2014 Star Motorcycles Bolt Review: Can The New Kid on the Block Beat Harley?

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2014 Star Bolt and Bolt R-Spec Review: The Goods

2014 Star Bolt R-Spec Review
The 2014 Star Motorcycles Bolt, in R-Spec form. Photo © Star Motorcycles

You don’t have to look very hard to see the similarities between Star Motorcycles’ brand new Bolt cruiser and Harley-Davidson’s tried-and-true Sportster… and with its $7,990 starting price, the Japanese bike is a mere nine dollars away from its competitor’s base MSRP, suggesting that Star is serious about beating the competition. But does that make the Bolt a worthwhile alternative to the Motor Company’s iconic offering?

Let’s start with the goods.

Yamaha’s Star Motorcycles division has made good use of their 942cc engine, which has powered their V-Star 950 and 950 Tourer line of bikes for several years now— and for its next trick, the air-cooled mill finds a home in Star’s new Bolt ($7,990) and Bolt R-Spec ($8,290) models, the latter of which adds remote reservoir rear shocks, a suede-like material on the saddle, black mirrors, and green or matte gray paint with a tank graphic.

While Yamaha says they benchmarked Honda’s 750cc range of cruisers, the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883 was the clear target here: not only is it almost identically priced, Star made their bike 33 pounds lighter (with a curb weight of 540 pounds), and its 27.2 inch seat height is only one-third of an inch taller than the Harley’s. Though Yamaha doesn’t disclose horsepower or torque figures, expect the Bolt’s mill to be fairly comparable to the Hog’s in terms of output. The engine is mated to a 5-speed transmission with straight cut gear dogs, and final drive is offered via a 21mm wide carbon fiber reinforced belt. A 3.2-gallon fuel tank promises roughly 150 miles of range—more or less the same as you’ll get from the Sporty’s 3.3-gallon tank.

Suspension travel from the Bolt’s telescopic fork and twin rear shocks measures 4.7 inches and 2.8 inches respectively—notably more than the Sportster’s 3.6 and 1.6-inch figures... but what’s it like to ride the Bolt? Click “Next”...

 

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On the Road

2014 Star Bolt R-Spec Review
The 2014 Star Bolt R-Spec, in action. Photo © Tom Riles

The Star Bolt is easy to swing a leg over, and those with virtually any body type should able to negotiate its mid-mounted controls and command a flat-footed stance at stoplights. Arm reach is moderate, and the cockpit view reveals a modern twist on the spare, custom cruiser style paradigm: sure, there’s the obligatory low-slung handlebar and blacked-out brake fluid reservoir, but circled in a chrome rim is a digital instrument cluster which offers a surprisingly dim (yet large) display of a speed, with a smaller LCD line offering rudimentary trip computer information. Not surprisingly, there’s no tachometer to convey engine rpms.

The seating position offers an intimate interface with the bike’s mechanicals: an airbox sits immediately adjacent to your right knee, and a cylinder head presses against your left thigh. The Bolt’s v-twin comes to life with a relatively loud but modulated hum, its single-pin configuration delivering a bit less auditory rawness (and considerably less vibration) than its domestic competitor, which has a snarling, shaking temperament at rest. Clutch effort is light, and first gear engages with a smooth click and a slight nudge forward from the bike; let out the clutch, and those familiar Star Motorcycle characteristics come through, with intuitive handling and even-handed power delivery that’s biased towards low and mid-range torque.

Twisting the throttle off the line yields a nice lurch forward, and that initial surge of power tapers off into a lazier climb through the powerband until the rev limiter is finally reached. The mild upper registers inspire early shifting, which is rewarded with a renewed flow of power from the twin. The Bolt isn’t quick enough to threaten instantaneous trouble with the law, but there’s certainly enough grunt to inspire spirited riding. The seat, though cupped, proved reasonably comfortable during my nearly 100 mile ride which primarily consisted of city-oriented maneuvering through San Diego, and a quick jaunt through the chaotic maelstrom of Tijuana, Mexico. The single disc brakes work well, with impressive power routed in particular to the rear stoppers. Incidentally, ABS is not currently offered on the Bolt, though Star officials say that will likely change in the future.

Ride quality is firm but not punishing, and though I personally couldn’t discern any difference between back-to-back rides on the standard model and the R-Spec’s remote reservoir-equipped rear shocks through San Diego’s generally smooth roads, the Bolt’s relatively generous suspension travel make its feel considerably less jostled than the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 Sportster’s slammed and hunkered down road stance. As a whole, the Bolt rides and behaves very much as you would expect it to: with a sense of balance, composure and usability, despite its less-than-versatile, low-slung layout.

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Bottom Line, Specifications, Who Should Buy the Star Bolt?

2014 Star Bolt R-Spec Review
The Bolt tackles a turn. Photo © Brian J. Nelson

Bottom Line

With all those comparisons to Harley-Davidson, you’re probably wondering what’s the net sum difference between Star’s new Bolt and H-D’s time tested Sportster.Whereas the Sporty feels somewhat raw and unrefined, with its engine vibrations and abusive ride quality reminding the rider of its uncomplicated and elemental qualities, the Bolt comes across as more polished and smoothed out—and subsequently, more uncharismatic, as well.

Style-wise, the Bolt is beat out by the Sportster, thanks to Harley's intrinsic cool factor and palpable sense of authenticity; the fact that it’s been around for more than half a century makes it hard to compete with the Sportster, and certainly helps it edge out the Yamaha when it comes to heritage and brand mystique. Whereas the Yamaha’s plastic switchgear feels like it’s been plucked from their parts bin (which it has), the Sportster’s hardware exudes a more timeless feel, even though some concessions have been made along the way— which, incidentally, can also be said for the Bolt, such as the zip ties which hold the wiring bundles to the handlebars. But while elements of the Bolt (like its fuel tank shape, for instance) look decidedly less original than the Sportster’s classically evocative shapes, there’s also plenty to like with the Bolt’s slick styling touches like the lightening holes around its exhaust pipes and its mean, modern looking muffler. The digital dash is a counterintuitive and inventive touch, and Yamaha also has no fewer than 50 accessory items coming soon, from clever retro-style brass trim pieces to a lower saddle, ape hanger bars, and a passenger seat.

On the other hand, the Bolt takes the advantage when it comes to usability with its strong, smooth running engine, supple ride quality, and agreeable ergonomics. This is also where all the clichés about the ridability and practicality of Japanese bikes are called upon: whereas Harleys have become more dependable than ever, there’s still something to be said about the bulletproof, functional quality of a modern Japanese bike.

Are you a sucker for ultimate cool, or do you let your rational brain take over when picking your next motorcycle? If you place value on both priorities but put more weight into real world usability, Star’s new Bolt and Bolt R-Spec should have what it takes to make you a happy motorcyclist.

Specifications

  • Price: $7,990 (base), $8,290 (R-Spec)
  • Engine: Fuel-injected, air-cooled, 942cc v-twin
  • Fuel Tank Capacity: 3.2 gallons
  • Transmission: 5-speed
  • Final Drive: Belt
  • Fuel Economy: TBA
  • Curb Weight: 540 pounds
  • Seat Height: 27.2 inches
  • Ground Clearance: 5.1 inches
  • Suspension: Telescopic (front), Dual coilover shocks (rear; R-Spec with remote reservoir)
  • Suspension Travel: 4.7 inches (front), 2.8 inches (rear)
  • Brakes: Wave type, 298mm front and rear
  • Warranty: 1 year (limited)

Who Should Buy the 2014 Star Bolt?

Classic cruiser fans looking for a Harley-Davidson Sportster alternative with almost as much cool but considerably more usability.

Related: 2014 Star Motorcycles Bolt R-Spec: Japanese Answer to Harley's Sportster?