It's hard to believe that Baggers is now two years old. We're no longer a new magazine that caters to our collective love of long-distance cruisers but still strive to be the best. For the most part, our handfuls of test rides over time have focused mostly on big, large displacement motorcycles from the likes of Harley-Davidson, Victory, even a Triumph, with a couple of smaller (displacement-wise) bikes thrown in the mix, such as the Buell Ulysses XT and BMW's K1200RT. Compared to the 1700-plus-cc displacements (2,300 for the Trumpet) of the CVO's and Visions of the world, on paper the 1200's just seem plain small.
We haven't been conspiring against smaller output machines; there are just not many bikes that offer touring amenities from the factories (such as saddlebags and a windshield) in a smaller package. There sure aren't any made in America. Not everyone wants to or is comfortably capable of handling a 900-pound bike.
In the fairness of our readers we decided to give Star Motorcycles a call to thoroughly test its newest touring bike, the V Star 950 Tourer. As you might have noticed from the name the bike is powered by Star's 942cc, SOHC (one per cylinder), air-cooled 60-degree V-twin, cradled in a Softail-style frame. This latest offering adds a windshield, leather-wrapped hard saddlebags, and a passenger backrest to the naked, Star 950. The extras add around a $1,000 to the price tag, but still comes in at about $9,000. Star Motorcycles, whose parent company is Yamaha, seeks to place the 950 Tourer in the middle of the pack between the 650 and the 1,100 V Star models.
At first pass our Liquid Silver Star test bike looked very well put together, with a nice mix of contrast provided by the various shades of silver and black. Sitting on the bike proved to be an overall positive experience, as the bike looks much larger than it feels. A low seat and easy to reach, wide beach bars put the rider in a very comfortable position. Rider floorboards are placed forward allowing the legs to slightly stretch out. On the left side a nicely shaped heel/toe shifter doesn't get in the way when you want to move your foot around; the heel section lets you hang your foot off the back of the board without getting in the way. Passengers get traditional fold-up rubber covered pegs as well as a very nice sissy bar with large padded Star embossed backrest.
The two other main attractions on this bike are the lockable saddlebags (keyed the same as the ignition) and fork-mounted windshield. The hard plastic saddlebags are covered in real leather and actually work. We're often surprised at how useless, from a storage standpoint, some manufacturer's bags can be. Not the case here. The top-opening bags hold a lot of gear and securely shut with a latching mechanism inside that doesn't obstruct entry into the bag. A push button is used to undo the latch and can be easily accomplished with one hand, an important feature when it's raining outside and you have your hands full.
For the most part the fit and finish are top notch-not the kind of craftsmanship one would expect from what's essentially a budget Touring bike. The paint is well done and smooth and complemented by the mixed use of chromed and blacked out parts. A particularly nice item is the color-matched headlight bucket and chrome accents. Sitting atop the fuel tank is a teardrop-shaped dash with a large speedometer. The analog speedo contains indicator/warning lights, and digital odometer with two trip-meters. A very useful miles on 'reserve' feature pops up in the LCD when the low-fuel warning light shines orange. This helps because it takes a bit of effort to see the low-mounted speedo. Switches on the right bar control cycling between trip-meters and resetting the display. One area that indicates the lower price point of this bike is the prominent seam along the bottom edge of the gas tank. The placement of the exposed horn above the rear brake's master cylinder appears to have been an engineering afterthought. But, those are definitely not deal breaking faults, as there are so many nicely detailed bits present on this bike. Check out the custom-looking two-tone aluminum wheels; the turn signal mounts; and perfectly sized windscreen and trim.
Although the bike weighs in at a bit over 600 pounds it feels much lighter when lifting it off the easy access jiffy stand. That's mostly due to the low center of gravity and relaxed ergonomics. The aforementioned handlebars provide a nice amount of leverage that easily control the frontend at all speeds. A combination ignition/fork lock is located on the top triple tree. After turning the key and thumbing the starter button, the EFI motor comes to life without any external input. A mellow, yet distinctive note comes from the stylish two-into-one exhaust system. Clutch action is smooth and light even in the most congested traffic. A quiet, and nicely geared five-speed transmission feeds power to the rear wheel through a left-side belt and pulley, much like H-D Big Twins.
Sitting still this bike looks great, feels good to sit on, and the controls are naturally laid out. That's only the beginning though, as the 950 Tourer feels like a bona fide Touring motorcycle out on the open road. Getting to put a couple of thousand miles on the clicker during heavy rain, wind, mountains, city, and interstate revealed just how far Star has come since its 1996 inception. There's no tachometer to indicate rpm, but cruising all day above the speed limit doesn't lead to excessive vibration. Even at 85 mph there's still plenty left to accelerate to make a pass without downshifting. All five gears are spaced very well to meet the demands of hectic city or highway traffic. On the dyno the numbers might not seem huge but comparatively speaking it has roughly the same hp-per-pound as a stock H-D Touring bike. So, while it's no tire shredder, it has ample power to climb the steepest grade. All of this is accomplished with very good gas mileage too.
Star achieved its goal of producing a bike that should satisfy beginners to road-crusty veterans alike. Especially if some of the bigger Touring bikes on the market feel too big or cumbersome. The combination of ergonomics, light weight, and well-tuned suspension inspire confidence. Of course, having a bike that's this low and easy to ride often brings a tradeoff. In this case it would be the floorboards, that touch down a lot earlier than some may like. We actually got very accustomed to riding on the boards and Star did a great job of engineering them and the mounts to safely carve up the turns. Unlike some bikes, hitting the boards on the Tourer was a signal that there was more lean angle to go after. As long as you don't mind the flying sparks and sound it can be fun. Each board is hinged and features replaceable 'feelers' on the underside. A pretty nice touch and it keeps the rest of the floorboard looking new. Although the braking might seem wimpy on paper, the single front caliper worked and felt great. It easily slowed the bike down without any unwanted nosedive. Combine the front with the super grabby rear disc and be prepared for very abrupt stopping. The rear is almost too good-easily locked up, especially for heavy/stomping rear-brake, newbies.
Wind protection was excellent due to the size and shape of the Star windshield. It's broad yet not very tall in either direction. Anyone over 5-foot-six should be able to see over the screen, not having to look through it while riding. Wind buffeting was nonexistent, nor was the sailboat effect observed during heavy crosswinds. More kudos to the engineers who obviously designed this to work right as opposed to some companies that just bolt a piece of clear plastic to the frontend.
As you can see there are definitely alternatives on the market to satisfy our need to travel on two wheels. In this case bigger is not always better and the V Star 950 Tourer should be on anyone's test-ride list this year. You get big bike looks, comfort, and Touring capabilities along with a very budget-minded price tag. Add to that hundreds of available factory-designed accessories to personalize it how you want it and the Star looks better and better.
|2009 STAR V STAR 950 TOURER|
|ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN|
|TYPE||942cc, SOHC, air-cooled 60-degree V-twin|
|POWER||45.2hp@5750/ 54.7 lb-ft @3000|
|BORE X STROKE||85.0mm x 83.0mm|
|CLUTCH||Multiplate wet clutch|
|FRONT||41mm, 5.3 in. travel|
|REAR||Single shock, 4.3 in. travel|
|SEAT HEIGHT||26.5 in|
|FUEL CAPACITY||4.4 gal|
|FUEL ECONOMY||44 mpg**|
|WET WEIGHT||612 lb|
|WARRANTY||1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)|
MSRP $8,990 (Raven or Black Cherry)
As tested, $9,090 (Liquid Silver)
*Actual results; Dyno testing by Gene Thomason of Gene's Speed Shop in Carson, CA.
** Actual mpg