2011 Yamaha Star Raider S
Yamaha, through their Star line of motorcycles, has been steadily carving its way into a cruiser market dominated by other brands of American descent for almost a decade now. And while the company has gotten the formula for long distance cruising practically perfected, there’s one weapon in its arsenal that’s ever-evolving: the boulevard cruiser. These machines are like raging bulls, with attitude and bravado emanating from their pores. The formula is rather simple: big engines, sleek, muscular lines, raked front ends and fat rear tires. For 2011, the Star Raider S meets all those criteria, and more. After checking out these photos, who would dare suggest this motorcycle lacks attitude? You can’t. That engine in the middle? It’s an air-cooled, 113 cubic inch (or 1854cc for you metric folk), 48-degree V-twin torque monster that hits its peak at a mere 2500 rpm and delivers maximum horsepower 2000 revs later. Four overhead valves are actuated via pushrods, and twin spark plugs per cylinder maximize combustion efficiency. It’s cradled in an all-aluminum frame that Star claims is tuned for “light, athletic handling.” That’s quite a claim when you consider that the Raider S achieves its bad-ass curb appeal thanks to a 39-degree rake angle with 102mm of trail. Oh yeah, one other factor that contributes to the curb appeal—chrome. Lots of it. That’s what separates the S model from the standard one. The S models get extra chrome on the triple clamps, fork sliders, air box cover, engine covers, headlight housing and handlebar risers, to name just a few. Minimal yet aggressive bodywork complements the Raider S, ending in a flared tail section that accommodates the 210/40-18 rear tire—the widest offered on any Star model. For my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, the 27.4-inch seat height is low enough to allow my legs (30-inch inseams) to flat-foot the ground at a stop. That aside, I discovered aspects that suggest people of my stature are not the intended audience for this machine. The reach to the bars was a little long for my wingspan. Couple that to the reach to the foot controls and I ended up sitting square against the gas tank. For the most part I’m willing to look past that as the compromised seating position isn’t enough to obscure the charms of the smooth, massive torque generated by the big, thumping V-twin engine. Power comes on so low in the powerband it’s almost diesel-like. Delivery of fuel and air is done via twin-bore electronic fuel-injection throttle bodies. A throttle position sensor replaces conventional throttle cables for a more accurate metering of just how much twist the rider’s right hand is delivering. Yamaha claims mileage figures of up to 42 mpg, but the best we were able to muster under mixed riding conditions was 33 mpg. Of course, your mileage may vary. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know just how fast the engine is spinning as the sparse instrument cluster only displays an analog speedometer. There’s no tachometer in sight. The Raider’s five forward gears are spaced widely enough that a sixth cog isn’t necessary. Shifting action is as positive as you’d expect from a company like Yama… sorry, Star. Power is delivered to the ground via belt drive which requires minimal maintenance. Despite the placement of the controls, wind buffeting isn’t a big concern at speeds under 80 mph. Above that and your chest starts to become a sail, especially since wind protection is non-existent. But the Raider doesn’t like spinning that high anyway. The Raider S is a machine that commands attention and that’s the kind of riding environment it thrives in. Slowing this machine down to garner that attention is the responsibility of twin 298mm discs in front, with a 310mm disc in the rear. Non-adjustable levers up front resulted in a bit of a reach for the brakes, but both front and rear units combine to deliver solid stopping power despite the claimed 730 pound wet weight. While the Raider S is by no means a sportbike, I took the opportunity to flog it through some fine southern California canyon roads and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. The outstretched front wheel doesn’t do the Raider any favors in the agility department, but the bike is rather easy to turn. To my surprise, the 210 rear tire doesn’t feel squared off, and the bike moves effortlessly from side to side. The 46mm forks provide 5.1 inches of travel, and the rear is suspended by a hidden shock with adjustable spring preload and 3.5 inches of travel. For the majority of riding situations the ride is firm yet comfortable. It’s only when pushed beyond the limits of its design (like trying to carve canyons) that the suspension’s shortcomings come to light. So what is the Star Raider S? It’s the tool to have if you’re the type who seeks attention. The standard model will get the job done also, but the level of chrome trim on the S model puts it over the top. It’s a powerful ride that’s beautifully refined without missing the point—just listen to its V-twin rumble. But with i’s weight and reach it’s also not for the new rider. Beginner Riders Frankly, this isn’t a machine for beginners. While it can be done, as mentioned earlier, the weight of the machine and the reach to the bars is a bit much for those under six feet tall, such as myself, and trying to maneuver the Raider in tight quarters could be a challenge considering its 70.9-inch wheelbase. Intermediate Riders The intermediate rider stepping up to his/her first “big” bike will appreciate the torque but should be careful not to get too ambitious with it. The same maneuverability concerns that apply to the beginning rider apply here as well, but I’ll assume the intermediate rider has acquired those skills by now. Expert riders Experts will obviously get the most out of the Raider S as they should have the skill set to fully exploit everything it has to offer. Its massive engine won’t overwhelm experienced pilots, its handling characteristics should be old hat by now and the weight is about average for anyone who has ridden cruisers before. At $15,290, it also comes at a price more appropriate to skilled riders.