Open Road Counseling on a Yamaha Cruiser

The 2004 Yamaha Road Star is a shot across the bow of psychoanalysis, serving notice to the practitioners of pricey self-help that happiness is a lot closer than perhaps they’d like their patients to know, attainable in the form of the heavily revised 2004 Yamaha Road Star.

The road to wellness begins with boring out the world’s largest production air-cooled pushrod V-Twin 2mm, taking it from 1602cc to 1670cc. The forged pistons that fill the better-sealing, more durable ceramic-composite cylinders are now 97mm – that’s almost 4 inches across, more like the pistons for a P-51 Mustang. New rocker arms have been shortened to reduce inertia and increase rpm, and additional fin area has been added to keep the motor cool. The lift of the camshaft has been radically changed to keep the eight valves opened longer for more power.

On the intake side of things, the airbox size has been increased to better feed air through the single 40mm Mikuni and into the two 835cc cylinders. On the exit side of the motor, larger diameter two-into-two chrome pipes get rid of the burnt gasses through a throaty exhaust note that quiets young children strapped into car seats at intersections. The new motor feels significantly more powerful than its claimed 15% increase, with strong, even delivery from right off the bottom all the way through the powerband.

The countershaft sprocket has been taken down a tooth to better accommodate first gear pull-away, and fifth gear has been changed to an overdrive to reduce top-gear engine revs at cruising speeds. The drive belt is narrower, lighter and stronger than last year. Sixteen-inch cast alloy nine-spoke wheels replace traditional spoked wheels and add a lot of style while reducing unsprung weight; amazingly, four pounds were lost from the front and three pounds from the rear. The new wheels also allow more modern tubeless tires to be used, a fat 130/90-16 in front and a 15/80-16 out back.

Yamaha's sportbike line makes its presence felt, literally, in the form of its new front brakes. Borrowed from the R1, dual 298mm discs get clamped down by 4-piston monoblock calipers through beefier aluminum control levers. A large 320mm rotor slows the rear wheel nicely. When you’ve got 102 cubic inches between your legs just begging to get cheeky it’s nice to know you can stop the thing once you get going. A new LED taillight gets the attention of those behind you.

All the technical changes wouldn’t mean half as much as they do if the engineers hadn’t taken into account that this is, after all, a cruiser. Yamaha knew right where to start with comfort: where your butt meets the bike. The Road Star’s seat has been thickened up substantially (and widened 40mm) which results in a very comfy ride. At 28 inches off the deck, the newly shaped cushion is like a well-worn easy chair. To go with the easy-chair feel, the new rubber-mounted, floating floorboards eliminate most of the vibration of last year’s Star and give your feet and legs the sensation of being perched on a matching ottoman. The new tank-top mounted speedo is easy to read in any driving situation and looks cool in retro styling.

Throw a leg over the Road Star, settle into the plush seat, and you’re instantly aware of how low the bike sits. When you go to heave the cruiser upright to pull the kickstand up there’s no sensation of weight. In redesigning the motor Yamaha engineers made sure to keep everything low in the chassis. You feel the fruits of their labor whenever out on the road or stopped, as the bike hovers close to the tarmac in its low, mean and nasty demeanor, and it never has you caught off-guard with any top-heaviness in those micro-mph creeps just before stopping.

The relaxed ergonomics of the Road Star will suit riders better than most hammocks, thanks in part to a stretched-out 66.5-inch wheelbase. Comfort is the operative word, and the big-bore Yamaha allows you to log long distances without any aching anatomy. You can sit back and chug along looking at the scenery, feeling cool. The lowered gearing adds that little bit of help that removes any waltzing of the clutch and throttle to get going. It’s like a tractor off the line.

On tight winding country roads with any kind of speed or in town loping through a tight turn, you’ll probably find yourself dragging the floorboards. Other than the grating sound of scraping metal against pavement that may spook cross-walking pedestrians in the Road Star’s path, it’s really nothing to worry about on the stable machine.

Riding last year’s Road Star back-to-back with the ’04 model really illustrates how well the changes work to make a good bike better. I was immediately aware of the new engine and the crispness of its power. It pulls with enviable torque at low revs when you’re in cruiser mode, and delivers enough punch in midrange and top end to get the cobwebs out when you feel the urge.

The biggest, most noticeable surprise is the elimination of vibration in the floorboards. Not just a reduction but, literally, elimination. The new rubber-mounted “floating” floorboards combined with new handlebar-end weights make the old bike feel like it was designed by unscrupulous dentists hoping to shake loose dental work in comparison.

There are a range of Road Stars available starting with the base model, stylish and beautiful in stock trim in Pearl White (Elvis would’ve ridden this one) for a reasonable $10,999 or a Raven/Raspberry two-tone for $11,199. The Road Star Silverado edition ($12,599) sports an adjustable windshield, leather saddlebags, passenger backrest, studded seats and white wall tires and is available in either Onyx/Red or Beach Sand Tan/Black. Then there’s the Raven Black Midnight Star ($11,799) that sports a chromed front fork, blacked-out engine, studded seats and unique speedometer face.

Some have said the only thing that separates civilized man from the apes is his ability to accessorize. Yamaha is savvy enough to have learned from a certain manufacturer in Milwaukee and understands the cruiser market is built on individuality; so the aftermarket change-ability of a motorcycle’s personality is paramount to the rider. Yamaha has stepped up to the customizing plate with the intent of batting a thousand for its Road Star loyalists (and the inevitable newly converted) by offering an impressive line of accessories. With more than 200 items (and growing), the Road Star parts and accessory catalog is more like a novel of individualism. Those head shrinks have got to be shaking in their boots with all the ego reinforcing and character building available to the Road Star owner.

With the changes Yamaha has made for ’04, I’d venture to say that, in addition to threatening vacancies of analysts’ couches, a number of marriage counselors are at risk of diminishing demand when word gets around about the emotionally therapeutic properties of this stylish cruiser on a troubled relationship. Yes, it’s that nice.