The most passengers seem to be mentioned when it comes to motorcycles are on the backs of t-shirts that they fell off. Which is odd since motorcycles are purposely marketed to get someone on the back of them in the first place. And yet, small, hard, and high seats are the norm until you get to the touring category. But even then, seat straps, hot seats, and lack of amenities reign supreme. Yamaha seeks to change that and more with their latest fully-dressed tourer, the Yamaha Star Venture.
To prove it, they invited journalists and the toughest critics of all—their significant others—to come ride the new bike through Idaho and Montana over three days. For Team Gustafson, this meant bringing my new wife Kari. Her observations and opinions will be sprinkled throughout the piece. For now, back to the Venture.
The V-Twin of the Venture
This is not Yamaha’s first venture into the category with a Venture. Between 1983 - 2013, the Venture went from a futuristic V-4 powered tourer to retro one. For 2018, it’s both technologically forward thinking and more traditional at the same time. Once again, it straddles the category between obliquely retro rides such as the Indians and Harley-Davidsons and function-first tourers such as the Honda Goldwing and BMW K 1600 GTL.
With Yamaha it starts at the heart. After a litany of customer research, its survey results revealed touring customers love the noise, sensations, and torque of a V-Twin powerplant. So for the Venture, Yamaha has created a clean-sheet, air-cooled 113 cubic inch powerplant. The motor features four valves per head and produces a class leading 126 lb. ft. of torque. To quell vibrations, twin counterbalancers are used.
Yamaha is quick to note the packaging benefits of the V-Twin design as well. For example, it fits lower in the chassis than a V-4 would. Secondly, the external oil tank is integrated into the aluminum subframe to reduce and centralize weight. For those still not convinced of the new motor over the old Venture’s, it has more torque at far lower RPMs than the V-4.
Attached to the powerplant is a six speed transmission geared for long-legged cruising. So far, pretty standard cruiser stuff. Then there’s the rest of the Star Venture.
Although the engine may seem traditional, the package that wraps around it are not. The throttle for instance is electronic with two riding modes - a smooth Touring mode and a sharper Sport one. Then there’s the “Sure Park” electric parking assist. It’s a separate electric motor, not the starter that is used to move the bike in sticky parking situations in both forward and reverse, a class exclusive feature. There’s also traction control (another class exclusive) and ABS to round out the rider aid package.
Then there’s the laundry list of entertainment and convenience options. Starting with the standard options you get: a 7-inch full-color LCD touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, an intercom, cruise control, and heated seats and back rests. Add the Transcontinental package (a $2,000 option) and you get GPS navigation, SiriusXM, additional speakers and Yamaha’s exclusive Dual Zone audio control, CB radio, LED fog lights, additional onboard storage, and an alarmed security system.
Additionally, the passenger can have full access to audio controls, heated seats, and phone control in either trim. Opt for the Transcontinental package, though, and you and your passenger can listen to different audio and make separate phone calls. However, although the rider and passenger can make separate phone calls, the rider must place the call, and then use the infotainment system to give privacy for the rider or passenger.
Our route was e a curated engagement on the outskirts of the Pacific Northwest between Idaho and Montana. Our trip began in Boise, where Kari and I arrived a neat 13 hours behind after being delayed in the wildest of frontiers: O’Hare Airport. To say her patience was strained is an understatement. The trip and the bike took on an even bigger importance. Not only did it have to be good, the Star Venture needed to live up to the lofty explanations that made fighting for electrical outlets among the delayed hordes worth it.
The looks helped. Many good bikes have failed in this segment due to straying too far from conservative lines: hello Victory Vision. However, hem too traditional, like many Japanese cruisers, and you look like a knockoff of the native competition. The Star Venture certainly skirts the lines between function and fashion. Yes, it has thousands of hours of wind tunnel testing. And yes, it has 37.3 gallons of storage space aboard (a touch over 38 in Transcontinental trim), but the external appearance is exceedingly restrained and handsome. Surfaces are crisp, not rounded. Chrome is used as an accent, not the main attraction, and it has some American muscle car-derived details. The end result looks a little bit like a ‘68 Firebird and an R1 had a tryst. It doesn't make your head turn around every time you park, but it does have its own unique personality and design language that doesn’t need nostalgia to look pretty.
Kari, who despises the looks of classic tourers, loved the back half of the bike, but found the front end frumpy.
Our first impression as a couple with the Star Venture went well. For one, it passed the first test of loading every piece of gear Kari wanted on the ride with 75 percent of the cargo room to spare. The Start Venture offers a combined 37.3 gallons of storage space. The top box alone can swallow two of the market’s biggest full face helmets. I stuffed an entire backpack in a saddlebag, and there are nooks for both the passenger and the rider galore. Additionally, Kari remarked immediately on how comfortable the seat was. Then the bickering started.
“How do I work the intercom?” she asked.
“Hold this button to talk and then release it when you’re done,” I said.
Intercom chirps on and off with no voice.
“It doesn’t work,” she replied.
“Did you hold the button?” I asked; which she retorts, yes. I explained the process again, it didn’t work at all. Then the radio switched to a different channel. She hit the media toggle, not the intercom button. We rolled 15 minutes into the ride, and had our first fight.
“Didn’t you listen when they were explaining it to you?” she asked.
“Yes, but I have to futz with it more.” I responded, already losing this round.
“No...you... probably...won’t,” came chirping in pieces over the intercom as she pressed and released the button.
To her credit, I didn’t listen all that well, figuring I’d just figure it out. But, even through my own idiocy I mended all issues during a stop in traffic. Our relationship survived the first 30 minutes of our journey. She selected 2000s pop hits as the desired music entertainment. Not being a total moron, I obliged this choice for the duration of the trip. Thanks, Sirius.
The sound quality was clear through the intercom, and through the bike’s speakers excellent. Crisis averted with the communication system, I turned my attention back to the bike.
Smooth as Silk
Yamaha stressed that comfort and confidence were mission critical goals for this bike. Not only from the seat, but from the controls, the power delivery, the ergonomics, every interface and design touch is purposely engineered to put rider and passenger confidence at the forefront. Reason being, the more comfortable you are, the farther and more often you’ll want to ride.
For example, a small touch is that the passenger floorboards are two-position adjustable with Allen bolts. A larger touch would be the expansive efforts for the airflow and buffeting to the passenger. Not once did Kari complain of excess noise and wind with the windshield in the most upright position.
Power delivery and accessibility was also a huge plus. The new motor has torque everywhere, stump-pulling, smooth as silk torquey-goodness. Even two-up and fully laden, the most the bike required was two downshifts on the steepest of inclines. At slow speeds, it never snatched or snapped, and the clutch was an easy pull affair. Yamaha has also also included a slipper clutch standard.
“Sure Park” is the true party trick for parking lot confidence though. At 963 pounds as outfitted, the Star Venture is no featherweight. And although an electric motor to help you park may seem anathema to what motorcycles are about, when it’s over a 100 degrees and you have to park on an incline, it’s way better with flip the switch and glide into it then wobble your way in with your legs. The system is limited to 45 seconds of use to save the battery, but has enough power to move the bike around any slippery or inclined scenario.
Kari hasn’t been on the back of a bike much, but the next two days she became at ease at the comfort and convenience of the experience as we sliced through mountains and slabbed through the interstate. It was completely spoiling her. And me for that matter. It’s an exceptionally smooth and refined luxury tourer with enough personality to keep you entertained from both a performance and sensation perspective.
Is it all Good News?
Almost. The brakes, 298mm dual front units and 320mm single rear are strong for the class, and the ABS is very subtle in its application. The suspension, a 46mm fork and coil spring/gas-hydraulic damper linked rear shock are supple. However, the front fork is harsh when hitting sharp bumps at speed. Handling with and without a passenger is sure footed and about as athletic as one can ask from a tourer with forward controls and floorboards. It scrapes in the tight stuff, but there’s plenty of cornering clearance. Although upon hearing the floorboard scrape, Kari believed that disaster was imminent.
However, the motor does throw a significant amount of heat when stopped. Our rides were exceedingly warm throughout the day, but even on chilly mornings the engine could get you toasty even without the heated seats.
The big question is if Yamaha can find enough people in the middle who want a classic powerplant experience mated to modern looks and conveniences. The good news is, it makes wives happy.
And you know what they say about happy wives and lives. So it should be no problem selling your pillion on the purchase price for one. The Yamaha Star Venture starts at $24,999 and goes up to $26,999 for the Transcontinental package. Both packages come in Granite Gray or Raspberry Metallic.
Yamaha has hit the bullseye by making a heavyweight touring motorcycle more accessible and comfortable for the masses through a mix of thoughtful ergonomic design and smooth performance characteristics.
P.S. An Interview with My Wife
How perfect of a husband am I?
Closer to perfect than I could have ever or should have ever hoped or expected for in a husband. Except for your taste in furniture and shoes.
What did you think before the trip?
Before the trip I was anxious about the ride but excited about the scenery. I was also anxious about my level of confidence on the bike, as well as how I would feel being outside, in the elements, on a motorized vehicle, going fast for so many hours.
What did you like about the bike?
What I liked most was how safe I felt. The first hour or so I was gripping very tightly to the nice passenger handles. After the first morning I felt very comfortable to do pretty much whatever I wanted with my hands. I would never have believed I could feel that safe on the back of a motorcycle. I loved being able to listen to music and talk to you whenever I wanted. I love the space I had, I felt like we were experiencing the ride together but also apart in a way and I liked that.
What did you dislike?
I was ridiculously hot, which was not the bike’s fault. Even with all of its perks it can’t be air conditioned; maybe instead of just heated seats they could also include cooled seats? That might be asking too much. I found the audio situation a little tough to figure out and I wish we would have had more time to fool around with it, but I enjoyed that we stuck with our early 2000's Sirius pop station for much of the trip. Can't go wrong with cruising through Montana with Destiny's Child rocking in your ears! I also disliked how awkward I felt getting on and off of it because I kept treating it like I was mounting a horse and I’m not sure that is how you’re supposed to treat it?
How did it compare to driving in a car?
I loved feeling more connected to the scenery we were passing through. Before the trip I was very worried about feeling unsafe through the mountain curves. Once on the bike the curves seemed way less annoying and instead it was more fun than anything. Definitely more fun than going through curves in a car, which seem more like a nuisance than anything. I would say the legroom was substantially not less but I guess different than in a car? And we communicated less than we would in a car but it was nice we could still talk whenever we wanted to and I could still critique your driving.
What did you like about the trip?
I was surprised how much I liked the time we spent on the bike. I was ready to get off it at the end of the day but also excited to get back on it whenever we had a stop. I think my time actually riding through the beautiful landscape was my favorite part of the trip, but also the wine and relaxation that came when we were done. I liked how convenient the bike was in general, all the storage, the USB ports, how we could charge our phones, talk to each other, listen to music, etc. I had tons of space just for me and could see the road and felt like I had enough space between you and I.
What was unexpected for the trip?
I really had no idea what to expect, but definitely how much I enjoyed my time riding on the bike and my comfort level on it.
What would you tell someone about the bike?
That I had an awesome time, I was comfortable and I would say if you want your wife to enjoy the ride I would recommend it. I don't have any hot takes on technical specs or whatever. It seemed to go fast? That's good, right? I cared more about the USB ports and how safe I felt.
Would you recommend riding to your friends?
As passengers, totally.
What else should readers know?
I am by no means an expert but I would like to say I think the back of the bike is really very pretty. All the lines sort of slant to a central point and I think it’s pretty beautiful. I don't see many cruising motorcycles on the road that I think are as pleasing to the eye, a mix of old and new. Some cruising motorcycles I’ve seen before just seem like a monstrosity of leather seats and chrome and it’s just a lot of just everything. With this bike no space is wasted on the eye, and it seems to me there’s a nice balance of chrome and leather; it’s just a little more elegant and in that less is more I actually think more comfortable and stylish.