First Ride: 2002 Yamaha Road Star Warrior

A Real Performance Cruiser?


Torrance, California, November 6, 2001 -- As our recent shootout confirmed, making a performance cruiser is a difficult task indeed. Not only must the bike be able to accelerate hard, turn fast and precise as well as stop fast, it must also turn heads by maintaining some sort of boulevard bad-assery. Sure, engineers in white coats can help a motorcycle achieve most of the performance goals, but the last -- and some would argue, most important -- element, is up to the designers.

After returning from the official press introduction in Half Moon Bay, California where we had a chance top sample Yamaha's latest and greatest, it's no wonder that the Yamaha Road Star Warrior has generated such buzz. Until now, only Harley's new V-Rod generated any interest outside of the typical cruiser buying market.

Equipped with a 1670 cc, air-cooled V-twin engine, the Warrior produces a claimed 79.9 horsepower at 4,400 rpm and 103.8 lbs/ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. Improved upon from the standard Road Star engine, the Warrior features all-new upper engine parts. Even the push-rod arrangement is different.

Feeding this revised motor is a new air intake system. Comprised of two intake boxes, their combined volume is a whopping two gallons (7.5 liters) in size. This gives the intake system a reported 115% increase in volume while lowering the intake resistance by 70% when compared to earlier Yamaha cruisers.

After spending the day riding around orange trees, fences and pots (that's pots plural and not pot as in puff, puff, give, even though this is Northern California.) we came away enthralled by Yamaha's newest cruiser. Fuel and oxygen are fed into this new motor through the use of two 40 mm downdraft throttle bodies. The mixture then passes into the cylinders via a revised cylinder head designed for a smoother and straighter intake path. To shrug off the extra heat that the motor produces out of its 97mm bore and 113mm stroke, cooling fin area has been increased.

The exhaust exits through a controversial exhaust can. The muffler weighs in at 8.3 kilograms. That's 1.6 kilograms less than the a standard Road Star muffler, while increasing internal capacity by 1.8 liters to 11.5 liters. And not to worry, while the exhaust can looks very sportbike-esque, the essential cruiser exhaust note remains.

 However, a motor is not worth without a good chassis, and what better material to make the frame out of than lightweight aluminum? Utilizing a double-cradle style design, the Warriors frame is 71% stiffer and 10.5 kilograms (Warrior frame weighs 17.5 kg) lighter than the standard Road Star frame. To stiffen the frame up even more, the engine has also been rigidly mounted. However, no matter how good the frame, a good chassis is dependent upon good suspension as well. The Warrior delivers with the 41-mm, R1 inspired front forks and is adjustable for preload. The rear, preload adjustable mono-shock pivots on needle roller bearings and features a forged relay arm assembly.

Though the looks of the Warrior have already drawn their fair share of giggles, the bike's handling drew nothing but praise.

Once on the road and out of the meeting room of the stately Ritz Carlton (no, we're not kidding), these updates were evident immediately as beaucoup power flowed through a roughly 8.5 mm thinner drive belt to the fat 200-section rear tire. The close-ratio transmission snicked through the ranges without any hassle and we were surprised at how well the machine pulled from mid-range.

Indeed we were surprised, at the mid- and low-range tractability of the motor. But once the tach needle swung closer to red-line, we were met with a noticeable drop in power. We only make mention of the drop because the rest of the powerband is so fulfilling. Nevertheless, considering the design goals of the motor, we're very pleased with the way the motor turned out. What pleases us more, though, is the knowledge that within a few months, Speedstar parts will be available for the Warrior that'll reportedly bump up horsepower past the century mark. We'll leave his sexual preferences alone at this time, though we will tell you that, through no fault of Yamaha or their Warrior, Calvin was seen riding a pumpkin at one point.

   However, where the real shocker lies is not with the motor or suspension, but with the way all the systems work as a package. The Warrior not only went forward like the wind, but with a maximum lean angle of 40 degrees, it would also corner like crazy. Thankfully the brakes were right there with the rest of the bike. In essence, the Warriors braking system is a direct take off from the R1. Only difference lies in the pad material. That's right, identical calipers (its easy when the fork is also directly derived from the R1) and identical rotors. Although we felt it didn't have a strong initial bite, we didn't notice any fade or lack of outright stopping power.

Combine effective brakes, motor and chassis and you get a solid package. The tight and twisty roads that the demo ride comprised of really showed us that a cruiser could handle. Tight switchbacks and off-camber road surfaces proved no problem for the Warrior. However, once the road took a turn for the worse, or more likely, when we turned up the heat a few notches, we noticed the damping was a bit slower than we would've liked. No bother. It is a cruiser after all, isn't it?

 As much fun as we had in the twisty roads just south of San Francisco, one area that we wish we spent more time in is the place where most of these machines will be used the most; the city. What we find refreshing is that a few companies out there can understand this basic cruiser requirement but have still managed to make a machine that isn't completely out of place when there's a kink in the road, let alone a sinewy road at your disposal.

Compromise, that's the name of the game with performance cruisers. Or is it? If you wanted a sporty machine, you would've gotten a sportbike. If you wanted the look and feel of a true grit cruiser, you would've gotten one. Performance cruisers lie in the thin gray realm on the dark side of the motorcycle spectrum. And it's an area we're becoming more and more enthralled with.

Yamaha's own line of Speedstar performance products will be available very soon. Parts will not only allow you to customize the looks of your bike, but performance goodies see the new Warrior producing a touch more than 100 horses which is pretty nice, no matter how it looks.

How does the Yamaha hold up in relation to the competition? With a smooth, powerful motor, awesome handling (by cruiser standards at any rate), cruiser feel and a custom look, things are looking pretty good, we'd say. Foibles? Sure, they're there, but as a package this new Yamaha spells serious trouble for other manufacturers, and it spells out yet another solid choice for consumers.



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