by Victor Wanchena
This month has seen some firsts for Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly. We’ve moved into our first real office, we tested our first fully dressed touring bike, and I admitted I was wrong. The bike is one of Yamaha’s newest editions to the Royal Star line, the Venture, and I was wrong for thinking that I would not like the Venture. Consider this my apology. I have always considered large touring machines to be appropriate only for retired couples with matching helmets and jackets, who crisscross the country in their alternative to an RV. Boy was I misguided. The comfort and usefulness of the machine is easily appreciated even if you didn’t just ride 500 miles.
The Venture, as you may recall, is the resurrected name from Yamaha’s luxury tourer meant to take on Honda’s dominance with the Goldwing. But it faired none to well and went to sleep with the fishes some years ago. Now for 1999 it is back with a vengeance. Using the same V-four motor found in the Royal Star and V-Max, the Venture is Yamaha’s first attempt in many years at a market dominated by Wings and the Harley FL line. By combining the mildly vintage looks of the Royal Star with a long list of standard features and a reasonable price, Yamaha hopes buyers will give the Venture a chance.
At the center of the Venture is the 1294 cc V-four engine that is based on the V-Max motor and is also found on it’s cousin the Royal Star. Interestingly it was the same motor used in the original Venture, but it has been completely re-styled on the exterior with generous amounts of chrome and fake fins bolted on to give it that air-cooled look. The good news is that Yamaha took the advice of the public and boosted the engine’s output to a respectable 98 horsepower by increasing the size of the carbs and fiddling with valves and camshafts. This means the Venture has no problems lugging around the extra weight of all its touring gear. The engine hop ups are combined with a five speed transmission that features wide spacing between the ratios and the fifth gear acting as an overdrive. This all keeps the motor purring gently, never needing to be revved very hard to accelerate. The final drive is the usual shaft setup that is maintenance free and that’s the way it should be.
Now as one might guess the Venture is a very large motorcycle with a dry weight of 807 pounds–that means it needs big suspension, big brakes, and big tires and that is exactly what it has. The front forks and rear monoshock are air adjustable so they can be tailored to your load and riding style. The brakes are large diameter twin discs up front and a single in the rear. They work very well considering the Venture can weigh well over 1200 pounds fully loaded. It rolls on 150 mm wide tires, a 16 inch in front and 15 inch at the rear. The engineers at Yamaha also beefed up the frame and added extra bracing from the engine to the frame as a way of stiffening the entire chassis.
All the above items are fine, but what really makes a touring rig are the goodies. The luggage, fairing, and electronic stuff that help make rolling off the miles a breeze. Up front the Venture has a full coverage fairing that stretches wide enough to keep your hands and elbows out of the breeze and creates a nice bubble of air around the rider. I felt no buffeting at all no matter where I stuck my head. This, combined with large fairing lowers, will keep the wind and the rain off you regardless of the conditions. In fact the average temperature on my ride was 45 degrees and yet I stayed comfortable in standard summer riding gear. The luggage is your standard trunk and saddle bags. The trunk is very large and easily swallows two full face helmets or a week’s worth of clothes for a run across four time zones. The side bags are of moderate size and all the luggage has rubber gaskets to seal out the weather and foam padded bottoms.
My favorite part of the Venture were all the little electronic toys. The speedometer is actually an LCD display that shows a needle that sweeps across a ten inch span and has a decidedly 1950s automotive look. Included are two odometers and a fuel gauge. The radio is almost too nice with am/fm and cassette, CB radio and intercom built in. All the audio controls are bar mounted and fairly simple to operate once you have figured out all the options. The wiring for the headset microphones is installed at the factory and requires no long evening in the garage cussing while you try to decipher the wiring diagram. To top it off there is a cruise control system lest your right hand become sore.
Now we come to the part where I admit the error of my ways. As I walked around the Venture I thought sure it’s pretty with in two-tone silver and beige paint, but this kind of riding just isn’t my bag. I threw a leg over and thought “Man is this a big ride,” and I was right. While sitting at a stop you feel the Venture’s weight, but once the bike begins forward motion it all disappears.
Even stone cold it fired right up and within a minute was running off of choke. As I sat back in the seat, the radio belting some swing songs, I was elated. It was then that a realized that I could really get in to a bike like this. I easily moved through traffic with plenty of power on tap, but I didn’t need it . I felt no desire to race along and challenge every corner, instead being supremely content to cruise and enjoy the ride. The suspension soaked up all the bumps even on pot-holed parkways and the wide ratios on the transmission kept me from shifting any too much. And for the first time a set of mirrors gave me a view of the traffic I was leaving behind–not the wear patches on my jacket elbows.
It now made sense, all the loyal touring bike riders had figured it out. Why fight the wind and the rain on a buzzing little machine when you can travel in comfort eating miles like they’re going out of style. Granted this is not the right machine to fight through tight urban streets on and it may be overkill on grocery runs, but not a bad choice for freeway commutes.
My only real problem with the Venture is that it is a tough machine to maneuver around a parking lot. Despite a low seat height of 29.5 inches, your legs are splayed wide around the gas tank and that makes the Venture cumbersome when backing out of a parking spot or rolling around the garage. You must be mindful of this weight at stops lest it pitch over on you and become an 800 pound beached whale. This seems to be the price you pay for all the conveniences of a touring bike. Other than that what a great bike. A touring ride unlike the rest including the price of $16,000 and that includes a five year warranty and roadside assistance program. That’s almost four grand less than a similarly equipped Goldwing. So if you dare to be converted take one for spin.
by Tammy Vrieze
I spent my Wednesday night lounging in a leather chair, crooning to Peggy Lee with my arms around my boyfriend–I was a passenger aboard a new version of the Yamaha Venture. I was in the lap of luxury cruising the parkways around the lakes with nothing to do but enjoy the scenery. It had been a while since I strayed from the driver’s seat and it felt kind of good to free my hands from the bars.
The Venture offers passengers a well padded and spacious seat with a full backrest. I had plenty of leg room and my feet felt firmly planted on the floor boards. The luggage on the bike did not invade my space but would easily swallow my helmet and jacket. The real treat was the bike’s four speaker stereo. I could hear the radio above the noise of the wind and through my helmet.
Despite the height of the passenger seat I could mount the bike with little trouble, but was not as graceful dismounting. The problem was not due to cramped legs after an hour’s worth of riding, but simply that my leg doesn’t like to bend that way. The forty degree temperature would normally take its toll on me, but with the Venture’s excellent weather protection it was a non-factor. My favorite part of the ride was watching the bike’s $16,000 price tag that was hanging on the rear view mirror flapping in the wind.