Mainstream Choppers Shootout
Three for the Strip
Over the years the staff of Motorcycle.com – no matter the regime – usually hasn't been one for the conventional view. We often come up with some silly premise for pitting a bunch of bikes not usually seen in the same circles together, or arbitrarily choose a location to ride off to and generate some screwy videos, photos and commentary. We're not like everyone else, and that's why you love us, right? So, with one last opportunity before year's end, we conjured up another comparo with a hint of fun and irreverence to close out 2007.
Choppers – after several years of seeing them being built on TV, some of the major OEMs are now building their own. The Victory Vegas Jackpot was one of the first out of the gate, offering flamboyant style and a 250mm rear tire that was the fattest available on a large-scale production bike. Then, this past summer, Harley-Davidson debuted its chopper/bob-job Rocker, providing the most daring Softail yet. We knew we had the brewing of a shootout when we saw the Star Motorcycles Raider this fall, as the Yamaha-built cruiser was the first Japanese custom that embraces the chopper phenomenon. They’re the three bikes currently offered from major OEMs which best exemplify the outlaw chopper movement, what we’re terming Mainstream Choppers.
The Raider S, Vegas Jackpot and Rocker C represents each maker's interpretation of a custom bike made affordable for the average Joe. There's plenty of exposed motor, chrome, flashy paint, kicked-back riding posture and enough bottom-end stomp from all three to inspire a "Torque for Dummies" book.
With such sparkle and glam in the form of motorbikes, we needed a destination, a theme to drive us. I wanted to parallel the bikes to women's shoe fashions; face it, cruisers can be priced exorbitantly for so little, painful to ride (wear) and exceptionally trendy. At least I didn't stoop to nicknaming the bikes after women's bottoms like Duke did!
Fortunately, glitz and glam can be found in our own backyard. We played near the surf of Malibu and rode into its sinuous canyons that would soon burn fiercely, and we cruised through the glamorous Sunset Strip and the less-glamorous Hollywood Boulevard. We lived it up at the Hotel California (literally), and we frightened little old ladies in Beverly Hills. Much about Los Angeles is viewed by many folks as being ostentatious, and so are these bikes.
"Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven."
-Neal Gabler, author
See, we fit right in! With longtime Motorcycle.com shoot-out participant and forum hero, Buzz "Buzglyd" along, we set off. Come along for the ride from the saddles of three mainstream choppers.
Star Raider S
MSRP: $13,780 (Tommy Blue) *$13,980 (Candy Red w/Flames) *Model tested
We got our first look at the Raider in September of this year when Editor Duke attended its unveiling. He learned from the Star team that the bike's design is influenced by what they call "take-off movement imagery" (think of a WW2 fighter plane on a runway). They hoped to evoke this mental picture by the imaginary line drawn from the tail up through the handlebars. The other force behind the look is what Star calls "black art theme." Sharp angles are found in places like the handlebar riser clamp, tank-mounted instrument cluster, lower triple tree, footpegs and mirrors. Adding to the Raider's styling is the gleaming exhaust and custom-look cast-aluminum wheels.
- Burly, good-looking powerplant
- Attention to detail beyond any Japanese cruiser
- Terrific features-per-dollar ratio
- Style not appreciated by all
- Awkward evap canister and horn placement
- Explaining why you didn’t get a Harley
Seeing the Raider in photos alone doesn't do justice to its looks, but despite attention to the details, even in the flesh the Star seems a touch contrived. Buzz described the Raider’s styling as “fairly derivative (Softail Custom or Dyna Wide Glide anyone?) and, in typical Yamaha fashion these days, a little over the top." But he couldn't fault the Raider's wise use of internal wiring, quality paintwork and nice finishes.
Perhaps that's the danger in this segment. Could you tell one cruiser from another, let alone from a Harley, at a distance? Park most non-Harleys at a Starbucks, and what do you hear from Mr. Non-Fat-Soy-No-Foam-Latte? "Nice bike! That a Harley?"
Crusty veteran of the bike industry that he is, Kevin Duke still sees the sunny side in the Raider, noting that items like the stylized mirrors and footpegs are "the kind of stuff a Harley or Victory owner would only find in thick accessory catalogs."
Despite a couple of differences about styling, we all sung the same tune with respect to the Raider's (and Rocker's) instruments. Duke remarked that they're "fairly attractive but are mounted low and out of a rider’s sightlines." That's no small thing when you realize that you're taking your eyes off the road, however briefly, to look at the time, fuel gauge, speedo or tripmeter that are all nicely integrated into the tank-mounted speedometer and toggled with a switch on the left handlebar control.
Using what they already had, Star took the excellent 1854cc (113ci), 48-degree air-cooled fuel-injected V-Twin from the 'Liner bikes (Roadliner/Stratoliner) with its high-for-a-big-Twin compression ratio of 9.5:1 requiring premium fuel. Another aspect of the engine worth noting is the use of twin counter balancers that allowed Star to hard-mount the engine to the frame without concern for annoying vibes.
If you couldn't figure it out by looking at the dyno numbers, trust all three of us when we say the Raider has tremendous go power. The Raider's bone-crushing 113ci mill can push the Vegas Jackpot's 100ci engine around like a schoolyard bully extorting lunch money, and it all but bitch-slaps the Rocker C's 96ci lump. We rolled this trio of choppers on to the Area P dyno to find out how much power is transfered to the rear wheel, and the Star¹s 83 dyno horsepower dwarfed the relatively meek Harley¹s 61 hp. The Star’s 83 dyno horsepower dwarfed the relatively meek Harley’s 61 hp. Capable of dragstrip-style rolling burnouts all day long, the Raider pours it on strong. Rolling into the throttle, even in excess of 90 mph, results in a linear rush of acceleration not normally expected from most cruisers. Perfect marks for the engine were held back slightly by a slight abruptness coming on and off throttle relative to the perfect fueling of the Vic and Hog.
But just like there's more to looks, all the torque you could ever want won't mean much if you can't go 'round a bend or slow down. Reeling in the 105 ft-lbs of torque found at the rear wheel just before the 2,500 rpm mark is the work of of two – yes two – discs and calipers up front. The two 298mm rotors are squeezed by four-piston mono-block calipers, and they provide very good feel and stopping power. In a segment that often sees skimping on brakes in the name of style, Star has bucked the trend here, and you'll be a much happier rider because of it.
Editor-in-Cheese Duke and myself came away astonished at how well this heaviest-of-the-three could be hustled through bends. Additionally, the bike's stability at high speeds is also atypical of what one is used to encountering in this class. Basically, the chassis says, "Bring it on!"
The Star has a long 70.8-inch wheelbase, but despite the raked-out look, it doesn't come at the cost of an ill-handling bike. Star engineers used a little trickery in order to achieve the chopper-ish 39.2-degree fork angle. The Raider’s steering-head rake angle is actually a more modest 33.2 degrees, but a 6-degree offset of the triple clamps keeps that kick-ass long look via the raked-out fork angle. This leaves the Raider with a reasonably short 102mm (4 inches) of trail. Kevin said the Raider S was the "fastest down a twisty road," and that "it’s the only bike of this group whose steering doesn’t have a tendency to flop while at a less-than-walking-pace crawl." It's a safe bet that the surprisingly good handling is attributable to the wise use of a smaller 210/40-18 rear tire combined with a wider-than-usual 120/70-21 up front.
Despite Star's efforts to make the Raider handle as well as it goes, Buzz's many years of being a cruiser guy gave him a different view. Saying that the bike’s long wheelbase bothered him in tight turning tarmac, he quipped that "if I could get a 7/8ths scale Raider without losing the power, I'd be as happy as a woman with PMS downing a gigantic hunk of Motherlode chocolate cake." We can see Buzz is a fan of the glutenous Claim Jumper chain of restaurants.
When it comes to ergonomics, what seems to work really well for one person can be a different experience for someone else. El Duke and I liked how the Raider’s “fists in the wind” riding position worked at highway speeds, as it also offered a surprising amount of wind protection from its high front end. But our taller friend, Buzz, said the reach to the bars made his shoulder blades hurt. He noted that the Raider isn't "as bad as the old Warrior but it still would keep me from putting on impressive miles on an otherwise impressive platform." The Raider requires a little bit of reach to the bars, but it also has the best designed footpegs that fall somewhere between the Rocker C's splayed-out pegs and the Victory's more compact peg-to-seat relation. A wide, supportive seat aids long-haul comfort.
We all agreed that the Raider had the best damped (not damn!) suspension in this group, and its five-speed gearbox also received the highest marks, even though it lacks the six-speed overdrive of the Victory and Harley.
Finally, there's a few other incidentals. We were all impressed with the burly exhaust note that makes it hard to believe the bike is emissions compliant, and its passenger pillion is the plushest of the trio. It’s equipped with the only manly-sounding horn among this group; the puny, high-pitched horns of the Rocker and Vegas are almost embarrassing for such bad-ass bikes
So, Star's new cruiser clearly takes many cues from Harley and other customs in terms of styling, but more importantly, like a talented protégé, it breaks out of the shadows of those veterans and challenges the conventions that a highly-styled motorcycle can't operate and perform like a motorcycle should. It has ferocious torque, it stops better than some standard motorcycles (let alone most cruisers), has a refined Japanese transmission, decent ergonomics, great stability in the chassis and a lot of quality in the details. There's a lot to like about this newcomer to the cruising stage.