Hang on to your sequin-covered handgrips, touring riders; 1983 has been a
wild ride for the full-dress set, and '84 promises more of the same. This past
year brought with it a fleet of dressers the likes of which the world had never
seen. Honda stood fast with the Interstate and Aspencade 1100s, while Yamaha and
Kawasaki came after the luxo-cruiser market full force with new machinery.
Yamaha hit first with the XVZ12 Venture, a machine that set a new standard in
two-wheeled touring comfort. It was the clear winner in Motorcyclist's
touring comparison (July '83), pulling ahead of the legendary Interstate, as
well as Suzuki's GS1100GK. The 1200cc Yamaha held the winning hand in virtually
every aspect of performance; it was superior in handling, ride, comfort, and
overall engine performance. You can't ask for much more in a supertourer.
Following Honda's lead, the new Yamaha is offered in two versions, plain and
pretty. The regular Venture sells for $5999, and the top-of-the-line Venture
Royale goes for $7599. Such niceties as an on-board compressor for the air
suspension and a full sound system are included for the extra $ 1500. Such
conveniences are very popular with the horizon-to-horizon crowd, and anyone
wha's been to the Aspencade rally can tell you that chrome and lights are
Yamaha picked up on the American tourer's love of bright lights and glitter
and is offering custom-made styling accessories for both Venture models through
Yamaha Parts Distributors Incorporated (YPDI). The products are made by Drag
Specialties, the undisputed leader in the field, and marketed through Yamaha
dealers. The idea is to make it
easy for a person to build his ultimate highway calling card without looking
further than his local Yamaha dealer. The Venture Royale we tested is decked out
in enough glitter to set you back close to $2000, leaving the bike just a
chrome-plated bar-buddy away from the ten grand barrier. This king-of-the-road
touring business is not for the weak of wallet.
With all the glitter and flash added, the Royale fits in the same league as
Kawasaki's new Voyager. Introduced this fall, the Voyager is definitely aimed at
the high end of the market and comes with more lights, chrome and pizzazz' than
any stock machine currently available. Although it is perhaps the finest
platform for all-day, straight-line touring ever devised, the Voyager's half-ton
heft limits it in other areas.
With its full complement of YPDI chrome, the Royale version of our July
tour-comparison winner was returned for a refresher ride. But this time we were
testing it agfeinst the background not only of the Honda and Suzuki, but also of
the elaborate Kawasaki full dresser.
It's hard to believe that an 810-pound motorcycle could be considered
underweight, but that is the case with the Royale. Some touring riders view
weight as money in the bank. It does improve straight-line stability and offers
a more favorable sprung to unsprung weight ratio, resulting in a better ride,
but that is the full extent of the plus side. Bikes in the 700-pound range, like
the Honda Interstate and the Venture, have already passed the point of
diminishing return. The payoff in increased stability and improved ride
additional weight brings is overshadowed by detrimental effects on overall
performance and handling.
Yamaha, calling on its most advanced technology, has been able to strike the
finest balance so far between heavyweight stability and lightweight
responsiveness. Comparing base models, we found the Venture is both more stable
and more responsive than the Honda Interstate of equal weight. The basic
engineering of the XVZ leaves the competition—at least the '83 competiton
looking dated. The 1198cc Yamaha V-four engine has four valves per cylinder, a
feature unique in the class. Naturally, the engine is liquid-cooled and features
shaft final drive. The five-speed transmission places the cruising rpm slightly
higher than Honda's, but lower than Kawasaki's.
The Venture employs Monoshock rear suspension. The shock has adjustable air
pressure and rebound damping. Like the Honda, the Yamaha carries its fuel under
the seat area. An electric fuel pump carries gas to the four downdraft CV
carburetors. The front fork incorporates almost every feature imaginable. You
can adjust the air pressure, the rebound damping, and the anti-dive. The right
front disc brake is operated by the handlebar-mounted master cylinder; the foot
pedal controls the left front disc and the rear disc.
In the transformation from standard Venture to Venture Royale, a number of
changes were made. A springless air shock and different fork stanchion tubes
were fitted. The different suspension components are designed to work with
C.L.A.S.S., Yamaha's Computer Leveling Air Suspension System. A small electric
air compressor tucked away under the seat pumps air into the front and rear
suspension units via solenoid-operated valves. A control panel, mounted on the
right side of the fairing, is activated when the ignition key is switched to the
accessory position. A large liquid crystal display panel shows the pressure in
either end of the bike at the touch of a button. Then you can adjust to taste if
you're a perfectionist or simply let the automatic mode of C.L.A.S.S. take over.
In the auto mode, you press the "front" button, then push one of three buttons
to select a factory-set low, medium, or high. C.L.A.S.S. handles it from there.
Just repeat the procedure for the rear suspension and you're ready to ride. It's
a sophisticated system, complete with an air-drying canister and self-diagnosis
circuitry to help a mechanic locate any problem. Special care was taken in
designing a system that wouldn't bleed down excessively when front/rear selector
buttons are alternately pushed. The system fitted to the Aspencade loses several
pounds of pressure under these conditions, whereas the Yamaha system loses less
than a pound for each cycle of the selector buttons.
The C.L.A.S.S. constitutes the only change to the Yamaha's basic chassis and
running gear. The other touches are pure style: two-tone pin-striped paint and a
brown seat. The only other addition to the Royale is a large audio panel that
mounts in the left side of the fairing within easy reach of the rider.
Stereos are almost required equipment on big tourers, but the Venture
Royale's sound system sets a new standard. Built by Mitsubishi for Yamaha, the
AM-FM stereo cassette deck offers 12 watts per channel, fed through a pair of
weatherproof speakers mounted high in the fairing. All the features you'd expect
in a first-rate system are present in the Yamaha. There are five pre-select
buttons, as well as a scan function. The large LED frequency display has an
automatic dimmer feature for night riding. The cassette has metal-tape
capability and an auto-reverse feature, so you can flip the tape at the touch of
a button. Like the Honda, the Venture has some sound system controls on the left
handlebar. There's a mute switch, which cuts the volume level by k0db, and a
tuning button that sends the idio up the frequency range. Like all other
open-air stereo systems, the quality of sound reaching the rider deteriorates
with increased speed. The sound is best around town below 40 mph. Above that
speed the wind noise gets too loud to keep an audiophile happy.
By far the finest feature of the Venture Royale's sound system is its
ambient-noise-compensating ability. A- small weather-proof microphone on the
radio panel picks up the increase in noise level as the bike accelerates from a
stop or cruises alongside a loud truck, then the stereo automatically boosts
volume level to compensate within about a second. An adjustment ring on the
volume knob lets you set both the upper and lower limits for the
The stereo is secured in the fairing by two small latches and a lock that
accepts the ignition key. The whole unit can be removed in a few seconds and
reinstalled in less than a minute. The C.L.A.S.S. control is built into the
right-side panel but it's less likely to capture the attention of thieves. All
of the Royale's elec-trickery occupies the fairing's storage space, so you can't
tuck things inside any locking compartments as you can on the standard Venture.
As much electronic hardware as the Royale has, even more is to come. A CB radio
should be available in '84, as well as an intercom system that will work with
the existing radio.
In all detail respects, the Royale is excellently finished. The
instrumentation includes an LCD warning panel, an LCD clock, and a remote
headlight adjuster on the large dashboard. On the left bar are a thumb-operated
choke lever and the master cylinder for the hydraulically actuated clutch. The
handlebars adjust for position, as do both rider and passenger footpegs.
The detachable luggage is top quality. You can carry a total of 60 pounds
when touring on the Yamaha, 20 pounds per container. The ignition key works in
the luggage locks, all of which operate smoothly and reliably. Overstuffers will
appreciate the Yamaha's sturdy latches and rigid cases that hold their shape
even when packed to the bursting point.
The extra chrome lavished on our particular test bike is currently available
through YPDI. Footboards are expected at a later date; they are about the only
extra this Royale lacks, the Royale Maxi-moso has a chrome'front fender guard
with running lights, complete front disc brake covers with running lights, a
radiator shroud, and chrome grille—and the chrome just keeps on coming. The
stern is particularly impressive, with its expansive wraparound bag guard and
chrome mud flap with a gold Venture logo. Pipe extensions (chrome, of course)
are fitted to keep the saddlebags and the passenger clean. Driving lights bolt
to the standard engine guards to complete the look. Of all the added YPDI
glitter, the soft-foam handgrips are the most noticeable to the rider when
gliding down the highway since they further reduce engine vibration that reaches
the rider. Predictably, the handgrips have brighrtly chromed end caps.
In some ways, riding the Venture Glitter Royale is more enjoyable than
logging time on the standard Venture. In straight-line cruising, the Yamaha
carries you in lush comfort. The Captain's seat on the bridge is deeply padded
and the riding position is spacious. Full wind protection is afforded by the
fairing although tall riders will detect some moderate helmet rattling from the
wind spilling over the top of the windscreen. On the other hand, they'll
appreciate being able to see over the top of it in the rain or at night.
Controllable cool air vents are positioned immediately in front of the rider's
shins, and help make summer cruising bearable. The big V-four seems to be
loafing when riding at legal speeds and never feels buzzy or busy, even when the
speedo needle is cranked over two-thirds of the way to its 140-mph maximum.
Passenger appointments don't seem quite as well thought out as those for the
rider, however. The backrest is a bit overstuffed, and limited space between the
saddlebags and the rider's bucket in the seat can cut off circulation in the
passenger's legs. Also, a good deal of vibration comes through the passenger
pegs, noticeably more than on the Honda or the Kawasaki, but less than on the
In terms of suspension compliance, the Venture Royale is at the top of the
light heavyweight class, but a notch below the Kawasaki Kabin Kruiser. Simply
put, the Yamaha is one of the smoothest riding motorcycles of all time. Using
the preset suspension pressures that C.L.A.S.S. offers, suspension tuning is
about as easy as tuning the radio. We used the soft presets for solo riding and
found the ride to be very cushy, yet experienced no excessive bottoming. For
two-up riding with h a full load of luggage, the high, setings were used. Even
with both ends cranked up, the suspension's responsiveness to small bumps
deteriorates very little. You can leave the pressures up wften riding solo and
still be completely satisfied with the ride quality. If you aim the Royale down
a curvy road, a quick twist of the shock rebound-damping adjustment knob
(located on the left side, near the swingarm pivot) will tighten up the
handling. The Venture is the best-handling of any of the supertourers, with its
light steering and good chassis stability. It has more ground clearance than the
Honda and Kawasaki, as well as predictable tires that let you have a little fun
in the corners. Maybe even enough to make you turn off the tape player for
a-.minute and just enjoy riding.
By and large, the Venture Royale works as one harmonious package, but of
course there are a few flaws. All of our /^sters complained about the integrated
^Sjraking system. It's a handicap to riders who have mastered the independent
use of front and rear brakes, but an aid to riders who haven't. Additionally,
the brakes themselves are a touch on the weak side. The Royale and the basic
Venture we tested a while back are the only bikes in recent memory to suffer a
dramatic loss of braking power during our routine drag-strip stopping. Repeated
stops from high speeds quickly reduced the front brake's effectiveness by about
80 percent, and the linked front and rear brakes lost around 30 percent of their
stopping power. Certainly, the chrome covers over the front discs and calipers
do little to help the brakes dissipate heat.
Another weak point that surfaced in the older Venture too is the steering
head bearings. They loosen quickly, resulting in a clunking sensation through
the handlebars when riding over sharp-edged bumps. Consistently high water
temperature readings also appeared, just as on our last Venture. But once again,
the bike never hinted at boiling over, even in 100-degree stop-and-go traffic.
Also,'Our test bike would occasionally backfire when given full throttle below
That intermittent hiccup is the only genuine complaint our testers were able
to level at the Venture's engine. It has the most pleasant power characteristics
of any of the big tourers. The power delivery is perfectly predictable and very
smooth. The Yamaha will outrun the Honda and Kawasaki in a sprint or a roll-on,
but is a little slower than the lighter, buzzier Suzuki GS1100GK. For touring
and general street riding, the Yamaha has the finest engine in the class. Fuel
mileage averaged 34.5 mpg, down almost five mpg from the basic Venture due to a
higher percentage of around-town riding during our testing.
For most riders, the Venture makes the most sense of the current (1983) big
tourers. The Royale packs the same good points, plus a big helping of the luxury
items that many touring riders demand. This bike has upset the order in the
touring world, and has given Honda something to shoot "for in 1984. Overall, the
Yamaha XVZ12TDK Venture Royale is a better motorcycle than anything currently
offered in the class, including the titanic Kawasaki. It's a case where bigger
isn't better, better is better.