First Ride: 2003 Yamaha XV1700 Road Star

Welcome to the slightly different world of the great big cruiser with Yamaha's latest (and larger) incarnation of its 1600 Wild Star. Big and shiny it certainly is, but is it any good?

I've never seen the point in attacking cruisers for poor handling or for being slow. That's like saying oranges are rubbish because they don't taste of bananas. A bit. But for far too long, most manufacturers have used cruiser riders' disinterest in handling and outright speed to fob them off with plain bad performance in both areas. And because almost all of them have been doing it, the riders haven't known any better and the manufacturers have got away with real shoddiness.

The irony is, along with its looks, it's a cruiser's feel that determines rider satisfaction. And as any FireBlade owner knows, a fine handling bike feels really good even when you're using it gently. The new XV1700 Road Star shows that Yamaha has taken this view on board and acted on the idea in a range of subtle ways. The brake and clutch levers for example are 5mm wider than those on the old XV1600, which might sound like the most trivial of updates, but because these are one of the most conscious points of contact between bike and rider, it lends the entire machine a chunkier and more substantial feel. All for the cost of a couple of quid.

Only a little more dosh has been thrown at the braking system, where the front calipers are now the same as those on the Road Star Warrior performance cruiser, which in turn are the same design as the stoppers on the R1. Now a Road Star rider will never want to pin his or her bike's nose to the ground with the front rubber scrabbling for grip as the back end of the bike sways side to side, before peeling off towards a difficult apex... But they will notice a transformation in how the bike feels, even if they don't stop any quicker than before. With the new brakes the lever action is progressive and predictable - if you want to trickle to a halt you caress the lever, the pads brush the discs and the bike glides smoothly to a stop.

On the old 1600, caressing the (skinny) lever had little obvious effect, up to a point where the brakes grabbed, the suspension pogoed and you stopped jerkily short of where you wanted to be. Made you look a bit of a prat at times, and even when it didn't, there was no satisfaction to be had from using the brakes, detracting from a cruiser fundamental. Now there is - there's a bit more power, although not a great deal extra. But the important thing is you don't have to concentrate to get the brakes to do what you want. And it's only when controls stop imposing themselves on you that they start being fun.

Yamaha XV Model Evolution

  • 1998
    The XV1600 Wild Star is introduced to the USA. A completely new bike featuring the company's biggest ever motorcycle engine, it arrives in the UK the following year as the Wild Star 1600. This model continues unchanged over here for now
  • 2003
    Road Star XV1700 introduced in USA only, based on 1600. Possible but unconfirmed European debut, late 2004. Expect Wild Star name to stay

Yamaha XV1700 Road Star Review

The engine changes have been made with usability in mind too: 2mm larger pistons traverse new cylinders beneath revised heads, taking capacity up to 1670cc, which with new cam profiles, a revised exhaust and a new airbox have increased peak power by 15% and maximum torque is up 8%. The result is a massively grunty motor which has less of the nasty, buzzy vibes than before and more character.

Let the clutch out at walking pace and the torque does the rest, shoving the bike forwards with satisfying disregard for hills or headwinds. At 60mph it's turning at 2650rpm, mellow and muscular, and top gear is all you need. If you really want to max it out, you might squeeze an undignified 115mph from the bike, but that's not cruising any more, is it? Instead, savour the seductive, thumping rhythm of the big cylinders in the lower half of the rev range.

Paying some sportsbike-type attention to wheels has played another part in enhancing the feel of the XV. The new front is a hefty 2kg lighter than before, while the rear sheds some 1.4kg. As this improves ride quality, grip, steering response, braking and acceleration, it's clearly a long overdue update, giving the bike a more modern and sophisticated air as well as making it more comfortable. Yes, that's a lot to attribute to lighter wheels, but Yamaha provided an old XV1600 as comparison and there's no doubt all of these were areas that had improved on the new one.

As you'd expect the handling is biased towards stability, and in this respect it's fine at all speeds, but at traffic crawling pace the XV exhibits the usual raked-out fork characteristic of the steering flopping to the side when you turn. It's not too bad, but it makes U-turns and car park manoeuvring a little nervy.

As for fuel range, the XV is up to 160-mile stretches. With a gentle throttle hand it might even manage 200 miles. And with an accessory catalogue bursting with touring bolt-ons this is a machine on which you can do big distances. The comfort is up to it, as long as you're not prone to the slumped stance-induced lower backache that afflicts many cruiser riders. But loading up the bike will reduce the already poor ground clearance. For sightseeing it's fine, but up the pace on a sinuous road and the footboards are soon scoring gouges in the road. In the cruiser world the XV17's handling is about average - among motorcycles generally it's dreadful.

The finish though is outstanding, the paint shining with a deep lustre and the bike's component parts fitting tightly and neatly. New detailing has improved the look too, such as the LED tail light, the clear lens indicators and the ultra-slim tank-mounted speedo.

The biggest problem for now is the bike's only available in the USA while Europe has to make do with the old model for at least another year. Inevitably though the bigger and much better bike will find its way into European showrooms, where the price will be very close to the current 1600's £10,049.

Or import one yourself. There are four models: the basic Road Star, the Road Star Midnight in black with a camp studded leather seat, the Silverado with leather panniers, screen and whitewall tyres, and a Silverado Midnight. If the thought of that stresses you out, just riding the thing will calm you down.

VERDICT

Yamaha has always made the best Japanese cruisers, and the XV1700 Road Star shows they're still out in front.

RIVALS

  • BMW R1200C Independent.
    Against the XV, feels like a very flat twin. Different though, and cheaper too, but the cc deficit is too much
  • Harley-Davidson Dyna Super Glide.
    Basic spec for a Harley but it's cheaper than the Yamaha. Engine feels good but lacks punch of the bigger Yam. Authenticity? By the bucketload quite frankly
  • Honda VTX1800C.
    Disappointing ride, with snatchy throttle response snd awkward steering. Lacks tactile pleasures of the XV
  • Kawasaki VN1600.
    Close to the Yamaha in many respects, but subtle touches keep the XV comfortably in front

Yamaha XV1700 Road Star Specs

TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2003
PRICE NEW - £10,000
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1670cc
POWER - 72.3bhp@4000rpm
TORQUE - 106.3lb.ft@2500rpm   
WEIGHT - 323kg
SEAT HEIGHT - 709mm   
FUEL CAPACITY - 20L
TOP SPEED - 115mph

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