This is a great season for cruisers and baggers.
In the last few months, Honda has unleashed its new Gold Wing touring motorcycle and BMW has produced its mighty K1600 B and K1600 B Grand America.
These join a field already dominated by Harley-Davidson's Road Glides and Street Glides and Indian Motorcycle's Chieftains.
Now Yamaha has revealed its Star Venture and Star Eluder "transcontinental touring" bikes.
I was able to spend a 300-mile riding day astride the Eluder, on a route between San Diego and Los Angeles that also included a lunch stop at Borrego Springs and offered a beautiful mix of freeways, back roads, twisty canyons, warm sunshine and freezing rain.
Yamaha's new bagger is powered by an all-new, air-cooled V-twin engine, with a 113-cubic-inch (or 1845cc) displacement and a whopping 126 pound-feet of torque. Run through a six-speed transmission and belt final drive, this power plant has been engineered to produce maximum torque and minimum vibration.
It's a lovely piece of work, offering tremendous pull off the line and drama-free acceleration. On the open road, at freeway speeds and higher, it's one of the softest, mellowest V-twin engines I've ever encountered.
It's also extremely rideable. Yamaha has wisely fitted the Eluder with a 27.6-inch unladen seat height, and made the seat quite narrow at the front. Riders of almost any stature will be able to get both feet flat on the ground when the Eluder is stationary.
More importantly, the Eluder engineers managed to keep the motorcycle's 875 pounds very low on the machine. The bike comes up off the kickstand effortlessly, and even at slow speeds feels like a much lighter motorcycle.
The Eluder ticked off all the riding boxes for me during a full day of touring. It was easy to operate in downtown San Diego street traffic. It chortled pleasingly on the freeway. It cornered well at high speeds on the back roads around Julian and Mt. Palomar. It even behaved itself at very low speeds in parking lots and around gas stations, and despite its big bike girth proved narrow enough for some crafty lane splitting.
The linked ABS braking system made slowing the big machine — it is 8 feet long — a breeze. Standard traction control and the massive rear tire bolstered my confidence on fast sweeping turns in the rain. The bike's oversized floorboards made it possible to shift my foot position without feeling cramped.
Yamaha press materials boast of the Eluder's "authentic cruiser soul" and its "modern classical DNA," and proudly proclaim the bike "the most technologically advanced V-twin bagger" currently on the market.
It helps solve what Yamaha motorcycle line product manager Derek Brooks called the cruiser customer's "paradox" of loving the big old fashioned V-twin motors in the Harleys and Indians while also desiring some of the modern technological attributes of Honda's non-V-twin Gold Wing.
"We thought, 'Why not provide the best of both worlds?'" Brooks said. "We now have a truly unique position — to offer all the function you need but also all the emotional character you want."
The Eluder, playful enough to nip down to the local saloon, is also outfitted for a longer ride. The integrated saddle bags provide 18 gallons of storage space — though not enough room to store a full-face helmet. The bike comes standard with cruise control, which is meaningless on the short haul but very helpful for high-mileage rides.
Yamaha has also given the Eluder a state-of-the-art infotainment system, which through a 7-inch touch-screen dash monitor and multibutton switching mechanism on the handlebars is capable of delivering a staggering amount of data.
On the top of the line GT model I rode, the navigation system was top notch, and the entertainment included Sirius XM.
The switches and touch screen allow the rider to toggle between the navigation choices, audio entertainment options and motorcycle functions.
Riders with some experience on the Eluder's sibling Venture told me that the system becomes intuitive after a while. But with eight hours on the motorcycle I was still concerned by how much time my eyes needed to be off the road to turn off the seat heater, check the air temperature or change radio stations.
There have also been complaints from some riders that the windscreen is too low and not adjustable. (The taller windscreen that comes standard on the Venture can be had as an accessory on the Eluder. Other accessories include heated grips, a luggage rack, tire pressure monitoring system and auxiliary lights.) Some riders had connectivity issues pairing their helmet communication systems with the motorcycle.
And some of the bike's attributes have a downside. The low seat height means low ground clearance. (I scraped the floorboards a few times on tighter turns.) The narrow seat means more exposure to engine heat. (Air vents set low in the front fairing help keep the air cool.)
The Star Eluder will be fighting for attention with a lot of higher-profile baggers. While its engine may be superior in many ways, the bikes with which it will compete have more model loyalty and a competitive level of technology.
And the Eluder isn't priced as a loss leader. The entry-level bike costs $22,499. The GT model is $23,999.
At those prices, the Eluder is in line with Harley's Street Glide and Road Glide, which start at $20,999 and $21,299, respectively; Indian's Chieftain, which retails from $21,499; Honda's Gold Wing, which begins at $23,500; and BMW's K1600B, priced from $23,545.
Where the Eluder distinguishes itself, apart from the enigmatic name, is in ease of operation. Riding this bagger requires considerably less agility, balance or brute strength than the market-leading Harley-Davidson or its competitor Indian.
There's no such thing as a 113-cubic-inch starter bike. But if any big V-twin on the market could be described as a starter bagger, this is it.