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2008 Star Raider: MD First Ride

We have been riding the new 2008 Star Raider for a couple of weeks now. We gave you the technical low-down in our article dated September 10, 2007. Take a look back at that article for all of the unique specifications of the new Star Raider.

This story is about the riding experience. Obviously, what distinguishes the Raider from other Star Motorcycles most is the raked out front end and huge rear tire. The Raider is one of the most radically styled “custom” cruisers from any of the Japanese OEMs to date.

The challenge Star faced was delivering a radically styled production motorcycle that handled well, and was safe and easy to ride. Radically raked front ends and huge rear tires tend to work against these goals, but Star was determined to achieve them and invested a tremendous amount of development time, experimenting with different rake and trail figures, for instance.

The raider is not only radical from a geometry standpoint, it embraces “black art” design elements featured on many custom motorcycles throughout the United States.

I can tell you with great certainty that this is the first time I have been at a press intro where a major manufacturer openly discussed the study, and use, of “black art” concepts, including “wicked, evil, gothic, precise and modern” during the design phase of its motorcycle. This tells me that Star isn’t concerned about being politically correct . . . certainly not at the expense of building a motorcycle designed to appeal to the perceived customer base.

Another element lending the strong rider “attitude” sought by Star in the Raider is the high bar position. Riding with “fists in the wind”, as Star phrases it, is something many custom motorcycle enthusiasts prefer.

Integral to making all of these design elements come together in a rideable motorcycle is a new, aluminum frame and swingarm developed specifically for the Raider. This huge motorcycle, with its 1854cc (113 cubic inch) pushrod v-twin engine, weighs in at a surprisingly light claimed dry weight of 692 pounds. Star even went to the effort to design a new, narrower (31.4mm) carbon fiber belt drive system, which works with the extremely wide rear tire (a 210/40-18).

Those raked-out forks offer 5.1 inches of travel, while a horizontally-mounted rear shock offers 3.5 inches.

The Raider offers pretty impressive specifications in the braking department. The days when heavyweight cruisers featured a single disc and a single piston caliper up front are long gone (for the most part), but Yamaha not only has two big discs up front, each caliper is a mono-block design featuring four pistons. Out back, a single 310mm disc is gripped by a single piston caliper. A total of 4.1 gallons of fuel is held in two locations, including the traditional tank, as well as a sub-tank located under the seat. Overall, the Raider carries its weight very low, which certainly aids low-speed handling.

With all the talk about “fists in the wind” and radical styling, I was expecting the ergonomics to be somewhat severe on the Raider. I was pleasantly surprised when I found the seating position less severe, and more comfortable, than many other production cruisers I have ridden. The bars are not so high that you are uncomfortable reaching for them, nor are the pegs so far forward that you feel an unnatural stretch. At 5’10”, with a 31-inch inseam, the Raider fit me very well. If you look at the photos taken of me riding the bike, you will see that the seating position is pretty reasonable.

Adding to the comfort was a sculpted rider’s seat that actually provides a bit of low back support.

Having sampled this motor before in other Star cruisers, I was not surprised, but I was pleasantly reminded of the smooth, glitch-free fuel injection and solid pull offered by this engine. Some of the best fuel injection available results in seemlessly smooth throttle pick-up from extremely low rpm, and a very broad powerband. With 123 foot/pounds of torque (at the crank) at only 2,500 rpm, the Raider moves out with authority from a stop or when exiting corners.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the handling. With the raked out front end, and the huge rear tire, Star’s engineers had their hands full getting the Raider to turn predictably (without “falling” into corners) and stay leaned over (without trying to stand itself up) mid-corner. Your first trip around the block on the Raider reminds you of how big that rear tire is, but it really doesn’t create a significant issue, particularly after you get used to riding the bike.

After riding the Raider for just a few minutes, I was able to confidently lean the bike into corners and hold a steady line. I was able to keep the bike leaned over without significant effort. After a while, the Raider seemed to corner almost like any other cruiser with a much smaller rear tire. This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you have ridden other bikes with huge rear tires, you will know why I am emphasizing this point.

I was also favorably impressed with the front-end feel. Although the Raider has the requisite 21-inch front wheel that compliments the custom look, Star went with a wider 120 section tire. Together with careful tweaking of the rake/trail geometry, Star was able to achieve a raked-out bike that handles without many of the issues common to such a design. Notably, the bike does not fall into corners or feel tippy. Turning transitions are smooth and predictable.

That wider front tire also helps the powerful brakes do their job. The wider contact patch allows you to use the twin discs to haul the bike down quickly and controllably.

The Raider rides smooth enough, but you do notice some flex in the structure (probably through those extra-long forks, and not the rigid aluminum frame). This is perfectly normal for a cruiser with a wheelbase of nearly 71 inches, however, and it didn’t pose any real issues. If you hustle the Raider through a canyon, however, just be aware that you need to deal with some chassis flex that can weight and un-weight the tires from time-to-time. This can affect how precisely you can set up the Raider for corner entry when you are really pushing the bike.

The instrumentation located on top of the tank is legible and offers most of the functions found on other cruisers, including an accurate, analog fuel gauge. Star claims you can get more than 150 miles before running out of fuel, but we haven’t had the opportunity to test that claim (thank goodness). That works out to roughly 41 miles per gallon, which sounds about right to us.

You can scroll through several of the instrument display functions with a conveniently located trigger near the left handlebar grip. The handlebar mounted mirrors offer some of that “black art” styling, and work pretty well — offering a relatively clear view at freeway speeds.

The 5-speed transmission performed its job without complaint. With any v-twin this size, you will occasionally hear, and feel, a “clunk” when engaging a new gear, but gear changes were positive and did not require much effort. Clutch pull is not light, by any means, but is reasonable, and clutch engagement was smooth and predictable.

The extremely low seat height (27.3 inches), coupled with the tall front end of the motorcycle, provides surprisingly good wind protection at higher speeds. Specifically, despite having your “fists in the wind”, a good deal of the wind pressure is kept off your chest at higher speeds, and you do not feel like you are being blown off the back of the bike.

All-in-all, the Raider, and Raider S (with its additional chrome, as described in our earlier article) offer plenty of hardcore cruiser style, without the trade-offs that frequently come with it, such as poor handling and uncomfortable ergonomics. Attitude, power and comfort all in the same cruiser. We like that, and we really like the new Raider.

U.S. MSRP for the Raider is $13,180.00 in the “Raven” color or $13,380.00 in “Candy Red”. The Raider S will retail for $13,780.00 in “Tommy Blue”, and $13,980.00 in “Candy Red w/flames” (our test model). The bikes are scheduled to be available now. For additional details and specifications, visit Star’s web site here.