Can the 2008 Yamaha Star Raider Beat Harley at the Custom Cruiser Game?

Full Review: The 2008 Yamaha Star Motorcycles Raider

Photo © Yamaha. The Raider in action.

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I’ve always dreamed of building – well, actually, I’ve dreamed of paying someone to build a custom bike for me. I don’t have the time or the ability to do it myself. I must not be alone, because the big factories are getting into the custom business. Witness the 2008 Star Raider, a big cruiser with custom features and custom style. The 2008 Star Raider lists between $13,180 and $13,380; the Star Raider S, with more dress-up parts, is priced between $13,780 and $13,980, each carrying a one year factory warranty.

I got my hands on the Star Raider in black ($13,180 as tested). Let’s ride.

First Glance

The Star motorcycle name traces back to the popular 1996 Yamaha V4 Royal Star. In case you missed it, Yamaha rebranded its US cruiser motorcycle lineup as “Star Motorcycles” back in 2005 – in the rest of the world, they’re still “Yamaha.” Star bikes are sold and serviced through Yamaha dealerships.

Yamaha calls the Star Raider a “performance custom.” It shares its mechanical underpinnings with the Star Roadliner, but adopts the style of the current trend in custom bikes, as filtered through the mind of a big corporate attorney. Safer, more solid, more sane than the bikes that inspired it from the workshops of Jesse James, the Teutuls and Arlen Ness, the Star Raider is built around a massive engine – 113 cubes (1854 cc) of V-twin, splayed out at 48 degrees. Star Raider’s other most conspicuous feature is a dogleg-shaped set of chromed two-into-one-into-two exhaust pipes, bucking tradition by pointing downward toward the pavement on the right side of the bike.

Star Raider’s designers have used repetition to great effect, echoing the shape of the side covers in the foot pegs; in the mirrors; in the center console. There’s a tail at the back of the front fender that is duplicated at the tip of the rear fender, tying both ends of the bike together.

The flat, drag-style handlebars are neat and clean, with the wiring hidden inside.

All of the wiring on the bike is cleanly routed, giving an impression of great fit and finish. My only complaints are down low, where a voltage regulator, the oil filter and the horn hang out in the breeze – kind of ugly.

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Seat of the Pants

Star Raider’s scooped-out, low 27.3” seat puts you in the bike, a great position for the custom cruiser feel. The small pillion pad sits higher than the operator’s seat, making a nice perch for passengers. Yamaha’s parts and accessories catalog lists a broader, cushier pillion pad ($249), which my passenger informed me would be required before she would climb aboard for a lengthy ride.

Style requires sacrifice, as any supermodel will tell you. In order to ride in the feet-forward, splayed out position that the custom scene demands, you have to sacrifice a bit of comfort and a bit of maneuverability. Riding with your feet forward feels great for a little while, but it keeps the weight on your tailbone. Eventually, that can cause fatigue and pain. It also keeps you locked in to one spot on the bike, making leaning and shifting your weight in the curves more of an effort. It’s the sacrifice you make to look cool.

Though Star Raider’s cool-looking telescopic fork is pushed out some, the rake and trail are modest at 39 degrees and 4”.

Travel is a generous 5.1”. Out back, a Softail-style swingarm with a single shock hidden under the seat give a hardtail look, but with 3.5” of travel to cush your tush. Five-spoke cast wheels complete the suspension, with a 21” hoop up front and an 18” one out back. The front wheel wears narrow, mid-profile (120/70) rubber, while the rear is wrapped with wide, thin meat (210/40).

On the Road

I ride with a full-face helmet (and recommend the same for you), and the view of the Star Raider’s low tank-mounted speedo was blocked by the crossbar on my helmet– I had to take my eyes entirely off the road to check my speed.

Speed is an issue with Star Raider. That big V-twin produces its peak torque at about 2500 rpm, and peak hp at around 4500. Yamaha doesn’t report horsepower or torque figures, but it’s safe to say that the Star Raider makes over 100 lb-ft of peak torque, and over 80 peak hp.

Considering the bike’s 692 lb dry weight, that’s not superbike territory but it does crush the competition – the Harley-Davidson Softail. Mated to a five-speed tranmsission, Star Raider can get up and go, and it will achieve extra-legal speeds in a hurry. You will overrun the capabilities of the chassis and suspension long before you run out of speed, especially when the roads start to twist.

The dual front 290mm discs and single rear 310mm disc brakes work well. I liked their feel, which was easy to modulate and came on strong with solid application. No fancy electronics or linked setups here, just good old hydraulics.

Star Raider’s 4.1 gallon fuel tank is on the smallish side for such a heavy, big-engined machine. Your fuel requirements will probably match your need to stretch your vital parts, so that shouldn’t be a problem, even on long rides.

The horn has great, car-like tone and volume, but it is mounted low and pointed toward the ground – nobody even notices when you beep, and you'll get more attention by revving the growling V-twin instead.

Journey's End

Star Raider was recently hailed as “2008 Metric Cruiser of the Year” at the V-Twin Expo. The “Metric” distinction is an important one and separates the Raider from its real competition, the H-D Softail and its variants. Star Raider one-ups H-D in several important categories. It’s way less expensive ($13,180 to $13,980 versus $15,895 to $19,495). It’s more powerful and inherits Yamaha’s reputation for quality and reliability.

But no matter how close that V-twin cylinder angle approaches the magical 45 degrees, a Star will never be a Harley-Davidson, with all the history that brand brings to the table and all the connotation that being a Harley rider implies.

There are other bikes to consider if you’re interested in a “factory custom” motorcycle, like Victory's Vegas and Arlen and Corey Ness-designed Vegas Jackpot. Honda’s VTX1800 comes in several configurations, some approaching Star Raider’s custom dimension. Suzuki’s Boulevard M109R is another factory custom, with a streamlined, anti-Harley approach.

You may not care about history, aura or any of that – you may simply want to get the most for your money. In that case, you do get a whole lot of style and substance with a Star Raider. While it is not a radical custom creation, it is definitely a great-looking, fun-to-ride cruiser, and a bargain for the price. If this is the level of bike that Yamaha continues to distribute under their new moniker, “Star” is going to start meaning something in the cruiser marketplace.

<<Click here for a photo gallery of the 2008 Yamaha Star Raider>>

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