.5 In.

Charging Output: 357 Watts
Battery: 12v, 12ah, Maintenance-Free
Lighting: 5.75-In. 55/60-Watt Halogen Headlight, Position Lights; Single-Bulb Taillight
Instruments: Speedometer, Tachometer, Lcd Odometer/Dual Tripmeter/Clock; Lights For High Beam, Turn Signals, Neutral, Oil Pressure, Security System

Fuel Mileage: 29-46 Mpg, 37.5 Avg.Average Range: 168 Miles
Horsepower (Meas.): 61.1 @ 5750 Rpm
Torque (Meas.): 69.3 Lb-Ft @ 3750 Rpm
Quarter-Mile Acceleration: N/A

1000 Engine oil, transmission/primary oil, oil filter, primary- chain inspection cover gasket, clutch inspection cover gasket, oil drain plug gaskets; spark plugs (as required) 2.1 hours
{{{5000}}} Engine oil, transmission/primary oil, oil filter, primary- chain inspection cover gasket, clutch inspection cover gasket, oil drain plug gaskets; spark plugs (as required) 1.8 hours The parts are the same, but there are fewer adjustments compared with the first service.
10,000 Engine oil, transmission/primary oil, oil filter, primary- chain inspection cover gasket, clutch inspection cover gasket, oil drain plug gaskets; spark plugs (as required) 2.3 hours This service includes a steering-head-bearing inspection and adjustment.

Whole numbers = 1 hour; decimals = 6 minutes; $90/hour average service rateTotal: Approximately 6.5 hoursEstimated labor cost: Approximately $585

'08 Star V STAR
Designation: Xvs 1100
Base Price: $8799
As Tested: $8999 (Raven Paint)
Colors: Black, Blue, White
Standard Warranty: 12 Months

Engine And Drivetrain
Engine Type: Air-Cooled, 75-Deg. V-Twin
Displacement/Bore X Stroke: 1063cc/95 X 75mm
Valvetrain: Sohc, 1 Intake Valve, 1 Exhaust Valve/Cyl.
Compression: 8.3:1
Fueling: 2 37mm Mikuni Carburetors
Lubrication: Wet Sump, 3.8 Qt.
Recommended Fuel: 91 Octane
Transmission: Wet Clutch, 5-Speed
Final Drive: Shaft

Overall Length: 97 In.
Wheelbase: 64.8 In.
Wet Weight: 645 Lb.
Gvwr: 1076 Lb.
Seat Height: 27.9 In.
Rake/Trail: 33.0 Deg./5.2 In.
Wheels: Cast Aluminum
Front Tire: 130/90-16 Dunlop D404 Tubeless
Rear Tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop D404 Tubeless
Front Brake: Dual 298mm Discs; 2-Piston Dual Calipers
Rear Brake: 282mm Disc; Opposed 2-Piston Caliper
Front Suspension: 41mm Fork, 5.5 In. Travel
Rear Suspension: Single Damper, 4.5 In. Travel
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 Gal.
Handlebar Width: 34 In.

Battery: 12v, 14ah, Maintenance-Free
Lighting: 5.5 In. 55/60 Watt Headlight, Position Lights; Single-Bulb Taillight
Instruments: Speedometer, Lcd Odometer/Dual Tripmeters; Warning Lights For High Beam, Turn Signals, Neutral, Oil Pressure

Horsepower (Meas.): 53.7 @ 5500 Rpm
Torque (Meas.): 55.8 Lb-Ft @ 2250 Rpm
Fuel Mileage: 31.3-41.2; 37.1 Mpg Avg.
Average Range: 166.95 Mi.
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.50 SEC. @ 90.3 MPH

Mileage interval Parts Mfg suggested Flat Rate Notes
{{{600}}} miles or 1 month Engine oil and filter Final drive oil 1.5 hours
{{{4000}}} miles or 6 months Engine oil (filter recommended by dealer and me) 1.5 hours
8000 miles or 12 months Spark plugs, engine oil and filter 2.0 hours
12,000 miles or 18 months Engine oil (filter recommended) 1.5 hours

Whole Numbers = 1 hour; decimals = 6 minutes; $90/hour average service rate Total: Approximately 7 hoursEstimated labor cost: Approximately $630

Riding Position
Hard to believe this class has shrunk to just two bikes-and this fast. Even just a couple of years ago I remember being able to choose from as many as a dozen 1100-1200cc models. Not to get all psychological on you, but deciding between the Sportster and V Star pretty much comes down to the type of rider you are. Straight-up cruising? You can do no wrong with the V Star. This is as plug-and-play as it gets-you can pretty much turn the key and forget it; that's how relaxed and balanced things are on the Classic. Then again if you're craving a bit more performance and handling-relatively speaking, of course-the Sportster's got it in spades. And it seems to improve every year. This time around it's got fuel injection along with a bigger fuel tank. Best part is, you don't have to pay a penalty for whichever bike you do eventually choose-they're the same price, and both marques offer phenomenally deep aftermarket support for these models. 'Course, the same bike won't appeal to the same type of rider, and for me the visceral punch of the Sportster wins the day.
Andrew Cherney, 5'7"; 155 lb, 30.5-in. inseam

It's like apples versus oranges with the Sportster and the V-Star: One is classic and comfortable, the other lithe and taut. With a handful of throttle the Sportster pulls away from the V Star with satisfying oomph, especially at lower rpm. Grab a handful of brakes and V Star wins the braking duel with only two fingers; the Harley's feel like wood blocks. Bumpy roads? The V Star soaks it all up, offering a plush but bouncy ride, while the Sportster bounces out my fillings. Put them on a twisty road and the Sportster is truly sporty, sharp-handling with lean angles the V Star can only dream about. Both seats annoyed me, with no room to move forward or back and the front of the seats rising too sharply for the male anatomy.

But the deal-breaker is gearing and vibration. The V Star has very short gearing and buzzes the floorboards and handlebar at speeds over 60 mph. The Sportster has much wider-spaced cogs, doesn't vibrate until you hit 4000 rpm and comfortably cruises at even supra-legal speeds-not that I'd ever do that. Lithe and taut (something never before said about a Harley), the Sportster's my pick.
Evan Kay, 5'4", 159 lb, 29-in. inseam

Whatever Happened To?
The 1100cc Fugitives

This is one middleweight class that used to be chockful of students-and Honda used to flat-out own it, with four 1100cc V-twin models at one point (the '01 model year). Sadly, the firm's popular Shadow A.C.E. hit the bricks in 2002, and the long-running venerable Shadow Spirit 1100 disappeared this year-much to the dismay of many.

We wonder why, too. The 1100cc Shadows had been in Honda's lineup for over two decades and its carbureted, 1099cc, five-speed V-twin became something of a middleweight staple. It had a good spread of power and torque across a wide powerband and even some maintenance-free features-digital ignition, automatic cam-chain tensioners and shaft drive. Weighing in at about 560 pounds, the Spirit 1100 was relatively light, with its 28.7-inch seat height higher than the V Star's but lower than the Sportster's. You can still buy a new Spirit VT1100C today, even though Honda didn't introduce an '08 model. We've seen plenty of new '07 models on showroom floors, and loads of used ones in relatively good shape are available, too.

For its last model year, the new '07 Spirit was priced at $8699-right in line with the other two bikes in our comparison.

The supposition is that the VTX1300 series shouldered the 1100s aside. According to Honda reps, though, the 1100s had simply run their course. As 1300 sales increased and that model lineup was expanded, the 1100s were phased out. But the company has been known to hold off releasing a model only to reintroduce improved versions later, and one could speculate the 1100s are going through an extreme makeover. We'll have to wait and see.

The V-Rods meanwhile have simply graduated out of the class-first getting a 120cc-displacement bump in '05's Screamin Eagle V-Rod. The VRSCs continue to be the only H-D platform powered by a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin, but the last of the 1130cc variants appeared in 2007. For 2008 all three models are now sporting the bigger 1250cc Revolution mill, which means they're running with a whole 'nother, faster crowd.

Moto Guzzi introduced its first 1100cc California model in 1988, but some things never change: Like all Guzzis, that bike placed its 90-degree V-twin across the frame. By 2002 there were five variants-all with that same engine/frame configuration. Alas, the touring-oriented 1064cc California Vintage is Guzzi's sole cruiser entry for 2008 (though it first appeared in 2006). When we road-tested it back in the Oct. '07 issue, there was no doubt in our minds its full-touring slant and unconventional V-engine architecture placed it in a separate category altogether. It's also priced $5000 higher-a factor that really separates it from these more mainstream entries. -AC

The V Star's shaft is low-maintenance, but it comes with drivetrain jacking, too. Hey, Star, how about an axle cover?
The Harley makes more torque and power at all rpm, but the V Star's nearly flat torque curve is more consistent.
The V Star gets a classic cockpit and bare-bones, tank-top instrumentation.
The Sportster adds a tachometer to its handlebar. Both can be cramped for taller riders.
75 vs. 45 degrees: Generic chrome looks plain next to the Sporty's black powdercoated (and more powerful) mill.
'07 Harley-Davidson Vrsc V-Rod
'08 Moto Guzzi California Vintage
'07 Honda Shadow Spirit 1100