2009 Star Stratoliner S | Motorcycle Review

Premier Touring Motorcycle

There is nothing easy about combining the traditionalist appeal of V-twins with the modern conveniences (and performance) that we have come to expect almost a decade into the 21st century. The Stratoliner S, Star’s premier touring craft, reconciles that dichotomy perfectly, as pushrods and a distinctive art deco style co-exist famously with four-valve heads and triple-disc brakes.

Most metric tourers fail to turn a head as they rumble into town after eating up superslab for the majority of the day. It’s not that the bikes aren’t attractive, but they lack that indefinable attitude and panache that grabs eyeballs and locks them in. The Stratoliner S, partially thanks to the air-cooled engine that eschews an appearance-compromising radiator, speaks loudly to our sense of authenticity. Fat bars, a huge headlight, floorboards, form-fitting saddlebags, and a sleek fuel tank work in harmony to produce a gracefully masculine form. The Stratoliner S is a bike to be seen on.

Of course, touring requires a bike that does more than simply look the part. The notion of a trailer queen touring bike makes my head hurt. And, as good as the Stratoliner S looks, it works even better.

Part of my extensive testing directed me to the backroads around Lompoc—an area near Vandenberg AFB that I had heard of since I was a kid, but had never found the time to investigate. Taking US 101—El Camino Real—up to Santa Barbara, the Stratoliner S settled in nicely on the freeway, though it begs for a sixth speed. It’s not like the bike buzzes in fifth at 70 mph, but it’s just not as relaxed as I would like.

As I wove my way up into the mountains on Highway 154, the Stratoliner S had plenty of ground clearance for the tricky turns, and the 113 cu in monster laughed at the steep incline. In any gear, the Stratoliner S’s torque supply is endless, and the motor will pull strongly, though not quickly—it has a stroke over four-and-a-half inches, after all. Passing slower vehicles requires no more effort than a twist of the throttle. On the downhill backside, all was well. There is plenty of engine braking, and the big discs to back it up.

After a delicious lunch at Sissy’s Uptown Cafe, I headed off to see just where those squiggly little lines go. As it turns out, they go nowhere, but that is part of the fun of motorcycling. San Miguelito Road eventually hits a gate guarding VAFB, but the narrow road (less than two lanes) gave the Stratoliner S a chance to prove itself in tight quarters. The center of gravity is low, so direction changes were no problem; the motor’s huge flywheel kept things moving smoothly; and the suspension is surprisingly plush for a cruiser-based bike, eating up cracks and potholes as eagerly as I downed my Grilled Smoked Turkey sandwich earlier. When I came to the gate, turning around the 800+ pound beast was drama-free.

Finally, two other dead-end roads, Ocean Avenue and Jalama Road, gave me the feedback I needed. Regardless of conditions—straightlining with nasty crosswinds (Ocean) and eyes-wide-open sightseeing on a spectacular twisting road (Jalama)—the Stratoliner S is a superb touring companion.

Finely tuned roomy ergonomics make sunrise-to-sunset rides on everything from highway to obscure byway to Main Street an exceedingly pleasurable experience. The only personalization you really need is selecting the proper-height windshield. Pick the wrong one, and the top of the shield will be directly in your line of sight. The bags are roomy and have a useful shape. The only thing the Star Stratoliner S doesn’t provide for a great ride is time. You’ll have to find that yourself, but this bike is all the encouragement you will need to steal some away.


Photos by Don Williams


Helmet: Vemar Jiano
Jacket: River Road Mesa
Gloves: Firstgear Highway
Pants: Icon Strongarm
Boots: Red Wing 967