Finding harmony in a marriage of style and performance is often difficult. This is particularly true when it comes to custom choppers, which have always been admired for their bold looks, but just as frequently notorious for their poor handling. The price of being seen on one of these style centric machines might have included an occasional trip to the ER, or worse, due to the shoddy engineering some of them were plagued with. Now, with OEMs making inroads into that “custom chopper” market, the quality and safety of these exotic looking bikes is on the rise.
Yamaha is one of the OEMs that stepped in as mediator to strike a working balance between style and performance. Two years ago they came up with the Star Raider, which we roundly praised, as did much of the moto-media. Now, they’re releasing the lighter, lower Star Stryker to fill a gap in their lineup of cruisers and compete with Honda’s mid-size Fury.
The 2011 Star Stryker is definitely a style centric machine, and according to market research conducted by Star, that’s exactly what 73 percent of mid-size cruiser buyers are looking for. With a ground clearance of 5.9 inches and a seat that rests 26.4 inches off the ground, the bike has one of the lowest profiles of any stock bike. The raked out front end is adorned with a 21 inch Bridgestone, and the single 320mm disc opens up the slender cast aluminum wheel for ogling. Out back, an 18 inch tire that’s over 8 ¼ inches fat helps give the bike the customary chopper stance and profile, and the heat sink that camouflages the liquid cooled 1304cc v-twin adds to the overall outlaw style.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Austin, Texas to give the 2011 Stryker a run for its money. With a cleanly shaven face, buzzed hair, and somewhat nerdy glasses, I don’t exactly look like the archetypal cruiser guy, and—surprise, surprise—I’m not. I’m the performance and functionality type, but, even before mounting the bike I was starting to take on the cruiser persona. What can I say, parked out on the curb, the Stryker looks enticing.
Once I fired up the metric twin, and started making my way down the motley streets of downtown Austin, I could tell it was going to be an easy bike to ride around town. Coming to stop signs I rarely had to set a foot down, not because I was pulling a “California Roll,” but because the bike is exceptionally easy to balance. The super-low center of gravity and fat rear end seem to help a lot in the stability department.
Executing sharp turns at low speeds takes a little getting used to, but the steering is perfectly predictable, and after flipping a handful of tight u-turns, it feels almost natural. I can’t say I noticed much difference between the Stryker and other cruisers in this respect. Star’s trick of increasing rake with a triple clamp that angles forks an extra 6 degrees helped maintain a reasonably low trail figure of 109mm and kept the bike from turning in too quickly at slow speeds. Also, the clutch pull is reasonable, and engagement is smooth, which adds to the overall predictability of the bike.
After crossing the Colorado River and leaving the streetlights behind, the other eleven riders and I headed out on a 125 mile loop through the green, rolling hills that lie west of the city. That’s where we tested how the throttle worked. The 80 cubic inch twin really has a more than adequate amount of power, with a decent low end and a strong mid that opens with a kick to the power delivery curve that extends well into the top. It really revs out quite nicely for a cruiser. Applying a healthy dose of throttle was a satisfying experience on every occasion. The engine is basically the same one found in a V-Star 1300 with an expanded air box, a new power control unit and muffler to change its performance characteristics.
Though the short-stroke engine doesn’t have as pronounced a feel as, say, a long-stroke Harley, the single pin crankshaft does give the motor a traditional beat, and a bit of that locomotive style torque that sends you off in lurches. Crankshaft balancers keep engine vibration within reason, and even though the engine is mounted directly to the frame, vibration does not cause discomfort at the grips even after long stretches of continuous riding. The same cannot be said of the pegs, which are not as well insulated. But there is a remedy. Instead of riding with your feet on the pegs, simply rest the back of your ankles on them for rebel-style relief.
The Stryker’s double-cradle steel frame provides a stiff backbone for the bike, and the fact that the engine is rigidly mounted keeps things from flexing much. Even with the long 68.9 inch wheel base, I didn’t feel much flex when entering turns aggressively.
After digging into the twisties, I have to say the Stryker handles well for a chopper. At high speeds, the fat rear tire makes it a bit tougher to lean in, and keep in line, but because the bike weighs in at 646 low-lying pounds, it’s really not a big issue. The bike is quite fun to ride through tight curves, and the low seating really adds something different to the experience. Of course, that low stance comes at a price: cornering clearance is compromised, and pushing the bike into an aggressive lean will scuff up the pegs. In all honesty though, there’s also something truly satisfying about being able to push a bike to its performance limits, legally. It makes ordinary riding more engaging, and it makes you feel good about yourself!
The ergonomics also make you feel pretty good, at least for a while. The seating position is comfortable for a guy who stands 5 foot 10 inches like me, and neither the pegs nor the bars are too far off. It does take a bit of effort to cover the rear brake though, as you have to hold up the weight of your own leg to do so. Some of the other riders at the press intro were much taller than me, and they also had a comfortable experience on the bike. But for a very short rider, the story might be different. With my hands planted on the grips, I had only the slightest bend in my elbows, so someone a few inches shorter might feel like they’re hanging from the bars.
The deep cradle-like seat offers moderate lower back support, and the 4 gallon tank offers about 160 miles of range, but frequent stops are still essential to keeping things comfy. After our longest stretch, about an hour of continuous riding, I did start to sense mild lower back fatigue. The suspension is quite good for a low rider, with only the roughest bumps bringing out the stiff end of the spring.
The 5 speed gear box worked perfectly well, and for a big v-twin it was relatively smooth. The gearing is tall and the engine is torquey, so down shifting to make a pass on the highway is not really necessary. Also, 5th gear is more than adequate for high-speed cruising, and I didn’t care to risk testing its upper limits. I also had the chance to give the brakes a good squeeze when a streetlight popped out of nowhere, and they brought the steel beast to halt rather promptly. The huge rear contact pad probably helped a bit. All in all, the bike handles very well, and is a blast to ride.
Compared to the Honda Fury, the Stryker is quite a bit different. The Honda features what looks like a much bolder break with custom, mixing traditional elements like a lean, skeletal frame and a long stroked engine with an innovative shaft drive and ABS brakes. Of course, some of those new fangled features might be considered sacrilege by dedicated cruiser riders, and that’s one point where the Yamaha sets itself apart. The Stryker offers metal fenders, a low maintenance belt drive, a more muscular appearance, and a base msrp of $ 11,000—that’s $2,000 dollars less than the Fury. And it’s that tiny little detail at the end there that will probably make a big difference. Here at Motorcycle Daily we’re curious to see whether Suzuki or Kawasaki will join the party, and introduce yet another raked-out, fat tired, chopper a la OEM.