The original V-Max was a fast, powerful motorcycle. Packing the 1200cc V-4 mill from Yamaha's Venture touring bike into essentially a Virago cruiser chassis, the V-Max boasted a claimed 135 horsepower and swallowed the quarter mile in 10.7 seconds. That's fast, even by today's standards. Think Ducati 848 and you've got roughly the right mix of horsepower and quarter-mile time. Say, however, that you were an enterprising machinist with a few weeks of spare shop time and liked to modify things. And let's say you bumped your first-generation V-Max's displacement by, oh, 500cc. You'd have close to 1700cc of displacement-think two 848 engines together-and all the insanity that goes along with it.
Welcome To The New V-Max
After a year's hiatus-the original was produced from 1985 all the way to 2007 practically unchanged-the V-Max is back, bigger and badder than ever and completely redone. You can't even make the old joke that they lifted the badge off the tank and slid a new motorcycle underneath, as even the brand is new; the V-Max now falls under the Star Motorcycles umbrella, Yamaha's cruiser line.
One thing hasn't changed: The new V-Max is still all about the engine. All 1679cc of it, courtesy of a 15mm bigger bore compared with the old model. A lot of technology has come along since the original bike was introduced, and the new V-Max takes advantage of a lot of it including the ride-by-wire throttle and dual-length intake stacks found on the R1 and R6. On the chassis side, things like radial-mount brakes, fully adjustable suspension and an aluminum beam frame help to keep all that newfound power in check. The details are outlined in the accompanying technical sidebar, but the bottom line is this: Star claims 197 horsepower at the crankshaft, putting the bike easily in Hayabusa and ZX-14 hyperbike territory, never mind the B-King or other big standards. Perhaps more important is the torque figure, listed as 122 ft-lb. Put that in your 80 ft-lb literbike pipe and smoke it.
Star introduced the V-Max with a day's ride in the San Diego area, with the planned route taking in everything from twisty roads to beach cruising. Yes, it's odd that we'd get invited to a cruiser introduction, but 197 horsepower grabs our attention no matter what it's packaged in. Ironically, the V-Max-a bike you would think fits into a tiny niche-has attracted perhaps the widest audience of any bike in recent memory, and it was quite interesting to see the mix of magazines in attendance.
There's no question the Star is big, with more than a foot more length between the axles than a sportbike and 100 pounds of extra heft compared with a B-King. And the V-4 engine looks wider than some in-line fours, resulting in a correspondingly wider midsection to the bike that makes it difficult for average-height people to touch the ground flat-footed, even though the seat is fairly low. The handlebar is set high but not close, the pegs are low but not forward, and the riding position is more standard than cruiser. The ergonomic triangle is quite comfortable, although the air scoops-that are actually intakes on this model and not the fake covers of the old model-came close to interfering with my knees and making the midsection even wider.
The Amtrak-long wheelbase is matched to an equally rangy 31-degree rake and almost six inches of trail that make low-speed maneuvering a bit tricky. The geometry is so extreme that you can feel the bike rise and fall as you turn the bars from side-to-side, and shuffling all that weight requires some muscle even to make a U-turn. Once underway in a straight line, however, the V-Max's reason for existence becomes crystal clear. Opening the throttle in first gear is like Captain Kirk calling for warp factor nine: If the rear tire doesn't cry uncle with a screech and a cloud of smoke, you are disappearing into hyperspace. Finesse the clutch into second and you can attract all kinds of trouble by leaving a few dozen feet of rubber behind, and continuing in third and even fourth will have the rear tire scrabbling for traction. The V-Max will put a canary-eating grin on your face every time you open the throttle, guaranteed. And you'll want to do it, again and again.
In Star's focus-group research, owners of the old V-Max insisted that the company retain the V-Boost of the old model in the new version. The V-Boost system consisted of butterfly valves in the intake tracts that opened at 6000 rpm and let each cylinder breath through two carburetors instead of one. The result was a sudden increase in steam when the V-Boost kicked in that practically defined the original V-Max. In fact, people still rave about it more than 20 years later. While the '09 model doesn't have the V-Boost setup, it does have Yamaha's Chip-Controlled Intake system, which toggles between long and short intake stacks at 6650 rpm and gives the bike a definite increase in power. Aside from another, smaller step in the powerband at approximately 4500 rpm, the engine delivers a smooth rush of electric power from idle to redline, and the V-Max accelerates almost as hard from 40mph in fifth gear as it does in first. During a brief moment of indiscretion (er... one of many, unfortunately) I did see 135mph on the speedometer. Our Star rep mentioned that the bike is limited not far beyond that speed, although somehow the ECU will know if you are at the dragstrip and allow a bit more speed.
Thankfully, the V-Max stops and goes around corners almost as well as it handles accelerating in a straight line, and Star engineers have done an impressive job in containing the huge engine's power. The front brakes, with wave-type rotors and R1-spec calipers, have very good initial bite and feedback, although understandably a hefty pull is required for serious stopping power. The bike's ABS-based on the FJR1300's system-is not as seamless as I remember it being on the sport touring rig, and kicked in unexpectedly early on the rear end a few times. Up front it felt more sorted the few times I experimented with it.
Turning into a corner requires surprisingly little input to the wide handlebar. Grip from the V-Max-specific Bridgestones is very good and the Star is plenty stable once in a turn-although the 200-series rear tire will try to take control in mid-speed sweepers, requiring some handlebar input to hold a line. There is enough jacking effect from the shaft drive that you'll want to be extra cautious on the throttle (probably a good idea anyway), but this task is made a bit difficult by an abrupt throttle. Initial off/on response is clean and smooth, but open the throttle too quickly from there and the engine will hesitate momentarily, setting off all the things you'd expect a shaft-driven, 685-pound motorcycle to do.
While the V-Max falls into turns easily, lifting it up from full lean is another matter and a snaking road with switchbacks will wear you out quickly. Cornering prowess is not the V-Max's forte, but the bike is much more adept than the old model (based even on my limited time on an original V-Max) and much better than I had anticipated. Unleash the power with appropriate respect and planning, and you can make good time down a canyon road and maybe even surprise some unsuspecting sportbike riders. But who are we kidding anyway? This bike is all about the straights between the turns, and in gobbling up that part of a road the V-Max's addictive rush has no equal.
Wind protection is about as you'd expect from a standard and the counterbalanced engine is quite smooth, with only a hint of both high- and low-frequency vibrations through the footpegs. The transmission ratios in the smoothly shifting five-speed gearbox are closed up overall from the original's, but have a much larger gap between fourth and top that leaves the engine loafing on the freeway. The drivetrain points toward long-distance comfort but the stiff seat and harsh rear suspension-most likely stiff to help reduce shaft jacking-left me sore and tired after a 140-mile day. You'll be stopping often if you plan on taking Mr. Max on a trip anyway, as the underseat fuel tank has only four-gallons capacity and the engine is thirsty; the low-fuel light on my bike came on at just 70 miles. Granted, those were mostly spent with the rear tire doing its best Marlboro Man impersonation, but you get the idea.
Star's "ultimate power cruiser" certainly lives up to its name, and its performance on roads that aren't straight spills over into sportbike territory. Star plans to import just 2500 units for '09 under a priority delivery program, and getting your fix will require placing an order in advance. Yes, it's a cruiser and I was as skeptical as any sportbike rider would be when the Boss instructed me to attend the introduction. But I was hooked after just a couple of twists of the throttle, and I'm planning to nab the key of our test bike as soon as it arrives.
2009 Star V-Max
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 65-degree V-four, 4 valves/cyl.
Bore x stroke: 90 x 66mm
Compression ratio: 11.3:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI with YCC-1, YCC-T, 48mm throttle bodies, one injector/cyl.
Front tire: 120/70R-18 Bridgestone BT-028F G
Rear tire: 200/50R-18 Bridgestone BT-028R G
Rake/trail: 31 deg./5.8 in. (148mm)
Wheelbase: 66.9 in. (1700mm)
Seat height: 30.5 in. (775mm)
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal. (15L)
Claimed wet weight: 685 lbs (311kg)
While the V-Max may be a part of Star's cruiser lineup, it makes extensive use of technology-and even some parts-normally found in Yamaha's sportbikes. The chassis is just as huge as the 1679cc engine, measuring almost 67 inches in wheelbase. Wet weight is claimed to be 685 pounds, about 100 pounds more than Suzuki's B-King.