Star Luxury Liner
What is special about a custom motorcycle is similar to what defines the work of artists in many fields: The restaurant where the chef discards the menu, preparing a meal just for you.
The shoemaker whose clients are by referral. The exquisite hotel, secret of a handful of globetrotters. The concert pianist playing for a small circle of friends on his Yamaha baby grand.
The same company making elite musical instruments for over a century, and most recently world-class motorcycles, endorses the artistry of Jeff Palhegyi.
As designer for Star, Yamaha’s premium cruiser brand, he values the privilege. His interpretation of its flagship model, the Stratoliner, is a jewel on two wheels.
Based in Southern California, Palhegyi enjoys ample latitude, and the Japanese company’s vast resources. For 20 years, his has been "an embedded relationship, providing outsource design, product planning and development, working closely with their engineering departments and fully integrated with the company."
Palhegyi cites the central question in the two-year genesis of this bike as being, "How do we make it unique?"
Dedicated readers will remember a Palhegyi-penned Star from a previous cover of this publication, doing its duty in Death Valley over three years ago. The new motorcycle was subject to ongoing iterations, clay models and critiques.
Jeff Palhegyi says: "It’s the levels of detail, fit and finish, often in places no one sees, like the increments that determine the mass surface of a top of fairing angle. A lot of testing and re-do goes into it. The engineering path that it takes is quite intense."
One would expect so, Yamaha being famous for its Championship Grand Prix racing bikes.
Jeff Palhegyi says: "They bring that same kind of rigor to this project, from engineers to test riders. This motorcycle was a clean sheet of paper, very far from what I had previously built."
Using stereo lithography (defined as "an additive manufacturing process using a vat of liquid UV-curable photopolymer resin and a UV laser to build parts a layer at a time"), a three-dimensional "print" of the bike was made. This became a plastic model prototype undergoing aerodynamic tests and three rounds of design tweaks.
Staying faithful to a look endemically retro, Palhegyi turned to a youthful inspiration.
Jeff Palhegyi explains: "I love Art Deco trains. I wanted to bring that dynamic to the Stratoliner."
The image of the classic locomotives rocketing across the vastness of America in the glory years of rail travel is transmitted to the flow and presence of the machine. With the creative juices flowing, the toughest part is to know not to over-design. "You don’t want to get carried away," he laughs.
For example, when asked about the teardrop shapes that punctuate the bike, from the headlamp to the taillight, he asserts the primacy of self-restraint over esthetic indulgence. "It takes a lot of thought. Otherwise, it can go all wrong."
He understands exactly where the design parameters are: "I know what they’re looking for because I’ve done so many of them."
Visual cues, such as the scalloped forms of the lowers that are reprised in the belt guard, make functional facets a pleasure.
Palhegyi knows how much we love to walk around our ride when it is at rest, and admire it from every angle. It is what motorcyclists have always done.
He sums up Star’s credo: "It has the core of traditional motorcycle feel, but hidden under the skin, is thoroughly modern high performance."
Asked to tell his own story, he demurs.
Jeff Palhegyi continues: "In the late ’80s, I was attending San Diego State University and kicking around dirt tracks. My interest in dirt track and sprint cars led me to Chenowth Racing, where I studied suspension design for off-road competition.
"Meeting the product development team at Yamaha, I eventually set up a small private R&D shop for them in San Diego. In 1995, while working on ATVs for the company, I was able to get a look at a new classically styled cruiser coming from Yamaha-and I wanted in. My inspirations at the time were the bikes of Lil John Buttera and the cars of Boyd Coddington.
"Taking a couple of my bikes to SEMA in 1996 kicked off what is now over 70 custom motorcycles to date for Yamaha, working with Star’s product development team building concept bikes and future models, as well as accessories."
He doffs his cap to master designer Arlen Ness, maintaining a relationship with Ness’ company as a resource for specialty items, like the teardrop mirrors that adorn the new Palhegyi custom.
Ergonomics are keyed to the target client.
Jeff Palhegyi says: "It has an especially roomy riding position, so it is very comfortable for a wide range. The big floorboards accommodate even very large size feet."
"As I personally ride solo, the adjustable preload on the rear suspension is quite nice. I set it to soft for solo riding on a long trip. The smooth rideability of 100 horsepower with 120 ft/lbs of torque, in a stylish traditional pushrod engine, is part of the statement we wanted to make."
"I also give a lot of credit to the engineers at Metzeler, who speced the OEM tires; when I increased the rim diameters on this bike to 18 inches, I naturally went with Metzelers. The fairing material is ABS, blended with polycarbonate, for superior strength and light weight."
He is satisfied with the cohesiveness of his oeuvre.
Jeff Palhegyi says: "You can see the continuity in the design of all the components. Like, the way the smooth styling of the fairing flows across the whole bike to the tip of the rear fender."
"The Stratoliner Deluxe’s resplendent bronze and black, is courtesy of Palhegyi’s preferred painter Benny Flores, "who does all my bikes."
Jeff Palhegyi has the easygoing demeanor of Southern California. But his measured intensity evokes his Hungarian roots. Guiding Palhegyi’s luxury liner, one might, then, forego the usual biker tunes, to listen to a Liszt piano rhapsody on the Stratoliner’s fairing-mounted iPod.
Given this motorcycle’s pedigree embracing past and present, that would be as fitting as it would be unique.
Photography by Cordero Studios