Yamaha takes on the pro builder crowd with a radical custom motorcycle that actually handles well and comes with a full factory warranty. Just don’t call it the Yamaha Raider … not yet anyway.
In case you haven’t noticed, custom motorcycles are in these days, ranging from mild chromed accessorizing to expensively wild complete chop and channel makeovers. The 2008 Yamaha Star XV1900 screams “custom” at the top of its lungs—right from the showroom floor.
But, when factories produce a “custom,” the motorcycle must not only look good, it also must steer, handle and brake in a safe and responsible manner. Can’t have Johnny Public wadding up his objet d’art because it turns with the adroitness of a VIA Rail locomotive can we?
A couple of years ago, Yamaha subtly shifted the entire cruiser line to the Star motorcycle umbrella, not unlike upscale Toyotas being differentiated as Lexus. Called “Raider” in the US of A only (at press time, Canadian trademark concerns are still being worked out), the XV1900 – not the Yamaha Raider – boasts a cast aluminum, double cradle frame that’s lighter and stronger than a comparable steel unit. The 1854cc air-cooled, fuel injected engine is solidly mounted for extra rigidity, while the aluminum swingarm contributes weight savings and strength.
To get the illusion of a front end that’s kicked WAY out there, the steering head is raked 34 degrees and the triple clamps are also offset (not parallel) by another six degrees. This gives a radical custom appearance without the annoying tendency for the front wheel to “flop” into the turns at slow speeds—a rather annoying and potentially dangerous characteristic of such designs. In fact, the 102mm (4.01 inches) of trail is similar to other, less radical cruisers.
A normal recipe for sweet handling usually doesn’t call for a USS Midway-ish wheelbase of 1799mm (70.8 inches) and a 120-section front tire with a massive 210/40 rear—but the XV pleasantly surprised me.
The steering is a bit on the heavy side, although it’s stable and consistent no matter what the speed. Around town, a firm push on the inside bar initiates the turn but once there, the motorcycle maintains its line with no tendency to flop inwards—even at parking lot speeds. Gently applying a dose of throttle when exiting corners not only lightens the steering, it brings a grin to your face. Ground clearance is ample and I only touched the footpeg feelers down a few times.
The eight-valve, 48-degree V-Twin produces grunt by the metric ton. Yamaha claims 124 ft/lbs. at 2,500 rpm and my seat of the pants dyno confirms this. The Yamaha XV1900 motor is not only REALLY strong, it sounds exactly how a traditional big V-Twin should: throaty and mellow without being obnoxious. An eighth turn of the throttle has you rocketing away from lights, leaving traffic in your dust. The gearbox has a surprisingly light throw, if a bit long, and after a day or two, you’ll develop Schwarzenegger-forearms from working the heavy hydraulic clutch.
Beefy 46mm conventional front forks have a generous 130mm (5.1 inches) of travel with fairly plush damping characteristics. To get that classic hardtail look, the single rear shock lives under the engine but offers a meager 90mm (3.5 inches) of travel. On relatively smooth pavement it’s fine but once you get into the choppy, broken stuff, the ride at the back becomes somewhat harsh. Clean, maintenance-free belt drive brings up the rear.
The brakes are definitely un-cruiser like. Twin 298mm floating front discs squeezed by rigid, four-piston monoblock sportbike calipers bring 314 kg (691 lbs.) of motorcycle to a safe, controlled stop with excellent feel and feedback through the long forks.
The XV’s styling has a consistent and somewhat gothic theme to it: the rising angle and rake of the front end, the “airy” space between the cylinder heads and the frame, the crisp downward turn in the mufflers, the zigzag shapes of the mirrors, rear fender brace, angled milled wheel highlights and in details such as the footpegs and handlebar risers. Several varieties of trim are available but to my mind, I prefer the one with the least chrome and most black accents—such as my press model had. The paint was a gorgeous deep red with black contrasts, the entire package attracting more attention than Paris Hilton whether I was parked or just stopped at a traffic light.
My press unit was not only a pre-production model, it was a US version with a non-metric speedo. I thought it odd that I seemed to be passing everyone around town when keeping the speedo needle right at “60.” Good thing I twigged onto this before trying to cruise at 100 on the freeway.
Instrumentation is fairly simple with a large analogue speedometer mounted low on the 15.5L tank—so low you’ve got to make a concerted effort to look while wearing a full face lid. During normal riding, the low fuel light came on at 148 to 150 miles, which my high school math shows is roughly 250 kilometres, giving the Yamaha XV a pretty good cruising range. Average consumption was 5.4L per 100 kilometres while one particularly high speed tank netted 6.5L/100 klicks. Not bad for such a big engine.
The XV (I really want to call this thing “Yamaha Raider”) has a host of nice features as well including the usual Yamaha trip meter that starts counting up, letting you know how long you’ve traveled on reserve, self-canceling turn signals, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, LED taillight and clear turn signal lenses.
Usually, when someone wants a custom motorcycle, first they pay full pop for the bike, then cut Ye Olde Custom Shoppe a cheque for as much or more than the motorcycle originally cost. With the Star XV1900, you get that radical custom appearance in a motorcycle that sounds right, actually handles reasonably well with a full factory warranty and dealer service to back it up. At $18,199 as tested, it’s a bargoon and a half … Even before the official name changes to Yamaha Raider in Canada.
By Steve Bond, Canadian Biker Issue #237