For whatever reasons you choose to believe, the Japanese cannot (or will not) compete with Harley-Davidson when it comes to building a cruiser. If you demand the raw experience of an air-cooled Harley, you will forever be disappointed in metric cruisers.
But, that’s not to say metric cruisers are disappointing. Rather than tackle Milwaukee head-on, the Japanese have staked out territories unique to them in the cruiser world. The so-called ‘metrics’ have a different look–like it or not–and standards of suspension, handling and engine performance that are focused on the riding experience, rather than simply the ability to profile effectively. (Click image to enlarge)
The Star Roadliner S is an example of a metric cruiser that enjoys all the advantages of Japanese engineering, yet also manages to establish itself as a bike with an undeniable personality. Accessing the history book for styling cues, the Roadliner recalls the heady days of Streamline Moderne, which brought sweeping curves and extended horizontal lines to everything from airport terminals to zeppelins to high schools. This is a stunning machine to gaze upon, stretching over 100 inches from tip-to-tip, with its 113 cu in air-cooled, pushrod V-twin motor prominently displayed.
It’s not all about looks, however, as it retains its metric cruiser heritage. There’s an aluminum frame that gives the bike more high-speed stability in turns than you might expect from a bike of this type and size. Beefy 46mm forks have over five inches of superbly damped and sprung travel, providing a nice isolation for the irregularities of the road, yet retaining composure when the bike is ridden with a bit of aggression. In the rear, a properly tuned hidden single shock works wonders.
The engine has a stroke stretching over 4.6 inches, yet twin counterbalancers and spot-on twin-bore fuel injectors prevent it from having a lumpy or lazy feel. It may be a pushrod motor, but it has four valves and two spark plugs per cylinder, so the air, fuel, and spark are certainly attended to. And, in case you don’t think you can get enough torque from 1854cc, Star added the Exhaust Ultimate Powervalve (EXUP) to boost torque from 2,500 to 3,000 rpm (sport bike owners will remember the EXUP’s debut on the 1987 Yamaha FZR1000). A five-speed transmission works well enough for the wide spread of power (I’d still prefer a six-speed) and the heel-toe shifter changes gears smoothly.Slowing down the Roadliner S is no problem. Many cruisers don’t like hard front wheel braking, but that is not the case on the Roadliner, which carries a sportbike-like 49.6% of its weight on the wide, 130mm Dunlop front tire. Feel free to crank down on the twin 298mm front discs. They’ll slow things down with nary a protest. The rear brake is okay, but I hardly used it on this bike. Click image to enlarge
Riding the Roadliner S is a pleasure, no matter what the speeds or conditions. I was quietly exploring a shady canyon neighborhood at just over walking speed. The perfectly balanced Roadliner S was happy to step along gracefully, impressing with both its look and poise.
In town, the sound of the Roadliner S can be impressive, rather than oppressive, when the throttle is applied with authority. Acceleration matches, and if you catch a guy on a sport bike sleeping at a stop light, he’ll end up watching the clear lens taillight disappear quickly down the boulevard. When you do back off the throttle after a quick burst, there’s some satisfying backfiring, adding to the bike’s personality. The previously mentioned suspension is unimpressed by potholes and uneven pavement. The 67.5-inch wheelbase keeps things steady, yet the low slung weight of the bike (claimed 705 lb dry) means it’s highly maneuverable, even when parking.
Trips into the hinterlands are equally rewarding, even if there are fewer people to admire the S’s chrome switchgear, front brake and clutch master cylinders and levers, belt guard, fork and fork covers, handlebar clamps, shifter, front pulley cover, various engine covers, rear fender stay and polished wheels, which differentiate it from the standard Roadliner. It feels firmly planted to the ground on high-speed sweepers, and there’s that abundant low rpm acceleration when conditions allow. Tighter turns will result in dragging floorboards, but it happens less often than you’d expect. Handling is enhanced by the reasonable 190mm Dunlop rear tire, which is mostly hidden by the rear fender anyway. That fat rear tire that other bikes boast doesn’t do much to look good if you’re always following faster riders!
There are certainly more explosively styled cruisers out there. However, Star took the classic route and the result is a bike that combines elements of art deco with an unmistakable modern feel–this isn’t a retro bike, by any means. I liked little touches such as the design of the turn indicators. Rather than putting on clunky units with the expectation that they’ll be removed and replaced, Star styled the turn signals and made them an integral part of the package. It’s that sort of attention to detail that makes the Star Roadliner S a high achiever in both the style and performance realms. 2nd Opinion – DW Scraggs
Let me first say that for the record I apologize to Yamaha. Being a seasoned rider (yes, that means I am old), I have owned and ridden several motorcycles and I have had limited success with Yamahas. The Star Roadliner S was a shocking breath of fresh air. It is a big bike with a real power cruiser feel and classic lines that turn heads. This bike is stable and easy to control for a bigger bike. It not only had enough power, but it also exceedingly smooth acceleration. I found the whirring noise from the belt drive a little disconcerting, though I got used to it in short order.
In both traffic and on the open road, the Roadliner S is a nice ride. It has enough get-up-and-go to get me out of any perceived issue quickly and cleanly. At slower speeds it is also very stable and holds a tight turn. This bike consumes large hills like they are not even there. Cruising at freeway speed is a joy. The clutch is smooth from a standing stop–not a hint of bucking. The brakes are friendly and easy to apply, with no binding at all.
The suspension on this bike provides a very comfy ride, even on rough or uneven pavement. I took a few potholes that should have jarred me, but the Star turned them into nothing more than a bump in the road.
Yamaha has a real success with this bike. The appearance is classy and classic while having encompassed new technology, but subtly enough to keep the bike sharply eye-catching. Its power plant is wanting for nothing and its technology is fun and comfortable.
Helmet: Bell R/T
Jacket: Olympia Airglide II
Gloves: Red Wing
Jeans: Shift LoDown Street
Boots: Harley-Davidson Hustin