Common Tread

2018 Yamaha Star Eluder first ride review

Jan 15, 2018

Before I rode the Yamaha Star Eluder, I wondered if it should be called the Enigma. As a package, the motorcycle didn't immediately make sense to me.

The Eluder is essentially the Venture touring motorcycle Yamaha introduced last year without the top box, passenger backrest, rear speakers and the Sure-Park feature (an electric motor that helps the rider maneuver into parking spots). There are some other minor styling differences, such as blacked-out parts on the Eluder, but it still has two defining elements that struck me as contrasting when I saw them on the Venture: a thoroughly modern and full-featured touch screen infotainment system and electronic rider aids package coupled with a very traditional, low-revving, air-cooled V-twin engine.

I'll get to the riding impression in a minute (skip ahead if you just want the review), but before I even threw a leg over the Eluder, I was eager to ask the Yamaha execs why they chose this engine for their touring bikes.

Yamaha Star Eluder
The 2018 Yamaha Star Eluder GT. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Touring motorcycles: Twins and sixes

A lot has happened lately in this segment, and suddenly the big luxury touring bikes are either V-twins or six-cylinders. Harley-Davidson and Indian, for obvious reasons, stuck with their traditional air-cooled V-twins, while Honda naturally kept a flat six in its revised Gold Wing for the same reasons. BMW has its inline six. At least in theory, Yamaha had more flexibility, however. Resurrecting the Venture name with a four-cylinder engine would have made perfect sense, but instead, Yamaha reworked its cruiser V-twin engine into the 1,854 cc iteration found in the Venture and the Eluder.

No doubt cost was a factor. Adapting an existing engine is a lot less expensive than building a new one. But at first glance, the Venture and the Eluder look to be an odd match with the engine that powers them. The Eluder's infotainment system is something you'd expect to find in a luxury car. With ride-by-wire throttle (it doesn't even have a throttle cable), cruise control, keyless ignition, LED lighting, traction control, two ride modes and linked brakes with ABS, there's plenty of technology here. On the other hand, the engine says "traditional," not "high-tech." And I say that not just because of the V-twin architecture, but also because of the engine's nature. I can't remember ever riding a motorcycle with a lower redline than the Eluder's 4,750 rpm.

Yamaha Star Eluder engine
The 1,854 cc air-cooled V-twin is related to engines that appeared in previous Yamaha cruisers but has been significantly reworked for touring duty in the Venture and Eluder. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The Yamaha guys say they know what they're doing, however, and they talked about the two seemingly opposing desires that touring riders have.

"What we found in our focus groups, research and in direct conversations with riders was there was this dichotomy," said Motorcycle Product Line Manager Derek Brooks. Touring riders want their modern features but they also want a visceral connection. They want to see and feel the engine, he said.

"We did a bunch of surveys throughout the United States, in addition to the focus groups," added Dan Ruesch of Yamaha motorcycle product planning. "The vast majority said they wanted an air-cooled V-twin."

Yamaha Star Eluder
The Yamaha Star Eluder provides most of the features of the Venture touring bike in a package that looks more like a "bagger" style motorcycle. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Of course there are both advantages and disadvantages of that powerplant, and Yamaha did a lot of work to magnify the good parts and address the complaints that the riders they talked to had about their current touring bikes. Yamaha tuned the feel of the V-twin by using composite engine mounts that allow the "pulse" of the engine to reach the rider without the paint-shaker extremes. Primary drive dampers reduce the shuddering and juddering that happens when the rider lugs the engine at low rpm.

For many riders, the other appeal of a V-twin has to do with sound. "We spent thousands of hours in our sound lab developing our exhaust sound," Ruesch said. Just as a car with dual-tone horns sounds more mellifluous than one with a single horn, Yamaha tuned the two mufflers on the Eluder to produce different tones. And while most riders like a nice exhaust note, they don't like mechanical clatter, so the engine side covers have sound-damping material to minimize it. Belt final drive also keeps things quieter so you hear the exhaust.

Star Eluder exhaust
Twin exhausts are tuned to produce two different notes. The Eluder has LED lights all around, including the three taillights. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The Eluder is big, long and low. Yamaha says it weighs 875 pounds. The wheelbase is 67.3 inches between the 130/70R18 front tire and the fat 200/55R16 rear. The seat is a very low 27.6 inches off the asphalt. The top-opening saddlebags open with a button and lock using the smart key fob and hold 18 gallons combined. Three small compartments in the fairing will hold sunglasses, a phone or other device.

The Eluder comes in two models. The base model costs $22,499 and MSRP on the GT is $23,999. The GT (the version tested here) adds the navigation system, an alarm and SiriusXM radio. Eluders are available at dealerships now.

Yamaha Star Eluder
A 6.6-gallon fuel tank gives the Yamaha Star Eluder range of more than 200 miles. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Riding the Yamaha Eluder GT

After a tutorial on the infotainment system, we rode nearly 250 miles from San Diego out to the Anza-Borrego Desert and back, which gave us a taste of curvy mountain roads, crowded highways and city traffic (plus an unexpectedly wide range of weather). Just a few blocks into the ride, we pulled onto the highway and I immediately and inelegantly smacked into the rev limiter. It would not be the last time. Those composite engine mounts smooth out the vibes to the point that the engine doesn't feel like it's working that hard even though it's about to shut down the fun. Also, both fifth and sixth gears are overdrive, to keep revs low even at highway speeds.

Considering it makes a claimed 126 foot-pounds of torque at 2,500 rpm, you might imagine you wouldn't even have to think about keeping the bike in the power band. But since the rev range is low, I found myself shifting more than I expected. Keeping the revs between 2,000 and 3,000 rpm worked best, and trips to 4,000 were fine, but revving beyond that was just needless wear and tear. Riders who love to short shift will be happy, especially since the primary drive dampers keep the power delivery smooth even if you roll on the throttle at 1,000 rpm.

Eluder righthand controls
Buttons for switching between ride modes and operating the cruise control are located on the right hand grip. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The two rider modes are labeled Sport and Tour and both provide 100 percent power. The difference is in the throttle response. To me, the difference was most noticeable when opening the throttle from closed. Tour gave a softer throttle response while Sport provided an immediate jolt of power and required me to be a little more precise if I wanted to stay smooth. I used Tour on the wet roads of the morning and Sport when we got on dry pavement.

The Eluder is built for long-haul comfort and the suspension (adjustable for rear preload using an adjuster under a side panel) soaked up everything we encountered. The tradeoff for the comfort is a limited amount of feedback, but this is a touring bike, after all. Once I got comfortable with the Eluder's performance capabilities and we found some dry roads, we were able to hustle the bike without working up a sweat (either from nerves or effort) because the Eluder handles neutrally and lightly, for its weight. It doesn't take much effort on the big handlebar to initiate a turn, and once in the curve the bike holds its line without feeling like it wants to flop or stand up.

Yamaha Star Eluder on the road
The 2018 Yamaha Star Eluder. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Lean over enough and the first thing to drag is the metal slider under the folding floorboards. These are replaceable metal blocks that can be removed with two bolts, so you get a satisfying early warning before you touch down anything that looks nice or costs more and handling is not affected. It's a simple solution but a nice touch, and many touring riders may not lean that far anyway.

The Eluder has a sophisticated, linked, anti-lock braking system. Among riders of sport or adventure bikes, linked systems are often frowned upon, but the Eluder's brakes worked well and I believe they are appropriate for the motorcycle and its mission. Using either the lever or the pedal will engage both the front and rear brakes, but the lever shifts the braking force toward the front and the pedal sends more to the rear. The system also proportions braking to both ends depending on speed and other factors. It's not often I ride a bike with floorboards so I'm not accustomed to the feel of lifting my foot to use the pedal. With the Eluder's linked system, I found I could just use the hand lever for braking and get good results.

Levers for both the hydraulic clutch and brakes are adjustable. The Eluder has an assist and slipper clutch but pull was still not what I'd call light. It's probably normal for an engine this size. One more piece of adjustability: The passenger floorboards can be set to two heights.

Star Eluder seat
The seat is soft and flat side to side but sloped from front to rear, so while it's comfortable, the rider's ability to change positions is limited. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

The low windscreen is not adjustable on the Eluder and depending on your height it may cause a little buffeting. It wasn't troublesome for me. When it got cold, I found I could tuck into a very un-bagger-like position and find a silent bubble, but I'm sure I looked like an idiot and nobody who buys this bike will ever do that. The seat is flat and quite cushy. If anyone has a complaint, it will be that it's too squishy for some. I'm a whiner about seats and I rode all day without any undue complaint.

While we're talking about comfort, I found two quirks with the Eluder, both involving heat. Heated seats for both rider and passenger are standard, but heated grips are an option. It's personal preference, but to me that is backwards. As we rode out of San Diego toward the desert, conditions deteriorated to light rain and mid-40s temperatures in the higher elevations. I had trusted the forecast that called for no rain and didn't bring waterproof gloves. At that point, I would have happily traded the heated seat, 100 of the SiriusXM channels and the can of Red Bull the Yamaha folks offered me for heated grips, instead. Fortunately, the Eluder's twin alternators churn out a generous 750 watts so the problem is easily solved by ordering the heated grips or using your own heated gear.

Star Eluder
Yamaha says the name comes from "eluding conformity ... and everything else." Personally, I was happy to elude the coastal rain and find some sunshine in the desert. Photo by Lance Oliver.

The other heat issue is not so easily solved and I predict it will be a source of complaint from some Eluder owners. Even on a cool day, I could feel the heat coming off the rear cylinder and onto my left leg. When we got back to the city at nightfall and were sitting at stoplights, the heat went from "noticeable but no problem" to "a bit too much." I'm guessing a rider wearing jeans on a 95-degree Texas afternoon is going to feel the heat more than I did wearing Rev'IT riding pants on a 60-degree evening.

Yamaha built adjustable vents into the side pods to direct (or block) air flow to the rider's legs, but that won't help if you're sitting still. This goes back to the choice of an air-cooled V-twin. Though plenty of liquid-cooled motorcycles have fried their riders, at least it makes it easier to move the heat around. There's no eluding the heat of the rear jug on the Eluder.

Star Eluder infotainment system
Traditional analog speedometer and tachometer flank the very modern seven-inch touch screen. I much preferred listening to music through the headset than blasting the speakers. Yamaha photo.

Dial up the info and the entertainment

The Eluder's infotainment system deserves a separate section because it is so extensive. It starts with a seven-inch touch screen (which you can use with gloves on) positioned high in the fairing, not down on the tank, so you don't have to remove your glance so far from the road ahead. You can navigate the menus using the touchscreen, which may be faster when parked, but underway I always used the five-button setup on the left handgrip. There's a lot going on here and I only began to test its capabilities on a one-day ride, but with some quick instruction and a little time, I found it was not hard to use. Our route was loaded into the navigation system in advance and I decided to let the bike pick a SiriusXM channel for me, so I ended up rolling into the desert listening to Selena Gomez as the navigation system's voice interrupted politely every so often to advise me of an approaching turn.

Infotainment system controls
Six buttons on the left hand grip allow the rider to scroll through the options on the touch screen. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

As I said, there's more here than I can cover in a short review, but let me give you an idea of what's available. There are essentially three home screens: map navigation, a bike information page and a music page, and from each of those you can drill down further. Options seem endless. For example, maps can be displayed showing north at the top or showing your direction of travel at the top. Motorcycle information pages can be scrolled through various displays, whether you want to see air temperature, average fuel mileage, elapsed time, etc. Music options let you listen to radio or satellite radio, or you can tuck your phone or other device in the small compartment on the fairing, which contains both USB and AUX ports, and seamlessly listen to Pandora or music on your device. CB radio is also an option.

You can connect your phone to the system via Bluetooth but you'll need to connect the system to a headset via cable. At the time Yamaha was designing the system, there was nothing available that could handle so many options via Bluetooth. We were told a wireless option is almost certainly coming, but for now you're tethered.

While the system worked well for me with one small exception, a few glitches did show up on our ride. For one rider, the navigation stopped working and for two of us the heated seats seemed to have a mind of their own. In my case, I felt my posterior getting warm and noticed that the system had turned the seat on high. I would say something punny like "That really chaps my ass," but in reality I just turned it off while riding by using the lefthand buttons.

Once you buy the bike, updates to the maps for firmware for the navigation are free from your Yamaha dealer. And I'm not exaggerating when I say that I only began to explore the options during a one-day ride. You can use voice commands to control or have it track your route so you can download it and share it later with friends, just to mention a couple of examples. Twice during the ride, the system even warned me of poor air quality. Finally, one last example to give you an idea of the amount of adjustability built into the system. Say you get the optional heated grips. You can choose the usual settings: high, medium, low and off. But beyond that, you can customize the heat by setting the temperature of those high, medium and low settings on a scale of one to 10, depending on your climate and tolerance for cold. It's an impressive level of customization.

Yamaha Star Eluder
The Eluder is ready for long rides. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Conclusion: Final thoughts on the Eluder GT

In the end, I think the combination of the "emotional/traditional" V-twin with the modern rider aids and infotainment system makes more sense in the Eluder than in the Venture. While the Venture is clearly aimed at long-distance comfort, the Eluder could appeal to the same traveling rider who is touring solo and doesn't need the top box, but it could also appeal to riders who don't necessarily plan to travel a lot but want a bagger with all the bells and whistles. And if you do want to give a passenger a ride on your Eluder, one of Yamaha's accessories is a clever quick-release backrest that can also be combined with a small luggage rack for passenger comfort and cargo and then easily removed for cruising.

Eluder accessory backrest
Both tall (shown here) and short versions of the quickly detachable backrest are available and can be used with or without the luggage rack. The rails on top of the saddlebags protect them from scratches. The bags come with markings to show you where to drill to attach the rails, to lessen nervousness over drilling expensive parts. Photo by Drew Ruiz.

Some touring riders will almost automatically gravitate to the U.S. brands, but for those who shop more broadly, it will be interesting to see whether riders who want a touring-capable bagger will choose the new Gold Wing (now also available without the top box) or the BMW K 1600 B, both with six-cylinder power, or the Eluder with the V-twin. Yamaha is betting the emotional connection to the rumble will win out over the sophisticated sixes.