Darwin’s theory of evolution applies to everything—even motorcycles. When cruisers first crawled from the primeval muck, they were strictly one-celled boulevard posers unable to do anything other than grunt and go in a straight line. But over the years, cruiser riders decided they wanted to do more than slog along Main Street or look good at the donut shop. Some actually started taking trips on their bikes so manufacturers responded by throwing some touring functions into the cruiser gene pool.
Enter the Stratoliner, the touring version of Yamaha’s all-new Roadliner top-of-the-food-chain, flagship cruiser. Each “liner” is available in three trim options, the base, the “S” (shiny paint and acres of chrome and brightwork) and for Johnny Cash fans, the “Midnight” which is dressed completely in black except for few brushed satin brackets.
The styling is strikingly unique—a dash of modern, a dollop of traditional features with more than a hint of retro aerodynamics. The reverse teardrop headlight blends into the seamless fuel tank and three chromed accent lines blend from the tank right onto the steering head. Even the fender stays and passenger peg mounts are styled in the aero motif. With all this attention to detail, it’s surprising that Yamaha left an unsightly wiring loom dangling along the right side of the steering head.
The Yamaha Stratoliner comes standard with quick-detachable windshield and backrest and lockable, leather covered saddlebags. To enhance the futuristic look around town, the windshield and backrest are so easy to remove and install without tools, even a motorcycle journalist can do it without scratching heck out of the bike. While on the motorcycle, they’re lockable so casual passersby can’t “borrow” them. The bags feature quick release Dzus fasteners but the brackets aren’t all that attractive so most owners will likely keep the bags on.
The 1854cc, OHV, four-valve per cylinder, air-cooled engine isn’t just a bored and stroked Road Star mill, it’s all new and, with over 120 ft/lbs torque, strong as a Saturn rocket. Low end torque is assured by Yamaha’s titanium EXUP exhaust power valve that also improves throttle response and fuel economy while reducing emissions.
Everything is tied together nicely by an aluminum frame that weighs a mere 37 lbs. (17 kg) an aluminum swingarm, and final drive is by a clean, efficient and quiet Kevlar belt. Front suspension is by conventional 46mm forks with 130mm of travel while the rear single shock transverses 110mm. Nothing groundbreaking in the suspension department on paper, but Yamaha engineers have really worked some magic as the Stratoliner is without a doubt, the best handling mega-cruiser I’ve ever ridden.
With a 67.5” (1715mm) wheelbase and weighing in at 757 lbs. (344 kg) the Yamaha Stratoliner isn’t exactly lithe but it steers lightly and predictably. Even in bumpy corners, there’s no wallowing and frost heaves are simply absorbed rather than jarring the spine like most other cruisers—really, it’s the first cruiser with acceptable, comfortable rear suspension.
Brakes are equally impressive, the twin 298mm fronts provide good feel and above average stopping power, while a single 320mm rear disc is strong and predictable in its operation. Those with small hands may find the reach to the non-adjustable brake and clutch levers a stretch.
The seat is large, well padded and extremely comfortable. Yamaha threw in some extra length to the seat, and this roominess is much appreciated as, unlike other seats that hold you in one spot, it lets you slide back and forth to shift position and eliminate fatigue during a long trip.
Throw on the windshield and backrest, grab your significant other and hit the highway, where the Stratoliner loafs along at a very relaxed 2,300 rpm at 100 kmh. The windshield is nicely shaped and provides a large, still air pocket that reduces wind noise while cutting down on the morning chill. Despite their appearance, the bags aren’t overly large, although they will hold a reasonable amount of stuff and, being leather covered, might be a bit difficult to clean. Sometimes a screen will affect handling but I gave the bars a good wiggle once at about 110 kmh and it straightened out immediately.
Both sections of the Yamaha Stratoliner heel-and-toe shifter adjust to fit any size (or shape) hoof and if you’re like me, you can remove the heel arrangement completely and store it in the garage until you sell the bike. And, for those who like to bevel the aero-look footslabs through the twisties (such as I), Yamaha has thoughtfully provided replaceable rubber drag pads under the boards so that said floorboards don’t get all scuffed and icky. Aggressive riders should lay in a supply because the Strat handles so well, you’ll be going through a mess ‘o them.
The view from the cockpit is clean and uncluttered—even the brake and clutch master cylinder are heavily chromed and streamlined. Styled like an antique clock, the large speedometer lives atop the fuel tank and is flanked by a small analogue tach and fuel gauge. Instead of tiny buttons to reset the digital LCD displays for the twin tripmeters, odometer and clock, there are levers on the front of each switch pod easily accessed by a forefinger. Piece of cake to select, even for those with meaty paws wearing gloves. The only downside to the instrument pod is that you must take your eyes off the road to scan the gauges while wearing a full-face lid.
If you’re responsible with the loud handle, the Strat’s 17-litre fuel tank should provide a cruising range of almost 300 kilometres. Push the cruising speed much above 110, and the motorcycle will reward you with more frequent fuel stops.
There’s an old motorcycle axiom that goes, “A new rider picks a destination while the veteran picks a direction.” Now there’s a trip for you. Grab a Stratoliner and pick a direction. Um, except if you’re leaving from Toronto, don’t pick south.
By Steve Bond Canadian Biker #223