History has a habit of constantly repeating itself by bringing back what-once-was, but quite often in a slightly different and modern form, and always better than the previous era. Many things can be learned by paying attention to the past and building on previous knowledge. While the original chopper/bobber has been around for 60-plus years, they have made a resurgence in the last number of years with some major help from television. Just as those very TV shows that began the most recent custom motorcycle craze begin to fade, it seems that 2008 may be an important year for the chopper with a couple of the world’s biggest motorcycle manufacturers, Yamaha and Harley-Davidson, releasing variations to their respective line-ups of what can be considered factory customs. Harley-Davidson has released the Rocker and the Rocker C while Yamaha has jumped ahead of its Japanese competition and released the XV1900, a long, low-slung, raked-out, big rear tire factory custom. Anyone who has a soft spot for the most recent variation of custom bikes can take one look at the new Yamaha and you just know that it ‘looks right’.
Yamaha Canada calls the new factory custom the XV1900. While in the States, where it is released under Yamaha’s cruiser division, ‘Star Motorcycles’, it’s called the Raider. It’s pretty obvious that the name XV1900 does not conjure up images of a long, sleek and sexy chopperesque-type bike, but the name Raider could not be used in Canada due to copyright issues. Even typing the name XV1900 is painful, but the most radical cruiser product to arrive from any of the import manufacturers is far from painful on the eyes.
It’s hard to keep in mind that the XV1900 is a factory Yamaha and not a one-off creation from the pro builder around the corner. A lot of thought and research went into the design, ergonomics and styling of this bike, including polling the American public as to what they like about custom bikes and what they would like to see in a factory custom.
The first thing to hit you in the eyeballs is the big rake and long forks that kick the big 21-inch hoop out front and the rear end that carries a 210 mm tire, the largest in Yamaha’s history. In between the front and rear hoops, your eyes are drawn to the huge air-cooled V-twin engine and then to the lines of the bike that carry-on throughout. The lines make it seem as though the bike is slammed in the rear, biting into the pavement while the front reaches for the sky, as if it’s taking off from the start line at the drag strip.
Secondly, is the radical type of styling. Words like gothic, evil, black art and wicked come to mind. Popular styles that much of the chopper world plays on. Bringing this gothic design to the table is world-renowned motorcycle designer Jeff Palhegyi, who is the driving force behind the XV1900’s design. Palhegyi is no stranger to Yamaha customization and has shown his custom creations around the world, both privately and through corporate Yamaha. He was an important part in the design and development of Yamaha’s Road Star, Warrior, Roadliner and Stratoliner motorcycles.
The XV1900 comes in two styles, the XV1900 Custom and the XV1900 Custom ‘S’ models, the differences being the chrome and paint packaging. While the standard Custom model has many powder-coated black trim pieces, mostly on the front-end like the triple clamps, signal housings, risers, clutch and brake master cylinders, headlight pot, wheels, a few engine pieces and covers, the Custom ‘S’ model has those items chromed with polished wheels.
The demo model I had for two weeks was the XV1900 Custom and because they hadn’t been released in Canada yet, my demo was an American model. After I realized I was going faster than everyone else on the road, it dawned on me that the speedo was in miles per hour. From then on I had to convert miles to kilometers, something I haven’t had to do for many years even though I still quite often refer to speed in miles per hour. Old habits die hard. Other than the speedo being in MPH, the Canadian model is identical.
View from the seat is a low chopper inspired version with fists breaking the wind at chest height, boots out front in a classic chopper-riding stance, and the fuel tank rises up in front of you to relieve most of the windblast off your chest, making you feel as though you are sitting ‘in’ the bike, and not ‘on’ the bike. The fat 1.25-inch diameter handlebars conceal the internal wiring for a clean view just below eye level. The look is one of confidence and attitude, the riding position is astonishingly comfortable and the manoeuvrability is quite agile despite the long rake and wide rear tire.
My longest day riding the XV1900 began as a frosty fall day but the weatherman promised warmer temperatures in late morning. I decided to head north to take in some fall colours and see how this long chopper style bike would tackle the twisting roads of Muskoka’s cottage country. I desperately try to stay away from this area in the summer, but in the fall the traffic is minimal and the bugs have packed it in for the winter. Actually, there was one left but I took him out with my right cheek. While riding the roads around rock cuts and lakes, I can attest to the relative nimble handling of the XV1900, even with the long rake and fat 210 mm tire out back.
The frame rake is 33-degrees and another 6-degrees has been added to the triple trees for a combined rake of 39-degrees. Until this year, that was a pretty crazy number for a factory-produced motorcycle. Factor in the long wheelbase of 1,799 mm (70.8 in) (3 inches longer than the Roadliner) and a fat 210 mm rear tire and the first things that come to mind is how is this bike going to react to corners, and just as importantly, slow speed manoeuvrability? Generally speaking, a high degree of rake makes a motorcycle track straight on the open road but inhibits slow speed manoeuvres and cornering, as does a long wheelbase and a wide rear tire. By adding the extra 6-degrees in the triple trees, the engineers at Yamaha were able to keep a proper amount of trail in the steering geometry to increase the slow speed handling factor and that contributes to very civilized low speed manoeuvrability. After a little practice, feet up slow-speed U-turns are possible and while the big tire out back does require a little extra push on the handlebar in a corner, it does not make the bike unwieldy at all, leaving left to right transitions easy to handle. Lock-to-lock steering radius is reduced by the high degree of rake though when trying to turn around in a garage for instance.
Although it might look like a stretch, the riding position is very comfortable. The big risers push the handlebar back to the rider at chest height, the handgrips are positioned at the proper angle so as to not strain the wrists and the footpegs are perfectly positioned for my 32-inch inseam. The stylish wide seat provides ample comfort for long hours in the saddle and the deep seat pocket and passenger portion of the seat offers some lower back support. The positioning of the footpegs, handlebar and seat should provide comfort for a wide range of rider heights and proportions. While riding this bike I had many requests from people wanting to sit on it and while all of them varied in size, they all felt the bike’s ergonomics fit them.
While the minimalist bike doesn’t feel like it, it weighs in at a hefty 314 kg (691 lbs) dry. Helping in the ‘one size fits all department’ is the low seat height and the low centre of gravity. The combination of the engine sitting low in the frame and a portion of the fuel tank residing under the seat helps to keep the bike well balanced and a seat height of only 695 mm (27.4 in) makes it easy for most everyone to plant both feet flat on the ground for good leverage and control.
The seat was quite comfortable for many hours at a time and while the rear suspension is stiffer than other Yamaha cruisers, it was not unbearable in any way. Some of the roads in my travels on the XV1900 were rough and the front-end handled those bumps without issue. The stiff rear suspension was rougher on the lower back and kidneys but that ride is not unusual for a slammed bike of this style and the rear end’s 88.9 mm (3.5 in) of travel never bottomed-out. The rear shock is tucked way up under the transmission between the frame rails. While it would be hard to get to, the shock does provide spring preload adjustment that may make the ride a little softer.
The clutch is hydraulic and a little on the stiff side. Not a problem for everyday riding and I don’t think it would pose a problem in stop and go traffic for most riders. The front brake’s sleek hydraulic reservoir is a mirror image of the clutch side. While the clutch and front brake levers are not adjustable, they are easy to reach and pulling the lever shouldn’t be a problem for most hand sizes. All other hand controls are easy to reach and operate. The right side of the switchgear has an extra switch for the right thumb that activates the optional driving/spot lights. There is an extra switch on the front of the left switch housing for the left forefinger to toggle through the different modes on the LCD mileage display so your left hand never has to leave the grip except to reset the trip meters. The toggle switch changes from mileage, trip 1 and 2, clock and the LCD also displays a low fuel trip meter that counts up from zero when the low fuel light first gives its warning, just in case you know how far you can go before you run out of gas.
Speaking of running out of gas, I didn’t, but I wanted to see when the low fuel light was going to come on. The fuel gauge in my mind was getting dangerously low to empty, all right, it was on empty, but I persevered on my solo ride because I have an inquiring mind and I wanted to know when the light came on. Although I didn’t know exactly where I was in relation to a gas station, I was making mental notes with the trip meter to know how far away I was from the last station I just passed so I could make an informed decision of continuing forward or to turn around. The light finally came on at 230 km leaving only about 3 litres left in the tank.
Mounted in a chromed gothic-style housing on the fuel tank, the analog speedo is easy to read and incorporates an analog fuel gauge in the lower right side of the gauge. All idiot lights are also incorporated on the speedo face and the trip meter reset button is located just below the speedometer.
Stopping power on the 120/70-21 inch front Metzeler tire and wheel is dealt with by using a pair of 298 mm full-floating brake rotors that are pinched by 4-piston monoblock calipers. Stopping power is exceptional on the front with the lever providing a good solid feel. The rear 310 mm disc has a single-piston caliper hanging below the swingarm to keep it out of sight. The rear brake foot pedal is easy to reach and takes little pressure to begin applying the rear brake. The huge rear tire helps in the braking department with a large contact patch given up by the 210/40-18 Metzeler tire. For those who think that the rear boot should be bigger yet, a representative at Yamaha Canada told me that the 210-section tire could be replaced by a 240 without any modifications at all.
The shift lever, like the brake pedal, is easy to reach and operate. Shifting from first to second is a little on the heavy side as it passes through neutral but that is not unusual for a high-torque V-twin engine. Shifting is smooth and quiet rowing through the remaining gears in the five-speed gearbox. Delivering power to the rear wheel comes via a newly developed 31.4 mm Carbon Fibre belt. By comparison the Roadliner drive belt is 39.2 mm wide. This skinny belt is one reason the rear bun can be swapped out for a 240-section tire.
At the other end of the trans-mission is the 1854 cc (113 ci) air-cooled V-twin engine, the same engine as the Roadliner and Stratoliner sans oil cooler between the frame’s down tubes, cleaning up that area a little bit. Thanks to the skinny front wheel and fender, more air is able to come into contact with the engine, thus allowing better air-cooling. The engine is of a dry-sump design leaving the oil tank and dipstick under the seat. Owners of previous Yamaha air-cooled V-twins can rejoice knowing that oil changes on the new engines are a breeze with an easy to get to spin-off and -on oil filter.
Fuel delivery is by way of a closed-loop electronic fuel injection system using dual 43 mm throttle bodies and 12-hole injectors. The pushrod actuated 4-valve per cylinder heads boast dual sparkplugs, a 9.5:1 compression ratio and the under-tank air box provides a direct intake path for more efficient combustion meaning strong torque and horsepower at low RPM. The above combination allows the engine to give up a whopping 123 ft-lbs of torque at only 2500 rpm and maximum horsepower is at 4500 rpm. When desired, this bike launches from a stoplight and easily leaves everything and everybody in its dust. The same is true on the highway while passing all those pesky cages, no downshift necessary.
Starting the engine was con-sistent regardless of temperature. Thumbing the starter button rolled the engine over both of the long 118 mm strokes of the pistons and then the engine sprang to life. The engine is very well behaved on the highway thanks to the dual counter-rotating balance shafts. While they did an admirable job of removing almost all vibration, I could still feel the pulse of the power strokes of the big V-twin. There was some vibration in the mirrors on the highway and in the handgrips but it was of no concern. I didn’t feel any vibration in the footpegs or the seat.
The large 2-1-2 EXUP valve equipped down-swept exhaust has a nice throaty sound that is sure to please anyone who likes the rumble of a V-twin, but quiet enough to keep those against loud pipes at bay. The exhaust is also equipped with a dual honeycomb matrix catalyzer to help reduce emissions exiting the tailpipe.
While a bike of this styling is usually thought of as a city cruiser and not for long distance travel, I found it quite comfortable riding for about two and a half hours at a time. That is the approximate length of time it takes to go through a full tank of fuel. I averaged 5.6 L/100 km (50 mpg). On the 15.5 litre tank, that should yield about 275 km before running out of gas.
For those who worry about being out at night, fear not. The one night I rode was a moonless jet-black night in the country, but the low beam pierced the night in front of me as if it were daylight. Switching to high beam easily lit up both ditches and not once did I feel I was out-driving the available light.
I reluctantly returned the XV1900 to its place of origin after riding it constantly for two weeks. Upon handing the key over I was asked, “Give me three bad things and three good things about the bike”. Caught a little off guard at the question, I couldn’t think of any ‘bad’ things except for possibly the harsher rear suspension that is not common on the other Yamaha cruisers I have ridden. Now I have had time to think about my ‘three bad things’.
My only complaints about the bike are somewhat insignificant. They are: a harsh ride as I mentioned but such is the nature of the beast, the horn placement (seems to be an afterthought) and the lack of a name other than the model designation. It was a stretch to come up with these three complaints if you could even call them that. The ride is more than adequate for this style of bike and I’m unfairly comparing it to other Yamaha cruisers that deliver an exceptionally plush ride. I spent many hours in the saddle on this bike without irritation. As for the placement of the horn hanging out in mid-air on the bottom left frame rail, that can easily be moved and tucked away. As for the XV1900’s lame name, I think a bike like this should have a catchy or seductive name. I’m thinking you can call it what you want but my bet is that most people will call it a Raider regardless.
The ‘three good things’? I could give you way more than three. The bike is awesome in all respects and if I were looking for a minimalist bike to take me to the countryside or cruise the main vein of any town, the Raider, er, XV1900 would be one very serious contender to share space in my stable.
No one I spoke with had seen the XV1900 with the exception of a handful who had seen photos, so I was overwhelmed with questions whenever I stopped. Many people sat on it and were truly impressed with how it felt. I think I could have sold about five of them over those two weeks. I wonder if Yamaha pays commission?
Prices range from $17,999 to $18,699 depending on which model and paint scheme you choose. Yamaha has a winner here and this bike will certainly be a good seller, be prepared to see a lot of them on the road next summer.
For more info go to www.yamaha-motor.ca