Yamaha Drag Star

My dictionary defines prejudice as "an opinion formed without fair examination of the facts". I confess that I was prejudiced against this bike, and others like it, long before I rode it. In my opinion all of these styles of bikes are pretending to be something they can never be. You see, proper custom bikes are works of art, lovingly crafted by owners around old American or British engines, and each one is unique. The idea of a custom bike, made in tens of thousands in a factory in Japan is just not on. But is this an opinion reached without fair examination of the facts? Time to find out.

The Drag Star is Yamaha's latest addition to their highly successful Virago range of custom bikes, only this time it takes the styling and image a stage further. Instead of merely pretending to look like a Harley Davidson, this bike is trying to look like a heavily customised Harley. What you get for your 5,449 on the road is a look that would cost at least double that to achieve if you started with a stock Harley and several catalogues worth of custom parts. It may be a pastiche, but it sure looks the business.

For a start it is incredibly low, swing a leg over and you literally drop down onto the saddle. The long pull back bars mean you sit back into the bike, and the foot pegs are way forward. The speedo is mounted in a chrome housing on the tank, so there are no instruments in your forward view, in fact you look over a low and clean handlebar clamp, with no obstructions. Nice. At 214 kg it is not especially light, yet all the weight is held low, and it is an easy bike to manoeuvre. The air cooled 650 V-twin has just enough vibe to remind you of it's presence, and it pulls away from tick-over as clean as a whistle. It may only have 40 bhp, but it has a torque curve as flat as a slide rule, which peaks at just 3,000 rpm, in proper cruiser style. It takes no more than a few hundred yards to settle down into the bike, so amiable is it's disposition. There is only one way to ride this thing, just kick back and cruise.

I have the benefit of an unseasonally sunny February Saturday morning. I have just collected the bike from Carrick Motorcycles in the heart of Leith, and as I trickle away across Leith Links I swear I can almost feel my prejudice begin to thaw. This is an immediately likeable machine. There is a cold edge to the air, but I am well wrapped up, and I can feel the sun soak into my black leathers, always a great feeling. Purring down between the endless garages on Seafield Drive is hardly the sun drenched boulevard at Monte Carlo I grant you, but the bike feels great and I am really starting to enjoy the ride.

Then one of those curious little events happen. Passing the BMW garage at the end of motor alley, I notice they have a Z3 roadster in the window, the first I have seen in Scotland, and it has drawn quite a crowd. I make a swift detour to take a closer look, and as I roll the Yamaha slowly into the forecourt I realise that it is attracting as much attention as the car. The Drag Star looks like upstaging the silver James Bond-mobile, so I do the decent thing and beat a hasty retreat. The point here is that these were motorists, not motorcyclists, and they were simply admiring an attractive machine. They don't have the prejudice that stops dyed in the wool bikers from seeing the Yamaha as anything other than ersatz. I may have just learned an interesting lesson, and one that Yamaha probably already knows well.

I venture down to Portobello Promenade, park the bike at a suitably rakish angle to let the sun catch the chrome highlights, and blat off a couple of rolls of film. There is something about looking at an object through a view-finder which gives you a different perspective, and the Drag Star makes a mighty handsome picture through the lens of the Nikon. I can certainly see why it attracted attention when I stopped, as it is a very eye-catching piece of work. The tank is the classic wide tear-drop shape, the frame has the sloping triangular shape at the back end which is de rigeur for cruisers, but hides some very clever suspension geometry, and an almost hidden shaft drive. Very neat indeed. The 150 section back tire is of course far too wide for a bike with so little power, but it looks spot on. The typography on the speedo has a suitable art deco look, and the exhausts are staggered in just the right proportions. Make no mistake, someone back home in Tokyo has studied an awful lot of custom bikes and has synthesized just the right look, no detail has been overlooked. This is no thrown together effort, and it shows.

It is colour sensitive though. The bike comes in three colour choices; either the two tone blue and silver you see here, or a vibrant orange metallic. Somehow I am not sure about these, especially the orange which gives the bike a faintly "Toys R Us" look. The third choice is plain gloss black, which with a more discreet logo on the tank, is immensely better, and somehow more mature looking. Definitely the one to go for.

Yamaha had a world-wide best seller with this bike's predecessor, the 535 Virago. The Drag Star is a much more convincing effort on every level, and yet is only a few hundred pounds dearer, and I would not be surprised to see this bike high in the sales charts as soon as the sun shines. Hard core purists will never, ever, like it, no matter how good it is, but that misses the point. Leave your prejudice at home, and just enjoy a damn fine motorcycle.