1999 Yamaha Customs

New Star Models, and We Ride the New Venture


PORTLAND, ME, October 29, 1998 -- Cruisers often attract hedonists, so it was fitting that Yamaha chose to debut their 1999 Star Custom line-up at West Hollywood's Skybar, which is operated by Cindy Crawford's husband and is also the watering-hole of choice for

Leonardo DiCaprio and various other assorted Party People as well as an equal opportunity employer for many of LA's endless legions of waitress/model/actresses. The Skybar also provides a magnificent, panoramic view of the city, a fitting backdrop for a very good looking line-up of motorcycles.

We expected to see the Virago 1100-based V-Star 1100 and perhaps a souped-up version of the Royal Star, but we were taken by surprise by the Royal Star Venture, a full-dress custom tourer, and the all-new Road Star, an air-cooled, pushrod V-twin. Soon after we were shot-down trying to pick up one of the waitresses, Yamaha shoved plane tickets into our hands and told us to get ready to go riding in the New England fall. Isn't it cold there?

Venture in Maine
October in Maine can be cold, windy, and wet, evoking dozens of vivid, ageless fall images: Jack O'Lanterns; cool, crisp mornings; rain on the Atlantic; maple leaves turning crimson and gold. Beautiful certainly, but not usually the thoughts that turn a young man's fancy toward piloting an 800-pound motorcycle through weather and rural backroads. So when Yamaha decided to resurrect the venerable Venture marque with a 360-mile tour across the soggy New England countryside it was clearly a choice between insanity or inspiration, with the quality of the new ride being the supreme determinant. 

Waitresses at the Skybar. Someday you might see one of these girls posing in Playboy or accepting an Academy Award or dating Dennis Rodman. Inspiration it is. Despite Nature's determined efforts to render the ride a chilly disappointment, the new Venture countered her icy blasts with a few finely engineered punches from Yamaha.


The new luxo-tourer tips the scales at a heavy-for-fighting weight of 807 pounds dry (claimed), but the Royal Star-derived water-cooled, DOHC 79 cubic-inch V-4 engine stuffed into an all-new rigidly designed frame contributes to a ride feel that is surprisingly compliant, even agile considering the class. This, coupled with a comprehensive set of touring features such as a fine CD-capable audio system, cruise control, one-push operated saddlebags, comfortable seating, digital instruments, and good weather protection, comprise a formidable touring package that definitively completes the Yamaha Star line of cruiser motorcycles. 
 
 
 
 


The powerplant stands out as an evolutionary achievement in the Star line. The airbox capacity has been dramatically increased from 3.2 liters to 9.7 liters, with a dual-intake system feeding four 32mm (up from 28mm) Mikuni carburetors with throttle position sensors. Toss in new cam timing and Yamaha claims a peak 98 horsepower -- a 30% power increase over last year's Royal Star motor. While only a dyno could confirm or deny those numbers, the engine certainly felt impressive out on the highway, tractably hefting the Venture's bulk with good passing power to spare. Where previous Royal Star experiences had, at times, left this rider wanting for a bit more oomph, this motor was an absolute improvement. The bike just didn't feel that heavy. 
 

Yamaha outlined an emphasis on solid, precise handling and the Venture, for the most part, lived up to claims, contributing to the bike's lighter-than-cruise-ship feeling. The air-adjustable link-type rear suspension provides 4.13 inches of wheel travel, an increase from the 3.74 inches on the Royal Star. Two details of note: The caster angle was decreased from 30 degrees to 29.2 degrees, perhaps due to the long 67.1 wheelbase, and the engine is solidly mounted. A counter rotating balancer reduces vibration transmitted through the rigid construction, allowing for a precise feel with only a minor buzz felt through the right grip.

Low-speed handling was good, but when we leaned through the twisties it didn't initially feel as stable as we expected, despite the long wheelbase. After a few miles a feel for the bike took hold and everything got smoother through tighter turns, but there was never an impulse to really open up and see what it could do. Confidence in the road conditions played a part here, so a longer test is required for a more comprehensive evaluation on handling characteristics. The new front brakes, with twin-pot calipers clenching down on 298mm dual discs, did a great job of shedding speed, so no problem there.


Touring features were well thought out. Weather protection was very good, with Maine serving as an effective testing lab. In particular, the fairing lowers and lower wind deflectors did an excellent job of keeping cold air away. The trunk and saddlebags proved waterproof. The one-push operation on the bags, however, while working, still seemed fumbly: On two separate bikes the trunk had to be slammed down in order to close. The saddlebags were somewhat easier to use, but it would be interesting to see how everything worked once the 57-liter trunk and 35-liter saddlebags (each) were stuffed to the brim with a rider's and passenger's touring kit.

The rider's seat was nice and comfy, at least for 190-mile days. Both seats had DC connections located underneath for easy attachment of an electric vest or other accessory, a cool feature. The passenger enjoys two rear speakers with independent passenger audio controls and the entire system was a pleasure to use. With the control unit perched above the standard left hand controls, a large LCD prominently displayed station information. A few buttons facilitated switching between AM and FM stations, or tape/CB/intercom operation. Cruise control was similarly easy, the controls located on the right handlebar assembly.

Not easy to use was the odometer/tripmeter/clock readout located on the 'dash'. Switching from the clock to the tripmeter was a two-button operation and was very fiddly at best, requiring inordinate concentration, and a disappointment considering the cool factor of the dash itself, styled with a digital sweeping-needle speedometer and digital fuel gauge with fuel countdown indicator. Other nice touches included an adjustable headlight and a fairing DC outlet.

Styling, arguably derivative, is still a success overall. The vintage automobile dash concept is the centerpiece for a bike that is circumscribed by sleek, sweeping lines. The single headlight up front does its job and accents an approach defined by simplicity and nostalgia. Coupled with technology and luxury touring features the treatment combines to form a powerful package that should be strong competition for enthusiasts that are longing for something new in a class that has been dominated by a few models which have staked out their own opposed and jealously guarded territories. The Venture ventures into your garage for $15,999, which includes a standard five-year, unlimited mileage warranty with 24-hour roadside assistance as part of the Royal Star Road Service plan. Road StarYamaha's 1999 Road Star promises to be an interesting addition to a familiar, but increasingly saturated market. Designed around a massive 98-cubic-inch, 48-degree, air-cooled, pushrod V-twin, Yamaha is taking another shot -- with a bigger, fatter gun -- at the vogue V-twin market. The engine is designed to rev at, as one staffer ebulliently recounted, near single-digit rpms. This is purported to contribute a distinctive pulse with decidedly high double-digit torque numbers. The engine also sports a long stroke, immense crankshaft, forged lightweight pistons, semi-dry sump, and a single 40mm Mikuni carb with throttle position sensor. 

Yamaha's first belt-driven bike will be released with more than 160 Star Line accessories including leather saddlebags, additional chrome, and several windshield designs. The Road Star starts at $10,499.

There is also a "Silverado" Version, apparently named after the Kevin Klein western of the same name. The Silverado is the light touring version, equipped with smallish saddlebags, a windshield, and a backrest. This version goes for $11,999.

1999 V-Star 1100

With a seat height of 27 inches and a 75-degree V-twin moving the package along, Yamaha introduces the majordomo of the V-Star line. Changes to the biggest V-Star include double disc brakes up front and a split solo/tandem seat so the rider can decide if he/she wants to sport a bit of fender fluff or just needs some quality alone time.

The new 1100cc engine features ceramic composite cylinder lining, forged pistons, and carburized connecting rods. A single 37mm Mikuni carb with TPS keeps everything chugging along.

We loved the motor of the old Virago, our big issue has always been looks, so with that addressed, this may be a big winner in the middleweight category, especially with a MSRP of $7,799.

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