by Neale Bayly
On a beautiful, hazy February morning while the frozen North was living up to its name, I arrived at the California Speedway in Fontana for the Yamaha Speedstar Products Day. The event was the brainchild of Yamaha’s Public Relations Manager, Brad Banister, and was held to give myself and 11 other journalists the chance to sample the Yamaha Speedstar performance products line developed for the Road Star and the Road Star Warrior. To help the evaluation, stock models were available for comparison, and an informative Power Point presentation and talk was held before we took to the track.
During our product review meeting, John Powers informed us of the huge 292 per cent growth that Yamaha has experienced in Cruiser sales since 1997. Compare that to an overall growth rate of 135 percent for the industry as a whole and you can see Yamaha is enjoying much deserved success here. Break this down further to the over-1201cc segment of the market and Yamaha has experienced a phenomenal growth of 576 percent compared to the industry’s 142 percent. Obviously, this is a very significant market for Yamaha and as company that listens to their customers, they quickly realized the need for a range of performance products. The Star line of accessories has shot up from around 100 items in 1996 to over 750 in 2002, so it only seemed natural to offer bigger horsepower as another option in the shape of the Speedstar performance kits.
Now I have to admit, the thought of drag racing cruisers has always seemed a little strange to me. I have a picture in my mind of Bob and Doris, suitably kitted in matching bad boy and bad girl attire rumbling down a quiet highway en-route to their favorite eatery. I have also seen and heard plenty about the new generation of power cruisers, but still tend to lump them in that section of my mind that says, “laid back and relaxed”. Not so anymore! After blitzing the quarter mile in around 12 seconds (the fast guys went 11.5) and watching the speedometer massacre the 120 mph mark at the end of the strip on a kitted Road Star Warrior, I have seen the light.
Our day on the California Dragway started getting used to the track on stock Road Stars. My times were in the fifteen second area lowering into the middle-fourteen second bracket after a few tries. I have not drag raced before so I was noticeably slower than most of my fellow scribes, but the bike’s easy manners had me gaining on them by the time we switched to the “kitted” Road Stars. From the moment I thumbed the starter and the engine fired, sucking air into the high compression cylinders and barking through it’s “closed course competition exhaust,” I knew this one was no stocker. It was actually a Stage IV kitted engine, which is the “Full Monty.” With four kits available to allow you to customize your motorcycle’s state of tune. A trip through the 2003 Star Accessories & Apparel catalogue would probably be advised to get all the details. I can tell you the prices start at $459.95 for the Stage I Competition Kit and they go all the way up to $4,629.95 for the stage IV. What you get at this point is a huge 85 percent increase in horsepower. My best times through the quarter mile on the Stage IV Road Star was 12.847 seconds @ 104.34 mph. Ex-professional drag racer Larry Laye got this down to 12.402 seconds.
Basically, Stage I gives you a jet kit, ignition module and a new competition air filter with a Speedstar cover. Stage IV adds a 45 mm Mikuni HSR carburetor, high-compression forged pistons and a competition gasket set. Above the new pistons, the heads are ported, dual valve springs are used, new competition camshafts installed and a high-flow intake manifold attached. There is a competition pushrod tube, lifter block and roller lifter set and competition clutch springs to keep the power hooking up. Like the Road Star Warrior, a new exhaust system is used, only it is a 2-1-2 on the Road Star. The Stage II and Stage III kits fall somewhere in between the two. For those of you who like to improve your bikes in incremental steps, there is good news. Yamaha offers “Step-up Kits.” This allows you to start with a Stage II kit and move to Stage III. Then when you are ready, move to a stage IV.
Road Stars were parked and amidst a bunch of grinning faces, it was time to head to lunch. The stories grew taller and the excuses for various botched runs and slow times got better as we headed back to the strip for the Road Star Warriors. As I mentioned earlier, I have read a lot about the Warrior and in stock trim, it is one of the major power brokers in this league. Immediate impressions were of a quiet, smooth, civilized motorcycle that sucked in the end of the drag strip with consummate ease in a best time of 12.93 seconds @ 101.38 mph. This was only a fraction of a second slower than the kitted Road Star, but with the stock engine, muffler and intake system, it was deceptive.
The Stage IV Speedstar performance kit offered for the Warrior is for closed- course competition only and is said to give an increase in horsepower of around 25 percent. Retailing for $2,999.95, you get new high-compression pistons (stock bore), competition valve springs and competition camshafts. Also included are: a gasket set to match, a high-flow fuel injector set and a competition 2-1-1 megacone exhaust system to whisk away the burned gasses. To further aid the intake side of the equation, there is a competition velocity stack that includes pre-filters to keep small children and animals from being sucked into the huge cylinders. A stronger clutch takes the power to the back wheel, and a new stage IV ECU allows the bike’s ignition and fuel map to work with your newly installed performance parts.
All of these changes result in a real hundred-plus rear-wheel horsepower and a seriously strong pulling engine. Balancing wheel spin and forward motion was certainly a much harder task on the “kitted” Warrior than on any of the three other bikes I rode and, try as I might, my inexperience did not allow me to break into the eleven-second bracket. Top dogs, Larry Laye and Walt Fulton, fought it out in the 11.5-second bracket, with Laye eventually taking top honors for the day. Being around a half second slower than a couple of guys that have raced professionally made me realize what an incredible job Yamaha has done with these engine kits. I also like the fact that Yamaha manufactures them, They can be installed at your local Yamaha dealer and they come with a 90-day warranty, while not voiding your machine’s factory warranty, something that cannot be said for most aftermarket performance kits. There are a couple of things to be aware of here though: labor to replace defective parts is not covered and there are some exclusions, such as abnormal strain or abuse. Have the kit installed at your local dealer, (about a six-eight hour process),
I got to take a few more runs after the official racing was over, and hung around for a time shooting the breeze with some of the other journalists. I think everyone was as impressed as I was and, with the popularity of the Hot Rod Cruiser Class in AMA Prostar drag racing right now, think Yamaha has come up with a winning formula here. This class has been dominated this year by the “Patrick Racing” Road Star Warrior and has seen more than a 50 percent increase in the number of entries over last year. Where I think the Speedstar performance kits will be seen most though is in Street E.T handicap racing. As the back bone of drag racing, these kits will make a lot of sense for the hobby racer who wants to go consistently quick with a high degree of reliability in this class. Of course, you know a few of these are going to end up on the streets as well, so watch out it if you are intending to leave that cruiser in your dust, it might just be a stage IV- kitted Road Star Warrior.