photography by Riles & Nelson
Aha! Now I get it. Just before the unveiling of the 2009 Yamaha/Star Vmax on the deck of the U.S.S. Midway, we listened to a riveting account of how aircraft were launched from the now-decommissioned carrier. A steam-powered catapult helped propel each plane from 0-170 mph in two seconds. Pilots were pushed back in their seats with such force that their eyeballs flattened and it felt like an elephant sitting on their chests.
Rather than being just an impressive backdrop for the event-not to mention the coolest place ever for a smoky burnout-the clever folks at Star were employing metaphor. Duh. A less dim-witted motojournalist would have immediately made the connection between the mind-bending acceleration of the catapult-assisted jets and the ability of the all-new, 197-horsepower Vmax to boogie on down the road.
Sorry. Before the presentation they were handing out really tasty free beer. I must have killed a few brain cells, weak ones, anyway.
But I had a moment of clarity two months later as those 197 black stallions galloped between my legs and I cracked the twist-whip. I almost felt like a mush-faced Roger Moore when 007 got stuck in that high-speed centrifuge in Moonraker. Mercifully, the Vmax’s chicken switch actually works.
What kept the original Vmax in Yamaha’s lineup largely unchanged from 1985-2007 was raw, unadulterated power. According to Yamaha’s 2007 and 2009 spec sheet comparison, the original 1,198cc V-4 engine churned out 133 horsepower (112 horsepower and 79 lb-ft of torque on the rear-wheel dyno; Rider, November 2004). The special sauce was V-Boost. At 5,700 rpm, butterfly valves opened a second set of carburetors. The resulting jolt of acceleration was so addictive, it became a popular pastime of Vmax owners to roll off and on the throttle to get another hit, and then another.
Tasked with reinventing the Vmax, Star’s extensive market research resulted in must-have design objectives: better handling, a slight increase in power, improved riding position and, above all, keep V-Boost! A previous attempt got all the way to a running prototype, but it was scrapped because the engine lacked character. Rather than giving up, Star started over with a clean slate. We got a first look at the end result (Rider, August 2008), and recently I was among the first non-Yamaha folks in the world to ride the new Vmax.
At the tech presentation the night before our ride, we were reminded to watch our speed and to avoid gratuitous “displays of acceleration.” Good advice, to be sure, but lacing our coffee with testosterone antidote would have been more effective. After breakfast, I rushed out to the parking lot to stake my claim on a black Vmax. Oh. They only come in black. Make that Intense Black. And how thoughtful-when sunlight reflects off the body panels you can see subtle flakes of red, which complement the red stitching on the seat.
Everything about the new Vmax is bigger-and badder. Still a V-4, engine displacement has swelled from 1,198cc to 1,679cc. Claimed horsepower has jumped 48 percent, from 133 to 197, and torque has increased by 40 percent, from 87 to 122 lb-ft. Um, that’s not a slight increase in power, but we’re not complaining. Subtracting typical drivetrain friction losses translates to about 167 horsepower at the rear wheel. Yes, you are right, that could make the Vmax the most powerful standard-production motorcycle on the planet. No wonder Yamaha’s technical staff had four crates marked “Extra Tires, Vmax U.S. Intro” to accommodate multiple waves of journalists coming from around the world to go a few rounds with the new heavyweight.
Out with the old, in with the new. Fuel is now injected rather than carbureted, sucked in through 34mm intake valves (up from 30.5mm) and coughed out via 30mm exhaust valves (up from 25mm). Rather than create V-Boost mechanically, it is now done with Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I). Intake funnel length is optimized for acceleration-150mm for low to midrange acceleration, shrinking to 54mm for acceleration from 6,650 rpm up to the 9,500-rpm redline.
Turn the Vmax’s knob-key and the electro-luminescent tanktop display reads “Time to Ride-This is Vmax,” which reminds me of K.I.T.T. without the smug voice track. Twist the throttle and the motor rumbles and the exhaust growls-a portent of the potent potential within. Though wheelbase has been stretched from 62.6 inches to 66.9 inches and claimed wet weight has increased 61 pounds (to 685), it doesn’t feel long and heavy. And the Vmax’s power is easily manageable at around-town speeds.
Yes, the 1985 Vmax was the “original power cruiser,” and it makes sense to introduce the new Vmax under Yamaha’s Star cruiser division. But I’m sorry, the new Vmax is not really a cruiser. What holds back most cruisers-feet-forward riding position, weak brakes, dodgy suspension, wet noodle chassis -is gone. The new Vmax has a neutral, sport-standard riding position, top-shelf brakes (dual six-piston, radial-mount Sumitomo front calipers squeezing 320mm wave rotors, single Akebono rear caliper squeezing a 298mm wave rotor), excellent suspension (52mm, titanium oxide coated male-slider fork and single rear shock, both by SOQI and fully adjustable) and a lightweight aluminum frame and swingarm designed for power and handling.
Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) delivers smooth, right-now throttle response, but it is also supposed to reduce engine braking feel. Gee, I’d hate to find out what engine braking would feel like without YCC-T. Rolling off the throttle is like throwing out an anchor. Endless power and torque render the transmission irrelevant-third became “everygear”-and the Vmax’s jake brake makes the high-zoot binders optional.
A $17,990 price tag allowed Star to get things right rather than compromise, and the new Vmax is great all around, not just a point-and-shoot powerhouse. It handles well on technical roads, the chassis is reassuring and the brakes, with the added confidence of ABS, are easy to modulate and can stun the beast quickly and effectively. The transmission shifts smoothly and positively, and the slipper clutch eliminates down-shift drama.
The Vmax’s reputation as King of Power is safe…for now. When those intake stacks contract above 6,650 rpm, it is like being shot out of a cannon. At one photo stop at the end of a long, desolate road, I heard one editor say, “That’s the first time I’ve been passed at over 100 mph like I was standing still.” Sorry, I had to verify that 137-mph top-speed limiter (affirmative).
That thunderbolt throttle takes its toll on the 3.96-gallon fuel capacity. On our 140-mile ride, the low-fuel light came on at around 60 miles, but made it another 25 miles to a fill-up. The Vmax’s long-distance potential is thus limited, even though well-styled accessories include saddlebags, a windscreen and a luggage rack.
When our test bike arrives, I predict staff arm-wrestling matches for the keys and a spike in consumption on the Rider gas card. I’m now a disciple in the Church of Vmax-ology, and fully commit myself to regular devotion.
2009 Yamaha/Star Vmax Review Specifications Chart
Base Price: $17,990
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 65-degree V-4, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 90.0 x 66.0mm
Transmission: 5-speed, hydraulic ramp slipper wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft, 1.509:1
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 31 degrees/5.82 in.
Seat Height: 30.5 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 685 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.96 gals., warning light on last 1.1 gals.
Average mpg: NA
Check out a video of Road Test Editor Greg Drevenstedt’s 2009 Vmax press intro interview with Yamaha/Star. Look for the October 15 episode of “Inside Powersports.”