2011 Star Stryker | First Ride

Stryke out?

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Tom Riles, Brian J. Nelson

They say: "Time for an attitude adjustment!"
We say: "Yeah, for this bike: Star should roughen this one up."

It's time to end this endless debate over metric versus American, liquid- versus air-cooled, raked versus bobbed. Choppers can be all—or none—of the above. It doesn't matter where a bike is built, or what it's built from. If it activates your inner thug and strikes a touch of fear into anyone watching you roll by, it qualifies. A chopper is a state of mind.

With this in mind, we set off for wonderfully weird Austin, Texas, to spend a day not waving at other bikers aboard Star's all-new (and unfortunately spelled) Stryker, the latest offering from Yamaha's stand-alone cruiser division. Mixing traditional chopper styling with a modern four-valve, liquid-cooled, 1304cc (80 c.i. in bro'-speak) V-twin, the Stryker fills the hole in Star's custom lineup between the V-Star 950 and the 1854cc Raider. But does it deserve the chopper tag?

The Stryker looks the part. Styled by American design house GKDI, it cuts the correct, raked-out, Pro Street profile, though the kinked pipes and fender stays look cartoonish. Internal oil and cooling lines disguise the engine, while "revolver-slit" details on the gauge cluster and other metal trim add some high-end appeal. Too bad more time wasn't spent hiding the horn and charcoal canister, artlessly tacked to the right and left footpegs, respectively. Three available metal-flake colors—red, blue and, for slightly less money, black-are attractive, if conservative for a chopper. Star/Yamaha logos are minimal and above the clear coat for easy removal. Not so those tribal flames, a look that's so 20th century.

The feet-forward, "fists-in-the-wind" riding position is right-on, and the ergonomics are surprisingly compact. The 26.4-inch seat height is the lowest in Star's lineup, and a narrow seat/tank juncture makes the bike easy to maneuver at a stop. The deep-scooped, "sit-in" saddle proved supportive and comfortable. Long, pullback risers facilitate an easy reach to the drag-style handlebar, and low-mounted footpegs are likewise close by. The riding position seems cozy compared to competitive offerings, worth noting since Star suggests as many as 35 percent of Stryker buyers will be female.

A wide rear tire and tall, 21-inch front wheel are expected on a chopper, but Star labored to keep these styling choices from compromising handling too much. The 210mm-wide rear Bridgestone Exedra looks phat but still rolls easily onto its shoulder, while an oversized, 120/70 front tire-a narrower, 90/90 is more common in this segment—enhances traction while improving tracking and stability, especially over grooved pavement. Carefully engineered 6-degree triple clamps allow a radical 40 degrees of fork rake yet maintain a reasonable 4.3 inches of trail. Steering is surprisingly neutral; the front wheel only flops at extremely low speeds and the very edge of the turning radius.

Like any radically raked chopper, the Stryker's high-speed handling can be flighty. Firm, well-damped suspension keeps the bike planted better than expected, however, delivering a smooth ride over well-maintained pavement without bottoming or diving excessively when the road gets rough. Braking performance is excellent for a chopper, but merely adequate by any other measure. A single two-piston front caliper mated to an oversized, 320mm rotor overwhelms that skinny front tire, breaking traction before you can apply maximum braking force. The oversized rear brake is similarly overpowered, and easy to lock if not carefully modulated.

The Stryker utilizes the same 60-degree, SOHC, V-twin as the V-Star 1300, with higher-lift roller rockers and minor ECU and exhaust-tuning changes to provide a slight boost in power. Star officials didn't disclose any horsepower figures and output frankly felt underwhelming from the saddle. We don't expect a mid-sized chopper to break the tire loose, but whacking the throttle should at least stretch your arms. The softly tuned, 646-lb. Stryker accelerates with all the authority of a Yamaha Majesty mega-scooter, failing one key character test. At least there's no 99-mph speed governor like on Honda's Fury; we were able to coax low triple-digit speeds from the Stryker.

Lackluster output aside, Star got everything else right with the engine. Dual balancer shafts keep vibration to an acceptable minimum, and the exhaust note is outstanding: all power pulse without any raspiness, and a muscular burble on decel. The twin-barrel throttle body is flawlessly calibrated, though driveline lash off closed throttle was bothersome at low speeds. The five-speed gearbox is slick, tight and easy to navigate, and clutch pull is reasonable, too.

The end result is a very competent, almost completely soulless facsimile of a late-'90s chopper. Star is proud of how functionally proficient the Stryker is—indeed it offers surprisingly uncompromised performance for a raked-out, fat-tire bike—but that's missing the point. Even the best-handling chopper kicks rocks compared to almost any other motorcycle. A proper chopper needs that X-factor to put the rider in the right state of mind. Star's rowdier Raider is rightfully called a chopper; the Stryker needs more power and less polish to be called the same.

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