2012 Star Raider SCL

First Ride Review

Starting in the late ’70s, metric cruisers, such as Yamaha’s 650 Special and Virago 750, Honda’s CB650 Custom and Nighthawk, among others, offered an alternative to American V-twins, with more reliability, higher performance and lower prices than Harley-Davidsons of the time. (Indian had yet to be reanimated, and Victory wasn’t even a twinkle in Polaris’ eye.) During the ’80s, freed from the stranglehold of AMF, Harley-Davidson worked hard to improve quality. When the economy thrived in the ’90s, the Harley juggernaut took off, culminating in year-long waiting lists and some buyers flipping new models like real estate speculators flipping houses. Not wanting to miss the rising tide, Japanese manufacturers responded by introducing cruisers that closely imitated Harleys, with air-cooled V-twins and retro styling.

Since the late ’90s, amid the rise and fall of motorcycle sales in general, cruisers have accounted for 45-50 percent of the market, boosted in no small part by the mainstream popularity of Jesse James’ West Coast Choppers and Discovery Channel’s American Chopper. Builders of blinged-out customs popped up everywhere like mushrooms after a spring rain. Rather than see some of its hard-won customers defect, in 1999 Harley-Davidson launched its Custom Vehicle Operations, offering several factory customs each model year that feature Screamin’ Eagle performance upgrades, generous coatings of chrome, wild paint jobs and one-of-a-kind touches found only on CVO bikes.

After Yamaha launched its Star Motorcycles division in 2005 to establish a cruiser brand identity separate from its racy sportbikes and dirt bikes, it went on to cultivate the “We Build It, You Make It Your Own” tagline, offering a wide array of Star Custom Accessories. But, as Harley-Davidson no doubt understood, as popular as customization is among Star buyers—on average, they spend $2,100 on accessories, usually when they purchase their motorcycle—some customers want the customization done for them, and a select few also want an exclusive machine that gives them serious bragging rights.

That’s where the new-for-2012 Star Custom Line (SCL) comes in, a broadening of the Star Motorcycles brand to include limited-edition factory customs. Just as the Roadliner helped launch the Star brand, the Star Custom Line is being launched with the Raider SCL, based on the raked-out Raider S that’s been in Star’s lineup since 2008.

“We wanted the Raider SCL to be bold and impactful, to make a statement,” said Aaron Bast, Senior Product Planner. With a six-layer, metal flake Blazing Orange paint job with custom graphics, custom chrome wheels, belt pulley and belt guard co-developed with Performance Machines, and a two-tone leather seat with color-matched stitching, the Raider SCL certainly stands out. There was one parked in the lobby of the hotel where Star hosted its 2012 press launch, cordoned off by a red velvet rope, and packs of jowly conventioneers in khaki slacks drooled over it like teenagers in an Apple store.

According to Bast, the Raider SCL will appeal to “the discerning cruiser rider, someone who will appreciate details such as stainless mesh cables and lines, the distressed leather seat and the aluminum holographic SCL tank badge,” which is engraved with the bike’s production number. Only 500 will be built this year, and they’ll be sold exclusively in the U.S. Such an attention-getting motorcycle comes with an attention-getting price—$19,990, a $4,800 premium over the Raider S.

Bast said we can expect to see more SCL models in the future, though he was tight-lipped about specifics. But, he admitted, it is important for SCL motorcycles “to have big cc’s; the SCL concept doesn’t make sense on a V Star 950,” an entry-level model in Star’s lineup. The Stratoliner Deluxe and Roadliner S, powered by the same 1,854cc V-twin as the Raider, would therefore make good candidates for SCL makeovers.

To maintain the exclusivity of the Star Custom Line, owners of existing Raiders won’t be able to buy, for example, the Raider SCL’s custom wheels, belt pulley or belt guard. If buyers of the Raider SCL want to further personalize their bike, Star offers an accessory rider backrest pad that matches the two-tone seat, and anything that bolts onto a stock Raider—windscreens, passenger backrests, racks, luggage, etc.—will fit on the SCL version.

I had a chance to ride the Raider SCL in the lush, rolling hills north of Atlanta, Georgia. Before climbing aboard, I did a slow walk around the bike, taking it all in. It was a bright sunny day, and the Raider SCL’s chrome and deep, luscious custom paint and graphics really popped. Settling into the Raider’s wide tractor-style seat, which sits 27.4 inches above the ground, I lifted the hefty machine (730 pounds wet, claimed) off the chrome sidestand. Laid out before me was the 4.2-gallon flangeless fuel tank, slathered in metallic orange paint and topped with a large chrome console housing the speedometer with an inset fuel gauge and small LCD display. More chrome covers the handlebar, bar risers and clamp, triple tree, mirrors and headlight nacelle, and wiring for the switchgear is routed inside the handlebar for a clean look.

A quick stab at the starter button fired up the 113-cubic-inch air-cooled 48-degree V-twin, which has four pushrod-actuated overhead valves and two spark plugs per cylinder. Fuel is injected, the 5-speed transmission has a hydraulically actuated wet clutch and a heavy-duty belt turns the rear wheel. The big twin rumbled authoritatively and the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust, equipped with Yamaha’s torque-boosting EXUP valve, had a satisfyingly thunderous tone. Mechanically, the Raider SCL is unchanged from its base-model predecessor. When we put a 2009 Raider S on the dyno (Rider, October 2009), it twisted the drum to the tune of 86.3 horsepower and 110.3 lb-ft of torque—impressive numbers. The Raider SCL pulls hard, especially when short-shifted to keep revs close to its 2,500 rpm torque peak, and it cruises easily at highway speeds without excessive vibration.

Everything about the Raider SCL feels solid, as if the whole bike was carved from billet. Holding it all together is a light, rigid cast-aluminum double cradle frame and a Controlled-Fill aluminum swingarm. The fork, which has a 33-degree rake plus a 6-degree yoke angle for 39 total degrees of rake, has 5.1 inches of suspension travel and the hidden rear shock compresses 3.5 inches. You wouldn’t think so by looking at it, but the Raider SCL makes short work of rough pavement, handles well and has decent cornering clearance. While chasing Yamaha/Star fast-guy test rider Mike Ulrich on twisty, coarse State Route 60 between Dahlonega and Suches, I was able to keep up a brisk pace without too much effort or too many sparks. Then again, with a low-profile 210-series, 18-inch rear tire and skinny 21-inch front tire, the Raider SCL isn’t exactly flickable, but what chopperesque cruiser is? Monoblock calipers grip the dual front discs powerfully, though a firm pull of the lever is required.

As far as cruisers go, the Raider SCL has a nearly ideal riding position. The handlebar is at a sensible height, width and distance from the rider, allowing for bent elbows and minimal shoulder strain. On some cruisers, at highway speeds you have to fight to keep your feet on the pegs or your legs from splaying apart, but not on the Raider. The footpegs are well-placed, not too far forward nor too wide, allowing the rider’s knees to naturally hug the tank. No herniated discs or painfully twisted hips.

The Raider SCL’s big chrome headlight nacelle provides a mesmerizing cyclorama of scenery, reflecting trees, blue sky and clouds gliding past as I rode through the wooded countryside. It can also be a harbinger of things to come, with menacing dark clouds turning the nacelle to a smoky gray. Fortunately, heavy rain pelted us only on the last few miles of our ride. Really, my only complaint about this bike is the prospect of keeping all that glimmering paint and chrome in tip-top shiny condition. A Raider SCL owner might need to convince that kid down the street who mows his lawn to moonlight as a bike polisher.

Star Motorcycles had its entire lineup on hand at the press launch, and there were relatively few changes for 2012. A new handlebar here, tweaked styling there, as well as new colors and pricing. The big news this year is the Star Custom Line and its inaugural model, the Raider SCL. Star clearly put a lot of effort into this bike, with assistance from GK Design International and Jeff Palhegyi Designs, both located near Yamaha’s Southern California headquarters. Higher performance and better road manners made the Raider S the crowd favorite in our four-bike custom cruiser comparison in October 2009. And now, in a category where looks often trump everything else, Star has knocked it out of the park with the Raider SCL, and it did so with a sticker price that’s nearly 10 grand less than the least expensive Harley CVO. We’re already looking forward to what Star comes up with next year.