When a vehicle manufacturer trots out a new car, truck or bike, they usually trot waves of automotive press to big hotel where they get a chance to test drive a certain new model. The focus is usually on just one set of wheels to evaluate. But, when a company marches out an entire line for writers to review, it’s a big deal and a major strategic marketing move. That’s the tactic Star chose recently just outside Atlanta.
Star Motorcycles faces a unique challenge. The company is working hard to distinguish their stylish and ultra-smooth line of cruisers and touring bikes from the Milwaukee-based company that defines the breed.
I’ll give you an example. Star flew motorcycle writers out to the spectacular Chateau Elan Golf Resort north of Atlanta for three days with their product. On the gray, misty morning of the first ride, Star’s crew lined up multiple set-ups of the entire 2012 Star line along the resorts circular driveway for staging and photo opportunities.
There was a wedding party gathering for a rehearsal at the same time nearby, and a couple members of the bridal squad walked over to the bikes, calling out: “We just wanted to see the cool Harleys.”
That’s unfair and sloppy on the part of the uninitiated – and it must drive Star up the wall on occasion – because the Yamaha subsidiary line based in Cypress, Calif. builds motorcycles that resemble Harley-Davidson in purpose – but not in appearance, design or on-road feel. Still, the term “Harley” applies to more than just that make of bike. It settles lazily over an entire genre of street cruising and touring rides – basically any motorcycle that isn’t set up for dirt riding, racing or a delivery service.
Car manufacturers don’t have to put up with this nonsense. No one looks at a four door sedan and immediately calls it a Ford or Toyota. But, when the average observer sees a sizable, sit-upright motorcycle, they can trot out that “Harley” label.
Star wants its identity to stand out from the Wisconsin product – letting journalists take as much time as they needed on bikes ranging from the big, kitted-out Stratoliner, to the low riding Stryker (one of my favorite cruisers), to the sleek Raider, to the little entry level V-Star 250 and the savagely powerful VMAX.
In the weeks to come, I’ll serve up individual reviews of the motorcycles I got to tide in Georgia. But, I wanted to focus for now on how the unique identity of the entire line. Bikes like the Stryker, Raider and Roadliner are genuine metric cruisers – street motorcycles using the materials and technology generated by the racing bikes built by Yamaha. Even the biggest models in the line feel surprisingly light and manageable, with sensitive and feather light controls at every contact point.
While I found the meaty feel of a Stratoliner very similar to a Harley-Davidson SVO Custom, the rest of the Star rides offered a distinctive, almost playful responsiveness that speaks to the amount of technology and weight reduction work that Star poured into their designs.
Though the VMAX is a brute fit for only a veteran rider – while the V-Star 250 feels just a step or two above a scooter – that stylish ridability weaves itself through every Star I tested.
It’s up to the riding consumer to decide if a Star is better or worse than a Harley-Davidson, but – if there’s one thing the Yamaha/Star folks provided in Georgia – they’re certainly not knock-offs or clones. Star is a force to be considered when cruiser riders head to their showrooms.