Intro – by Editor ‘arris
Last year it dawned on us that perhaps we weren’t quite fulfilling our mandate of covering all the disciplines of (licenced) motorcycling in Canada. Specifically the cruiser market, which has proved to be somewhat elusive thanks to the fact that pretty well all the editorial staff at CMG aren’t really that way inclined.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against cruiser riders – I just don’t personally lean that way. If you want to dress up in leather chaps, don a beanie and collect flying insects in the gaps of your teeth then that’s just fine by me. I just might not be the best person to write about such an experience.
With that in mind, it only seemed logical to recruit the services of bbb – CMG-RC’s resident ride coordinator and certified cruiser-lover. This year, bbb (aka Harry), has agreed to submit ride reports on Yamaha’s new Road and Stratoliners (after this intro), followed up with a report on Harley’s classic Street Glide (whenever).
So without further ado, here’s bbb’s ride report on the Strato/Roadliners …
RIDING THE 'LINERS
I like riding big cruisers. I’ve been riding a Harley Davidson Road King (well, three of them actually) since 1996 and have logged more than 300,000 kms on them in that time. I find the enjoyment of riding all day on a heavy cruiser hard to beat, whether they’re metric or from the “Motor Company”, it’s all good.
There, I’ve said it, I’m a cruiser guy.
Did I mention I also happen to like lots of shiny chrome on my big cruiser? So, no surprise that I took the opportunity CMG offered to do a test ride on two of Yamaha’s newest (and shiny) heavy cruiser models, the Roadliner and Stratoliner.
VARIATIONS ON A NAME
Despite the name differences, both bikes are essentially the same motorcycle, utilizing a new 1,854 cc v-twin that lays down a massive 124 ft-lbs of torque at a lowly 2,500 rpm. This is housed in an aluminium frame and swingarm (a first for a cruiser apparently), with the Stratoliner getting the more touring-orientated additions of locking leather saddlebags, a quick release windshield, and passenger backrest.
To further complicate issues, both bikes are further subdivided into a Midnight version (less, chrome, more black), an ‘S’ version (bags of chrome) and the standard version (somewhere in between?).
With my penchant for chrome, I was pleased to find out that CMG had been allotted the heavily chromed ‘S’ models back to back. This enabled me to use the more classic boulevard cruiser Roadliner-S for commuting duties into the depths of downtown Toronto, and then take the touring-orientated Stratoliner-S for a road trip down to Ohio the following long weekend.
SOMETHING ABOUT DECO
On seeing the bikes for the first time, I wondered if the Yamaha designers were inspired by the art deco style of architecture from the 1920s, as can still be found in Miami or Napier in New Zealand. Or maybe they sat down and watched the old Buck Rogers’ movies and decided that the (then) futuristic design of the rocket ships was worthy of homage.
Such rocket-like details can be seen in the teardrop shaped handlebar clamps and signal lamps, or the chrome strips flowing out from the forks and across the tank. The front and rear fenders have a minimalist appearance, which sets off the fully chromed front forks and the huge 190/60 rear tire.
As for the art deco theme, the instrument panel mounted on the gas tank has an antique style analogue speedometer face that Yamaha refers to as a “grandfather clock image”. The instrumentation includes an analogue tachometer, fuel gauge and digital odometer, which includes a clock and two trip meters.
Oh, and did I mention the chrome? Chrome handlebar switch covers, chrome reservoirs, chrome front fork, chrome engine accents and a massive chrome muffler/exhaust. This is what defines the S, and it more than satisfied my lust for the stuff.
There’s no doubting that the ‘liners have a very cool and unique look, bordering on sculpture. And even though they mix a big v-twin (air-cooled with push-rods to boot) with splashings of chrome, I didn’t feel that I was looking at a Harley clone. Indeed, I’d go so far to say that the Motor Company could learn a thing or two from the Strato/Roadliners.
ENOUGH ABOUT HER GOOD LOOKS, HOW DOES SHE RIDE …?
Both bikes have a deep throaty growl synonymous with a V-twin engine that emanates from a massive two-in-one exhaust pipe and muffler system. That rumbling sound says to everyone around “I’ve got the power” and it sure does. With maximum torque coming on at just 2,500 rpm, cracking open the throttle from a standstill saw me pushed back into the (thankfully) wide saddle while the liner shot forward.
The thrill I got from that kind of acceleration off a standing start is hard to beat and the Stratoliner excels at this. Isn’t that one of the major reasons we ride motorcycles?! Works for me anyway.
Shifting through the five-speed transmission was effortless and smooth, with no false-neutrals. Although there is a toe and heel shifter, I found using only the toe shifter worked well for me.
With the acceleration and power of these bikes, the brakes need to be – and are – first rate, with dual floating discs with four piston calipers up front and a large single disc at the rear. Indeed, the rear brake, on its own stopped the bike well enough; so using both front and rear brakes brought it to a halt almost immediately.
Even though both bikes are heavy (the dry weight of the Roadliner is 320 kg/704 lb, while the extra bits of the Stratoliner add an additional 24 kg, giving a dry weight of 344 kg/757 lb) they are surprisingly nimble, and stable, at both highway and urban speeds.
On the winding roads in northeastern Ohio, the Stratoliner kept stable through the corners thanks to its low centre of gravity and a seat height of only 735 mm (28.9 in). I only scraped the floorboards a few times, and could go through the sweepers easily and with confidence. Coming in fast, I’d use the rear brake and engine to slow things down and then accelerate through and out of the curve with the massive torque forcing that huge rear tire down to grab the road.
On my ride back, I happened to tuck in behind a group of three fast moving cars speeding through Pennsylvania, which saw me riding at over 160 km/h … and the bike felt as if it had plenty more room to go. It hugs the ground at high speeds and with dual balancers on either end of the engine crankshaft, the vibration one would normally expect from an enormous V-twin is nowhere to be found on the ‘liners. I for one don’t miss the tingling, but if you want vibration between your legs, then maybe you’d be best to look elsewhere!
Over the weekend, the large rider’s saddle stayed comfortable for the 7 hours down and 5 hours back. The pillion is noticeably narrower, however, but since I rode alone I can’t comment on its comfort.
The total fuel capacity (on both bikes) is 17 litres, with a 14 litre principal fuel tank and a three litre sub-tank under the seat. When the fuel warning light comes on (which is also when the ODO starts to count the number of kms travelled since hitting reserve), the gas is now being pumped from the sub-tank, so the rider knows there are only three litres of fuel left before going dry.
However, the fuel consumption does seem to vary significantly depending on your riding style. City and ‘normal’ highway speeds would see about 185 km before the warning light lit up. Opening her up on the I-90 in Pennsylvania saw me needing to refuel after travelling only about 140 km. I wonder whether a sustained 160 km/h had anything to do with it!
ALL IN ALL
Although the Stratoliner purports to be a touring cruiser, the saddlebags do not have that much capacity – put in a rain suit and a bike cover, and one bag is pretty well full! I also feel that a touring cruiser should come with passenger floorboards as standard, and not as an option as is the case here (standard fitment being passenger pegs).
More importantly, a 17 litre fuel capacity will require fairly frequent gas stops. And if one is riding in the remoter parts of the United States, or anywhere in Canada away from the Trans Canada Highway, the limited range may well be a problem.
Although I am quite taken by the ‘liners’ appearance (did I mention I really like chrome on motorcycles?), I don’t understand why Yamaha has to ruin the look of the headlamp nacelle when the key is in/engine on. That’s right, there’s a sliding panel on the top of the nacelle that covers the ignition lock and the key must remain in the ignition while the engine is running. If the key could be removed, the rider could enjoy the look of the bike while riding it rather than having to appreciate it only while the bike is off.
Both bikes provide a fine ride, no matter whether you’re cruising in the city or carving some curves on the back roads of Pennsylvania and Ohio. The touring capabilities of the Stratoliner are limited somewhat by the restricted capacity of the bags (but nothing a dry sac and a couple of bungee cords won’t cure), but its copious amounts of power and good comfort keeps it painless on the long haul.
Although they’re on the heavy side, handling is surprisingly good (even at low speed), thanks to well though out geometry and a low seat height. And maybe most importantly, they will attract attention with their good looks and unique design. If you like cruisin’ down the road, you won’t go far wrong on one of the Yamaha ‘liners.