They say: "It's all about the look."
We say: "Gotta buy more flannel shirts."
That we have a soft spot for the Star Bolt is no secret. We offered it up as an Alternative Take in the cruiser class for our Motorcycle of the Year awards in 2013 (Nov. 2013, MC), and the test unit we have banging around has seen a decent amount of action considering we're a group who typically favors sportbikes, hot "standards," and ADV beasts.
Here's the problem we face evaluating the Bolt objectively. It's really not that impressive. It's lighter than a Sportster and makes decent power—but not really the kind that leaves your mouth agape—and the bike has the usual cruiser foibles of limited cornering clearance and so-so brakes. Purely from a performance standpoint, the Bolt doesn't really clear the class. Competitive, sure, but not a standout.
It gets a lot of slack for character and low price, though—$7,990 for the base model and only $300 more for this R-Spec example, which offers reservoir shocks, alternative colorways, and a suede-type seat with contrasting stitching. Yamaha builds the Bolt on the V-Star 950 platform, so a lot of the big, expensive engineering has been done. The air-cooled, 942cc V-twin is straight from the V-Star 950, including belt final drive, a five-speed gearbox, fuel injection, and single-cam heads with four valves per cylinder. A new frame and the act of trimming the Bolt down to its elements also results in a substantial weight savings—at 540 pounds (claimed, wet), the Bolt is a massive 73 pounds lighter than a V-Star 950 and even 22 pounds less bulky than a Harley-Davidson 883 Iron.
There we go with specs again. What you can't read on the chart or see in the showroom is the Bolt's demeanor on the road. How about we let the MC staff take it from there?
Marc Cook | Editor in Chief
Forget bragging about power; forget whipping on the GSX-Rs up in a canyon in Malibu over the weekend. That kind of performance isn't even on the hipsters' radar.
What they want—and what I wanted the day I plopped down the cash for a 1996 Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster in late 1995—is a simple, vaguely elemental motorcycle that strips away the excess.
About the Bolt, then. It's 10 times the bike my old Sportster was, though I realize that's an unfair comparison. My 883 was the bottom of the line, basic black, the cheapest bike Harley made at the time. It had an anemic single front brake, a hard-mounted engine with a five-speed that hammered through the seat, and bars at anything above 60 mph. Its single carburetor was so poorly calibrated that it took 10 minutes to warm up enough to be rideable. As expected, I started to throw money at it—first a big-bore kit, taller gearing, a different carburetor, a nice (reasonably quiet) 2-into-1 exhaust, different seat…and on it goes.
And it still wasn't nearly as good as the Bolt is right from the dealership. Some of that is passage of time, but a lot of it is Yamaha's (er, Star's) inclination to knock the rough edges off. Yes, the suspension has limited travel, but it uses that stroke much more effectively than even the latest Sportster. Yes, it decks early but not as early as any of the low-slung Sporties.
Truth is, I got the whole Sportster thing out of my system years ago, but I find myself attracted to the Bolt. It has a great combination of visual zest and character along with totally acceptable performance for the class.
Martha Cook | Hanger On
All the manufacturer's promo shots show tough guys in their cool retro gear astride the Bolt. Okay, I get it; they don't want to portray it as a girl's bike. But my petite frame begs to differ: I found the Bolt pleasantly substantial as well as a real looker, with only a few quirks to keep me from switching my allegiances to the cruiser tribe.
Everything about the Bolt feels solid and substantial. It upshifts with a healthy thunk and brakes with authority. The V-twin sends a satisfying rumble up through your feet and seat, and over bumps the shocks respond with an almost regal lope. Its low stance also adds to that feeling. At a standstill, my feet are planted firmly on the asphalt.
And easy on the eyes? Oh, my goodness, yes. The R-spec we have in the pool is decked out in handsome gunmetal and black with a comfy tractor-style seat. Love that instrument display, but it's really more of an objet d'art than a well-functioning interface: It's dark and difficult to read on a sunny day (but then again, so are my men).
Kevin Smith | Editorial Director
"Badass Lite," I kept thinking all the way home. "Very Easy Rider."
And that wasn't a knock on the Star Bolt. There's a good kind of schizophrenia going on here. The Bolt's narrow profile, puny fuel tank and knee-fouling air cleaner suggest a Sportster; the low seat, flattish handlebar, and trimmed front fender whisper "bobber"; and the black and gray finish (satin on the major pieces) creates a vaguely menacing demeanor. Yet it's built the way Japanese companies make motorcycles: smooth and polished, reasonably comfortable, nicely put together, easy to ride, and pleasant to live with.
I see Yamaha wants the friendly, affordable Bolt to attract new, younger converts to the Star brand, and there's no reason it won't. The bike feels light and simple, the 950 twin makes decent power, the clutch engages easily, and the thing steers and stops effectively. So it presents no challenges and asks no allowances. At the same time, the Bolt looks just a little edgy. Lean and cut-down, sporty and spirited, black and all business. So I can present myself to the world as a tough guy but have an easy time of it.
And, hey, a Harley guy gave me a wave.
Aaron Frank | Editor at Large
It's easy to bash the Bolt as a "beginner bobber" or "hipster cruiser," but I'm thrilled to see any new motorcycle designed to appeal to anyone under age 30. The Bolt looks great as long as you don't look too closely and notice certain clumsy details like that cheapo tank seam, loopy frame downtubes, and plastic fender extension. Anyway, a guy named Jesse James once told me it doesn't matter what a chopper looks like as long as you feel like a badass in the saddle. With mid-mount controls and a shallow pullback bar, the Bolt's riding position is all thuggy swagger, and compact overall dimensions make it feel surprisingly sporty for a 540-pound bike.
Thick torque and low gearing blast the Bolt away from stoplights, though the single front disc leaves it slightly under-braked. The Bolt isn't functionally equal to the similarly priced FZ-09, but that isn't the point. Performance perfectly suits style and intent, and for urban cruising, Star's Bolt is about as good as it gets—regardless of origin, displacement, or price point.
Zack Courts | Associate Editor
I'm just going to come right out and say it: I like this bike. Now that I've got that off my chest, I can focus on some of the things that really bug me about it.
First, and probably foremost, if it's a bright day or you're riding into the sun, the dash readout is almost impossible to see. It's a slick piece, hiding the details behind a black screen when the bike is off, and trimmed with chrome. Unfortunately, the contrast between the readout and the background isn't nearly sharp enough.
Another qualm I had was the cylinder offset (front jug being slightly to the right) combined with the air-cleaner assembly being on the right didn't leave a lot of room for my right leg. I hit my knee on the air cleaner a number of times, and there's simply no place to hide a leg from the heat radiating up the starboard side at low, or no, speed.
It was at precisely that moment that I realized I like the Bolt. If heat from the pipe and slightly clunky ergonomics are all I can come up with for complaints, by gosh that's pretty good. This is a relatively cheap bike, but even with its flaws it doesn't feel cheap.
I don't care that there's no ABS. The brakes are adequate (the rear is better than the front), the motor is a treat, and the rest of the bike's demeanor is just so even-keeled. It's aloof without being unfriendly—cool but not trying too hard. The only reason I don't want one is that I'm not a cruiser guy. I wouldn't buy it, but I'd sure recommend it.
||a-c 60-deg. V-twin
||48.8 bhp @ 5600 rpm
||55.0 lb.-ft. @ 2900 rpm
||KYB 41mm fork
||KYB shocks adjustable for spring preload
||Akebono two-piston caliper, 298mm disc
||Akebono one-piston caliper, 298mm disc
||100/90-19 Bridgestone Exedra G721
||150/80-16 Bridgestone Exedra G722
|Weight (tank full/empty)
A good value and fun to ride, it’s a great alternative to a Harley, just as Star intended it to be.