2014 Star Bolt | First Ride

It’s not an 883. It’s better.

By Thomas Kinzer, Photography by Tom Riles, Brian J. Nelson

They Say: “An urban performance bobber.”
We Say: “A helluva lot of fun to ride.”

At first glance, the Star Bolt looks a lot like Harley-Davidson's Sportster Iron 883, and the new bike is certainly positioned to compete with The Motor Company's smallest Sporty. But Star says the inspiration for the Bolt’s styling actually comes from the cultish vintage Yamaha XS650 bobber scene that is, by rights, very much its own thing. If you’re not familiar with what builders are doing with these affordable used bikes, climb out from under that rock and click on www.XS650chopper.com.

Excepting the current Super Ténéré, Yamaha hasn’t made a parallel twin since the XS was discontinued in 1985, so the Bolt instead utilizes the 942cc V-twin from the 950 V-Star. Although in many ways the V-twin makes it resemble the Harley-Davidson even more, the double-cradle steel frame, round LED taillight, bare metal exhaust shields, and even the riding position all have been carefully designed to evoke the custom XS650 look and feel. Priced at just $7990 (or $8290 for the uprated R-Spec version), the Bolt obviously competes head-to-head with the other style-conscious bikes like the aforementioned H-D Iron 883, Moto Guzzi V7 Stone, and Triumph Bonneville, all of which were included in our recent “Hipster’s Ride” comparison test (Feb, MC). Perhaps a rematch for 2014 is warranted?

Riding the Bolt is just plain fun. The engine delivers a satisfying, subtle V-twin pulse with a civilized but throaty exhaust note. Claimed torque is 58.2 lb.-ft. and it arrives early, thanks to a carefully tweaked intake and airbox shape. Thick torque, flawless fueling, and smooth clutch engagement make the bike easy to launch while riding the streets of downtown San Diego, where the press launch took place. Stopping was no problem, either. Although equipped with only one floating 298mm disc and two-piston caliper up front, braking power seemed plenty adequate for the bike’s claimed 540 lb. wet weight. The rearward weight bias also lets the rider get more out of the rear disc brake, which still locked up fairly often—but maybe that wasn’t exactly by accident. Supermotos and streetfighters might deserve the hooligan badge, but this cruiser will have you scanning for The Man nearly as often.

Some of that fun factor is also due to size and ergonomics. Any rider under six feet tall may have noticed that bikes—especially cruisers—have become ridiculously big these days, often leaving normal-sized riders left to choose between an oversized ride or more appropriately sized but anemically underpowered entry-level machines. The Bolt offers that Goldilocks “just right” feel for an average-sized motorcyclist, without throwing performance out the window. Mid-mount foot controls provide adequate leg room, and the handlebars demand just the right amount of reach to keep your torso slightly tilted into the wind. This riding position, combined with the low, 27.2-in. seat height and a steeply-sloped 3.2 gallon fuel tank, ward off the parachute effect on the freeway until well above 90 mph. The bar bend also keeps your wrists at a more natural angle than many pull-back cruiser styles, and the narrow width still allows easy lane-splitting. The attractive solo seat is surprisingly comfortable with a level stance that lets you feel securely planted and comfortable, even during longer riding intervals. Star makes no touring claims, but for minimalist, bugs-in-the-teeth masochists, it wouldn’t be out of the question.

Star understands the positive sales effect when “showroom confidence” is bolstered by lowering the rear of the bike. Unfortunately, this also ends up affecting our kidneys—and sometimes our teeth—on the street. Harley's Iron 883 is one of the worst offenders, with just over 2 in. of rear-wheel travel. The Bolt is somewhat kinder, with a still-nominal 2.8 in. of rear travel and a full 4.7 in. up the front. Cornering clearance is mediocre and the pegs drag during even normal-speed turns in the city, so resist the urge for that lowering kit. For an additional $300, the R-Spec model includes external-reservoir rear shocks, but any performance or comfort advantages here were mostly undetectable, even after venturing off the beaten path and onto a washboard dirt road. The R-Spec does deliver other trim upgrades like blacked-out mirrors, matte paint, and contrast stitching on the seat. If you dig the way all that (and the external reservoirs) looks, then get the R-Spec—just don’t expect a performance improvement.

A full range of available accessories let you add some bolt-ons to your Bolt, channeling a bit of that DIY, XS650 bobber spirit. Optional 40-spoke wheels look particularly cool, but run eight hundred bucks each. Also available are stylish Z bars, fork gaiters, a mini-fairing, and much more. You’ll still have to source your own pipe wrap, though.

Star says it set out to build something called an urban performance bobber. We wouldn’t call it a bobber, exactly, but they have succeeded in making a very handsome, back-to-basics cruiser at an excellent price, without sacrificing performance, fit-and-finish, or fun factor. This bike is an absolute hoot to ride, and isn’t that why we’re all in this in the first place?

By Thomas Kinzer
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The return of the Virago!!!!   About time, too.   I've had two over the years, and ridden others, and never found one I didn't fall in love with.   Just capable enough to enjoy like a real bike, but with that low down torque and ride all day character.  I can relax and think about other things while the bike rides itself.  The V-Twin cadence is like a heartbeat, and suits my nervous system.  I've never had a ride I didn't enjoy thoroughly.  Hmmmm.
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