Story by Neale Bayly – Photos by Riles and Nelson
It doesn’t seem possible that five years have passed since I rolled out of the working-class city of Portland, Oregon, in the saddle of the new Yamaha Roadliner, a cruiser with real performance, handling and braking – it was an exciting day. More importantly, it was a new direction for the company we typically associate with winning motorcycle championships at the highest level on both dirt and asphalt. By taking this passion, enthusiasm and dedication to excellence and infusing it into the new line of cruisers, it hasn’t taken long for the company to make a huge statement in the class.
Striking out in their own direction with the art deco-inspired Roadliner, Yamaha has taken some valuable cues from Harley’s success, using this initial Roadliner platform to spawn the touring-focused Stratoliner and the more custom-styled Raider. Working from this initial Roadliner platform, they were able to create three unique motorcycles without having to undertake a major redesign each time. Continuing on this practical path, I recently sampled the fourth model in this line-up, the Stratoliner Deluxe, over a full day of riding around the Yamaha headquarters in California.
Designated a “Bagger,” the concept for this style of motorcycle is fairly simple: take a cruiser and make it more focused for travelling, without turning it into a full-on touring bike. Add a good-sized front fairing, some nice integrated saddlebags for carrying your gear, on-board music, a set of spacious footboards, and voila, one bagger to go. It’s certainly a trend that seems to have risen from the ashes of the chopper fad, with riders looking for more practicality and comfort from their ride, without having to lose the ability to customize and personalize their bike.
The heart of the beast remains the same, with two large cylinders housing 100 mm pistons sucking in fuel and air through a pair of intake valves, and spitting out burned gases into a pair of exhaust valves. Riding on a long 118 mm stroke, the compression ratio is a healthy 9.5:1 and helps the bike to make a claimed 91 hp. Thumping out an equally healthy 117 foot-pounds of torque at 5000 rpm, the 1854 cc engine is a thoroughly modern powerhouse that gives the ability to thump at low rpm, or give sporting power as the rpm rise. It’s also a real air-cooled V-Twin, not a faux-finned, water-cooled unit, and the four valves per cylinder are opened and closed by pushrods. How old-school is that? This allows the stylish engine to have large chrome pushrod tubes to further accentuate the style, and they certainly help make the big engine look as much like a piece of artwork as the rest of the bike.
Faultless fuel injection makes your riding experience a joy whatever mood you are in, from putting round town to carving canyons and twisty roads. This perfect fuel delivery is made possible by a pair of 43 mm, twin-bore throttle bodies. These downdraft bodies have throttle-position sensors (TPS) that make sure the throttle response is spot on, no matter what you are doing with the throttle, or how fast the engine is spinning. An oxygen sensor in the two-into-one exhaust system makes it a closed-loop system by reading the burned gases and adjusting the fuel-injection system as necessary. In an interesting move, an EXUP valve, normally found in higher-revving sport bikes, is also used to help boost low-end power and provide crisper throttle response. The system is a meaty-looking affair and gives the bike a nice deep rumble on idle. It’s certainly not asthmatic sounding when you twist the throttle either, and aftermarket pipes for more audio are available from your local Yamaha dealer. Dave Pooler, the man in charge of all Yamaha accessories, was very excited by the range of products available for the Deluxe; some are existing accessories, while others are specific new ones.
Further attention to the fueling is found with the 12-hole, 2-directional fuel injectors that ensure the cylinders get filled completely, and the twin sparkplugs that make sure combustion is complete. As with all modern bikes, an idle control valve replaces the choke, and the bike fires instantly to life, cold or hot, at the slightest touch of the starter button.
Power is taken to the rear wheel via belt drive through a five-speed gearbox. This belt-drive system is clean, quiet and close to maintenance-free. The Deluxe comes complete with big-cruiser clunking on first-gear selection, but shifts very smoothly once on the move. A heel/toe shifter system is employed, and it works as well as it looks. It’s not my system of choice, so I find myself shifting in the conventional manner, and this causes no problems. The floorboards are roomy and don’t force your feet into one position, which is a great benefit on longer rides.
And this is a lot of what the Stratoliner Deluxe is going to be all about: packing up and hitting the highway. The fork-mounted fairing not only looks stylish but also does a reasonable job of fending off the oncoming breeze. It doesn’t make the steering heavy or cumbersome, due to its lightweight construction, and carving along the Ortega Highway during our ride, this fact is appreciated. One of the best parts of the new fairing on the Deluxe, though, is the iPod hook-up, which plays through a pair of five-inch speakers. The iPod has its own compartment, and interaction is available through easy-to-use controls on the left handlebar, above the usual switches. It takes some familiarity to scroll through the various artists, playlists, and sound levels, etc., so it’s not a bad idea to get fully acquainted with these controls before you hit the road.
The Stratoliner Deluxe handles extremely well for a bike that weighs 368.5 kg (810 lb.) full of fuel. This is achieved with the combination of a low, sculptured seat and wide bars that don’t need an unnatural reach, leaving this near-six-foot rider comfortably sitting straight up and down. I could certainly make a lot of comfortable miles in the saddle of the new Stratoliner. Thankfully, the Yamaha crew avoided the move toward packing the largest back wheel possible under the rear fender, and the attractive twelve-spoke alloy wheels get a sensibly sized 190/60-17 tire complemented by a 130/70-18 inch front. While this is hardly cutting-edge sport-bike sizing, it works perfectly on the big Stratoliner, and with the aforementioned wide bars, the steering input is always light and precise – not something you would initially expect from such a big-looking bike. The Stratoliner Deluxe is also easy to pull up from the side stand, and is not difficult to manoeuvre around in tight spaces either. With a combination of the light controls, easy fueling and low seat height, it’s not going to have you sweating and straining to get out of congested parking lots.
The front fork is a beefy conventional 46 mm affair with no provision for adjustability. Thankfully, the bike comes well set-up: not sprung too softly to collapse the forks under heavy braking, and not so hard that they give a harsh ride. In the rear, a single shock is used and pre-load adjustment is available. This is going to be useful when you add a passenger and luggage to keep the bike on an even keel.
The Deluxe is equipped with what I consider the best braking setup in the cruiser world. Up front are a pair of 298 mm rotors and R1-styled mono block calipers. The single disc out back is actually slightly larger, at 320 mm, and also uses a four-piston mono block caliper. With heavier cruisers, the longer wheel base means you can use a lot more rear brake, and this allows the Deluxe to scrub excess speed quickly and safely when needed. A point to note here is that there is no ABS, which might or might not be a deal breaker for someone looking at a bike in this segment. During our ride time it’s not something I felt the lack of, though, as the brakes are so intuitive to use, with great feel at the adjustable lever.
One of the more visually stylish elements of the new Stratoliner Deluxe is the saddlebags. Colour-matched to the bike’s paint scheme, they are a lot more integrated than the smaller ones found on the Stratoliner, and as practical as they are good looking. Capable of holding close to 26.5 litres of luggage per side, they are nice and easy to open and close, something that can’t be said about all motorcycle saddlebags.
The controls, gauges and instruments are all the same high quality as previous Stratoliner models. Easy-to-read analog gauges are a nice touch for us old farts who still struggle with hyperactive digital readouts, and all the usual data is presented in typical format. The level of finish with all the painted and chromed parts is extremely high, with the machine giving off a very custom feel, even in standard trim. As usual, Yamaha custom guru, Jeff Palhegy, was along for the ride on his own customized Stratoliner Deluxe, and it was breathtaking, as you might imagine, with its custom-painted fairing lowers and custom parts.
Priced at $22,999, the new Stratoliner Deluxe makes a great addition to the existing Yamaha line-up, and a very unique one at that. It fits in well with the other offerings in this class. Capable of giving long-distance touring comfort and convenience if needed, it’s still a super slick-looking ride for posing down the high street and taking short or long jaunts on your favourite roads. During our test ride, I was able to reconnect with the reasons I’ve always enjoyed the big Yamaha line-up: unique styling, great power, competent handling and braking, all wrapped up in a modern package that’s a blast to ride.