This article was originally published in the August 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Although Honda’s 1800cc VTX is the most overstated example, the V-twin power cruiser is not a new idea. Suzuki’s Intruder 1400, Yamaha’s now-extinct 1100 Virago, various pumped-up Harley-Davidson models and countless big-inch Harley clones provide ample evidence of interest in the idea.

Until now, each manufacturer has used a pretty similar approach to the genre—get lots of power. Recently, displacement has been a popular method of pursing power. Even those who know better seem to have adopted the old platitude about there being “no substitute for cubic inches.” Sure, big displacements make for good advertising copy and attract plenty of attention, but displacement isn’t always the best route to overall performance.

When we heard Yamaha was going to unveil a performance version of its Road Star (called the Warrior) we wondered if the engineers had boosted power with hot-rodder's tricks like better breathing or if they had simply increased displacement. As it turns out, they did both, but those changes, which pump up horsepower by approximately 40 percent, aren't the most significant aspects of this motorcycle.

Yamaha Warrior
Left: The upside-down fork and brake assembly was lifted off Yamaha's R1 sportbike and refinished in black for the Warrior. The tires are radials. Upper Right: The taillight is a clean, simple LED type that appears white when not illuminated. We expect to see an aftermarket muffler end caps. Lower Right: Although the Warrior has an entirely new two-stage airbox, this scoop isn't part of it. It covers the air-injection hardware and cools the rear cylinder.Yamaha

You see, with the Warrior, Yamaha has attacked performance from the other end of the equation also—by reducing weight. And not just by a few pounds. A serious weight-cutting plan lopped 60 pounds of ugly fat off this Star (making it 606 pounds dry).

On the very morning that we saw the new Road Star, we were mulling over the hefty VTX that the new Yamaha would be compared to. We wondered why no one was trying to reduce mass to improve performance. As a result, Yamaha's announcement of "added lightness" came as a pleasant surprise. Unless you still believe in the fairy tale of road-holding weight, there simply aren't any advantages to a heavier motorcycle, all other things being equal. A lighter bike accelerates quicker, stops shorter, turns more readily with less effort and puts less strain on components. Although cruisers are looking increasingly attractive to aging experienced riders, many say the idea of a motorcycle that weighs 200 or so pounds more than what they are used to is off-putting. It isn't just performance either. Just wheeling that extra poundage out the garage can be intimidating (for comparison try pushing around Yamaha's 458-pound dry-weight FZ-1). For riders who seek out cruisers because their low saddle heights offer confidence at a stop, this additional weight is a significant detriment. In other words, although Yamaha's primary reason for a significant weight reduction is to improve performance (we estimate it will shave approximately a quarter second of the bike's quarter-mile time), it is a win-win situation no matter what your riding habits.

The way Yamaha unburdened the Star of that extra heft is as significant as its decision to do so. The Road Star Warrior is the first cruiser with an aluminum frame and swingarm. Alloy chassis structures have been commonplace on sportbikes for a decade and are even finding their ways onto touring bikes such as Honda’s new Gold Wing. However, until now no one seemed to think that any one would care if they used plain old mild steel (or is it lead?) on cruisers. Not that Yamaha is advertising the fact; the frame is painted a low-gloss black. Yamaha could have produced an even lighter bike, but there were certain “cruiser core values” it felt were sacred, so the RSW got metal fenders instead of plastic ones. We are already thinking about carbon-fiber or alloy replacements and polishing the frame.

Yamaha Warrior
We couldn't ride or even start the bike we saw, but the editrix warns that long-legged passengers are going to feel cramped in short order.Yamaha

To pump up the volume, Yamaha bored the cylinders 2mm to increase displacement to 1670cc (102 cubic inches). The traditional bottleneck of cruiser intake systems was unstopped with a two-stage airbox (the first stage is up under the tank) to provide more plenum volume, making more intake air available. An electronic fuel-injection system (with a pair of 40mm throats) delivers mixture to completely revised heads, which flow much more air than the standard Star’s. A capacitive-discharge ignition (CDI) lights the mixture, which is compressed to the same low-octane 8.3:1. Lighter, stiffer valve-train components help up the rev limit to 5200rpm (from 4400). And in case you don’t get the performance message expressed by the styling, that large sportbike-type canister should ensure you get the point. The end results are a 10 percent increase in peak torque and 80 peak horsepower.

We suspect that the muffler, despite its functional superiority, will be the most controversial component on this new bike. Actually, it probably will be the only piece that sparks any styling controversy. The Road Star Warrior is, to our eyes, the best-finished and detailed cruiser on the planet. Yamaha tried to style every part so that you could put it on a table by itself as eye candy. We’d say it succeeded, but the complete motorcycle is still prettier and much more impressive than any of its parts. The stylists have done some inspiring work in creating contrasting and complementing shades and textures. And performance aside, the looks of the bike (which are considerably more appealing in the flesh than in any photos we have seen or taken) would be quite sufficient to make us buy one at the $12,000 price Yamaha anticipates when it goes on sale this fall.

Yamaha Warrior
Left: Instead of covers over the steering head area, Yamaha made sure that all the wires and cables were routed cleanly. We expect some owners to polish the aluminum frame. Right: It's not your typical cruiser instrumentation, but the distinctive blue back-lit gauges on the Warrior are likely to be real attention-getters. We like having a tachometer too.Yamaha

Many of the Warrior’s components are noteworthy for reasons other than appearance. The five-speed transmission is new and operates a lighter, stronger belt, which drives a lighter sprocket, which turns a massive six-inch-wide cast wheel with a huge 200/50-ZR-17 radial rear tire. The alloy swingarm has a single preload-adjustable linked shock. Up front, the inverted 41mm Kayaba fork also offers preload adjustability, and straddles a 120/70-ZR18 tire. The gas capacity is four gallons, part of which is carried in the hidden-seam conventional tank and part of which is under the saddle. A few people probably will buy the Warrior just for its instruments, which include a tachometer just behind the handlebar and have a mesmerizing blue backlighting and unique LCD display.

Yamaha views the Warrior as a model that expands the cruiser market. With the original Road Star it addressed the mainstream cruiser enthusiast. The Warrior buyer will be looking for a motorcycle that’s clearly a cruiser, but not tied to tradition in appearance or performance. We think this breakaway contingent may turn out to be quite large, and hope other manufacturers follow Yamaha’s direction and try to make their next big cruisers even lighter.