Southern Comfort: Bullz-Eye goes down south to sample Star’s metric cruisers

The South has played a large part in forging the identity of the United States. Its influences include BBQ, country music, NASCAR, and taking life a little bit slower than those in the north. It is the region of good times and good old boys. And if there’s one segment of motorcycles that defines the entire U.S. industry, it’s the heavy cruiser. Nowhere else do these big, bellowing beasts sell in such large numbers.

They’re so important, in fact, that 50% of all motorcycles sold in the U.S. are cruisers. And with all that money on the table, the segment is crucial for many brands to be successful in the United States. Yamaha knows this too. Since 2004, Yamaha’s Star brand has had a double-barreled focus on selling more metric cruisers. So here we are, deep in the heart of Dixie to test Star’s newest motorcycles, because if you find success here, you can make it anywhere in the U.S.

Origin of Star

Yamaha is not new to selling cruisers, and neither are their Japanese competitors. Termed “Metric Cruisers,” these Japanese bikes have been available for some time, but like the metric system as a whole, adoption has been spotty at best. Reason being, many of the metric cruisers didn’t have the qualities customers wanted. They may have been more reliable, but they looked flimsy, had plastic instead of metal in most places, and didn’t offer the attitude that cruiser customers wanted. Star’s goal is to create bikes that change those perceptions.

Since 1978, Yamaha has sold cruisers. However, customer research showed that this dissuaded many potential customers since they didn’t want to be associated with Yamaha’s supersport products like the R1. They were into style, not speed. So for their more basic tastes and needs, Yamaha branched out their cruisers under the Star banner in 2004. Star has its own team inside Yamaha devoted to giving their customers the experience they want: high style, large customization and a reasonable amount of refinement.

With this focus, Star has a full lineup of cruisers to fit a bike for every person and every need. From the starter bike V Star 250, all the way up to full baggers like the Stratoliner Deluxe, Star has a full portfolio that drives home their brand values. Star had all their products available to ride in Atlanta, but one stuck out in particular to show what they are trying to accomplish.

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Classic Looks, Modern Protection: The Roland Sands Tracker Jacket

Motorcycle gear tends to be very intense. It screams from across the room, “PLEASE ASK ME ABOUT MY MOTORCYCLE.” Logos, scoops and bright peacock colors grab attention in all the wrong ways if you’re just trying to hang out at a local dive bar instead of careening through corners. In response, many motorcyclists turn to more classically styled gear that blends in with the crowd.

However, most jackets may not have the armor you need while on a bike. This presents a problem. You want the look that you just stepped out of the 1960s, but need the protection the new millennium has given us. Roland Sands Design (RSD) has just the product for you.

RSD is known more for its custom bikes than its apparel, but last year, RSD took the plunge by offering retro styled motorcycle apparel with modern protection. With his bikes, he takes modern machinery and turns back the clock just enough to give a retro feel without the pitfall of trying too hard to look cool. This design ethos has been transferred to their gear offerings as well.

The Tracker jacket is a perfect example of this. Before dirt bikers started wearing exposed armor and billowy blouses, the likes of Steve McQueen would blast around the dirt in boots, Levi’s and thick cotton/canvas coats. The Tracker jacket brings this style back.

Many people think of leather when a motorcycle jacket is brought up, but the Tracker eschews leather for waxed cotton. Why is waxed cotton better than leather? For protection, it’s not, but leather often makes you look like you are just trying way to hard to look cool. Also, the fit and construction of leather make it tough to flatter your figure. More often than not, the result is you looking like the Fonz instead of Marlon Brando. However, if you really want leather, RSD has those too.

Custom touches also give the jacket an heirloom feel. Some examples are the gussets and satin interior lining that harken back to an era when you would repair an article of clothing rather than toss it away. Plus, you’d be hard pressed to find just who made it since the only logo is embossed on the sleeve in a matching brown tone. You could easily get away with telling people its an heirloom piece, but please don’t do that.

But waxing nostalgically won’t keep you safe on a bike. Asphalt does not care that your jacket was designed from a different era, or that that chick at the concert was into it, but that’s wear the armor comes in. The Tracker jacket can be outfitted with armor in the shoulders, elbow and back. This is a huge step up from some other vintage styled jackets that offer only leather as a protection.

That being said, the waxed cotton won’t have nearly the same sliding resistance of thick leather or Cordura, but should fit the needs of those riding on the street. Plus, $390 is right in the thicket of quality motorcycle pieces.

So, skip the yuppie motorcycle gear that only looks like it can protect you, fire up any vintage bike of your choice, and don the Tracker Jacket. With style out of the 1960s, it definitely answers the question, “What would Don Draper ride with?”

  

Icon breaks the 5 myths of motorcycle gear

“Uncomfortable,” “pricey” and “not necessary” are often heard from people who don’t wear gear when riding motorcycles. The reason being is that typically gear is seen as being constricting and cowardly. Why wear gear? You’re a total hard ass, and you’re such a good rider you don’t need it. However, nothing is harder than the pavement.

So yes, gear is necessary while riding a bike, but just because it protects you doesn’t mean it has to look stupid. In fact, with modern constructing and materials, motorcycle armor is both attractive and safe. Working with Icon, here are five misconceptions you may have about motorcycle gear, and why they just aren’t true.

5. Motorcycle gear is uncomfortable

One misconception about motorcycle gear is that it’s uncomfortable. Regardless of if it’s safe, people whine that it’s too hot and too bulky; they just feel more comfortable without it. Icon’s Compound Jacket and Strongarm 2 pants say otherwise.

The Compound jacket is a hybrid, but not the nerdy car kind. Leather where you slide and textile to keep the weight down; you barely feel the jacket at all. It also has a bevy of adjustable vents to keep the cool air flowing. Most importantly, the Compound has armor on the elbows, shoulders and back. This jacket has the protection you need and the comfort you want, all in one package.

For the other half of your body there are the Strongarm 2 Enforcer pants. Rather than full motorcycle pants that are unbearable to wear any time off the bike, the Strongarm 2 Enforcers look and feel like normal jeans. And aside from the Aramid reinforced knee plates, they basically are. This is good for comfort, but I would recommend purchasing the optional kneepads for more protection. But still, the comfort and style of jeans with the protection of traditional motorcycle pants is a fantastic bargain.

4. Motorcycle gear is ugly

No one wants to wear clothes that look stupid. Luckily, if you want to be protected on a bike, you can choose not to look like a rolling safety cone. Icon’s mission is to get people to wear gear, regardless of their tastes and preferences. Because of this, they design gear that will appeal to everyone from the guy looking for something subtle, to those looking to make more of a statement.

For instance, the compound jacket is firmly in the former category. Aside from the red logo on the small, exposed armor plate on the back, the all-black Compound jacket is subdued and stylish. The fit is spot on – snug but not tight – and the quality is top notch. Being all black, it’s as if the classic leather motorcycle jacket was updated for the 21st century. It makes a statement, without screaming it, or sacrificing safety for style.

In the latter category are the Strongarm 2 pants. If you are a firm extrovert and want everyone to be able to spot you from a mile away, buy these jeans. The wash is dark, and the fit is straight, but that’s where the subtlety ends. These pants are packed with embellishments. Fake stiches, contrasting colors on the pockets, and the cherry on top, a giant skull and crossbones on the back pocket. These pants are not for shrinking violets.

The Alliance Torrent helmet continues this theme. Skulls, stars, slashes and streaks are all over the place on this piece. It’s a basically a fireworks display on your head. It is a bit subtler because the black graphics are set against a dark silver background, but it definitely isn’t a piece that blends with the crowd. The best part, though, is that both the jeans and helmet can be had in more subtle colors and design schemes. So if you want to ride under the radar, or into the spotlight, pick whatever armor suits your taste and ride on.

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Bullz-Eye Gets Back to Basics with Harley-Davidson

It started, as these things invariably do, with an email from a publicist.

The situation was thus: the fine folks from Harley-Davidson were looking to shine the light on the ’72 Harley, the latest and greatest model from their Dark Custom Line, with an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago’s Wild Fire Harley-Davidson. Fair enough…except for the fact that I don’t own a motorcycle, it’s been more than ten years since I’ve ridden on a motorcycle, and, given that the ride in question – on the back of my brother-in-law’s bike – was so goddamned terrifying (he turned a corner, my feet dragged on the ground, and I was convinced that both our asses were about to hit the fucking pavement) that I’ve never thought for even so much as a moment about buying a motorcycle.

Ah, but the pitch wasn’t just about motorcycles. Indeed, the phrase used to describe the expedition was “a jam-packed day of ass-kicking and whiskey drinking.” Now, not being much of a scrapper, I can take or leave the former, but when you bring up the latter…? Sir, you have my undivided attention.

And that, my friends, is how I came to get…

Pre-Game

Because of the designated start time on Saturday and the terribly unhelpful flight times from my home base from Norfolk (ORF) to Chicago, it was agreed that the most convenient time for me to arrive into O’Hare would actually be on Friday…and after this was agreed upon, I then begged, pleaded, and ultimately annoyed my hosts into getting me on the earliest possible flight, so as to be in Chicago for as long as possible.

Coming down the escalator, I was met by a driver holding up a card with my name on it, which is an experience that every flier should have at least once in their life. In short order, I had been deposited at the front door of The Drake Hotel, a gorgeous establishment right in the heart of the city, and – to my utter amazement – I was able to check in immediately, go right up to my room, drop off my bags, and hit the streets of Chicago.

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Harley-Davidson Softail Slim Review

Many have claimed that rock is dead, and if recent trends are anything to go by, they may be right. As the Black Keys’ screed against Nickelback last January showed, rock is struggling to reconnect with a generation that has turned to auto-tuned, plastic pop stars for entertainment instead of the thrum of electric guitars. But the main reason why people have turned away from rock has gone unsaid. Rock was always about rebellion, but lost people when the image of rebellion overtook the message. Like rock, motorcycles are a symbol of rebellion in culture gone soft. Also, like rock, they are struggling to reinvent themselves for a new generation after marketing rebellion instead of living it. However, as Harley-Davidson’s Softail Slim shows, rebellion is not dead in the motorcycle marketplace. And if this bike is anything to go by for both rock and motorcycles, the way to reconnect with younger kids may be going back to what made you so popular in the first place.

The Softail Slim is one of two new Dark Custom motorcycles that harkens back to the days of the choppers and bobbers from the 1950s. In the ‘50s, choppers weren’t just something you could buy; they were built with bare hands and bad attitudes as a serious style statement. To bring the Slim in line with this attitude, the bike is finished with a few time-appropriate design cues. But it’s not enough to just make the bike look old and then market it as something badass; the product should actually act out the marketing message. What Harley has done to the Slim to capture that old chopper mindset is to follow up its vintage look with a really raw riding experience.

This first step in bringing the bike in line with its historical inspirations is to get the look right. First, the overall stance is slimmed down to give the bike a more custom look. The fenders are bobbed, turn signals and accessories are slimmed down or removed, a thin solo seat is placed on the bike, and skinnier tires with thick sidewalls are added. Then, a few period correct cues are put on, like the Hollywood handlebars on the bike. Characterized by the crossbeam on the top, and the gentle sweep to bring the bars closer to your hands, the Hollywood bars were originally a Harley-Davidson accessory back in the ‘50s that have been taken out of retirement to give this bike a more vintage feel.

However, like the lead guitar in a band, the center of attention on a Harley has always been the engine. In the Slim, the motor is a 103 cubic inch V-Twin that has had an extra dose of attitude added with a healthy coat of black paint. To highlight the vintage feel, a round air cleaner has been added. Internally, nothing is changed over other Softail models. What this means is that you get the same 79hp and 90lb feet of torque that is on other Softails, such as the Blackline we reviewed last year. But more importantly, this is where that vintage feel starts to shine through. The motor responds to inputs nicely, but along the way it vibrates, shimmies and shakes. It feels natural where other motors feel too refined and clinical. It’s more time machine than engine in that it really brings you back to how older bikes feel.

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