New Bike Evaluation: Star Raider SCL

Here in Connecticut, we call author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Mark Twain, one of our own. Although not born here, he lived in Hartford from 1874 to 1891, and in Redding, Connecticut, from 1900 until his death in 1910. He wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, a tale everyone read back in high school, I’m sure. It’s been a long time since I’ve picked up a copy of Twain’s classic, but there was a lesson I remember: in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.

The scenario goes something like this: Tom is charged with the task of whitewashing the fence, a dreadful chore. When young Ben Rogers passes by, Tom makes the laborious task seem like a pleasure. When Ben asks to take a turn with the brush, Tom refuses (at first), telling Ben what an important and fun job it is. Ben wants a piece of this, and persists. But Tom doesn’t want to let anyone else have all the fun. Finally, Tom relents and graciously allows Ben to do his work for him. Gee, what a swell guy.

I’m sure you remember the lesson, and before you say to yourself, “Hey, I thought this was supposed to be a bike review,” allow me to put things in perspective. In real life, you are Tom. The engineers, product managers, assembly line workers, and craftsmen at Star Motorcycles will be playing the part of young Ben Rogers in today’s play. For years, Star has been advertising “We build it. You make it your own.” It has been supplying great cruiser platforms in a variety of engine sizes to the riding public and standing by, watching us customize and personalize them to our liking. You Tom Sawyers were laying the groundwork for what you see on these pages.

Star enthusiasts were making custom bikes that were faster, louder, prouder, and cooler than what Star had started us off with, and making something that was difficult to attain look easy. That’s the key. Of course it’s not easy. Parts need to be modified to fit properly. Fabrication skills are not something everyone possesses. And it’s easier to get carried away bolting on baubles and build a gaudy bike than it is to construct a tastefully designed, modified motorcycle. Truth is, nice custom bikes are built with sweat and blood, and it’s never as easy as it seems. Now Ben (Star/Yamaha Motor Corporation, USA) can’t stand to sit and watch us have all the “fun” ourselves and wants in on the act. It wants to build a limited-production, beautifully painted, blinged-out custom cruiser and offer it to the masses. Ladies and gentlemen, after riding and evaluating Star’s handiwork and crunching the numbers, I have to tell you, hand Ben the paintbrush.

We came up with this month’s cover language about the Raider SCL before I had even swung a leg over it. Just looking at the Star press release, we could see it was a dolled up, existing model. So the question needs to be asked: is it worth the extra bucks? I’ll leave my final summation for the end, but here’s a bit of information about the new Star SCL program. SCL stands for Star Custom Line. And seeing as there is only one bike currently available with the SCL designation, I surmise that the acronym is an indication of good things to come. Just as Harley-Davidson has its high-end CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) versions, I’m looking forward to other Star motorcycles filling out the line in the future. Talk about exclusivity: only 500 of these Raiders will be built. A metal SCL badge with hologram is attached front and center on top of the fuel tank as a constant reminder.

The Raider was previously available in two models, Raider and Raider S, with the S version getting extra chrome finishing on the triple clamps, fork sliders, air box cover, engine covers, headlight and signal housings, bar risers, rear fender struts, and tank-top dash. For 2012, there are three models of the Raider, with the SCL taking a step up from the Raider S and kicking up the customizing a notch.

Since we have reviewed the Raider platform in the past, there’s no need for me to drone on with internal engine specs. Suffice it to say that this year’s Raider is the same comfortable, powerful, easy-handling motorcycle we’ve always loved. I’ll use this space for telling you just what makes the SCL so special. But I would like to take a moment to say how comfortable the ergonomics of the Raider are for me. Back when the Raider was introduced, I was not particularly fond of the kicked-out front end, duck-tailed fenders, and canted-down exhaust. But all those qualms melted away the first time I sat on one and reached for the handlebars. They were right there, right where they needed to be. The seat is wide and comfortable, and twisting the throttle to wake the beast of a 113″ engine makes it a thrill to ride.

The cast-aluminum frame is light and rigid, and aids in the Raider’s nimble handling. The aluminum swingarm works against a hidden shock absorber for a big cruiser soft tail look. Brakes are ample, a pair of 298mm front discs squeezed by monoblock calipers and a 310mm disc out back.

Now with the housekeeping out of the way, on with the SCL show. It’s not just a Raider with a paint job. There are tons of cool parts in just the right places to differentiate the SCL from the also-rans. But of course that high-metallic Blazing Orange paint grabs the eye first and screams “Just say NO to stock!” The look is created by a six-layer painting process, with shades of black, silver, and a pseudo gold leaf. The Star logo on tank is low and subtle.

The custom five-spoke chrome wheels with matching drive pulley might look familiar. They were co-developed by Star and Performance Machine, and have been available in Star’s comprehensive accessory line for awhile. I’m told the ones mounted to the SCL are spec’d slightly differently for OE use and are installed on the Raider SCLs here in the United States after the bikes are shipped in. That’s a 120/70-21″ tire up front and a massive 210/40-18″ out back, the tallest and widest on a Star.

Braided, stainless steel-mesh throttle cables, as well as clutch and brake lines would easily be mandatory on any self-respecting custom cruiser, and the SCL has them. One odd thing I noticed was that the hydraulic clutch and brake master cylinders still wear the stock, brushed-aluminum lids. The only explanation I can come up with is that the DOT-mandatory inscription with brake fluid details needs to be visible on all new bikes. Not to worry though, one visit to the Star dealer parts counter and custom lid covers can be ordered up. On that note, while the Raider SCL is dressed to the nines, it doesn’t come with every possible Raider accessory in the catalog. So even a limited-production, factory custom can be further tweaked and tailored to its owner’s delight.

The genuine-leather, two-tone seat wears a subtle, embossed SCL logo out back, and the large panels are ridged with contrasting orange stitching. It’s the only Raider available with a premium leather seat standard, and the rustic brown top leather works well with the orange body panels.

Doing the math, the difference in price between the Raider SCL and a Raider S is about $4,800, and $5,400 above the base-model Raider with assorted, blacked-out parts. In the accessory catalog, the wheels alone are priced at $3,700, and that doesn’t include the labor to mount tires. Hoses and cables will remove another $300 from your checking account. Any custom seat will run in excess of $500-800. Right there, we’ve spent the price differential in customization cost, and your bike’s not done yet.

Any decent paint job will cost thousands of dollars. Paint and bodywork take patience, skill, and specialty equipment. As the saying goes, if anyone could do it, everyone would be doing it. But everyone is not, and definitely not at the quality level of that on the Raider SCL. I don’t know about where you live, but trying to find a body man to paint motorcycle bodywork around here takes turning over a lot of stones. The guys who are good always take lots of time, charge plenty for their labor, and are usually swamped with work.

So you could try doing it yourself, or perhaps you already have, and you still would not come up with an attractive, well-built custom cruiser that will turn heads, turn a corner well, come with a one-year warranty, and be considered limited production (and, dare I say, collectible). Yeah, we sure did bamboozle Star this time. It did all the work, and we reap the reward without breaking a sweat.

By Steve Lita, Photos by Riles & Nelson and Brian Clearcy

Originally published in RoadBike August 2012.