This week’s Church feature brings you a review of the 2004 Yamaha RoadStar. More than that, however, this week’s Church feature brings you an example of Eric Bass truly soaking up a motorcycle press intro, complete with photos of the hotel room, EB making a duck face for the camera, posing in a bathrobe, talking to Brad Banister in said bathrobe, and lastly, sunbathing on top of the RoadStar. Oh, and there’s a motorcycle review in there somewhere, too. For more pics of E-Bass, be sure to check out the photo gallery. Enjoy!
By Eric Bass, Jun. 05, 2003
‘Twas dawn over Morro Bay as the fledgling motojournalist awoke. Bleary eyed, and finding himself in an unfamiliarly opulent environment, he peered, squinting, out the sliding glass doors at the overcast sky above the placid inlet. Seabirds squawked a morning call, and sailboat rigging played against masts like so many wind chimes. The air felt cool and crisp like autumn, and was accented with an atomized mist of pleasant seaside aromas. For an instant, he was transported back to the New England shores of his youth. Solemn, dignified, austere environs populated by humble, no-nonsense folk.
Then his gaze drifted downward to the jacuzzi on his private deck. “Huh?… That’s way too big to be a lobster pot. Wait . . . The fireplace? Gas! Hey man, there aren’t any gas fireplaces in Maine. Sacrilege! What’s going on? Where’s Gramma and Grampa?” Sorry son, time to wake up. We’re in Central California and this is wine country, so take off that ridiculous lobster bib and pop the cork on the Merlot, would ya’. It needs time to breathe or the tannins will clash with your frosted flakes! Shower, shave, brush your teeth, and for chrissakes, pay attention lad, ’cause we know something you don’t, and you’ve got a verrrrry interesting day ahead of you.
It was thusly that I began the odyssey of the Road Star ’04 press intro.
I joined the other journos in the hotel restaurant overlooking the bay. Breakfast was a buffet affair, and I groggily snarfed down my food and turbocharged my bloodstream with coffee. I exchanged traditional morning pleasantries and, “How did you sleeps” with my compatriots, prior to being ushered into an 8:00 AM briefing, resplendent in all its Powerpoint glory. It was there that we learned the schoolbook interpretations of what Yamaha has cooked up for the ’04 Road Star feastival. Now that it is June 4th, 9:00 PST, and the press embargo has been officially lifted, I am free to share these closely held secrets with my fellow MOrons. If you didn’t hear it here first, then somebody’s in for a spankin’ Yamaha-style!
So let’s talk tech, shall we? The Road Star’s air-cooled, OHV pushrod V-twin has gained two millimeters of bore to bring it to a husky 1670cc. Bore and stroke now stand at 97mm and 113mm, with a new valve system as well. Greater cooling fin surface area, and the addition of ceramic composite-lined cylinders help to dissipate heat more efficiently. The airbox and pipes have added volume to allow the cylinders to breathe easier.
These and other enhancements have Yamaha claiming that the ’04 powerplant turns out 15% more horse power, and 7.5% more torque than last year’s edition. This is undeniably a good thing, and Yamaha offers Road Star Speedstar Stage Kits: I (air cleaner, ignition box, jetting), II (performance exhaust), III (pistons, carburetor, ported heads), and IV (cams and pushrods) to further bump your boost. Personally, I’m of the opinion that hot-rodding a big ol’ cruiser accomplishes about as much as putting lipstick on a warthog, but for those who enjoy going slow faster, maybe this stuff matters.
Velocity management is provided by dual discs, with 4-piston monoblock calipers identical to those found on Yamaha’s Warrior. Elsewhere on the bike, stronger construction allows for a lighter, narrower belt drive. Nine-spoke cast-alloy wheels have shed four pounds up front, and another three pounds in the rear wheel. Tubeless tires are also now standard equipment. In addition to the de rigueur bike specs, the Yamaha folks went into great detail about their commitment to the cruiser market, which apparently comprises over 60% of their street bike sales. In fact, we are told, their commitment extends beyond the Road Star bikes, to the Road Star brand. Recognizing that the average consumer plunks down $1,100 on factory custom goodies before their cruiser even rolls off the showroom floor, Yamaha now offers over 250 accessories, as well as apparel and other branded items. The parts and components of the bike have been designed from the drawing board up to stand on their own, and avoid overlapping or interfering with surrounding components to allow for simple customization. From my streetside view of the cruiser scene in L.A., I can confirm the status of the Yamaha line as one of the most popular metric cruisers to use as a base for aftermarket customization.
Press intros are sort of like going to a really swank, all-male boarding school where the classes last about an hour and recess fills the rest of the day. It was 9:00. Class dismissed… time for recess! I removed the toothpicks from my eyelids, wiped the drool off my chin, and staggered out of the darkened room into the daylight, squinting like a 220 pound newborn rat. We gathered out by the bikes, which had been arrayed in front of the Inn at Morro Bay as if by an extraordinarily well-to-do chapter of Hell’s Angels. Upon inspection, the bikes exhibit a devotedly heritage styling. Considering the fact that the first Road Star rolled off the line five years ago, the appearance of a vintage bike has been lovingly recreated. To the casual onlooker, the metric cruiser might be easily confused with a restored classic, and that’s exactly what they were shooting for. They’ve hit their target handsomely.
All of the available color combinations were present and accounted for. The standard ’04 Road Star is available in white with red pinstriping for a classic look, and a sort of black/raspberry combo which adds a more contemporary flair, and then there is, of course your basic “Bad Boy” black. The Silverado editions offer touring windshields and leather saddlebags and come in either an Onyx/Red or Tan/Black color scheme. A new LED taillight graces the fender of all the ’04s. In addition to this year’s cornucopia of cruiser color schemes, the Yamaha crew had provided an array of ’03 models for comparison purposes, which led to a visual saturation of Yamaha-mania!
We were offered detailed maps of a recommended route, with rendez-vous times for lunch and dinner, and left to grab bikes at will and follow our own devices. Why try to herd cats, anyway? Just fork over the keys, and let ’em have at it. Aaaah, the sublime pleasures of bourgeois decadence topped with a liberal dollop of anarchy. One of my favorite delicacies! While a solid layer of cloud cover blotted out the sun, we were assured by the Yamaha folk that there was a negligible chance of rain, and to enjoy the day. Being familiar with the Morro Bay/Paso Robles territory from numerous wine tasting excursions, I struck out solo for the open road on one of the blackberry/raspberry models.
As I pulled away from the inn, and into the small, innocent, still sleepy town, my first impression was that the Road Star was obscenely, obnoxiously… quiet. Of course, being the righteous, dignified, upstanding member of society that I am, I would shudder at the thought of rousting even one of the local populace with a reveille of V-Twin flatulence. In this case, it was never an option. Even in my half-dome, I could barely hear the engine. Rats!… er, um, I mean, jolly good show chaps. Yes, quite important to preserve the peace at all costs. Brilliant. Carry on.
When coupled with the fact that a tachometer has been omitted from the instrument display, I wound up locating my shift points by braille on my way up the freeway onramp, by repeatedly bouncing off the soft rev limiter. I had the same issue with the Warrior when we tested it. For some reason, Yamaha likes their RPM peaking out at 4K and change. While I am sure that if it was “my bike”, I would grow accustomed to the Road Star’s biorhythms (as I did the Warrior’s), the bike could use a more emphatic voice to let you know where it stands on acceleration issues. Lacking that, can a brutha get a tach, puhlease!
Having now made my way onto the Pacific Coast Highway about as gracefully as Mr. Magoo, I settled in for a nice leisurely cruise along the scenic… “what the… RAIN”! Harumph! What’s the matter with these Yamaha people! Don’t they coordinate their press intros with God, or Gillian Barberie, or Storm from the X-Men, or whatever local deity presides over such matters? Well, here I am, less than five minutes into the tour and already I have decisions to make. Return to base camp for my full face and rain gear like a sissified city slicker afraid of some coastal mist, or forge ahead like a Viking warlord, spitting at the fates in my blue jeans and brain bucket. The odds of encountering a steady downpour seemed remote, especially in light of this morning’s optimistic weather report. A glance at the route map showed that the plan called for a turn off the coast and into the mountains just a few miles ahead. Paso Robles is wine country, and every bend in the road reveals a new microclimate.
So for the answer to this conundrum, I turned to the ultimate biker measuring stick by which all such matters of life and death on the road should be decided. You can hem, and you can haw, but in the end it all boils down to the five little words that serve as the moral compass of any road warrior worth the brass on his belt buckle. These sacred bon mots will steer you unerringly down the winding path of tall tales and high adventure, and provide a mandala against the chamomile lives of the RUB or gasp!… cager! And so I intoned the biker koan… “What would Sonny Barger do?” (WWSBD T-shirts, hats, and license plate holders coming soon!) Sonny in rain gear? Rrrrrrrright. Onward and upward for this rapidly moistening Viking warlord!
About an hour into the tour, the rain had yet to abate. My Yamaha Star jacket was dismissing the precipitation with ease, but my gloves, jeans, boots, and everything inside of them were completely soaked. This was not a good feeling. I was muttering some choice words to Sonny that I’m sure glad he wasn’t around to hear. I found out later that a couple of other participants in the junket enjoyed a hearty chuckle at my expense from within the cozy warmth of a small roadside bakery as they watched me troll past, left hand cupped in front of my face to block the liquid needles. The louts!
Due to the unfortunate weather conditions, I was hardly getting much meaningful testing out of the Road Star’s capabilities aside from it’s seaworthiness. So I decided to preempt the remainder of the recommended route and cut straight through to the lunch rendezvous. I assumed that any fou-fou wine country bistro worth it’s salt would have a fireplace that I could shiver in front of. Perhaps it would even be relatively deserted on this mid-week afternoon and I wouldn’t offend too many customers by stripping off my gloves, boots, jeans, underoos and hanging my socks on the mantle to dry while I stretched my “Myrtle Beach Bike Rally” T-shirt into an 18th Century nightshirt and ordered up a tri-tip sandwich and a glass of Reserve Zinfandel. Hey, Sonny would have. Well, except for the Zin. I have rarely been accused of thinking too small, but my friends… I was thinking too small. When I emerged from the mountains, into the village of El Paso De Robles, it was apparent that not only was it not raining there, but that it had never rained at all. The only thing wet for miles was me. Folks must have thought I had ridden my bike through the local car wash or something. I passed through town to the East, and arrived at Villa Toscana, which had been designed to resemble a miniature Italian villa overlooking a picturesque vineyard. My fantasy bistro turned out to be ensconced within the confines of a five star hotel!
Still in the parking lot, I was greeted pleasantly by a lovely woman who seemed to be disturbingly undisturbed by the arrival of a 220 pound bald, goateed, soggy, surly biker at her swank hotel, crankily bemoaning the morning’s importune turn of events, and ominously prophecizing the arrival of about 25 more of his besotted brethren over the course of the next hour. “Run! Tell the others! If you move swiftly, it’s not too late to save the women and children!”. She waited patiently as I finished my rant, the placid smile having never left her face. “Come with me”, she said, “I’ll get you set up in a vacant room. There’s a robe inside the closet. You can take off your wet things and leave them outside the door. I’ll have them put in the dryer, and get them back to you lickity split”, like she does this every day. She guides me past several more pleasantly smiling hotel staff, beaming at me as if to say, “Awww, what an adorable 220 pound bald, goateed, soggy, surly biker! Isn’t he darling the way he squishes when he walks!”. Ms. Congeniality then opens the door to this absurdly opulent room with a view that should be hanging in a museum somewhere in France, and a bathroom the size of my apartment, pulls out a robe that probably costs more than my best suit, and tells me to make myself at home.
So about now I’m getting this spooky vibe like something is seriously, seriously wrong here. The first thing you learn as a kid growing up in NY with a bunch of “good fellas” for neighbors is that anything this rich has got to be a set up. Once the old gears started turning, it wasn’t long before I deduced Yamaha’s evil scheme. The optimistic weather report was a ploy to dupe me into wearing my fair weather clothes. Knowing that I would arrive at the hotel drenched, Yamaha’s henchmen had tied up all of the staff in a sub-basement and replaced them with fem-bots programmed to trick me into taking off all of my clothes and leaving them outside the room never to be seen again. Then they would hold my garments hostage until I promised to give positive reviews to all of Yamaha’s bikes for eternity. The fiends! So that’s how they bend neophyte journos to their will. No wonder Burns snarfs so much Paxil! After fifteen years the guilt must be unbearable! Cold, wet, and miserable though I was, I would never allow my integrity to be compromised. My decision was made. The clothes would stay on, no matter what!
But then I snapped out of it and came to my senses. I must have been delirious with discomfort. That scenario had a minor, but obviously fatal flaw. Everybody knows that fem-bots don’t do you in with their wits.
They use their bodies! The plan was clearly to wait until I had undressed and left my clothes outside the door, whereupon a trio of comely “maids” would “accidentally” stumble into my room and seduce me into participating in a series of acrobatic escapades so utterly decadent that I would forever associate Yamaha with extremes of pleasure, and giddily spew lavish praise at the mere mention of their products. Great Pavlov’s ghost! These marketing people are far more diabolical than I could have imagined! Why didn’t JB warn me? Was he in on it too? I had dismissed it at the time, but I could have sworn I detected a muffled snicker as he trod back to his office after assigning me to this junket.
There was little time. I had been in the room for twenty minutes now and they were surely getting suspicious. I needed to act swiftly and decisively. There was only one thing to do… Get naked, put my clothes outside the door and wait for the fem-bots to bust in! Woo Hoo! Yay-uh! That’s what I’m talkin’ about boyeee! Clothes off robe on open door drop clothes close door wait for fem-bots, pant, pant, pant. Wait for fem-bots… Wait for fem-bots… Wait for fem-bots… Hey man, what happened to the freakin’ fem-bots?!
So I grab a glass and put it up to the door to listen for voices out in the courtyard. I hear voices alright, but not soft, sensual, fem-bot voices.
Journos! Obviously here to rescue me, and totally scaring off all the fem-bots! I exited the room, sauntered into the courtyard, and confronted my compatriots, naked as a newborn beneath my Hefner-esque attire. “Hey listen bro’s, I appreciate you all havin’ my back, but I got a hot date with at least three or four fem-bots that were just about to bust in and rock my boat hard enough to control my mind forever. Check it out, they even made off with my clothes. See? They used to be outside the door right there. Now they’re gone. Alright? So if y’all can just make yourself scarce, take the Road Stars back out for a few laps around the vineyard or something, I’d sure appreciate… “Mr. Bass, your clothes are dry”.
Oh man, it was too late! The number one fem-bot was standing there with my nice, dry, neatly folded, fresh-out-of-the-dryer-warm clothes. She must have given the order to abort the plan once the others arrived. Grrrrrrrr!
So now that they’ve got me standing in the courtyard of this hotel in a flippin’ robe like some looney escaped from Bellevue, everyone starts ribbing me like they weren’t in on the plan all along. And they were tough nuts to crack too. Despite both group and individual interrogation, I couldn’t get a confession out of any of them. They all tried to convince me that I was imagining things, and would I please put some clothes on! Well, after it became apparent that I was dealing with grizzled veterans of the press intro wars, I decided to play along with their little charade, change back into my clothes, and eat my lunch like nothing had happened. And for the record, lunch was delicious. Thanks for asking.
Back out on the road in my newly dry ensemble, with newly dry riding conditions, I finally had the opportunity to put the Road Star through its paces. We departed the hotel for an idyllic tour through the meandering back roads and coastal byways of Paso Robles and Morro Bay. Finally comfortable putting some gumption behind the throttle and lean angle beneath the tires, I am pleased to report that I have something to report. So here goes. Ahem…
(talk about your long wind-ups–Ed.)
I felt as if the Road Star’s power was plenty ample for its purpose, and compared favorably to that of its classmates. However, as previously mentioned, getting feedback from the bike as to where it was in the powerband required better rapport than I was able to achieve in an afternoon. The quiet engine, shallow redline, and tach-less instrument panel left me guessing as to whether I had the juice to pass cars, or drive out of a turn. The power was there, I just couldn’t be sure whether I was in the right gear, or needed to downshift. This sounds like more of a complaint than it is. Nothing that couldn’t be cured with time and familiarity. The five-speed transmission with 5th overdrive was smooth in power application, and the heel-toe shifter provided consistent “no look” feel for neutral at the stops. The Road Star moves along quite nicely for a pure cruiser.
I always feel a bit silly discussing the handling attributes of a 700-pound goliath, but it’s worth mentioning that the bike’s low center of gravity, and relaxed yet prepared body position offered plenty of corner control at sober entry speeds. The journo armada I toured with were all happily scraping away the bottoms of our floorboards as we meandered through the country vineyards. I wonder what the local livestock thought of our rendition of Yamaha’s Concerto in “screech minor”?
While the other journos and I didn’t engage in any Rossi/Gibernau late-braking corner capers, the response to some faux emergency stops was controlled and well-mannered. The Warrior-derived brakes inspired confidence that should a random cow appear in my path as I commenced my “drive” out of one of Paso Robles’ many deliciously scenic blind curves, the Road Star would not turn me into a road pizza.
On the afternoon portion of our ride, we were able to switch off on several models of ’03s and ’04s for comparitive purposes. Indeed, a valuable exercise. The ’03 Road Star was a pretty sly ride to begin with and didn’t need much tinkering, but hey, designers and engineers get paid to tinker and that’s what makes the bikes so good. My tactile impressions of the ’04 upgrades versus the ’03 model?
The 15% hp increase, ooh, aah, zzzz. C’mon, let’s face it, this is a pure cruiser, and fifteen percent faster than slow as molasses running uphill is still… slow. If it’s the rush of acceleration you want, right this way Sir, might I interest you in an R1?
The Warrior-esque brakes, yawn. I’m quite sure that the next time a little old lady from Pasadena makes a left turn across my bow, I’ll be a lot more enthusiastic about the ’04 Road Star’s supplemental stopping power, but last year’s pinchers seemed fine for my needs as well.
The overall riding experience, vive la difference! Where the ’04 Road Star really shines is in its significantly improved ergos. Compared to the Cadillac smooth ride of the ’04, the ’03 feels like one of those vibrating massage chairs. Big, fat, and soft are words that apply equally well to the ’04 Road Star’s seat, and that of yours truly, each of which have grown wider and thicker over the last year. Yamaha has produced a saddle that even Homer Simpson would be proud to call his own! The addition of rubber mounted, floating floorboards, and new bar-end weights significantly reduce vibration both high and low, as well as rider fatigue. Even small touches, such as wider clutch and brake levers, and dual under-seat helmet holders enhance the Road Star experience.
This year’s Road Star is a substantially improved ride on almost every level. It’s no small feat to improve a bike’s ergos at every contact point between man and machine, but that is exactly what Yamaha has done. Coupled with the metric cruiser’s classic good looks, ease of customization, and plenty-good performance made even better, I say, “Well done Yamaha. A round of sake bombs for everyone. I’m buying!”. Now where’d all those fem-bots run off to?…
Model Road Star
Model Code 4WM
Engine Type Air-Cooled OHV Pushrod 4-stroke V-Twin,
4-valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke 97.0mm x 113.0mm
Compression Ratio 8.36:1
Carburetion 40mm Mikuni
Ignition Type Digital TCI
Final Drive Belt
Front Suspension Type Telescopic Fork
Front Suspension Diameter 43mm
Front Suspension Travel 5.51″
Rear Suspension Type Swingarm/Single Shock
Rear Suspension Travel 4.33″
Front Brake Type Dual discs w/ 4-piston monoblock calipers
Front Brake Size 287mm
Rear Brake Type Single disc w/ single piston caliper
Rear Brake Size 266mm
Front Tire Size 130/90-16 67H
Rear Tire Size 150/80B16 71H
Rake (Caster Angle) 32°
Seat Height 27.95″
Ground Clearance 5.71″
Dry Weight 679 lbs. Road Star
712 lbs. Road Star Silverado
Fuel Capacity 5.3 Gallons
Colors Pearl White, Raven (Midnight), Raven/Raspberry Metallic