2006 Yamaha Road Star Midnight Warrior Road Test
We hear it more all the time. “I’ve been riding sportbikes for years, and now that I’m getting older I want to slow down a bit. I’d like to just cruise, but on the other hand I’m not sure a cruiser would satisfy me if it had too many performance limitations. What would you recommend?”
Well, we do have a recommendation. For the last several years, some of the major manufacturers have been offering what have come to be called “power cruisers.” They’re variations on cruisers, often with V-twin engines and high styling, but with a higher level of power and performance, better brakes and suspension, and often with enhanced cornering clearance for those who used to scrape pegs and still would like to scrape a little floorboard. In other words, they’re more functional versions of cruisers, bikes that start out where many cruiser owners end up after spending months and thousands of additional dollars working on their bikes.
One of the most impressive machines in this new gens Yamaha’s Road Star Warrior, which first appeared in 2002. It’s based upon the standard Road Star, but has many upgraded function-oriented features. The Road Star was introduced for 1999 as a mellow cruiser with an air-cooled, 48-degree, 1,602cc V-twin engine having a bore and stroke of 95.0 x 113.0mm. We dyno tested it at 53.3 horsepower at 3,800 rpm, and an impressive 84.5 lb-ft of torque at 2,300 rpm.
When the higher-performance Warrior version of the Road Star was introduced three years later, it had been bored to 97.0mm but carried the same stroke, which resulted in a 1,670cc displacement, or 102 cubic inches. The bike we test here is the Midnight Warrior, the all-black version, which gets several significant updates for 2006. For starters (or perhaps “stoppers”), it’s equipped with new radial-mounted front brake calipers that provide more positive braking. And with many aftermarket companies now offering matching wheels and belt-drive pulleys, Yamaha has pre-empted them by now supplying the Warrior with matching “supersport-inspired” five-spoke cast wheels and pulleys instead of its old three-spoke wheels.
Finally, the Warrior gets new braided-steel clutch and throttle cables in clear sleeves. What? Isn’t it usually brake lines that get braided-steel housings so they don’t swell under hard usage? We see no functional advantage to braided-steel cable covers, and would expect that a bike with the Warrior’s price tag would at least have a hydraulically actuated clutch. Otherwise, the 2006 is largely unchanged from previous Road Star Warriors.
These few styling changes aside, there’s very little that’s frou-frou about this bike. The Midnight Warrior looks low, squat and mean. From its clear-lens headlight with faceted reflector to its sexy LED taillight, it looks like it’s going to take your lunch money and kick your sorry behind. It’s drenched in gloss-black paint, with a black performance-look air cleaner housing and black engine covers, all of which add to its sinister, purposeful look.
As is proper for a performance bike, the LCD tachometer sits at the top of the instrument nacelle while the analog speedometer is housed in a separate pod below the handlebar clamp. What’s cool about the tach is not just that its LCD indicators bristle out from the scale, but that they begin to flash when the engine nears redline.
Despite its mean, high-tech appearance, the bike has a low-tech, air-cooled engine with pushrod valve actuation. This is not to denigrate the engine, however, as it works very well. Settle onto the wide, firm seat placed 28.1 inches off the pavement and grasp the chromed handlebar.
The key is located up between the tach and speedo; turn it on and the rider hears a subtle buzz as the twin 40mm electronic fuel injectors prime themselves. Hit the starter and there’s a whine, followed by a low rumble when the cylinders light off. Thanks to the EFI, no choke or fast-idle control is needed, and the bike can be ridden off immediately, hot or cold, without a warmup.
Clutch pull is moderate as you chunk this baby into first gear, and torque is prodigious as you feed out the lever and it rushes you away. Holy mother of pearl, what’s going on here? That big-inch engine may have only a middlin’ 8.3:1 compression ratio, but with its long stroke, and four valves with two spark plugs per cylinder, it makes good use of its displacement and other performance features.
Old Joke: A horse goes into a bar, and the barkeeper says, “Why the long face?”
The reply, of course, is “Because I’m a horse, you idiot!”
Variation on an Old Joke: A guy rides up to restaurant, parks his bike and a fellow rider asks, “Why the big can?”
The reply, of course, is, “Because it’s a Yamaha Road Star Warrior, you idiot!”
The single most attention-getting feature on this bike is an exhaust canister the size of a rocket launcher. Why the big can? According to a Yamaha spokesman, the two-into-one stainless headers and aluminum exhaust can are designed to be the best compromise to provide sufficient volume for the desired flow and sound, within the parameters of what the law allows. It pumps out a nice mellow sound from those forged pistons whomping up and down inside twin 835cc cylinders, though we expect most riders will can the can for an aftermarket system promising more robust sound and power. Note that the Warrior’s cylinders have 30 percent more fin area than the Road Star’s for enhanced cooling.
Follow the tach and power begins to appear in usable amounts by about 1,800 rpm, and suddenly an ocean of torque sweeps up like a surfer on a tsunami. Engine performance is unchanged since we last dyno tested this bike in 2002; torque goes from squat at 1,500 rpm to about 90 lb-ft by 1,800 rpm, and stays above 90 till it begins to fall off at around 4,500 rpm. With so much torque available, you’ll spend the majority of your riding time aboard the Warrior with the tach reading between about 2,000 and 3,000 rpm. That’s good, as beyond three grand the solid-mounted engine begins to throb in the seat, subtly at first, then it becomes noticeable and obnoxious by 4,000 rpm. By the 5,000-rpm redline it has kicked into full vibra-massage mode, and you won’t want to go there. Don’t get too worried about the vibes intruding on your cruising fun, however, as 3,000 rpm in fifth gear corresponds to more than 80 mph. Also, our 2002 test bike did not exhibit such extreme vibration, so this may be an anomaly to our particular 2006 test bike.
While torque is a major consideration on a cruiser, let’s not forget horsepower. The Warrior is already cranking out 50 horsepower by 2,800 rpm, and peaks at 74.5 horsepower at 4,500 rpm. Peak torque, 95.5 lb-ft, occurs at about 3,500 rpm. Both figures are considerable improvements over the Road Star’s numbers, and both occur higher in the rev range than the Road Star’s figures. Eventually, Yamaha upgraded the Road Star with the bored cylinders and now today both models displace 1,670cc, but the Warrior still makes considerably greater power because of its hotter cams, injectors and a higher redline. It will be interesting to see if the new 1,854cc engine introduced on the 2006 Roadliner and Stratoliner will become a part of the next generation of Road Stars and Warriors.
While the Road Star has a standard mild-steel frame with a rectangular-section backbone and twin downtubes, the Warrior offers an aluminum double-cradle frame that is 40 percent lighter than the Road Star’s, yet it’s 41 percent more rigid. The swingarm is likewise 42 percent lighter yet stronger. The aluminum frame has been given a relatively steep (for a cruiser) rake of 29 degrees, with 5.1 inches of trail; contrast these figures with the Road Star’s 32 degrees and 5.6 inches of trail. That, combined with a relatively long 65.6-inch wheelbase and those wide radial tires, give the Warrior a combination of stability with acceptably quick steering.
Getting this baby up to a full, fun snort does not require wringing its neck as the abundant torque whisks the rider away and allows for short shifting-besides, it vibrates so much in the seat beyond 4,000 rpm that going up in the rev range is both an unnecessary and uncomfortable experience. Shifting the five-speed transmission is slick and sportbike easy without the slow “clunk” often associated with cruiser transmissions. The power is sent rearward by a narrow-design belt drive system necessary to accommodate that wide 200-series rear tire.
The rider sits fairly upright and leaned forward, with the feet placed fairly well forward, a position that feels like you’re bent in half and sitting more “on” the bike than “in” it. Still, it’s much more comfortable than it sounds. The seat, while fairly firm, was acceptable for one 200-mile day I did on the bike.
What’s really going to plaster a smile across the face of former sportbike riders who wish to slow down (but not too much) is how well the Warrior package comes together on a winding road. That full, seamless, welling ocean of torque kicks in at a mere 1,800 rpm and always seems to be there. Shifting is easy. With the front four-piston calipers now radially mounted, the front brakes are powerful and strong, yet do not require inordinate lever pressure. The rear brake, with its twin-piston caliper, is likewise strong and the wide 200-series rear tire provides so much grip that lockup is not a problem.
While fork dive is not excessive in its male-slider fork, if the bike feels a bit nose-heavy for your tastes or grinds too soon in turns, just crank in additional preload in the fork springs. We originally found our test bike’s rear suspension a bit soft, which is common in cruisers. Because this is a power cruiser the suspension is more adjustable than most, and turning the wheel adjuster at the base of the single shock allowed us to dial in sufficient rebound damping to keep its rear under control.
The Warrior is a big, long, heavy (at 656 pounds wet) motorcycle, which you won’t mistake for a light, quick-handling sportbike. Rather, its sporting riding demands higher effort, a pull on that wide bar combined with a swing of the hips to plant the Warrior in a turn. Get this puppy motivatin’ and soon, depending upon your position on the bike, either your heels or the peg feelers will begin to drag. While that happens much sooner than it would for a sportbike, well, you said you wanted to slow down.
Yamaha’s Road Star Midnight Warrior is a rare bird, a compromise that works. It’s torquey and cool enough to satisfy the V-twin style meter in your cruiser rider soul, while also being torquey and well controlled enough (with sufficient cornering clearance) to satisfy your sporting self’s craving for an adrenaline rush. Just because you’re slowing down doesn’t mean you’re not having fun.
[This 2006 Yamaha Road Star Midnight Warrior Rider Test was originally published in the May 2006 issue of Rider magazine]