"We took some rides to figure out where the good roads are, and then we realized there were no bad roads in the area" said one of Yamaha's product-planning people at the reception the night before the test. It's not hard to believe, either; Asheville is a charming university town in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where trees are thick on the mountainous terrain and the smooth, well-maintained roads snake up hills and through meandering valleys. Traffic is light, and the fall weather is perfect for relaxed, happy motorcycle riding.
We were there to test Yamaha's latest update to the middleweight cruiser category, the new-for-2007 V-Star 1300. At the press briefing -- held fashionably late in the morning to accommodate hung-over and jet-lagged West-coast journalists -- Yamaha's media relations and product-planning folks filled us in on why they were making such a big deal out of a bike and class that has traditionally received little attention compared to bigger cruisers or sportbikes.
The cruiser market is as hot as the rest of the motorcycle industry, with a steady 18 percent gain in sales in the last five years, according to Yamaha. In that category, middleweight machines (and here I thought a 750cc cruiser was a middleweight) have also seen an 18 percent hike in sales numbers, and Yamaha is "expecting a significant increase" in those numbers with this new model.
The targeted buyer of this machine dictated what it would be like to ride. To figure out what this individual wants, Yamaha's marketing people contacted consumers from all the other cruiser segments -- mid-sized, heavyweight and entry-level, as well as sportbike buyers. The largest percentage is riders coming from another mid-sized model, and these folks demand a unique balance of comfort, performance, quality and style.
To get the recipe just right is a tricky task. As the middleweight cruiser-buying public is so diverse, the new V-Star 1300 needs to appeal to older riders, younger riders, experienced riders (the average experience level of a middleweight cruiser buyer is 17 years, according to Yamaha, but there are plenty of prospective buyers with three years or less experience) women (12 percent), and anything in between. The bike needs broad appeal but can't be too much more money than the aged V-Star 1100 it's replacing.
'It's not enough for a cruiser to be powerful; it has to be smooth and full of V-twin character.'
The heart of it all is the motor, and Yamaha started fresh. This is no bored-out 1100; rather, it's a 60-degree, liquid-cooled, four-valve SOHC V-Twin, rather than the 75-degree V and two-valve head the 1100 used. The compression ratio has been boosted to a sporty 9.5:1 from the Grandma's Big White Underwear 8.3:1 ratio of the old bike. The result is a lot more power than the air-cooled 1100 can make.
It's not enough for a cruiser to be powerful; it has to be smooth and full of V-twin character. To accomplish this, the engineers used a single-pin crankshaft and a pair of single axis balancers, one on either side of the crank. That should maintain a thumpy, powerful feel while eliminating buzzy high-frequency vibrations. Cooling fins on the heads keep the authenticity visual as well as sensual.
How that power gets to the ground has been altered as well. Since the motor now makes more power, the gearbox ratios are all-new. They're taller now for more relaxed cruising speeds; 450 fewer RPM at 70 MPH. The clutch is beefed up, getting larger diameter plates as well as one extra plate to grow on. And a carbon-reinforced 28.6mm drive belt gets that power downrange without the weight or other negative effects of a shaft, while being clean, quiet and very easy to maintain.
The chassis looks similar to the 1100 but is also all new. Yamaha's product planners listened to the focus group people and addressed some of their complaints. "There's a lot of really big guys" riding these middleweights, according to Mike Ulrich, one of the testing staff technicians. To give us more room, they stretched the wheelbase 1.5 inches, lowered the handlebars and moved the seat back. The all-new double-cradle tube-steel design uses the engine as a stressed member (much like MO uses Managing Editor Pete Brissette) for maximum rigidity, thanks to the low-vibration design of the engine. The swingarm is a new cast-steel piece also. The result is a cruiser that feels big, looks big, but isn't too heavy at a claimed dry weight of 624 pounds and won't keep Toulouse-Lautrec impersonators away with its 28-inch seat height.
Suspension and brakes are sophisticated for this category. In front is a pair of 41mm KYB forks with 5.3 inches of travel and dual brakes sporting four-piston calipers and 298mm brake discs. Bringing up the rear is a single linkage-equipped rear shock offering 4.3 inches of travel. The 16" seven-spoke cast-aluminum wheels (which are mostly the same as the 1100's) are nicely shod with dedicated-design Dunlop and Bridgestone tires, a 130/90-16 in the front and a 170/70B-16 in back.
Comfort hasn't been neglected. Mike and his crew "experimented" with a lot of different seat foam, although probably not in the same way Fonzie "experiments" with his elderly relatives' medications when he's visiting back home. The result is a more supportive seat. It's complimented by elongated rider floorboards for maximal touring comfort. They're equipped with replaceable sliders, which hard-core cruiser junkies should consider buying in bulk. Do they sell them at Costco?
OK, we know it has smooth, reliable power and a solid chassis; we'd expect no less from the mother of such bikes as the V-Max and YZF-R1. But what about styling and amenities? Yamaha didn't skimp on these either. The bodywork is new, with a sleek, stretched and flangeless fuel tank, classically-styled steel fenders and a groovy, "modern classic"-design headlamp. The instruments are housed in a tasteful chrome pod set atop the handlebar clamp and include dual tripmeters, a clock and a fuel warning lamp with "fuel remaining" countdown. One unique feature is the switchpod-mounted control buttons for the odometer, which eliminate the danger of taking hands off the bar to reset the tripmeter or clock. You know you've done it.
Accessories are hot hot hot for cruiser retailers; the average middleweight cruiser buyer spends about $2,300 in accessories, over two-thirds of that at the time of purchase. To more easily relieve these buyers of their green stuff, Yamaha has developed a large line of accessories for this model, with 38 new bits developed just for the 1300 and 52 current items that fit it as well. Accessory Manager Dave Pooler seemed especially proud of the 1300's accessory passenger backrest; it uses "formed three-dimensional side arms" and large tubing to give the part a more substantial feel, and the pad can be swapped to coordinate with the "comfort cruise" line of accessory seats.
Briefing completed, we shuffled to the exterior of the magnificent Grove Park Inn, where a dozen or so shiny new V-Stars were waiting for us. I hopped on a windscreen-equipped Tourer, as I expected a long freeway drone before we got to the twisties.
I shouldn't have worried. We weren't in central California, Kansas or some other flat and boring place, but in a part of the world that makes me believe that God rides a motorcycle; North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains. It's stunningly beautiful in a way this California boy can't imagine, all rolling hills, snaking streams and thick, multi-colored foliage. The Grove Park Inn is right on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, and we rode on it for a bit before hitting a short stretch of interstate.
Instantly I noticed the V-Star's balance of gentle and responsive handling manners. Like the 1100 it replaces, the 1300 feels light and very manageable. The wide bar helps the bike go into corners effortlessly, and the long wheelbase gives it good stability. The suspension isn't exactly sportbike-taut, but it doesn't wallow or move around too much, and the rear shock has surprisingly adequate travel and spring rates, at least for this 157-pound (I weighed 155 before the steak-and-lobster free-booze frenzy of the night before) journalist.
The brakes surprised me. Although they weren't bad, they didn't really feel any better than the two-piston units they were replacing. I'm starting to think that good brakes on a cruiser aren't as important as they are on other styles of motorcycle; the genre's rear-heavy design (the Yamaha people boast of a 48 percent front weight bias with the 1300) limits the effectiveness of even the fanciest stoppers. However, they had good feel, even if it did require all four fingers to really slow the bike in a hurry. The rear brake was neither too powerful nor too sensitive; it was harder to lock and skid the rear tire than on some cruisers I've tested, although this could have something to do with the very grippy and linear-feeling Dunlop tires.
What didn't surprise me was the lack of ground clearance, the price we pay for floorboards and low seats. The other journalists told me the average cruiser rider seldom drags anything, but I refuse to believe that, especially of our readers. I dragged the floorboards on this bike at anything faster than a mildly sporting pace, but I also enjoyed the comfort of the big floorboards. You can't have it all, I guess.
On the Interstate the polycarbonate windscreen on the bagger makes plenty of sense, and is so solid and optically correct it's like flying in an F-18. That solidity has a price; the windscreen lacks the detachability that the bigger Stratoliner has, as do the saddlebags and backrest. The windscreen is also very tall at 23 1/4 inches; I was looking directly through it, instead of over it as happens with some more fashionably low screens. There are accessory screens available in two shorter sizes (19 and 15 inches) as well. The saddlebags hold 11 gallons, similar to the 12.4 gallon-capacity bags on the Stratoliner. Like the `liner's they are leather-covered and locking as well, although they lack the quick-detaching feature.
After a photo stop we proceeded up more deliciously twisty, decently-surfaced roads. I switched to a raven-black job and spent a moment to really examine the styling before I remounted. It's very similar to the Roadliner and Road Star, which should boost the prestige factor a bit. Components are designed to flow together with accents and chassis parts, and the radiator is very hard to notice tucked between the frame rails. The lack of external oil or coolant lines gives the motor a clean, uncluttered look. The swingarm is finished with a thick crinkle-coat that makes it look like pricey cast aluminum instead of the cheaper steel that it is, and it's touches like this that help the bike look like a much more expensive product than it is.
However, you can't completely transform Eliza Dolittle, professor, and there are a few budget touches. These include the plain Yamaha key (instead of the ornate Star item the higher-priced Star cruisers use), plenty of plastic clips and covers left out in the open and the old wheels that are carryovers from the 1100 (although they had to redesign the rear wheel for the belt drive). Still, you have to look for these things and they don't detract too much from the bike's mildly luxurious feel.
Climbing back on, I notice the seat is one of the better cruiser seats I've experienced: supportive, broad and just soft enough for comfort. The reach to the bars is just right for a 5'7" simian, and of course the seat is low enough to comfortably flat-foot at a stop, with plenty of leg to spare. The downside to that, of course, is that all the weight is on my tail, so after 100-plus miles my ass is sore and numb. That's the price we pay to ride a cruiser.
"...if you want a high-quality cruiser that is still priced near the $10,000 mark, this might be the bike for you."
The motor and drivetrain unit is truly a gem on this bike, the fruit of a lot of development for a cruiser. It's blessedly smooth, with enough of that rutabaga-rutabaga (you know why we can't say "potato-potato", right?) loping sound and thump that cruiser jockeys seem to thrive on. The gearbox is similarly modern and seamless, with enough engineered-in bulky feel coming through the burly heel-toe shifter to keep it authentic. Power is definitely more than adequate, leaving anything else labeled a "middleweight cruiser" in the dust, including the V-Star 1100 I rode to contrast it to. That motor felt anemic, buzzy and crude by comparison.
It's not perfect. I noticed an off-idle abruptness to the throttle response that other journalists noticed as well, although it could have been driveline snatch from the new clutch and drivebelt. I think it is the fuel injection, as it felt similar to the abrupt response on other late-model Yamahas like the FZ-1, FZ-6 and Stratoliner. But like I said with some of the other bikes, it's not so bad that a rider wouldn't quickly get used to it, or easily tune it out if they can't.
What we have here is a very substantial-feeling bike in more ways than one. The styling, build quality and features evoke a much more expensive machine, and the handling has the heavy, stable feel of the big boys, too. Compared to the older 1100, it still has kept enough of that bike's friendly flickability (well, maybe not exactly "flickability") while losing the 1100's budget aura. It handily fulfils its mission of being easy to ride and unintimidating for novice and reentry riders while not being too soft or boring for riders coming from similar-sized (or even larger) cruisers and sportbikes.
The only drawback might be price. At $10,090 ($11,190 to $11,390 for the Tourer), the new 1300 is $1,591 more than the 1100 it replaces. However, it is priced in the same neighborhood as other big middleweights like the Honda VTX1300 and the Suzuki C90. With Star's increasing popularity and brand recognition, this seems to be a model poised for success in this important market category.
As a consumer, you probably don't really care about that; what you want to know is how well it works, and how good a value it is. I can say that it works very well indeed, providing the handling, looks, comfort and performance that a cruiser should. As far as value goes, this newest little Star is more expensive than its rivals but also offers a very high level of refinement and performance for the extra $500 or so premium. If you're looking for a bargain, look elsewhere, (it might be the V-Star 1100 Custom, which Yamaha is keeping in its lineup for $8,499) but if you want a high-quality cruiser that is still priced near the $10,000 mark, this might be the bike for you.
2007 V Star 1300
|** Specifications Courtesy of Yamaha **|
$10,090 (Raven) Available from September 2006
$10,090 (Galaxy Blue) Available from September 2006
$10,090 (Candy Red) Available from September 2006
|Type||80-cubic inch (1304cc), liquid-cooled 4-stroke, OHC, 4 valve, V-type 2-cylinder|
|Bore x Stroke||100.0 mm x 83.0 mm|
|Transmission||Constant mesh 5-Speed, wet multiple-disc|
|Suspension/Front||Telescopic Fork, Coil Spring/oil damper, 5.31" travel|
|Suspension/Rear||Swingarm, Coil Spring/gas-oil damper, 4.33" travel|
|Brakes/Front||Hydraulic Dual Disc Brake, 268mm|
|Brakes/Rear||Hydraulic Single Disc Brake, 266mm|
|*Claimed* Dry Weight||623.9 lb.|
|Fuel Capacity||Fuel Capacity|
|Warranty||1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)|
|** Specifications Courtesy of Yamaha **|
$11,190 (Raven) Available from October 2006
$11,190 (Candy Red) Available from October 2006
$11,390 (Liquid Silver/Charcoal Silver) Available from October 2006