Words: Andrew Boss Photos Richard Seck
There’s no doubting it, this is a good time to be a motorcyclist. Manufacturers are currently building bikes of a never-seen-before variety, blending core qualities of different styles and throwing in innovative technology wherever possible. Hey, it’s now difficult to choose a genre, let alone a specific bike.
A good example can be found in the cruiser, being traditionally slow, with poor handling and arse clenching stoppers. Thankfully, we now have the power cruiser with impressive dyno figures, taught chassis, and superb brakes – often lifted directly off a sportbike. Times they are a changing, and not a minute too soon.
New for 2002, the Road Star Warrior is Yamaha’s entry into the power cruiser sweepstakes, and it’s an eyeful. Menacing, powerful and then … that exhaust! That thing certainly gets the folk’s tongues wagging with such gems as;
Looks like a cannon, Gattling gun, tractor/truck exhaust.
Must be loud, must be quiet.
Love it, hate it.
Where does the wood for the furnace go?
Where do you put the fish to smoke? (Newfies!)
With these attributes it takes little time for the Road Warrior to gather a crowd. But maybe the most fitting comments was from a guy who said it simply looks like a cruiser smashed into a sport bike. He’s on the money, as Yamaha suggest that the bike is a blend of cruiser styling with sport bike performance and handling.
|Yamaha get the hotrod look down pat.|
So what does this blended concoction taste like?
Overall styling says hotrod. Smallish fenders front and back, a minimalist seat (with mini-minimalist passenger portion) and a raked out flowing style.
The Road Warrior comes equipped with an aluminum double cradle frame and swing arm – stuff normally reserved for the sportbike clan, with Yamaha claiming this as a first in the cruiser domain. The frame, as with most of the extraneous bits, is finished in a muted black, which, when combined with the dark grey paint scheme on our tester, looks truly mean and stealthy. As a result, what chrome is on the bike really pops out … including that exhaust system.
Power comes from an air-cooled 1670cc, 48 degree, four valve (all overhead), push rod V-twin. That’s something that would more likely originate from Milwaukee than Japan, but Yamaha have decided to run with their Road Star engine, boring it out and modifying the cylinders, heads and cams for that extra grunt required to make a power-cruiser. Also in HD vane, final drive is via belt drive, requiring more maintenance than a shaft, but also suffering less power losses (something that was never a concern for cruisers until now).
|Belt drive handles the power.|
The motor is rigidly mounted to reduce flex. At idle, the bars and mirrors vibrate, but only as a pleasant reminder of what’s churning underneath you. The vibes present at low rpm are not cancelled out at speed, but not to worry as they add to the meaty presence of the bike without reducing enjoyment one iota (when’s the last time you’ve seen iota in a bike review, eh?).
The big engine is relaxed at highway speeds and the only glitch I found was a rather abrupt slowing of the bike when closing the throttle at low speed. This was accompanied by infrequent stalling too. Perhaps some injection re-mapping would help?
THE VTX CHALLENGE
With the Warrior arriving at Casa CMG while we still had possession of Honda’s VTX 1800, it would have been slightly negligent not to quickly compare the two.
Although similar capacity, power delivery is quite different from Honda’s monstrous 1800. Although the Road Warrior is sadly lacking the VTX’s spin-the-rear-tire at low rpm feel (needing a few more rpm to get moving), it does offer a very tractable power over a broader rpm range, with a fat midrange, making this thing most fun to ride on the boil (and it doesn’t bounce off the rev limiter as early as the Honda either).
|R1 brakes, USD forks, three spoked wheels …|
Despite this very different power delivery, it holds its own surprisingly well when put head to head. At the CMG Dragways*, 1/4 mile battles with the big bias-ply equipped VTX-R were ultimately decided by whether the Honda got initial traction or not. Only if the rear bit would the VTX take the Warrior, and then only just. Pretty remarkable from an air-cooled, push-rod motor. Top gear roll-ons did show a greater disparity however, with the edge going to the VTX.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the top dog in power, but when it comes to handling this thing pees on all four street corners and poops on the neighbours lawn to mark it’s turf. This is where the R-1 inspiration really comes in. Massive 41mm upside-down forks minimize any flex. Three-spoke cast wheels, looking like they came right off a sport bike, allow for better handling radial tires. To increase ground clearance, the footpegs are mounted high on the lower frame.
Simply put it’s the best handling cruiser we’ve tested, V-Rod included (test coming soon). Corners are met with anticipation and not trepidation. High speed or low, it inspires confidence. With a wheelbase of 66.7″, it’s only one inch shorter than the V-Rod and the VTX1800, but the difference is profound. In fact, the handling prowess and gritty motor combine to make bike and rider happiest when ridden like a hooligan. Hard off the lights and hard into corners and rarely a peg touches down. Well done.
* Located in the grounds of Casa CMG, between the geraniums and the hot tub.
TROUBLE IN PARADISE
My biggest complaint about the Road Warrior stems from the high footpegs. I never felt integrated with the bike, with a feeling more of being perched on top. While not noticeable when riding aggressively (i.e. like a wiener), on longer more mundane cruising it seemed a strange fit.
Although the seat is attractive and provides good support for the rider, the passenger is SOL. High foot pegs that appear to be R1 sourced, caused hip flexor cramping for all who tried it. Also, the small wedge of seat that remains for the passenger wasn’t comfortable at all. At one point I had a 200lb fella on the back and always was aware of his presence. This may not be entirely the bike’s fault as he held on to me by my bosoms for the duration of the ride (oh, the imagery – ‘arris). Such are the hardships we endure to bring you the truth.
Despite the low stance, the rear shock provided better than normal damping, and as a result, my arse wasn’t ever popped out of the seat unexpectedly.
|Gauge pod is a work of art.|
Dual 282mm discs up front, and a single 282mm in the rear provide braking performance in line with the bike’s handling prowess. The fronts are lifted directly off the ultra-sports R1 and prove very strong with excellent feel. There’s really no reason why a cruiser shouldn’t have state-of-the-art stoppers. Hopefully, all manufacturers will continue this trend towards excellent stopping ability throughout their cruiser model ranges.
Other nice bits include the R1 inspired LED rear taillight that does an excellent job in letting people know when you are stopped. I hope to see these becoming standard in the near future across the motorcycle style spectrum as they just work too well to ignore.
Also, I must mention the gauge pack. In addition to having a cool blue display, it mixes an analogue speedometer a bar-graph tachometer and trip/ fuel warning gauges effectively. Interestingly it comes equipped with some self-diagnostic tools to help troubleshoot problems. A nice touch.
Yamaha seem very proud of the giant exhaust can and boast that it was well thought out to provide the greatest breathing efficiency possible. Me, I’d opt for the ‘stage IV’ performance kit shown on Yamaha USA’s web site (nothing was shown on the Canadian site, Mr. Eric “Yamaha Accessories Guy” Bouchard!), which utilizes a more aesthetically pleasing 2 into 2 pipe. The “closed-course race application” stage four kit includes pipe, velocity stack, high flow injectors, ignition box, clutch mods, pistons and cams. With this kit, peak horsepower is up a an impressive 30%!
Appearances may also be modified with bolt-on bikini fairings, spoiler, single or more luxurious dual seat options, and a whole host of billet aluminum bits. All these are offered by Yamaha’s aftermarket department and fully exploit its street fighter persona. The cruising can be left to the other ‘Star’ models in their line-up.
Stage four at the secret CMG closed-course facilities? Go on then.
|Pushrod V-twin, air-cooled|
|Five speed, belt drive|
|Dual 298 mm discs with four-piston calipers|
|Single 282 mm disc with two-piston caliper|
|725 mm (28.5″)|
|1,695 mm (66.7″)|
|275.5 Kg (606 lbs) (claimed)|
|Dark Grey, Dark Violet, Vivid Red|