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Project Royal Star: Part 2

Life With Yamaha's Ultra-Cruiser

story by Tom Fortune, Editor-at-Large, Created Thursday, Apr 24, 1997

Part Two: Touring With Cruiser Spirit

Savor this simple fact: Life is short and the road is long.

This truism has sirened transcontinental wanderlust among motorcyclists for decades. Consuming the open road. But which road to take? What would you consider the best metalware for your search of destinations afar? Modern, pillow-soft full-tilt-touring land yachts? Sorry - too much luxury for me. I want to feel the road as it passes underneath.

Sport-tourers? Maybe. The new niche-market models have a lot to offer. But I'd rather not arrive at my destination feeling as though I'd been dragged behind the bike instead of having ridden it. To each his own. I prefer a simpler, more relaxed route. Why not take a different road?

Cruisers like the Royal Star, properly equipped, can offer the long-distance enthusiast a seat where you take pleasure from each mile in a different frame of mind. This is the road I'll travel with Project Royal Star.

Part One of Project 'Star laid the groundwork.

Now it's time to further accessorize and upgrade the machine and trim it out for increased touring comfort, hit the road and experience a distinctly different type of riding with Yamaha's boulevard profiler. ...another dip into Yamaha's Star Accessory Line catalog found some perfect solutions.

Touring Prep

In part one of Project 'Star, the bike was outfitted with touring accessories from Yamaha's Royal Star catalog that included the Tour Classic saddlebags, a windshield and lower wind deflectors. After riding around town with this set-up for the first two thousand miles, it became apparent this would not be sufficient for the long hours in the saddle required during touring. Not only could I use more luggage capacity, but the stock rider and passenger seats had us squirming after only 90 - 100 miles of travel. So another dip into Yamaha's Star Accessory Line catalog found some perfect solutions.

'Star accessory saddles by Corbin cuddled our rumps perfectly. Yamaha's custom seats for the RS are manufactured by Corbin Saddles, utilizing the noted seatmaker's typical hand-crafted construction techniques. Connelly leather surrounds high-density, closed-cell foam that Corbin claims will, in time, shape to your individual backside proportions, providing improved weight distribution and comfort. Both Solo Seat and Tour Pillion Pad were ordered in the studded pattern, and a studded Backrest Pad with mounting hardware was added for increased passenger comfort. I had Yamaha throw in a chromed Luggage Rack that features an upswept tail so I could fasten my RK Accessories ( 16-liter SuperSport expandable tankbag to the 'Star for increased luggage space.

RS stock seats are right for the boulevard, wrong for the highway. I topped off the order with a set of Royal Star Custom Grips with foam inserts. Their larger grip size coupled with the high-density foam would provide far greater comfort on long rides than the peefy stock grips. Thus outfitted, I elected to ride the Royal Star around town and for short rides till the 3500-mile maintenance interval prior to launching it on any long trips so as to give the Corbin saddle time to break in, and to become more comfortable with the 'Star's handling and power.

Yes, it is a cruiser - but no, it is not a V-twin cruiser. And it shouldn't be ridden like one.

Riding it Right

It was during this time that I discovered myself, along with many others, were riding the Royal Star all wrong. Because of this misconception in riding technique, many early ride reviewers (including myself) hammered the Royal Star as being, well . . . slow. Yes, it is a cruiser - but no, it is not a V-twin cruiser. And it shouldn't be ridden like one.

Descended from Yamaha's Venture Royale highway-liner and all-conquering V-Max powerplants, the 'Star's four-cylinder, quad-cam, 16-valve mill comes from impressive stock. Re-tuned for its application as a cruiser engine, the 70-degree V-4 still loves to be revved. Think of it as a "sporting" cruiser. Although Yamaha re-calibrated cams and ignition timing to place the bulk of its power in the midrange, as the rpms climb, there is still plenty of heavy breathing going on in those four-valve heads.

Problem is, the Royal Star comes equipped with very tall gearing - both fourth and fifth gears are actually overdrive ratios. So to extract maximum enjoyment, a different riding technique is in order. Custom bike builder and Royal Star guru John "Baron" Vaughan-Chaldy notes: "While riding with several groups of Royal Star owners, I noticed they were riding in typical cruiser fashion, chugging along with their bikes in too high a gear for the speeds they were traveling. The RS engine is capable of rpms in excess of 8000, although it is fitted with a 5600 rpm rev limiter. You should run your speeds up at least 10 mph higher in the lower gears before shifting, bringing the engine closer to its peak power output, which is found near the 5600 rev limit."

It is interesting to note that at 70 mph in fifth gear, the engine is loafing along at barely 3000 rpm. "Third is my favorite gear. I will ride it from as low as 35 mph to as high as 90. I have the most fun at 65, where the bike is in its zone."But hold third gear, and at 90 mph it's just kissing the rev limiter. "If the road is smooth and fairly flat, I might shift into top gear just above 65 mph as long as I'm in a place where I can maintain my speed," adds Vaughan-Chaldy. "But for the most part, I pretend that fifth doesn't exist. Third is my favorite gear. I will ride it from as low as 35 mph to as high as 90. I have the most fun at 65, where the bike is in its zone. I have ridden for hours at speeds above 70 mph and never gone above third gear. If you want to pass, just twist the grip."

Of course, for us power-hounds, the heart of a V-Max, with its stump-pulling torque and 8000-rpm rev ceiling, still lurks within. But more on how to extract that later.

Packing it Up

Project 'Star had reached its 3500-mile service interval, so before packing it up for its first tour, I rolled down to Murrieta Motorsports, in Murrieta, California (909-698-4123) to drop off the 'Star for its scheduled factory service. During its first 3000 miles, the bike's front end had developed a pulsation when the brakes were applied, so I asked the mechanics to check into this as well.

The suspect disc was replaced under Yamaha's excellent five-year unlimited mileage Royal Star warranty, and Ramirez sent me on my way, at last ready for the open road. Or so I thought.

When shop manager Gio Ramirez called to let me know the tune and service had been completed, he informed me they had discovered the left front disc rotor had warped, with run-out that was eight-thousandths of an inch over tolerance, causing the pulsing under braking. The suspect disc was replaced under Yamaha's excellent five-year unlimited mileage Royal Star warranty, and Ramirez sent me on my way, at last ready for the open road. Or so I thought.

We all know how wimpy toolkits supplied with Japanese motorcycles are. Since I was planning to spend the next 3000-4000 miles savoring the rolling hills and valleys of Southern and Central California, I thought it best to supplement the cheap OEM stuff with  something more substantial. A call to Dan Parks at CruzTOOLS, Inc. ( netted me one of their new CruzMetrix tool kits, manufactured specifically for imported motorcycles. The beefy, mechanic-grade wrenches come housed in a sturdy Cordura pouch containing extra emergency items like electrical tape, spark-plug gauges, cable ties, mechanics wire and even a handy shop towel. The kit weighs less than three pounds and fit neatly into the zippered pouch under the lid of one of the RS's saddlebags. I felt ready for any unforseen roadside crisis.

The Tour Classic saddlebags are perfect - roomy enough to accommodate enough gear for a long weekend tour. The addition of the large RKA tankbag strapped to the rear luggage carrier allowed for extra comfort, but keep in mind - the RS is a fair weather tourer. This type of set-up is not weatherproof. If you're the spontaneous type who's inclined to pick up and go on a whim, that whim best arise on a nice, sunny weekend.

Now packed and properly equipped, Project 'Star was ready to begin its first open road journey. In part three of Project 'Star I'll detail just how Yamaha's ultra-cruiser performs over the next 3000-4000 miles while swallowing the countryside on both isolated backroads and freeways. Again, I like to think of the Royal Star as a sporting cruiser fitted with a high-performance engine, so twisting tarmac will be the target. There are plans afoot to further customize/accessorize the 'Star for a more personal statement, and I'll begin exploring performance upgrades in an attempt to wake up the beast that lies concealed inside the V-Max-derived V-4.

Let's see what's down the road and around the bend.


Updated project costs:

Genuine Yamaha Accessories
Studded Solo Seat:                              $309.95
Studded Tour Pillion Pad:                       $189.95
Studded Backrest Pad:                           $149.95
Chromed three-piece Backrest Pad mounting:      $324.90
Chromed Luggage Rack:                           $86.95
Custom Grips w/foam insert:                     $29.95

RKA SuperSport tankbag, black:                  $115.00
CruzTOOLS tool kit:                             $119.95

Standard factory tune and service:              $235.50

Total project costs to date:                    $3004.80
Suggested retail - 1997 base model Royal Star:  $13,699.0O
Part One project costs:                         $1442.70
Part Two project costs:                         $1562.10
Total:                                          $16,703.80