Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Star Motorcycle Debuts the "Bolt" for 2014 - Product Review

Star Motorcycles’ new Bolt strikes at the heart of the cruiser market with a 942 cc V-twin engine and a dose of very assertive style. In 2005, Yamaha launched the Star sub-brand to distinguish its cruiser lineup from its sportbike, motocross and sport touring bikes. The branding effort has recently redoubled, with new advertising, bike show displays and in-dealership materials, and the Bolt launches on the platform of these refreshed efforts.

It’s impossible to explore the new Bolt without comparing and contrasting it to the Harley-Davidson Sportster, its obvious and overwhelming competitor. I own a 1993 Harley-Davidson Sportster Deluxe named “Manny,” so I’m intimately acquainted with the model.

Starting with general stance, the Bolt compares nicely with the Harley. The short (61.8″) wheelbase, with 19″ front and 16″ rear wheels helps to define a muscular, compact geometry. Unlike the current generation of Sportster, the Bolt’s engine is solid-mounted to its tubular steel frame, and functions as a stressed member of the chassis. Sportster’s engine has been rubber-mounted and isolated from the frame since 2004. Bolt’s 60-degree air-cooled V-twin sits nicely in the chassis, and its blacked-out finish with polished fin edges conveys solidity. Sportster’s 45-degree air-cooled V-twin is available with a similar finish, and it’s one of my favorite looks for an engine.

In stock form, the Bolt gets a solo seat, dirt track style handlebars and mid-mount footpegs. Seat height is a low 27.2″, and the front of the seat is narrow. Riders with short inseams are going to love the short reach to the ground and to the handlebars. At 6’2″ tall, I didn’t find the riding position at all cramped, though I observed that shorter riders looked more natural on the bike. I’ve spent plenty of time and money tweaking the ergonomics on my Sportster over the years, and I’ve recently settled on a set of handlebars that are very similar to the ones that Bolt has already. Bolt’s seat is good looking in shape, but after a day of riding, I realized that I would choose to upgrade to a more comfortable, perhaps gel-cushioned example in short order.

Bolt’s hand controls are simple and will work very well for most riders. Those with smaller hands may need to seek aftermarket or accessory help, but the clutch and brake operate with such easy pull that the vast majority of riders will be very content. My Sportster’s clutch requires a pretty healthy grip, and can cause fatigue after a full day of riding in traffic. I had no problems with the Bolt’s buttery smooth clutch, or with its five-speed transmission. Engineers explained that the transmission dogs were straight cut, as opposed to the slight angle cut that is more traditional on Yamaha gears. As a result, the gearbox responds with a solid “thunk” when you push down into first gear, a reassuring sound and feel that lets you know that the transmission is engaged. Finding neutral is foolproof and effortless, even before the bike has warmed up — a big advantage over Harley-Davidson’s sometimes impossible-to-find neutral.

Braking is accomplished with conventional, non-ABS, non-linked single 298 mm discs front and rear. Just as you’d expect, the right hand lever controls the front brake, and the rear brake operates with the right foot pedal. Braking effort feels just right, and braking is predictable and solid. Riders interested in even better brake feel may wish to upgrade to braided steel brake lines, an available accessory from Star and the aftermarket. There’s no factory upgrade available to add a second front disc. My only braking challenge with the Bolt was ergonomic — my size 14 right foot was too big to rest comfortably on the footpeg without also resting on the brake pedal, so I was forced to ride with my foot at an angle. I found out later that it’s possible to adjust the position of the brake pedal and rotate it downward to alleviate this issue, something many riders will need to do to set up their own Bolts.

Bolt comes with a trick-looking two-into-one exhaust system, which includes an oxygen sensor and exhaust gas catalyst that works with the closed-loop fuel injection system. My old Sporty has a conventional carburetor, but the current generation of Harley employs fuel injection, too. Bolt’s stock exhaust is quiet but throaty, with a healthy note that impresses without offending. If you’re in the “loud pipes save lives” camp, you’ll need to modify or replace the stock system. Star employed an interesting set of bends to get the rear cylinder’s exhaust pipe to meet up with the front. Stylish brushed aluminum guards keep the hot pipes away from your right leg and boot. The guards were somewhat less successful at blocking heat transfer, as I experienced a little bit of toasting on my thigh when I was stuck in traffic, despite a mild, 70-degree riding day. On a triple digit day in traffic, that could be very uncomfortable. But that’s one of the hazards of riding an air-cooled, unfaired motorcycle — the Sportster does little better with heat management than the Bolt.

Riding the Bolt feels very familiar to me as a Sportster rider. Bolt’s 58.2 lb-ft of peak torque arrives at 3,500 rpm (the current Sportster’s 883 variant delivers 55 lb-ft at 3,500 rpm), which makes for lively starts from stoplights, and quick bursts through gaps in traffic. Star doesn’t report horsepower ratings (neither does Harley), because this bike isn’t really about top speed, it’s about grunt. Power delivery, via belt final drive, is smooth and predictable. At 540 lbs wet, the Bolt is about 33 lbs lighter than the Sportster Iron 883. Like its competitor, the Bolt is nimble and maneuverable, with a low center of gravity and a nicely balanced feel.

Suspension travel is pretty limited, with KYB components providing 4.7″ front and 2.8″ rear. With my big body in the seat, the rear shocks bottomed out over sharp bumps, sending a jolt up my spine if I caught one unprepared. Thanks to the mid-mount footpeg position, I was able to lift off of the seat slightly when I anticipated an unavoidable bump, which mitigated the jolt. I tried out both variants of the Bolt — standard and R-Spec — to explore the difference between standard and remote reservoir rear shocks, but I didn’t notice any improvement with the R-Spec setup. Smaller riders may not experience the same jolts that I did, but there’s definitely room for improvement in the rear shock department. Just as I did with my Sportster, I’d seek out suspension upgrades for a Bolt the minute I took ownership, and I’d advise the same for new owners.

Bolt has some cool contemporary stock features that aren’t standard on the Harley. Bolt’s traditionally shaped round tail lamps and turn signals have LED lighting elements. The round instrument panel is an LCD gauge with digital speedometer readout, dual tripmeters and a clock. It’s a little hard to read in the daytime while wearing sunglasses, but looks super cool and smooth in the bargain.

Out of the box, there are just two Bolt models: the standard Bolt (starting at $7,990) and the Bolt R-Spec (starting at $8,290). Beyond some cosmetics, the difference between the models is the R-Spec’s remote reservoir shocks, a sueded vinyl seat and blacked-out mirrors. Star is ready with over 50 new accessories for the Bolt, including two-up seats, sissy bars, saddlebags and quick release windshields. Sportster is available in five variants for 2013, including two displacement engines (883 and 1200). The closest competitor for Bolt is the Iron 883, which starts at $7,999. Harley-Davidson’s telephone book-sized Parts & Accessories catalog features hundreds of geegaws and doodads to farkle the Sportster, and the aftermarket support for the model is vast.

So, the big question – Bolt or Sportster? For some buyers, it’s not even a question. It’s a Harley-Davidson or nothing. But there’s a lot to like about the Bolt. Yamaha’s reputation for reliability certainly exceeds Harley’s, even though the Motor Company has made great strides in recent years. Harley has the advantage of authenticity and heritage, but that’s an emotional link rather than any practical advantage. Bolt has a great feel, genuine usability and solid build quality that is very appealing. I have grown accustomed to Harley’s hydraulic valves, which do not require regular adjustment. Star recommends valve inspection every 4,000 miles, which isn’t that big of a deal, but doesn’t thrill me, either.

I bought my Sportster for exactly the purpose that Star says they targeted for the Bolt — as a city bike for short hops and commutes. A Big Twin was too big and wide; a sportbike didn’t suit my personal or riding style. Bolt hits the target dead center, and if I were in the market for a new bike for a similar purpose, I’d have a tough time deciding. I would probably still buy the Harley-Davidson, but it would be an emotional decision, because I have really bought in to the H-D mystique. The Bolt may be an important step in building the Star Motorcycles mystique, bringing new riders who don’t yet have a brand connection into the fold. It’s a very good bike, and worthy of consideration.

Friday, March 15, 2013

CBA Swap Meet - Charlotte, NC - Get ready for a good time

A few days ago we referenced the upcoming CBA Swap Meet in Charlotte, NC.

This event is held twice a year with "spring" and "fall" events at the Metrolina Fairgrounds.  The next meet will be the the weekend of march 23 + 24.

Here is a clip of some folks getting on the road to the event.

and...here is a 4 minute peek at the event. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Part 2 of Girls Garage

So, here it is....Part Two of the Girls Garage - Motorcycle Tips, from J&P Cycles.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Girls Garage - Motorcycle Tips Part 1

After a number of requests we are pleased to present a couple of "How To" videos, targeted for ladies.

Thanks to J&P Cycles for producing  Tech Tips for ladies.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Progressive Motorcycle Show - Charlotte, NC

The 2013 edition of the Progressive international Motorcycle Show visited Charlotte, NC a couple of weeks ago.  Since the show from last year was much the same as this one....here is a clip from 2012.

The Concerned Bikers Association show will be at the Metrolina Fairgrounds in Charlotte March 23.  If you've never been you really need to treat yourself to a few hours immersed in the biker culture.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Austin PD Find Parts Dumping Area.

More than a dozen motorcycles stolen over a number of years have all been found in the very same place....the floor of Lake Austin beneath the Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas.

Brent Mullinix with the APD Auto Theft Unit.said that parts to 15 motorcycles, one reported stolen as far back as 2005, have been recovered by the Department of Public Safety Dive Team.

The parts include a rusted out engine and several body frames.

Ckeck video from FOX-TV in Austin

Motorcycle thieves will strip a stolen motorcycle for valuable parts and discard the rest according to Mullinix.

“This is a good indication of what happens to those motorcycles that get stolen,” said Mullinix. “Based on what we are seeing, it is obvious it was someone’s pattern or some group’s pattern.”

The owners who reported the motorcycle stolen will be contacted, but Mullinix said environmental concerns are also a reason why they want all the parts recovered.

“We need to remove all the stuff from the bottom for the safety of other people and the environment.”

Thursday, March 7, 2013

If California Can do it...Why Can't S.C.?

Motorcyclists who slide between cars on crowded Bay Area roads and zip to where they're going faster than everyone else - while infuriating more than a few drivers - now have the official blessing of the California Highway Patrol.

The practice, called lane-splitting, has always been legal in California. But state authorities have never, until now, told motorcyclists how to weave the white line safely.

California is the only state in the country where lane-splitting is legal.

The new rules, which the CHP introduced in January after consulting with other state agencies and motorcycle-rider groups, apply to city streets, highways and freeways across the state.

"You should lane-split no faster than 10 mph over the speed of traffic around you, and we recommend (motorcyclists) not split at all if the traffic is faster than 30 mph."

Some car drivers see lane-splitters as borderline cheaters cutting ahead of others, but  the practice is actually safer for motorcyclists than politely staying in line in a lane.

Now.....the big question is...why can't South Carolina, have the same rules in place?