'04 Yamaha RoadStar
Of Mice and Men...
'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!