RideApart Review: Star Bolt

Dailies, Reviews -


Yamaha Bolt Launch Top

Yamaha’s cruiser brand, Star Motorcycles, is releasing a new bike at the end of month with its sights set directly on America’s best selling motorcycle, the Harley-Davidson Sportster. By pairing Sportester-esq styling with Japanese-quality components, they may have a real winner. So long as they can convince the 20-35 year olds of the world that a bike’s ability to progress down a road at faster-than-walking speeds is more important than the name printed across the gas tank, that is. I got to ride the Star Bolt around San Diego earlier this week and I have to admit, I liked it.

What’s New
The Star Bolt is a brand new motorcycle, with a release date set for the end of April. The engine is the same used in the V-Star 950 and 950 Tourer, but other than that most of Bolt is all-new and was designed to specifically fit the modernized-Sportster aesthetic the designers were going for.

The Bolt finds its home in the Star lineup between the 650cc V-Star ($6,990) and V-Star 950 ($8,590) and will retail for $7,990 for the standard version, $9 cheaper than Harley’s Sportster. In July we’ll see the release of the Bolt R-Spec, which adds a matte grey and army green paint scheme, black mirrors, some suede like material on the seat, and remote reservoir rear shocks with a $300 increase on the price tag to a whopping $8,290.

The engine is an air-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with a Mikuni injection system that uses 3D mapping and a closed loop design which means that the Bolt will monitor itself and be easy to start, regardless of temperature and elevation. Star didn’t have horsepower figures yet, but claim the 942cc engine makes 58.2 ft./lb. of torque at 3,500rpm. The butt dyno put the engine on par with a stock Sportster and slightly better than Honda’s 750cc Shadow.

The similarities with the Harley stopped with power, with the Bolt feeling more polished in every other aspect. The 5-gear transmission, with its straight cut gear dogs, was very light and smooth. The 61.8-inch wheelbase and 27.2-inch seat height made the Bolt both easy to swing a leg over and easy to turn, especially when compared to its competition. I found the riding position very natural, as did other journalists both a few inches shorter and a few inches taller who were riding the Bolt with us that day.

The KYB 41mm front forks provide 4.7 inches of travel and, while not impressive when compared to more performance-oriented motorcycles, they managed to keep my heart rate at normal levels when I decided to ride roads that didn’t just travel in a straight line. The rear KYB shocks only allowed 2.8 inches of travel, but do feature preload adjustment. I would have liked a little more cushion on the back and, while the R-Spec anodized remote reservoir shocks look nice, neither the standard nor R-Spec models really provided much comfort over dips and potholes. Keeping the Sportster in mind, I was able to temper my expectations and realize this is something you just kind of have to accept with this style of motorcycle.

The 12-spoke wheels looked very nice in person and the 19-inch front and 16-inch rear tire were adequate for both around town and short freeway stints. The 298mm wave-type brake rotors (two piston in the front and single in the rear) worked better than expected and gave me far more confidence to enjoy the torque of the engine, knowing I could stop should the need arise.

The Good
The Star Bolt is a road-ready, fully capable, safe motorcycle. That statement right there sets it apart from its biggest competitor. All the fancy stuff in the engine ensures the Bolt will start and run well in any conditions, and that the engine will be durable and last for a bunch of miles. What more could you ask for?

The most impressive part of the presentation they gave about the bike was in their inspiration for building it. They really seemed to understand a lot of what made our generation tick and what drew us to certain bikes and they built their goals accordingly. The Star Bolt was an attempt to simplify, to get back to basics, to understand that less can be more (compared to “the more chrome and crap, the better”), to be easy to buy/easy to ride, and that performance and quality and the ability to make things your own matter. They wanted it to give you confidence the day you sat on it in a showroom and every day you got on it to ride. They built inspiration boards that look shockingly similar to my pinterest wall and then threw all of those goals and aesthetic guides into a blender a made a really nice basic platform.

At $7,990, it’s hard to ask for more than decent stock power, solid brakes, capable suspension, and classic looks. At 540 pounds full of fuel, the bike feels lighter than it is and is easy to maneuver, both when being walked into a parking spot or ridden down the road. The Bolt feels nimble and does at good job at filling the “urban performance bobber” role Star motorcycles was trying to meet.

With the release of the Bolt, Star is also releasing 50 or so different parts that can be used to customized the bike. I was expecting ugly chrome pieces to ruin the bike’s aesthetic, but I was able to pick out a lot of things I would absolutely add if building a Bolt for myself. Some of the things like the leather saddle bags look a little cheesy, but the brass accents are some of the coolest things I’ve seen available for any motorcycle. They had some of the parts on one or two of the bikes when we first arrived and they beautiful in person. Many companies have tried to do this in the past but none have succeeded like Star has here.

The Bad
Other than the Star Bolt being a fairly basic motorcycle and being a cruiser (both were intentional and therefore can’t be held against it), I couldn’t find much fault with the bike. The rear suspension could be more comfortable and the smoked glass over the digital speedometer was too dark for the gloomy day we had, but my only problem other than that was that the fonts used for the “Bolt” and “Star” logo are terrible. The Star one isn’t really their fault as it’s the brand logo instead of the model, but even Harley uses different fonts to fit different bikes. There’s just no excuse for putting that much thought into a bike and then plastering the name in a terrible font on the side of the tank. One guy said it was under the clearcoat and another said it was just a sticker, either way both logos are fixable with minor effort.

Any further fault I find with the bike has to do with it not being as light as a WR250R, not having the brakes of an R6, or the suspension of a Super Tenere.

I did turn into a bit of a wind sail on the freeway above 70mph or so, but I can’t really hold that against a bike that they claim is good for urban riding. It’ll do freeway speeds just fine, it just wasn’t the intended purpose. The motorcycle left me utterly unimpressed upon first riding it until I remembered that it was designed to be better than a Sportster and to be really affordable. Check and check.

The Price
As mentioned above, the standard Bolt (available later this month) will have an MSRP of $7,990. The Bolt R-Spec will be released sometime in July at an MSRP of $8,290. The Bolt’s man competitor, the Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883, has a MSRP of $7,999. Some other possible bikes in this field could be the 750cc Honda Shadow RS at $8,240 and the 865cc Triumph Bonneville at $7,699.

What Other’s Say
“For classic cruiser fans looking for a Harley-Davidson Sportster alternative with almost as much cool and considerably more useability” – The Basem

“…the Iron 883 is so punishing it should come with a bar-and-shield branded kidney belt, standard. Star addresses the issue with twin KYB shocks under the seat that offer 2.8” of travel. Granted, that’s not a lot of room to bounce, but the shocks are pre-load adjustable and besides, the stubbed springs are necessary to maintain the bike’s low seat height and center of gravity. And they work just fine..” — Motorcycle.com

The Verdict
Star set out to make a Sportster that turned and stopped and was fun and safe to ride at proper speeds and I think they more than met their goal. The real test will be if people in this market think the upgraded performance is worth having the words “Star Bolt” on the side instead of “Harley-Davidson.” Buying a motorcycle isn’t always a purely rational decision, but I think the Bolt hits on enough areas that buyers will have to pause and give it a lot of thought. It should be a nice competitor and will hopefully continue to drive development in this class of motorcycle, something that is good for all of us as consumers. I’m curious to see what adding exhaust and tinkering with the air box and fueling would do, if the results were anything like I got on my Bonneville this thing is going to be amazing.

RideApart Rating: 7/10

Helmet: Bell RS-1
Jacket: Dainese R-Twin
Gloves: AlpineStars Apex Drystar Gloves

  • Tommy Erst

    I feel like it needed to be significantly cheaper than the sportster if they actually wanted to steal customers. 95% of people who are gonna buy a sportster are probably more concerned with a name than reliability or stopping power.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      then it’s our (everyone except those employed by Harley) job to work on changing those opinions and encourage people to desire smarter and more appropriate motorcycles. maybe then HD will see it as something they need to address and they’ll start making bikes that both look cool and perform well and then we can want their bikes too.

      • Bruce Steever

        And the gods bless you for it, Sean MacDonald!

      • TheBoatDude

        Now, waitaminute there, big shifter…”encourage people to desire smarter and more appropriate motorcycles”? “HD will…start making bikes that both look cool and perform well”? Those are some tall orders there, good sir. Though it would be a welcome change…

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald


          but think of cell phones for a minute. as an apple fan boy, i love when android or someone comes out with something awesome, because I know it means Apple will have to keep really pushing it to stay on top. Harley has been on top in this segment too long and I would love to see them pushed to create competitive bikes again.

          they responded to an aging demographic with new models and new advertising, would love to see that continue into better quality, but we have to demand it first. If anyone can do it, it’s harley, they have the money to figure out a way to make what we want.

          • TheBoatDude

            Point taken.

            However, what you’re suggesting requires a level of introspection and willingness that I’m not sure HD possesses. Witness Buell – I never got the impression that HD really embraced Buell rather than sort of dealt with it, in a “Yeah, we sell these, too” sort of fashion. They bought the initial stake in Buell to have a skunkworks, but did they integrate any Buell innovations into the HD line?

            Now, to your point, HD has specific demographics that they aim for, largely to the exclusion of all other riders. I would wager they do this because they know who is most likely to buy an HD versus any other brand. But this leads me to wonder: Does the market determine the product, or does the product determine the market? Using Apple as an example, none of us knew we wanted or needed an iPad until they invented it. Meaning, could HD have been making and selling the gamut of motorcycles, had they actually develop something other than six versions of cruisers?

            Does HD have the ability to change? Yes – I believe they do. Does HD have the willingness to change? Well…if they did, wouldn’t they have done so, already?

            • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

              They have done so (the 48 and the 72) because they had to. Why spend money on R&D and new models when idiots keep buying the same one you’ve been making for years without a complaint. They finally started to lose market share with a certain demographic which spurred change.
              You are correct with the original iPhone, but many of the iterations since (and many of the features since) have bee pulled straight from either other phones or from things made possible through jailbreaking.
              I’m not saying it’s likely, but then again I never thought companies would start making gear that wasn’t hideous or that a japanese brand would make such an attempt to go after such a specific american market.

              • chris_s

                I have a nightster, not because I’m an idiot, but because I wanted a reasonably priced crusier with fuel injection, comfortable power, a ridiculously strong dealer network among other things…This bike is far and away different from old sportsters. Yes the engine has carried over, but I think now it is very reliable. Yes the 48 and 72 are about styling, but they don’t cost more than the updated decent riding ‘regular’ sportsters.

                • chris_s

                  Also, didn’t realize you were the author. So much for a lack of bias about a brand. I’m not a harley fan boy, I’ve owned a Kawasaki, a couple of Suzuki’s and a Buell. But I think it’s BS that you have such little respect for a brand that I going to guess you have never owned, or at least not recently. My sportster was less than the Bolt, and while I will consider a Bolt in the future it doesn’t take anything away from my sporty. I know HD had/s issues, but to say that the entire brand is terrible because of a bad experience or something they have done in the past is poor journalism.

            • Slowtire



        Look at this selfish newb. It’s not our job. Let people but whatever the f*ck they want.

    • Chris Davis

      I’ll agree with you, but short term only. Long term this causes damage to the Star brand. It becomes seen as a discount Harley by its own admission. If you’re going to concede your product isn’t worth what the market leader is charging, don’t expect anyone to come to your defense. Couple that lower esteem with lower margins and nobody wins. No, it’s better to go toe-to-toe with your adversary and win the war years from now than it is to cut and run today.

  • roma258

    But is it better than a Bonnie? I’m sure plenty of people will cross shop the two. Overall, I really dig it though. Could absolutely see myself riding it.

    • Alpha_Geek_Mk2

      I think the Bolt is more in line with the Speedmaster, although it’s basically the same bike.

      I’d take a blue/white Bonnie SE over either one.

      • roma258

        You’re right , completely forgot that Triumph still makes it. The styling looks kinda clunky for some reason. I do dig the Thunderbird, but that’s a class up. The older triple Thunderbird was a very cool bike too.

        • http://twitter.com/bloodfalcons motoguru.

          Word. I’ve had a handful of the T3 triples (Speed Triple, Trident, Legend, TBS) and will continue to buy them for as long as I live. I have no reason to buy a new bike when i can get a used 900 Triumph for $2-3K all day long.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nik.fiore Nik Fiore

      My thoughts exactly. Forget the few hundred dollar difference. Bolt or Bonnie?

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

        do you prefer american heritage or english? leaning back a little or forward a little?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I’d honestly prob want to wait til I saw what someone could do with aftermarket mods. Assuming they can get the same increases in performance I was able to on my Bonnie with exhaust/airbox/fuel, it would really be a toss up between which seating position you prefer and what heritage you wanted to channel while riding.

      My guess is that I would like the Bonnie more if I was on the freeway or going fast often, and the Bolt if I mostly cruised around the city.

  • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

    Dude, those skinny jeans are haggard!

    That aside, good write up.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Sorry? Thank you?

      • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

        Just busting on your fashion choice.

        That aside, I really appreciate your “everyday human being” take on reviews Sean. I don’t always want world class racers to review bikes as often simple nuances are missed. Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chet.rowles Chet Rowles

    Nice write up. Was looking forward to the first reviews coming in. Guys, is the Sportster REALLY that bad? Suspension and handling wise?

    • http://www.joelpm.com/ JoelPM

      No, the Sportster is not “REALLY that bad.” I started riding on a Sportster (a 1200C) – it handled fine, started fine, and never had any reliability problems. I commuted 12k miles/year on it in LA. It also looked much better than this Yamaha (yes, I realize that’s subjective). I moved on to a Z1000, which I later sold. I miss the Sportster, not the Z1000. Kudos to Harley for designing a bike that is “America’s best selling motorcycle” (per the article above).

    • Mykola

      The Iron 883 is a terrible bike, but the 1200 Custom is decent. What I wish Sean could clarify: does the Bolt compete with the former or the latter?

      • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald


    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I’d have to disagree with Joel. I rode both recently, and while the power of the 1200 was definitely fun, I thought the only thing I’d rather be on less was a street bob or something. Was shooting a video for a friends company through Idyllwild and I was pretty miserable while the dudes around me on Bonnie’s and Scramblers had a blast.
      The new HD’s are getting better reliability wise (less crap rattles off), and I can see how people like how they feel sitting on it and like the power, but it stops and turns very poorly.

  • Chris Cullen

    Problem is, you can get a used Sportster 1200 for the price of that Yamaharley, ride it until you realize you want a big boy bike, and then sell the Harley for what you paid for it.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      this is the case in any used market….

      • contender

        True, but I bet the HD holds value far better than the Yamaha. There will always be more idiots waiting to buy other idiots’ bikes.

        • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

          my point was that, with any new bike, there is always a older but higher end model that could be had for the same price and that wouldn’t suffer the same depreciation as a new vehicle.

          you could buy a new 600cc sport bike or a few year old 1000cc. a new honda crf250 or a year or two old wrx250.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brett.lewis3 Brett Lewis

      Good point. Also 883 can be big-bored to a 1200. Yamaha should do a 1300 version too. That would really be playing dirty.

  • Jason 848

    Nobody ever mentions the Moto Guzzi V7 stone in that segment. 400 lbs fully fueled, shaft drive, air cooled V twin, 500km tank range, cast wheels and its reliable.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Conrad-Kania/22012503 Conrad Kania

      YES! Thank you. Though, when I’m ready to put down for one, I will at least test ride the basic Bonnie to be absolutely certain I want the v7 stone.

  • EchoZero

    You mention it’ll do freeway speeds just fine – how much power does it have left around 75mph?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      I hit 85 without working too hard. One guy went about 110 (closed course with full police detail obviously). I’d say it’s comparable to the 883 or Bonnie.

  • worship_mud

    i am profoundly shocked to read that the sportster is the best selling bike in the US.

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      Cruiser market is half of all sales in the US. Sportbikes are another 20% with dual purpose, scooter, off road, and adv all coming in between 6-8%. I see a lot of the bigger baggers and street bobs or whatever around LA/OC and i’d imagine the numbers are close between those two Harley’s, but with the price/accessibility/weight and the fact that 90% of women Harley buyers buy a Sportster, it isn’t all that surprising.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brett.lewis3 Brett Lewis

      I wonder if that includes all the iterations, various 883 and 1200?

    • MrMotoWise

      Probably because it’s completely untrue. Sean, you need to either find a new supplier for your numbers (if you have them), or double check what the PR guys tell you before you print. That is, you know, if there’s still some shred of journalistic integrity left on this site.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jonathan.berndt.73 Jonathan Berndt

    Harley is one of those brands that seems to transcend reality and you gotta hand it to em. other brands for years have been trying to get a piece of their action with better engineered motorcycles, but when people want a Harley in the end, they want the real thing. good ol American success story.

  • Random

    > closed loop design

    You mean a control system? …

    • http://www.facebook.com/brett.lewis3 Brett Lewis

      Closed loop fuel control, so, yes. Closed loop referring to feedback from various sensors, a feedback loop.

      • Random

        There isn’t fuel injected bike today that doesn’t have closed loop fuel control…. I should have included /s, I’m more irked by the terms because I write control systems. My guess is that someone from marketing latched on to the term and is parroting it around when this around.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brett.lewis3 Brett Lewis

          I have seen the term used regularly since becoming a member of a Honda 919 forum a few years ago, the 919 (ceased production after 2007) didn’t have such a system and it was considered a liability as far as mods go. Maybe all FI bikes do have it now…

          • Random

            Right, the term is absolutely correct. Anything with an O2 sensor will have closed loop fuel control. This is not a new development, so it stands out to me as being out of place. (I’m being nitpicky)

            Carburetors are generally open loop control. (I say generally because I found an SAE paper dated 1975 of electronic control of a carb)

  • Speedo007

    I’d like to have one for my 3rd bike. Just love these simple motorcycles.

  • Mark Vizcarra

    Is this HIpster Approved?

    • Porter

      Did you see his jeans?

  • http://www.joelpm.com/ JoelPM

    Well said. There are definitely much better motorcycles out there, but the Sportster captures the heart and soul where many other machines don’t.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Lemar4292 Lemar Far

    I would love to see this bike with a bigger engine- say yamaha’s 1300cc power plant..hmmm now that sounds good. That said, I have yet to ride this thing, so 58HP just might do the trick.

  • Pete

    I believe the Sportster is not the best selling motorcycle in the US. In 2012 the Street Glide outsold all Sportsters combined.

  • http://www.joelpm.com/ JoelPM

    Do you think that’s due to some short-coming of the Harley brand specifically, or would any motorcycle with the same dimensions and characteristics suffer from the same flaws? IIRC, my 1200C weighed around 600lbs and had a single front disc brake. Throw in another 200lbs of rider and you’re asking a lot of the brakes. I’ve never had the opportunity to ride an equivalent motorcycle from another brand, so I’m curious whether Harley’s problem is one of quality, or one of producing a motorcycle that looks good but as a result is inherently hard to stop and steer.

  • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

    I agree that people over-bash Harleys for their reliability issues. While they are archaic in design there really isn’t much to break on them and my father had several Harleys with north of 40k miles on the clock with minimal service hassles.

    That aside, no 600lbs+ bike with budget brakes, a rider over 160lbs and low ground clearance stops or handles well. That is a fact. New Harleys might handle better than they used to, but any yard sale VFR from the mid eighties will out-hustle a modern Harley through any set of turns on earth AND stop quicker. Fact.

    Harleys are good for what they are, reasonably comfortable, stylish and fun rides. None of them are fast, agile or gas economical. There are other bikes that meet these needs, I hope everyone would realize that at this point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wendy.moore.585 Wendy Moore

    Two major fails vis a vis H-D: resale and name. You buy aHarley and you are in the Harley club. Even a girlster gets you there, no Yamaha gets you in that club. For most H-D owners, that is more than enough

  • Aaron Morris

    You insinuate (multiple times) that Harley Davidsons are not “safe to ride at proper speeds.” Does anyone have any evidence to support this claim?

  • 7th_son

    5 years from now that Bolt will still be running flawlessly…..the Harley….?…maybe not so much. The Harley mystique is great until you need a tow from the middle of nowhere…..A friend of mine recently bought an Electraglide…..it quit on the road 800 miles from home (failed stator) and when he did get it home the engine needed to be torn down and rebuilt (out of spec pistons). So much for mystique.

    • Erik Gloor

      Guy in my building rides a big Harley and when I asked him for advice on my first bike he waved me off HD. Said they’re maintenance hogs. So I got a V Star and so far it’s a great bike.

  • Paul

    I have a 2000 V-Star 1100 (for 9 years) and love it. I really like this new look as I have blacked out (murdered) my bike. But really, still a tank seam? I hope they have solved the major problem of the starter clutch and oil filter location.

  • Alam Monzurul

    I’m 6’1” tall. Is Bolt’s seat height is too low for me?

    • http://www.twitter.com/seanmacdonald sean macdonald

      nope. I’m 6′ 0 1/2″ and I was fine. It’s low, but not TOO low.

  • luredesign

    I can’t believe no one has commented on how ugly the exhaust is. The rest of the bike looks great, but that exhaust is a mess. They were trying to simplify? Then why does the exhaust have so many pieces and sections? and why put a sportbike-like muffler on a ‘bobber?’