Road Test Review
Cruisers, baggers and cruiser tourers account for nearly 50 percent of the motorcycle market in the USA, and subsequently dominate the American lineups of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers. Particularly classic cruisers with wider, shorter front tires, standard rear-tire widths and relatively conservative fork rake angles. In fact, until recently the Japanese didn’t really offer the all-out chopperesque-type of production cruisers that Harley-Davidson and Victory have made hay with for a while now, defined by skinny, 21-inch front wheels, super steep fork rake angles and ultra-wide rear tires. It was as if Honda and Yamaha were daring one another to be the first to offer one of these radical machines (perhaps because they often sacrifice some handling for style), with a giant black gumball in back and a hula hoop for a front wheel raked into another zip code.
That dare was taken with the introduction of the 2008 Star Raider, which successfully melds recognizable chopper traits like a 40-degree fork rake and a wide back tire with Star‘s largest V-twin, the 1,854cc (113ci), air-cooled, OHV double-jug from the Roadliner. Happily, Star stopped the rear-tire madness at a reasonable 210mm, and used some trickery with the fork trees to keep the trail under 4.5 inches, so the Raider’s handling is better than the typical chopper’s—could be that’s why Star didn’t come out and call it one. Honda was the first to do that, and even though the 2010 Fury has slightly less fork rake at 38 degrees and a narrower 200mm rear tire, its angular, minimalist style makes it look even more chopperish than the Raider. Honda followed up with a Fury-influenced yet more rider-oriented line of VT1300 cru-chop customs, and now Star is firing back for 2011 with its own middle-heavyweight, 1,300cc chopper-inspired sibling for the Raider, the Star Stryker.
While Star’s independent GKDI styling group worked to give the Stryker its own character—with a slightly more lunging, “pouncing tiger” profile than the Raider’s arrow-straight line from rear axle to headlight—many of the bigger bike’s dimensions are carried over because they work. The Stryker’s 40-degree fork rake is also the total of a nominal 34-degree steering head rake and 6 degrees of fork tree offset, which holds the trail down to a lively steering 4.3 inches to go with its 2-inch shorter wheelbase of 68.9. A small steel fender tightly covers the 21-inch, cast curved-spoke front wheel wearing a bias-ply tire that’s a little wider than usual, a 120/70, for better stability in corners. And the rear radial is wide but sensible like the Raider’s at 210/40-18 on a 7.5-inch-wide cast wheel. It’s also covered with a steel fender nestled tightly down upon it.
Although the Reddish Copper paint on our test bike is as gorgeous as the Impact Blue option, we noticed the fenders lack the deep gloss of the tank and side covers. Interestingly, Star expects to sell more of the Raven black paint scheme than red and blue combined, which may have more to do with its extra-sinister look than the $250 cheaper price tag. Fork sliders, air cleaner cover, rear fender brace, wheels, exhaust and the front pulley for the belt final drive are all blacked-out on the Raven model instead of chrome.
Like the Raider, the Stryker’s rider sits down low in the bike, with “fists punching the wind” gripping the tall handlebar. Rider footpegs are well forward, hand grips and levers beefy. Six-gun revolver-style slits dress up the chrome instrument pod on the handlebar, chrome tank nacelle and rear fender support, and the radiator is tucked between the front downtubes to make it disappear in profile.
Not so the liquid-cooled, 1,304cc, 60-degree V-twin from the V-Star 1300, which sits low but prominently in the Stryker’s tubular-steel double-cradle frame. Its cooling lines are routed internally and oil filter tucked underneath to keep the look clean and uncluttered. For a good pulse feel and sound the forged connecting rods ride on a single crankpin, but the rigid-mounted engine has dual gear-driven counterbalancers to keep the vibes to a minimum. In the top end, roller rocker arms riding on single overhead cams actuate four valves per cylinder with lengthy 16,000-mile adjustment intervals. A different exhaust system, larger airbox and mods to the ECU that controls the ignition and EFI are said to give the Stryker engine slightly more torque than the V Star 1300 mill it’s based upon—on the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno it made a healthy 67 rear-wheel horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque. Yamaha says redline is at 6,600 rpm, but on the dyno the rev limiter kicked in at 6,100.
The Stryker throbs with a deep, satisfying rumble at speeds up to more than 80 mph without excessive vibes, its functional mirrors unmolested by the light shaking that sneaks into the grips and seat. Power delivery is strong and quick, though on our test bike some throttle abruptness and driveline lash intruded at lower speeds. Shifting is a little noisy but the clutch has great feel at the lever. Our average fuel economy of 39.9 mpg gave the Stryker a range of 160 miles from its smallish 4.0-gallon capacity, .43-gallon of which is in a subtank with the fuel pump under the seat.
You can swing either leg over the Stryker’s low rear fender and passenger seat from either side and settle down onto its ground-hugging 26.4-inch-high, wide and fairly comfortable seat. With my 29-inch inseam I fit the bike about perfectly, arms hung straight out but relaxed on the grips and legs bent at the knee, my back resting comfortably against the generous lumbar support on the seat. Taller riders should find the bike a good fit, too. This seating position remains relaxed and pleasant until the wind at speeds above 65 mph or so forces me to pull on the grips to stay upright, and skooch my butt back against the lumbar support to lean into the blast. One of Star’s accessory windscreens for the Stryker would certainly increase comfort on longer, faster rides. The Stryker is rock solid at highway speed and doesn’t resist turning as much as some fat-rear-tired cruisers, though it’s most at home on roads with gentle curves, or no curves at all. Maneuvering it around town takes some forethought as its wheelbase is long and slow to respond, but once you adapt a more leisurely pace it handles just fine.
As with most Star motorcycles the Stryker invites customization with features like sculptable steel fenders, belt final drive that allows easy wheel changes and single-disc brakes that show off more of the wheels (and some gorgeous billet hoops are two of the more than 60 accessories styled by the same U.S.-based team that designed the Stryker). The brakes are plenty strong and linear at the lever and pedal and feel great, though we’d like an adjuster for the front lever. The linked rear shock is hidden away, of course, with ramped-type adjustable spring preload that’s complicated to access but basically set-once-and-forget. Overall the suspension is compliant and tuned about right for such a cruiser, though aggressive riders will probably wish for more rear suspension travel, rebound damping and cornering clearance. Its footpegs don’t drag as early as you’d expect on such a low-slung machine, however.
The Stryker is pretty easy on the eyes—everywhere you ride the bike it garners admiring looks, and living with it on a daily basis is pretty easy, too. First thing I’d do is add the quick-release backrest, windscreen and luggage for passengers and longer rides. Although it doesn’t exactly coddle passengers, short trips with one are doable as-is. There’s a toolkit and easy battery access under the locking seat and a convenient oil-level sight glass. I liked being able to see the analog speedo at a glance in its elevated position on the handlebar, and scrolling and resetting the digital display on it with fuel gauge, two tripmeters, clock and odometer readouts is easily done with buttons on the right bar.
Star Motorcycles says that among midsize cruisers, “custom” models with chopped fenders, low-profile wheels and tires and a sit-in riding position are the highest sellers. The Stryker fills that niche in Star’s lineup with a well-made, nicely finished, solid performing bike with beautiful styling. You can call it a chopper, but that’s only part of the story.