Early reports of the Honda Gold Wing's demise have been greatly exaggerated, and any suggestions that the all-new Yamaha Star Venture was deployed expressly to dethrone the King Wing were just click-bait. The Star Venture's real target is iconic American touring bikes like Harley-Davidson's Electra Glide Ultra Classic and Indian's Roadmaster, and the Yamaha takes aim by pairing the inimitable "emotional" character of a big-bore, air-cooled V-twin hot rod with the effortless performance and innovative technology of modern luxury touring bikes like the Gold Wing. After spending two full days powering from pass to pass in the Bitterroot Range of the Northern Rocky Mountains, one thing is certain—it's not Honda that should be worried.

Yamaha Venture
Yamaha’s Star Venture nameplate is back after a near-five-year absence—only this time paired to a V-twin, not a V-four. Private jet not included.Brian J. Nelson

Yamaha Says: “A transcontinental tourer with cutting-edge comfort and technology.” Motorcyclist Says: “The most formidable touring bike from Japan—or any country—in nearly a decade.”

THE TECH
One glance tells you this isn't another old-school retro-tourer. V-twin tourers always look like cruisers in drag, but the Star Venture is aggressively butch. Profile shots reveal the familiar flowing line through the teardrop tank to the low, 27.4-inch saddle, but either end is pure modern musclebike—all hard edges and sharp creases. The car-like front fairing—more of a broad, flat "hood" terminating in a pointed brow that shades quad LED headlights—looks like something cribbed straight from a Dodge design study. Not a bad thing, since Dodge has lately proven very adept at separating Fast-and-Furious forty-somethings from their hard-earned cash.

Two up on the 2018 Star Venture from Yamaha
Our Raspberry Metallic test bike was equipped with the optional Transcontinental package that adds GPS navigation, Sirius XM Travel Link (for satellite weather and traffic updates), additional speakers, LED fog lights, extra storage, an alarmed security system, and $2000 to the $24,999 base price.Brian J. Nelson
Star Venture air ducts
Those massive vertical air ducts framing the front wheel flood the air-cooled engine with fresh air, and route a separate channel toward the rider, too.Yamaha

If you’re wondering why Yamaha didn’t equip this muscle cruiser with a retuned version of its fearsome VMAX V-four—like Ventures of yore—the answer is broad low-end torque. This 1,854cc (113 cubic-inches, in ‘Murican) pushrod V-twin produces claimed peak torque of 126 lb.-ft. at just 2500 rpm—compared to 123 lb.-ft. at 6500 rpm from the V-four—so the V-twin is intended to deliver superior performance with less shifting and a more relaxed engine character that’s much better suited for long-distance touring. It’s also more aesthetically in line with what modern full-dress touring enthusiasts, raised on Uncle Willie’s air-cooled V-twins, like to see.

While bore, stroke, and a 48-degree V-angle are all identical to the in the existing air-cooled V-twin in Yamaha’s Star Raider chopper, this isn’t a parts-bin project. Engine geometry aside, this is a clean-sheet engine design with many of changes that complete the transformation from bar hopper to transcontinental tourer. Twin counter-balancers and a primary-drive shock damper keep engine character from getting too “emotional,” while sound-deadening engine covers mute other mechanical noises.

Unlike Yamaha’s traditional cruiser lineup, the Star Venture engine is not solid-mounted. Instead it’s hung from carefully engineered composite rubber-elastomer engine mounts that further isolate the rider from engine unacceptable vibrations. The results are dramatic. The Star Venture is a remarkably smooth operator, with absolutely zero high-frequency vibration reaching the rider (or passenger) at any contact point, or any rpm. Not through the bars, not through the seat/tank, not through the floorboards—not anywhere. The only sensory feedback is a pleasing power-pulse when you pin the throttle at very low rpms—a not-unwelcome side effect of two massive, forged pistons surging up-and-down.

2018 Star Venture storage capacity
The Star Venture offers up a remarkable 38 gallons (144 liters!) of storage capacity divided between side cases, trunk, and multiple upper and lower fairing compartments. Luggage and some of the compartments are remotely lockable using the Smart Key fob.Yamaha

A 6-speed transmission replaces the Raider’s 5-speed gearbox, and both 5th and 6th gears are over-driven for even more relaxed highway cruising. Low-gear acceleration is brisk—the Star Venture feels quicker than its American competitors, though not by much—yet it’s barely breathing at 75 mph in sixth gear, the analog tach showing just 2,700 rpm. Yamaha’s familiar “assist-and-slip” clutch technology—proven on its sportbike lineup—improves power delivery and chassis stability during both acceleration and deceleration, and also allows lighter clutch springs to be fitted. Lever effort is low for this type of bike but still can’t be called light. Same thing for effort at the shift lever, though gear engagement is positive and smooth with none of the “clunk” associated with other big twins, and you can find neutral on the first try every time.

Ride-by-wire throttle operation—Yamaha Chip Control Throttle, or YCC-T—opens the door for two drive modes. Touring Mode prioritizes smooth, linear throttle response, while Sport Mode offers a sharper power delivery (maximum output is identical in either mode). We preferred Touring Mode for two-up riding—the smoother power delivery was less upsetting to unsuspecting passengers—and the snappier Sport Mode for solo excursions. The Star Venture is also equipped with traction control, but even with this much torque on tap, the big-boned Star Venture won’t easily break the rear wheel loose. Consider it added insurance on loose gravel or wet roads—just like the standard ABS.

Star Venture V-Twin engine
As is the case with nearly every air-cooled V-twin motorcycle, the engine is a key styling element. This one looks great with oversized pushrod tubes and polished cylinder fins.Yamaha

Holding everything together is an extra-rigid composite frameset consisting of a steel mainframe constructed from cast, forged and tubular components paired with a controlled-fill die cast aluminum subframe. Front suspension is a 46mm conventional fork, with a linkage-type rear shock featuring hydraulic preload adjustment so you can quickly alter rear preload for solo or two-up riding. Handling is exceptional, and significantly more athletic than anything else in this class. Considerable engineering effort to lower the center of gravity and centralize mass paid massive dividends. At 963 pounds (claimed, wet) the Star Venture is the heaviest bike in the class—no small feat—but you’d never guess that from the saddle. It’s unexpectedly easy to lever off the sidestand, even with a passenger aboard, and it’s an absolute delight to hustle down twisty tarmac, steering more like the FJR1300 than any Venture that has come before.

THE RIDE
It's no exaggeration to call the Star Venture suspension "sport-tuned," as it delivers a level of support and response previously unknown from this type of bike. There's none of the diving, folding, or floaty wallow that often characterizes luxury V-twin tourers. Star Venture steering is light and precise, ground clearance is generous, and mid-corner manners are stable and predictable—even when you need to scrub some speed using the strong, fade-free linked triple disc brakes. It's a stable, fun, confidence-inspiring package in any situation, at any speed.

Star Venture action, left
Talk about intra-agency collaboration! Twin mufflers are each tuned separately—by technicians from Yamaha’s Music division—for perfect harmonics and sound characteristics.Brian J. Nelson

But who cares about cornering? Comfort is what really matters on a bike like this! The Star Venture scores well on this front, too. The rider is coddled in a deep-scooped saddle with a three-position-adjustable backrest. Both elements are heated, of course, and the passenger saddle and backrest are both heated, too. So are the grips (all standard equipment), so it’s no wonder the Star Venture is equipped with dual alternators that generate a staggering 750 watts of juice. The frame-mounted fairing is topped with an electrically adjustable windscreen and easy-access fairing wings and lower-fairing ducts let you fine-tune airflow. Air management is universally excellent. With the side vents closed the cockpit forms an impressively still cocoon; there’s some bluster (and noise) with the vents open, but these introduce an impressive volume of cooling air.

Star Venture dash layout
An easy-to-read analog speedometer and tachometer frame the 7-inch, full-color touchscreen dash that communicates the full functionality of the on-board infotainment system. In addition to the touchscreen, the rider can also operate the system using a 5-key handlebar switch or voice commands.Yamaha

Yamaha actively encouraged us to bring a passenger for the two-day Star Venture press ride, since passenger opinion often drives the purchase decision in this category, Yamaha says. Standing at 5-foot-8, Stephanie barely tolerates the backseat of my personal BMW R1200GS adventure bike. Compared to that baseline, the Star Venture’s cavernous backseat represented the height of luxury, she reports. The ample, 17-inch wide passenger backrest kept her securely seated and passenger floorboards anchored in the lower of two available positions left her plenty of room to stretch her legs. And compared to the GS where she towers over me and is brutally buffeted by unshielded windblast, she says that all but the upper third of her helmet is protected here, and what air does come over and around the fairing is smooth and easy to tolerate. The only criticism Stephanie leveled was regarding heat management. Unsurprisingly, the air/oil-cooled V-twin does throw off considerable heat, especially from the rear exhaust header that runs right below the rider’s left thigh and the passenger’s left foot (and to a lesser extent, the oil tank located just below the rider’s seat). Temps hovering near 100 degrees during both days made it hard to assess fully, but early indications suggest that heat management could be a pain point on this bike.

2018 Star Venture gas mileage
An all-new side-draft intake arrangement makes room for the voluminous, 6.6-gallon fuel tank. Mileage averaged around 40 mpg during our test, suggesting an ultimate range in the neighborhood of around 250 miles.Brian J. Nelson

Stephanie and I were more impressed by the Star Venture’s infotainment features, probably the most features-rich and functional suite presently available on any motorcycle, from any manufacturer. It would take another 1500 words to describe it fully—the supplied infotainment manual is 116 pages long!—but suffice it to say it incorporates every feature you could expect and more, including music, navigation, communications, vehicle systems, even a CB radio, plus the functionality of any external device you can connect via USB/AUX stereo/Bluetooth technology, all anchored by touch/voice/handlebar-controlled command center broadcast over a 7-inch, full-color LCD screen.

Star Venture two-up
Seat height measures just 27.4 inches above the ground, and feels even lower because the V-twin engine allows engineers to keep the chassis so narrow through the middle.Brian J. Nelson

It can be maddeningly difficult to master all the functions—two days was not enough to even crack the surface—but for the most part the features are organized under logical hierarchies and are reasonably intuitive to navigate (The one exception is the always-on vehicle alarm, which requires an awkward work-around—opening and closing the fuel door—to disable. It seemed like anytime we left a rest stop one or two of our group would set a siren wailing.) My passenger and I were especially impressed with the “dual-zone” audio technology that allows the rider and passenger to select different audio sources or even hold private phone calls and still communicate freely. The only downside is that this system utilizes tethered headsets—though Gold Wing and Electra Glide riders are already used to this.

One final exclusive feature that bears mention is Yamaha’s Sure-Park System, which is an auxiliary electric motor—not a hacked starter motor, but a separate motor altogether—that allows the bike to crawl backward or forward very slowly, with the action controlled by a rocker switch mounted on the left handlebar (only when the bike is in neutral with kickstand up). Sure-Park operation is smooth and predictable and a veritable lifesaver when maneuvering around hilly, uneven or loose surfaces, especially with a passenger aboard.

Star Venture rear fender, rear tire, motorcycle
The short rear fender shows off the 200/55R16 rear tire, the largest available in this category; the front is a 130/70R18. Bridgestone Exedra tires are standard equipment, mounted to machined alloy wheels at both ends.Brian J. Nelson

At $26,999 with the Transcontinental option package that adds additional LED lighting, storage, and security features (the base model is $24,999), the Star Venture is a remarkable value with many standard features that are expensive options from the competition. As a high-tech, high-performance V-twin touring bike, it covers a white space in the marketplace that could spell success as more and more Gen Xers graduate from sportbikes but aren’t ready for their grandfather’s touring bike just yet. Whether Yamaha can crack that market open remains to be seen. There will be challenges: metric riders generally don’t want air-cooling; air-cooled aficionados generally don’t want metric bikes. But one thing is certain, if any bike can break down these barriers of emotion versus logic, the excellent and capable Star Venture is it.

Star Venture motorcycle, touring bike
The most torque. The greatest storage capacity. The lowest MSRP. Looking at the numbers, the Star Venture leads the luxury-touring category. It’s a winner on the open road, too.Brian J. Nelson

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
An all-new luxury-touring platform that aims to bridge the gap between traditional American V-twins and sophisticated metric touring bikes.
TECH
PRICE $24,999 ($26,999 with Transcontinental package)
ENGINE 1854cc (113ci) air-cooled V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER n/a
CLAIMED TORQUE 126 lb.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
FRAME Composite, tubular steel with cast steel/aluminum
FRONT SUSPENSION 46mm fork; 5.1-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Single shock, adjustable for spring preload; 4.3-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Four-piston calipers, 298mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Two-piston caliper, 320mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 31.1°/5.7 in.
WHEELBASE 67.6 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 27.4 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 6.6 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 963 lb. dry
AVAILABLE September 2017
CONTACT yamahamotorsports.com
VERDICT
This is the V-twin touring bike we’ve been waiting for. Plenty of character and emotional appeal, paired with modern performance and sophisticated technology.