V Star 950 Cruising
When something as basic as a fine work suit fits well, it is obvious. Everyone you meet can see it, and a well-tailored suit inspires confidence and breeds achievement. With the notable exception of the Talking Heads’ David Byrne in Stop Making Sense, few find success in a too-large, ill-fitting suit. The world of motorcycling is no different, of course, where finding the machine that fits you perfectly is the goal to pursue–larger is not always better. The Star V Star 950 is the perfect fit.
If you were lucky enough to begin riding before you learned to drive, your first motorcycle was likely a modest minibike. That introduced you to the motorcycling world, but it wasn’t long after you mastered your motorcycle before you lusted after something a little bigger, and a little more powerful. You read the magazines; you saw something special at the local bike shop; you couldn’t wait to get on dad’s motorcycle. As you grew older you graduated to a full-sized "grownup", dirt bike, which might have been a 125, 250 or 360. When you moved to the street, a basic 350cc bike was a likely entry point. Times have changed.
Technological developments in the past 30 years have brought us sturdier frames, electronic fuel injection, and sophisticated adjustable suspension–all of which contribute to the easier handling of larger, more powerful machines–until we have finally arrived at a place where Suzuki Hayabusas are sold to first-time riders. The mantra of "bigger plus faster equals better" has gotten us in trouble in more ways than one; the suit does not always fit.
Living in a fast-moving society where one is constantly on the go and where responsibilities dictate always being available, it is difficult to unplug, decompress, and take time to smell the flowers. On the back roads of northeastern Georgia, I was reminded of the simple pleasures of a gently paced ride on a well-fitting bike.
Star Motorcycles appears to have taken a page out of The Not So Big House by respected architect and best-selling author Sarah Susanka when it designed the 2009 V Star 950. Her "build better, not bigger" approach to designing houses suggests a focus on quality, and a desire for beautiful proportions–what makes us feel comfortable, as opposed to what impresses the neighbors. The 2009 V Star 950 is a bike that might just do both.
From original Star V Star design conception, Star looked to classic sport cars for inspiration, specifically the 1927 Bugatti Type 38A Roadster. The Bugatti’s long, sweeping modern fender lines can be seen in the V Star’s fluid profile, flowing from its headlight, across the low streamline tank and seat, to the tip of its abbreviated rear fender. While the Star V Star 950 may be designed to appeal to newer riders, the premium styling does not reveal any limitations.
The Kingwood Resort in Clayton, Ga. is an ideal spot from which to base a several-day exploration of the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains. At the resort, a golfer can take on the challenge of the stunning par 71 mountain golf course, or relax with an Enzymatic Sea Mud Wrap at the European-style Spa and Fitness Center. Indoor and outdoor pools are available, as well as tennis courts. Beyond the resort lie miles of smoothly paved two-lane roads through gorgeous mountains and farmland.
Tipping the 655-pound (claimed wet) Star V Star 950 off its sidestand is an easy maneuver. The narrow tank and 26.6-inch seat height combination allows solid footing even for the inseam-challenged. Slow-speed handling is stress-free due to the low center of gravity on this balanced machine. As I set off to explore the scenic countryside and local offerings of Clayton and the surrounding mountain communities, I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of the clutch pull. The wide-faced lever engages smoothly and effortlessly and the heel/toe shifter is similarly light and deliberate; each shift of the gears is a precise click.
The Star V Star 950′s air-cooled, fuel-injected, 60-degree V-twin has plenty of low and mid-range power–somewhat surprising for a four-valve, slightly oversquare, 942cc powerplant. Rolling off the throttle for a slow-moving farm vehicle, then accelerating back to speed does not require a shift of gears for a light solo rider; just sit back, relax, ease the throttle back open and enjoy the pleasingly big-bike-like rumble released by the two-into-one exhaust system.
I settled into the Star V Star 950; the seating position is relaxed, with legs slightly forward, and the sweptback handlebars ensure an easy reach. The comfortable dish-shaped seat narrows at the tank to aid in reaching the ground, but widens out to the rear providing thigh and lower back support. Taller riders cruising any distance will want to swap out the stock saddle for one of several available cruise seat options from Star Accessories, as the sit-in ergonomics do not favor them; most weight is pushed onto the tail bone.
Cruising down the gently winding roads is effortless. The low-profile 18-inch front tire lightens the handling, and the 170 rear has no objection to direction changes. At 32-degrees, the rake is not excessive, and falls in line with the larger Road Star Silverado. The floorboards are wide, affording a comfortable leg position, but inevitably drag with moderate leaning. They are hinged, however, and backed with replaceable feelers, so you do not need to be overly concerned when you touch down. The Star V Star 950 does not wallow in turns–progressive link rear suspension firms as it moves through the travel–so footrest scrapes are gently predictable.
The Star V Star 950 Tourer comes equipped with a short 16-inch windshield, low enough for a five-foot-six rider to look over, but still providing decent wind protection. It is somewhat noisy, though, and one of the two taller available windshields might be preferred for longer rides at freeway speeds. For cruising about town, the Star accessory half-height windshield provides a clean, minimal look.
The Star V Star 950 Tourer arrives with a stock passenger backrest, though two-up riders will likely prefer a larger-displacement Star. The Star motorcycle accessories catalogue offers short and tall uprights, custom backrest pads, a luggage rack, and various saddlebag choices. An optional quick-release mounting system allows swapping of windscreens, backrests and saddlebags with minimal effort, enhancing the 950′s motorcycle functionality. A stripped Star V Star Tourer makes for a solid street cruiser.
With plenty of spectacular scenery to look at, the Georgian miles slipped by without notice. The lush forests displayed a palette of color on either side of me and, as the road wound through the foothills of the Blue Ridge range, I splashed through liberally scattered sycamore leaves. They fluttered up and swirled around me like an autumn snow globe.
Eventually, the forest gave way to more open farmland. Sloping green fields with postcard-perfect barns hopscotched from one side of the road to the other, intermingled with stretches of countryside left to its own devices. The rural landscape is a feast for eyes too long focused on urban traffic and suburban sprawl. Handmade signs along the way announcing sheep for sale, a blueberry patch, Uncle Fred’s Famous Peanuts, and Ain’t B’s Bakery remind me that taking the time to stop and poke about is a good thing.
The Star V Star 950 Tourer is an ideal choice for such impulses. I expected the lone front disc with a modest two-piston caliper to be overmatched, but I found the braking to be adequate and predictable in all situations. The decision to pull over the motorcycle and check out whatever piqued my interest was intuitive; there are countless opportunities in these farming communities to sample the local bounty.
Downtown Clayton (pop. 2169) has a farmers market twice a week where local growers offer everything from blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to corn meal, grits, honey and fresh flowers. Or, enjoy farm fresh buttermilk, chocolate milk, eggs, and cheese at the Spring Ridge Creamery just north of Dillard. Had my timing been better, I could have witnessed custom grinding of corn, wheat, and buckwheat at the local gristmill in Rabun Gap on the first Saturday of every month. Beyond the edible temptations are the numerous arts and crafts shops that populate the mountain towns. The Star V Star 950 Tourer comes equipped with two lockable leather-covered hard bags with plenty of accessible room to stash your recent acquisitions.
Back out on the road and picking up speed on a long straight stretch of local highway, the motorcycle feels steady and stable. A bit of vibration is noticeable at higher rpm, but nothing uncomfortable, despite an unexpected lack of counterbalancer. Checking speed requires more than a quick glance; while the analog speedometer is legible, the angle at which the instrument panel is set into the 4.4-gallon tank makes it impossible to read without a downward tilt of the head. So, too, interpreting the indicator lights, the clock, and odometer, requires taking attention from the road.
The inaccessibility of the speedometer is of little concern as there is much to be seen along these roads, eliminating any reason to ride fast. Just 12 miles south of Clayton, down US 441, is Tallulah Gorge–known as the Niagara of the South (pictured on page 97). This dramatic chasm, second only in depth to the Grand Canyon, is two miles long, 1,000-feet deep and features five waterfalls. There are 20 miles of hiking trails in Tallulah Gorge State Park, supplying spectacular views of the canyon and waterfalls. If serious hiking isn’t on the agenda, leave your bike in the parking lot right off 441 and check out the North and South Rim Trails that run along the edge of the gorge for spectacular photographic opportunities at ten scenic overlooks.
As a complement to the naturally casual flow of the Georgia countryside, the Star V Star 950 tourer is ideal, thanks to its immediate at-ease feel. From feet-up, throttle-on first impression, the bike fits like a well-worn glove. There is nothing oversized here, but neither is the fit restrictive. Well-designed motorcycle ergonomics, precisely balanced weight and fine engine tuning allow a wide range of rider height and experience to be fully satisfied on the bike; you get the big-cruiser look without the heavyweight handful.
Instead of having to stay on high alert aboard a high-strung steed, you are free to explore back roads, open roads, and the fork in the road with your attention fully on the experience and not on the means by which you get there.
Photos by Nigel Kinrade and Tom Riles