While the decline of the classic cruiser is now clearly a trend, baggers and tourers remain quite popular. With the all-new 2018 Yamaha Eluder and Star Venture TC, the company has introduced one of each.
A Case of Perfect Timing
Having no ties whatsoever to the cruiser world should automatically disqualify a motorcycle from using the bagger appellation. Baggers are cruisers first. Period. But because they’re currently the only type of cruisers gaining rather than dropping in popularity, everyone wants to offer one. The new Honda Gold Wing (formerly F6B) and BMW K1600B immediately come to mind when contesting the credibility of the classification. They’re excellent motorcycles, but they’re just not baggers.
On the other hand, the Yamaha Eluder absolutely is a bagger. The elongated lines, the slammed profile, and the feet forward riding position are all unmistakably from the cruiser universe, but the engine gives it unquestionable creds. At 113 cubic inches or 1854cc, it’s the world’s biggest air-cooled production V-Twin. As far as demonstrating ties with the cruiser world before earning a bagger designation, it doesn’t get clearer than this. Being precise and honest about those classifications is important because they create expectations about the riding experience. And in this case, there’s just no disappointment to be had and no misrepresentation made: the Eluder does deliver on the promise of a cruiser-based light tourer, which is what baggers are.
If we’re going to be precise and use the right words and adjectives, then the first thing that should be said about the Yamaha Eluder is that it’s one serious heavyweight. We’re talking nearly 400 kilos over a 1710mm wheelbase and the width of a deluxe fridge. From the first moment you see it parked, there are no two ways about it, it’s really big. During my road test of this new model, a Harley-Davidson Street Glide pulled alongside us at a gas station, where the Yamaha dwarfed it. But those proportions aren’t bad things.
First, there’s something to be said about the satisfaction of getting a lot when you pay a lot, $27,099 in this case. Second, those numbers translate into generous dimensions for typically larger North Americans for whom the Eluder/Venture duo was exclusively developed. In other words, the Eluder isn’t just big and heavy, it’s also a very comfortable and roomy place to spend long hours on the road.
Most importantly, once in the saddle and moving, those dimensions and that weight all but disappear; there will be no mistaking the Eluder for a V-Star 650, but for any careful and minimally experienced rider, the size of Yamaha’s new bagger shouldn’t be an issue.
It’s easy to forget that Yamaha also builds R1s and R6s when looking at something like the Eluder, but I was clearly reminded of it when we reached some deliciously twisty back roads around Nashville, Tennessee where the press introduction of the new Eluder/Venture duo was staged.
The Yamaha Eluder’s cornering clearance isn’t limitless. It is a cruiser with a feet-forward riding position and relatively low floorboards. While the boards eventually start sparking, they don’t do so prematurely.
Most cruisers have decent chassis these days, but the feel of the Yamaha Eluder in corners is different. I’m not saying it feels like a sportbike, but it definitely feels like a motorcycle built by a manufacturer that produces top of the line sportbikes and it’s no accident it handles more gracefully, solidly, and precisely than a bike this size and weight should.
There’s a limit to this grace and I reached it, but only when the pace became more than inappropriate. At that point, the chassis still felt solid, but the otherwise extremely well behaved suspension became overwhelmed by the combination of mass and excess speed. However, from crawling speed to that threshold, the Eluder is exemplary in terms of handling and most riders will likely have only praise for every aspect of its day-to-day behaviour.
These comments, of course, apply to the luxury touring Venture TC since it’s mechanically identical to the Eluder, but with one caveat. The TC is 40 kilos heavier because of its rear trunk and additional equipment like an electrically adjustable windshield: mass that’s positioned high on the bike. The effect isn’t just an added effort required to lift the Venture off its side stand, but also a heavier feel when it’s leaned into a corner at speed or even slowly maneuvered in a tight space. It makes the handling threshold of the Eluder happen sooner and every action other than straight line riding is a bit more demanding on the rider. If the Eluder is a heavyweight, the Venture TC is a super heavyweight.
Going back and forth between the bagger and the tourer over the course of the road test day it became clear the TC may very well be heavier, but it’s also considerably better equipped and I missed many of its gizmos every time I climbed back on the Eluder.
For example, it’s incomprehensible why the very complex and desirable feature that is an electrically adjustable windshield would be developed for the TC, but not present on the Eluder, which uses the very same upper fairing. Of course, there are cost considerations and the bagger IS five grand less expensive than the $31,999 tourer, but one thing shouldn’t be forgotten: the Eluder is a premium product in a class of premium machines and as such there’s a strong argument to be made that it should also have that electric windshield. Another example is the electric reverse standard on the Venture but absent from the Eluder. Again, everyone understands costs have to be cut somewhere to make the bagger less expensive, but that doesn’t change the fact it’s a big and heavy machine. Reverse functions on these behemoths are far from being gadgets and many riders will wish the feature were also standard on the Eluder.
All this made me think that a buyer intending to spend money on accessories might be better off getting a Venture instead of the Eluder and just unbolting the rear trunk until needed.
There’s a recurring belief that because of their ties to the cruiser world, the luxury levels of V-Twin-powered tourers aren’t on par with that offered by specialty travel machines like the Gold Wing Tour and the K1600GTL. That’s a misconception in the case of the Venture TC, which stands for Transcontinental. It is loaded with every bell and whistle imaginable: heated everything, power windshield, cruise, seven-inch TFT touchscreen, infotainment, navigation, wireless connectivity, power modes, variable linked braking system and an electric reverse are just some of its features.
The downside of all this equipment is there’s a lot of knowledge to absorb before the rider is fully comfortable with the menus and how to navigate them. The overall logic of the user interface isn’t bad, but I’ve yet to test similarly equipped bikes and feel that every function is as intuitive as, say, an iPhone. Multiple steps are often required to do something simple, which is a big pet peeve of mine on motorcycles with a lot of electronic functions.
For instance, I found it very annoying to have to go through menus to adjust heating for the seat and grips. On the road, as the environment and elevations change, this is something you do often and my position is that a stand-alone button should absolutely operate this type of function.
And then there are the buttons that don’t feel like they’re in the appropriate spot, like the one operating the windshield. Thankfully, there’s no need to get into the menu system to adjust it, but why isn’t that control simply on the left grip as on just about any other bike equipped with an electric windshield? The right grip, just under your thumb, makes sense since it’s also one of those features you go to very often, especially on longer rides where weather and speeds vary a lot.
The Venture’s windshield is operated by an up/down button located on the tank, which means the rider has to lean slightly forward and take his left hand off the grip. These aren’t deal breakers by any stretch, still they’re annoyances that were somehow overlooked.
No such comments whatsoever when it comes to the brilliant engine, though. Yamaha’s big air-cooled V-Twin has been around for about a dozen years now and though it’s been thoroughly reworked before being installed in the Eluder/Venture’s new steel frame, its trademark deep rumble and immediate generous torque feel instantly familiar on the new bikes.
Because of their heft, performance can be described as adequate and sufficient, meaning the torquey six-speed 1900 provides enough oomph to move all that weight relatively effortlessly.
And while low rpm acceleration is good, no one should expect to be awed by straight-line performance, which isn’t the mission of these models anyway. Their priorities are to offer great torque from idle, to pulse pleasantly and to please the ear with soothing rumbles. Yamaha’s 113 cubuc incher unquestionably checks all those boxes.
Yamaha’s brand promise includes high technology and premium engineering. It’s one of the most respected and innovative motorcycle manufacturers. Consequently, much is expected from Yamaha, especially when prices reach new highs as they do with both the new Eluder and Venture TC duo, where much is delivered.
These motorcycles are actually quite interesting in that they are clearly more than typical “me too” versions of Harley-Davidson models that we’ve seen produced over and over since the mid-1990s. The market now seems to demand something more creative, interesting and different, which very well describes the Yamaha Eluder and the Venture. They are a bagger and luxury tourer duo made the Yamaha way.
by Bertrand Gahel