The original Royal Star in 1996 heralded Yamaha’s use of labeling its cruisers as Stars, followed by other Star models. With considerable Star power in its lineup, Yamaha launched the Star Motorcycles brand in 2006, a cruiser-oriented marque used in North America to bring Yamaha’s cruiser line under its own tent apart from Yamaha’s other lines.

Then, in April of last year, we discovered that the Star Motorcycles website was no longer functioning but redirecting to Yamaha’s website. When we asked about it, we were told Yamaha Motor USA was in the process of dismantling marketing efforts for its sub-brand and would be bringing the Stars back into Yamaha’s fold.

Star Motorcycles Reabsorbed Into The Yamaha Motorcycle Family

“As the cruiser motorcycle market in the U.S. continues to evolve and mature,” Yamaha stated, “we feel that the best opportunity for future sales success and growth from each Star cruiser model is to integrate our model line with other Yamaha models that hold the strong brand identity, the heritage and the DNA that define the Yamaha Brand. This means that we will begin to promote our Star models in parallel with other Yamaha models. In order to better integrate synergies with the other key Yamaha models, the establishment of a new Street segment called Sport Heritage will be part of this new positioning and marketing integration.”

Hmm, Sport Heritage you say. What does that mean?

Well, at first it meant returning models: the demon VMax, the back-to-basics SR400 rehash, the cafe-racer’d C-Spec Bolt, and the rabid-but-refined XSR900, which takes inspiration from the silver XS750 pictured above, both sharing three-cylinder powerplants. Then last June I attended the unveiling of Yamaha’s SCR950, a retro scrambler-inspired version of the Bolt, which brought the Sport Heritage line to five.

Shun Miyazawa: “We as a brand have the capability and ambition to basically conquer different types of engine configurations and concepts rather than staying in a comfort zone.”

Shun Miyazawa: “We as a brand have the capability and ambition to basically conquer different types of engine configurations and concepts rather than staying in a comfort zone.”

“It’s not really tied up by genre,” explains Shun Miyazawa, Motorcycle Project Coordinator at Yamaha, to me in a recent interview. “We have a VMax, we have an SR, we have a V-Twin, we have a Triple. Other brands are easier to understand because they all have one type of motor, so it’s very easy: air-cooled Boxer is an R-nine-T; air-cooled L-Twin is Scrambler Ducati; and inline-Twin is Triumph.

“One thing that unifies our lineup is our respect for the fathers we had in Yamaha history,” Miyazawa continues. “I think the possibilities are kind of unlimited, because if you count the number of bikes we produced in the 60 years of company history, there’s a tremendous amount of cool bikes. We are quite flexible and we are not limiting ourselves when it comes to the type of vehicle.”

Miyazawa is a recent import to Yamaha Motor USA, having arrived nine months ago from Yamaha Motor Europe where he was a core member for the XSR900 project, one of our favorite contemporary Yamahas. He says his key role is trying to understand what consumers are looking for in a motorcycle from Yamaha, including market research and working with engineers and designers.

Duke’s Den: 1977 Yamaha XS750 Review (Of Sorts)

“The approach we took internally, we called it Faster Sons,” he elaborates on the line’s theme. “So those bikes had brothers in the past, but we make them faster, more affordable, reliable and all that.” Miyazawa says the intention is to pay homage to Yamahas from the ’70s and ’80s, yet making sure performance and componentry is up to date.

Yamaha Faster Sons Page

“It’s like a painting from an impressionist like Van Gogh,” he analogizes. “If you see something, you close your eyes and try to reproduce, you open your eyes, here it is. There’s a certain connection of what’s important to us, not necessarily a link with a particular engine or frame.”

“We want to make (sales) growth in older generations (of riders), even those returning to motorcycling, but also taking new generations into the motorcycle industry.”

“We want to make (sales) growth in older generations (of riders), even those returning to motorcycling, but also taking new generations into the motorcycle industry.”

Building motorcycles that entice customers to plunk down their hard-earned money isn’t always as simple as it may seem. It’s important, of course, to appeal to middle-agers/boomers, the group that has for decades propped up the moto industry and continues to do so, but reaching younger riders is key to the long-term survival of two-wheeled transportation.

Building bikes that appeal to Boomers is relatively simple: providing a look and feeling they used to have 20 or 30 years ago on Yamaha bikes but also including modern functionality, says Miyazawa. Hitting a younger demographic is more challenging, as their experiences with bikes from the 1970s and ’80s are mostly limited to movies and legend.

“For some of them it’s the motorbike design how it should be, and thanks to all for some of those retro-inspired lifestyles popping around here in the States as well,” Miyazawa comments. “I’ve been speaking to many of those guys in the market the last few years. Almost 80 to 90% of them are wanting to do something based on used bike, but not having enough time or knowledge or skill to make a proper restoration. They are telling us, ‘Yeah, I like the look, I like the feeling and all that, but I don’t want to spend 100 hours before I can actually get to ride the thing.’”

Here’s Miyazawa’s personal bike, an XSR900 fitted with wire-spoke wheels, turnsignals from a Star cruiser, a headlight screen and mounts for mini saddlebags. Photo by Duke.

Here’s Miyazawa’s personal bike, an XSR900 fitted with wire-spoke wheels, turnsignals from a Star cruiser, a headlight screen and mounts for mini saddlebags. Photo by Duke.

As for what’s next for Sports Heritage lineup, Miyazawa says he must carefully balance the wants and needs from Yamaha’s designers and engineers with those of its dealers and, of course, a wide variety of potential customers.

“We like to follow our heart to a certain degree, but we also need to follow what consumers are looking for,” Miyazawa says with a furrowed brow that reveals the consternation of trying to please a variety of audiences.

“There is always a kind of momentum in this particular segment. There was a big hype a few years ago for cafe racer, and now it seems like scramblers are equally attracting. And it could also be a neutral Universal Japanese Motorcycle – UJM – which could be taken to any kind of direction. We have so many choices, but it’s up to us to find the best balance between where our hearts go and where our consumer’s needs are coming across.”

Sadly for my dreams, a direct-injected reboot of my old RZ500 apparently isn’t in Yamaha’s plans… Photo by Ian Johnston.

Sadly for my dreams, a direct-injected reboot of my old RZ500 apparently isn’t in Yamaha’s plans… Photo by Ian Johnston.

Related Reading
Duke’s Den: Ride More
Duke’s Den: Risk/Reward
Duke’s Den: Inside Moto Guzzi
Duke’s Den: Father’s Day
Duke’s Den: You Can’t Help Getting Older…
Duke’s Den – Award Season
Duke’s Den: On TV
Duke’s Den: Decades Of Fireblades
Duke’s Den: 1977 Yamaha XS750 Review (Of Sorts)
Duke’s Den: Inside Info

  • xenos

    Interesting read. The Faster Sons concept actually helps clear up some of what’s going on with the lineup.

    Any chance we can get a more in depth article on what manufacturers see as upcoming trends? What’s after the scrambler as the next popular hipster segment to cause some amazing bikes to be built?

    • Kevin Duke

      We’ll try, but there’s a whole lot of guesswork in predicting future trends, so getting a consensus might be impossible. My prediction is for more elemental bikes like Triumph’s Bonneville line that now has seven models. Look for an R-nineT-based cruiser/bobber to expand BMW’s air-cooled lineup.

      • Buzz

        Let’s hope it doesn’t look like the LAST BMW cruiser.

  • Larry Kahn

    Not by any loyalty factor, but of the @70 bikes I’ve had since 1968 there’s been all types and brands but more Yamaha’s than any other brand. From DT-1 to FZ-1.
    Seem to like their stuff.

  • DickRuble
    • Jon Jones

      A rare model, indeed. My buddy bought an XJ400RJ for his wife-to-be back in ’85 when there was the huge glut of unsold bikes. Haven’t seen one in years. Pretty sweet bikes.

      • DickRuble

        I don’t even know if this one (XS400R) was ever imported into the US. I have seen some Seca 400’s that look similar but don’t have the double disc brake. Not sure the engines are the same. Any info appreciated.

        • Jon Jones

          The US model was single disc. The engine appears identical to the US model. Same alternator tucked behind to reduce engine width. There was also a Maxim 400—the XJ400J. I had started wrenching at a Yamaha/Suzuki dealer in ’84 and we sold lots of Yamahas as old as ’81 models due to the glut.

          Boy, it was sink or swim learning the bugs back then. Carb and electrical issues plagued many bikes of that era. Still, good times. Glad I lived it.

  • Dootin

    RZ500 is my favorite of the era too.

    • Rick Greninger

      I wish the RZ500 had been sold in the US. I most assuredly would have had one! The last Yamaha I owned was a Seca Turbo. Not a bad bike or engine, but it was a whole lot more fun after I tweaked on the turbo a little 🙂

      • throwedoff

        Still hoping for a SRX600!

  • Starmag

    That was a lot of Bernays-speak by Miyazawa that could be summed up with:

    New bikes are ugly, old bikes are pretty
    even young guys have eyes
    but the old guys have money

    I feel for these new marketing guys. Enticing the smartphone generation to leave virtual world won’t be easy. I have a friend who bought his son a manual transmission car when he got his drivers license. The son refused a free car because it didn’t have an automatic. Shifting would have interfered with his texting and twittering.

    • Jon Jones

      Good post.

    • john burns

      well, speaking also in huge generality, for the group of millennials whose parents can’t buy them cars, my kid and his friends would love a motorcycle (he stole my R1) or stick shift automobile if only the Boomers hadn’t taken all the $$ and pulled the ladder up after themselves. (They also love their phones, just like we loved our stereos and record stores.)

      • Starmag

        I should have noted that it was a very used car he specifically rejected because of the automatic. One kid doesn’t a trend make, but:

        http://www.marketwatch.com/story/millennials-engage-with-their-smartphones-more-than-they-do-actual-humans-2016-06-21.

        I’m a boomer who was given literally nothing materialistically by my parents and built my own small business, I have however paid SS taxes for the last 40 yrs which I doubt I’ll ever get a payout on. You can assure your son I don’t have his money. If younger folks are looking for scapegoats for their economic malaise they should look into NAFTA or the private Federal Reserve Bank. I can assure you I voted for neither.

        When I was your son’s age I had a used piece-o-crap HD Sprint 350 that I bought for $400 very had earned dollars.

      • throwedoff

        John, aren’t you technically a “boomer”?

  • JMDGT

    These comments from Yamaha along with the Star re-incorporation come off better than most of the stuff other manufacturers are saying. Aesthetics are in the eye of the beholder and form follows function. I personally like a lot of the new designs. Especially the ones that incorporate older visual cues. We live in the best of times for motorcycling.

  • SRMark

    I like the focus on younger rider requirements. They won’t sell me very many bikes cuz I’m in my 60s. I do like the bike designs the harken back to the XS650, Bonneville style. But you kiddies have no such affliction. I do think (hope) that you youngsters out there like the “motor” part of motorcycle. I think that the motor should be the focal point of the bike’s style, not something to be painted black and hidden. But then again, i am part of a declining demographic.

    • throwedoff

      I totally agree. I moved up from a Honda CL100 to a ’76 XS650 just after I turned 16 and was legal to operate a larger bike on the street. Later when the SRX600 came out, I fell in love with it, but it has been an unrealized dream to date to own one. At 55 years old I don’t care if it’s kick start only. I still want one! Of course my wife has no understanding at all, and she would try to make me sell one (or more) of my three current bikes if I found one I could buy.

  • Buzz

    Marketing guys certainly speak a lot of gobbledygook.

    Translation: No one buys Japanese cruisers anymore so it didn’t make sense to keep a separate line for floor anchors.

    Indian scoops up everything Harley doesn’t get and Stars, Vulcans and Shadows are dust collectors.

  • My 1982 Seca 650 is IMHO one of the nicest bikes ever made. Great power, riding position, and shaft drive! I put over 20K miles on mine.. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cc65c6a73f935ba935f5236b22ae7591376f0c4c16cf9c2d98c7f1696b7ea493.jpg

    • mikstr

      my first street bike way back in 1983…. a great bike!

    • therr850

      Know what you mean. I had a 1979 Suzuki GS850G that I rode for 27 years and 100,000 miles. During that time I had several other bikes for fun and/or traveling. When I traded a GL1500 for a 2003 Kawasaki ZG1000 Concours the 850 lost its luster and finally went away.

  • 2chilled4u

    After owning a stream of faster and faster and ever more characterless Tupperware bikes, I have started moving in the other direction. My S3R Triumph never fails to put a smile on my dial, but the styling is still too modern, they should never have dropped the round headlights. I’d like the power and handling of the S3R wrapped in the looks of my first proper road bike – an 80’s Suzuki Katana 650.

  • Doug T

    My Favorite bike of all time is My old 1986 V-Max, By YAMAHA, owned her for 22 years, I traded her for a Triumph Tiger, Loved this bike but the V-Max spoiled Me for Horsepower, so I found a Daytona 955 and swapped the engine into My Tiger, had to modify some things like exhaust & air box, but after 8 years of riding it set up this way it’s still only My second favorite bike, but I am not looking to sell it, I attached a couple pics. of some of My old rides, My drag bike, 1981 GS1100E this bike was a real kick in the pants, 10.20 @ 145mph, and My latest project, a 1980 kz1000 ltd, it sat in the guy’s garage for 18 years, it was in sad shape, Ive been working on it for three years, it’s running now but I have to fine tune the carbs still, but I’ll get just right some day.
    I still wish I had that V-Max back.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3156ecf3404cb7def790d4ec90e61daf9c6e89e13003c9165cb2eb7bd00b4106.jpg
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/ed0921cc2ba643c32d182e9657cfedaed93e36143859c43b23d53fe4ef3a920b.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f70695aa7bc3264b46436653edafa7990d23d87b31aba62827315646e482cd7b.png https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/56d23f5bb68986ad7a1bbad9ff3d87723c98ed7428414544bee70661da0feaf7.jpg