The word icon is
described as an important and enduring symbol. For Yamaha and Star
Motorcycles, the VMax stands near the top of its bikes eligible for icon
status. First seen in 1985 and barely revised since, this all-new VMax has
gone through a decade-long gestation, with development work going back to
1997. The first running prototype was judged to be too big and the power
make sure Star was hitting its target audience, they conducted extensive
market research with focus groups. Owners of the previous generation
an average age of
45-plus years) insisted a new version should have improved handling,
increased power, a better riding position and continued use of shaft
drive. And they were adamant for Star to use a V-Four engine and "keep the
larger, more powerful engine was always going to be necessary, especially
after the arrival last year of the Hayabusa-powered Suzuki B-King. An
all-new V-Four (see sidebar below) was created, achieving Star's goal of
reaching the 2oo-horsepower mark.
Bringing the VMax into the 21st century
improvements to the flexi-flyer steel chassis of the old bike, so they
threw it out and created an aluminium frame that uses the imposing engine
as a stressed member for added rigidity. But getting Cl long, shaft-driven
chassis to handle up to Yamaha's standards proved to be the most
chal1enging aspect of the new bike, causing a delay to the bike's
introduction until they got it right.
of the chassis
consists of a cast-aluminium perimeter-style frame and new alloy swingarm.
The subframe is made from controlled-Fill cast-aluminium sections and
extruded-aluminium. The chassis' geometry is closer to cruiser specs than
sportbike numbers, with a 31.0degree rake, 148mm of trail, and a
66.9-inch wheelbase. The previous model had sportier geometry: 29.0
degrees, 119mm, and 62.6 inches, respectively. This latest Max is about an
inch wider and 3.7 inches longer overall.
It all adds up
to a machine with immense visual punch.
crowning accents are the aluminium air intake scoops that are now
functional. The scoops are hand-polished to a fine lustre (taking 40
minutes each!) then are clear-coated for an enduring shine.
to be a fuel tank is really just a cover for the non-pressurized airbox
and a place to mount a digital info panel that includes a clock, dual
tripmeters, fuel gauge, gear indicator, coolant temp, mpg, intake air
temp, throttle angle, stopwatch and a countdown indicator. Its electro-Luminescence
display is said to be clearer and faster than LCD. While the info panel is
placed too low to be easily seen while riding, the giant muscle car-like
tachometer is in full view and is augmented by a
shift light placed prominently alongside.
firing, the VMax settles into a steady but menacing rumble. The VFour,
with its contra-rotating balance shaft, is quite smooth, but a rider never
forgets there is something substantial reciprocating between the knees. A
blip of the throttle reveals a fairly heavy flywheel effect, as revs don't
soar as quickly as smaller, sport-oriented engines.
The Heart of the Beast
When building a replacement motor for an icon like the VMax, Yamaha/Star
engineers knew they had to recreate a legend. While the old 1198cc V-Four
was the bees' knees in 1985, it would take a large injection of power to
be king of the hill in 2009.
The mantra of
the muscle-car era was "there's no replacement for displacement," and the
new VMax hums the same tune. While its 66mm stroke was retained, the '09
Max gets a big-bore treatment by enlarging its cylinders from 76mm to
90mm. This yields an engine with 481cc extra, a 40.2'0 bump to 1679cc.
upcoming Aprilia V-Four Superbike engine, the VMax uses a chain to drive
the intake cams, and from there a gear-set turns the exhaust cams, keeping
the engine as short as possible. Valve-adjustment intervals are only every
26K mites. Star also tightened up the 70-degree vee cylinder angle to 65
degrees, also the same as the Aprilia mill. Combined, this tightened up
the distance between the cylinder heads by a little more than 1 inch, and
the monster motor is 7mm shorter overall.
of this new engine uses technology seen on Yamaha's top-line sport bikes.
A Mikuni fuel-injection system uses a quartet of 48mm throttle bodies with
12-hole injectors, and it's operated by Yamaha's ride-by-wire
Chip-Controlled Throttle (YCC- T). The three processor ECU measures
parameters (wheel speed, crank position, temperature, etc) every 1/1000th
of a second. Interestingly, a Star supplied chart says YCC- T also takes
into account a lean-angle sensor, which, along with the standard ASS's
wheel-speed sensors, could be deployed as a traction-control system. A
look at our tire-melting video shows this not to be the case.
from Team Blue's R-series sportbikes
are variable-length intake stacks (YCC-I) that use 150mm snorkels for
strong torque at low revs. At 6650 rpm, the trumpets raise up to reveal
shortie 54mm intakes for a V-Boost-like top-end hit that voraciously
rockets the bike quickly through the gears
the motor are more sportbike-derivative pieces. Pistons are made from
lightweight forged aluminium, and they rise and faU on the 180degree crank
inside ceramic-composite cylinder linings. The connecting rods are
fracture-split and carburized for strength. The new combustion chamber is
much flatter (a 29-degree included valve angle) and nets an 11.3:1
compression ratio which requires premium fuel. Magnesium engine covers try
to keep weight down as much as possible.
Spent fuel exits
into four header pipes that join in a large under-swingarm collector
before flowing into a pair of four exit mufflers with titanium
Inside are an oxygen sensor, two catalysers, and an EXUP power valve.
it all adds up to is a
colossal 197 crankshaft horsepower
at 9000 rpm. The
final version of the previous VMax (last sold in .07) was rated at a
paltry 133 hp at 8000 rpm, a whopping 48.0% less. Prodigious, too, is the
new MaXs torque production. Its 122 ft-Ibs at 6500 revs dwarfs the 86.8
ft-Ibs at 6000 rpm of the old bike to the tune of 40.6%.
There is so much power on tap
that a Star rep
related a story of how its rear tire was slipping on a rear-wheel dyno
drum when testing its mox power. Even adding a passenger didn't
completely stop the slipping! I didn't manage to get him to reveal what
numbers came up on Yamahas Dynojet, but reading between the lines, we
expect rear-wheel dyno figures approaching 180 hp. Note that Suzuki's B-King
out about 160 horses at the back wheel
tank-mounted info panel
has a display that shows how much throttle is being used, but that's the
last place you'll want to be looking if the throttle is cracked more than
a quarter turn. Despite being muted by a substantial 6841bs full of
fluids, 200 ponies have a way of bringing the future quickly into the
present. Serious thrust is available at just 2500 rpm, and it just keeps
building exponentially from there to the 9500-rpm rev limit, accompanied
by an impressive and distinct V-Four yowl. The outrageous power
linear but explosive, so much so that the midrange opening of the YCC-I is
barely perceptible - acceleration changes only from "holy s*%t! to
VMax is fitted with a drive system that helps and hurts.
actuation eases lever effort, and gearbox throws in the 5-speed tranny
are short and precise. A race-style slipper clutch works okay, but it
seems a bit incongruous to be doing high-rpm downshifts on a so
cruiser. However, this is no ordinary cruiser and, in fact, might better
be labelled something like a muscle naked. Star's Warrior is correctly
termed a power cruiser, and the VMax is certainly something quite
the gearbox is first-rate,
the shaft-drive system partially fits on the negative side of the ledger.
focus groups may have insisted on a shaftie, but this
arrangement has its dynamic compromises, no
well it's designed. It's heavier, so a rear suspension can't react
as quick, and it also makes the bike suffer a jacking effect that results
in a stiffer and higher rear end when under power.
The jacking effect is actually quite minimal
on the VMax, so
kudos there, but there's no getting around the stiffer rear suspension
with the throttle twisted. Bump absorption isn't as compliant and, worse,
the minimal weight transfer makes this the most difficult 200-horse bike
to wheelie that I've sampled! Long black darkies are typically the result
of mono wheel attempts taller, heavier riders, who induce more weight
transfer, have an easier time of it.
shaft-drive by product has hooligan benefits of its own.
Without much rearward weight transfer, the reasonably sticky 200mm
Bridgestone BT028 has a snowball's chance in hell of not melting when the
V-four is given its head. If you've even been foolish enough to want to
mimic the rear-wheel-sliding corner exits of pre-traction-control GP
riders, the VMax stands head and shoulders above anything else on two
wheels. Tire-spinning corners exits have been part of my fantasy world
that rarely transfer into actuality, but Mr. Max makes them
In regard to the bike's ultimate acceleration,
the VMax is
absent a probable electronic trick and equipped with an unexpected one.
first, we're thrilled to report the ECU doesn't limit power in the lower
gears like on many other modern hyperbikes. Electronic intervention comes
into play once
220 kph (136.7 mph) is reached, as this is
the Maxs top-speed limiter. However, to not handcuff drag
performance, the limiter is lifted to a 230-kph (142.9 mph)
threshold when a quarter-mile acceleration
run is sensed! for what it's worth, I saw 145 mph on the speedo before I
ran out of open road.
When it comes
time to shed speed, the new VMax is worlds apart from the wimpy brakes of
its forbear. Up front, a four-position lever actuates a Brembo radial-pump
master cylinder that feeds a pair of 6-piston radial calipers biting on
320mm wave-type discs. They proved to be very powerful but not overly
sharp. A Brembo rear master cylinder powerfully
single-pot calliper and 298mm wave rotor, and it was when using the rear
brake that I was grateful for the bike's standard ABS which isn't
terms of real-world usability, the VMax performs better than expected,
although it's a bit clumsy at lower speeds. The narrow handlebar and
cramped riding position of the old bike has been opened up by moving the
grip position an inch further forward and about a half-inch taller. The
seat height is listed at a modest 30.5 inches, but its broad seating area
gives narrow-hipped people like me a bit of struggle to reach the ground
firmly with both feet. A stepped seat-back isn't just for comfort; it's
also to keep you aboard the bike during GI acceleration.
Dressed to the Nines
Star understands better than most Japanese OEMs that personalizing a
motorcycle can be an integral part of the ownership experience. As such,
it offers an extensive line of accessories for the new VMax.
are as emblematic of contemporary speed and racing as is lightweight
carbon fibre, and Star delivers with an assortment of lovely composite
pieces manufactured in-house. Tasty carbon bits include fenders, tank
covers, seat cowls and side covers, but the beautifully made stuff isn't
cheap. A set of the C-F air intake scoops costs a whopping $999.95.
components include a flyscreen, touring windshield, hard saddlebags and a
passenger backrest. An optional tail pack can attach to the passenger
seat or an accessory aluminium luggage rack. Upping the bling factor is as
easy as bolting on some billet aluminium covers for the cams, master
cylinders and swingarm pivot.
the seat is 3.96-gallon fuel tank, same as the old bike, which helps lower
the bike's CG. The VMax manages decent heat control through its dual
radiators that keep its frontal area as slim as possible. Out of Ramona,
stuck in traffic, I could feel a little heat on my ankles and shins, but
not bad considering the engine's enormous output.
are decent views out of the bar-mount mirrors for keeping an eye on your
tail during your inevitable extra-legal antics. Freeway cruising is very
comfortable for a naked, as a rider is sitting down in the bike, making
even a 90-mph lope (with its overdriven fifth gear) quite bearable. A 2
-year warranty adds peace of mind.
should be commended for the suspension it fitted to the Max. Both ends are
produced by Soqi, a Yamaha subsidiary, and both the 52mm forkand single shock
are adjustable for spring preload and both compression and rebound
damping. But their best feature is tools-free knurled knobs to easily dial
in optimum rebound damping at both ends, plus rear compression damping; a
screwdriver needs to be unsheathed only
for front compression. The rear end also has a handy hydraulic preload
adjuster on the bike's left side that can be altered on the fly if you're
flexible - otherwise, do it easily at a stop.
suspension is good stuff, but it is faced with the formidable task of
controlling a hefty machine and its shaft-drive dynamics. Action from the
titanium-oxide-coated fork legs is quite good, even with substantially
increased spring rates. But the rear end often struggles with isolating
bumps, faced as it is with the shaft-drive compromises. Backing off rear
preload and compression damping soothed things somewhat, but it never
responded like an optimized chain or belt-driven bike.
successful is the new VMaxs handling qualities, one of the old bike's
weakest aspects. Now with the new aluminium chassis, a beefy fork and a
forged-aluminium lower triple clamp and a cast-aluminium upper, the big Star
is ready to intimidate lesser riders on pure sportbikes down a canyon
it makes a Suzuki SV650 feel like a mountain bike in comparison, its
handling is better than expected, with a chassis that feels stiff and
responsive in steering transitions and a fork that offers decent
front-end feel. You don't have to be a racetrack refugee to drag pegs on
the VMax, but available lean angle is actually very respectable for a
beast like this.
deficiencies it has are related to throttle response and the shaft drive.
The YCC- T is endowed with a program to reduce engine braking feel by
letting a bit of fuel seep through on trailing throttle, and this works
seamlessly most of the time. But in some instances, the
compression-braking effect is quite pronounced and, worse, unpredictable
when it happens. Chopping the throttle mid-corner can unsettle the
chassis, and a rider can feel some drive train lash with an uncertain
throttle hand in corners.
I first heard about the new VMax, I had two thoughts: First, it was about
damn time! Second, hanging a $17,990 price tag on a Japanese bike can be
akin to wearing cement shoes. But while I still wonder how well second
and third year models will sell, I do see a lot of value in this
an icon is never easy, but that's exactly what Star and Yamaha have
with the 2009 VMax. It has a few flaws and limitations, but its overall
persona extends the Max's icon status. It's as distinctive as bikes come.
it has terrific attention to detail, and it offers a thrill ride that
can't be equalled by anything else on two wheels.
units (with commemorative badges) will be available for the 2009 model
year, and more than half are already sold. You only have until October 31
to get your order in on the '09 VMax. Those who ordered early should see
their bikes by the first part of November.