Yamaha V-Star 1100 Silverado

There’s a lot of motorcyclists out there like my friend Shawn. He’s had his high-speed thrills aboard a Ninja 750 but now that he’s on the wrinkly side of 35, the Ninja no longer suited his more conservative demeanor. Dust currently puts more miles on his bike than he does.

It was time for something new, but what? His visions of knee-dragging heroics began to recede in pace with his hairline, so his thoughts eventually turned to cruisers. And being a practical kind of guy, he didn’t want to blow most of his savings just to carry around a certain badge from Milwaukee.

Offerings from Japan are a good place to look for reasonably priced cruisers, but hitting the right styling mark and exhibiting a high level of fit and finish has proven to be elusive for some manufacturers. The trick is to produce an inexpensive motorcycle that isn’t cheap.

The venerable V-Star 1100 series is one of the bargains in the 1000cc-plus cruiser offerings. Using an engine that is not much changed from the old Virago 1100, the V-Star line consists of three models. Just $7,899 will put you in the saddle of the Custom model, with its minimalist front fender and bobbed rear fender setting it apart from the valanced-fendered Classic versions. New for 2003 are optional cast aluminum wheels that bump up the spoked-wheel-equipped version by 300 bucks.

But it’s the range-topping Silverado version of the V-Stars we opted to test. At $9,399, the non-Chevy Silverado is fitted out for light touring, cruiser style, with a bolt-on windscreen and studded leather saddlebags. A king/queen “touring seat” has matching stud work, and it includes a small backrest for the passenger. The new cast wheels are standard equipment.

Although Yamaha has garnered much ink for its high-performance and racing heritage, it’s actually the cruiser segment that is the company’s best performers in American showrooms. As such, the Star lineup (that includes the big-inch V-Twin Road Star, V-4-powered touring-cruiser Royal Star, and 650cc V-Star) is of particular importance to the Japanese manufacturer.

Key to the success of the Star series is the attention paid to details. The V-Star 11s look more expensive than their modest costs. Wide valanced fenders are made out of good old steel, and the front one covers a fat 130-series tire on a 16-inch rim for the burly appearance of a bigger bike. A linkage-equipped rear shock is hidden away for that cool hardtail look, and the staggered shotgun exhaust is attractively slim and sparkles with a gleaming chrome finish.

More of the shiny stuff is slathered around the V-Star, with much of the brightwork centered around the 75-degree V-Twin engine. Every engine cover is chromed, and the upper half of the cooling fins are polished to contrast with the blacked-out cylinder barrels. Helping meet the cruiser chrome quota, a chrome headlight leads the way while a chrome taillight housing and license plate bracket dress up the stern. An understated yet stylish Crimson Red/Root Beer Brown two-tone paint job and the addition of cast wheels is the only change for ’03 over our 2002 test bike.

The low-slung V-Star is a nicely finished retro-look cruiser, and the 65 cubic-inch engine continues the old-school theme. The wide-angle, 75-degree V-Twin has roots that stretch back several presidential administrations, with only a few concessions to the latest technology. Forged 8.3:1 pistons are more durable and lighter than the typical cast slugs, and a ceramic cylinder bore plating aids reliability and cooling.

Before we fire up the V-Star, first we must search for the ignition key lock. Is it below the seat as on a Harley? No. Is it on the top triple clamp like just about every non-cruiser in production? No. It’s on the right side of the steering head, dummy!

The 1063cc SOHC V-Twin comes to life with the help of a good ol’ choke lever mounted on the left handlebar, no fancy fuel-injection here. Dual 37mm carbs help keep the price down, but make the bike more cold-blooded than an injected bike, despite the high-tech additions of a throttle-position sensor and heated mixers. Noise from the air-cooled lump is notably subdued, allowing Yamaha engineers to put a bit more throatiness into the exhaust sound from the staggered two-into-two shotgun pipes.

Once up to temperature, the V-Star reveals its rider-friendly drivetrain. Clutch pull is quite light, and the cooperative, wide-ratio transmission makes things easy for newbies. First through third gears are quite short, allowing for strong acceleration, followed by a bit of a jump to a higher fourth gear that brings the revs down to a cruiser-appropriate cadence. A high-pitched whine from the gearbox’s straight-cut gears is cool at first, but eventually becomes wearisome.

Like any good V-Twin cruiser, the V-Star delivers its power at low engine speeds, with plenty of grunt just above idle. Dyno testing with our friends at White Brothers Racing revealed that more than 95% of its peak torque value is available at just 2,000 rpm. Torque peaks at 2,500 rpm (57.5 ft.-lbs.) and remains above 50 ft.-lbs. before gently tapering off at 5,500 rpm, making the powerband superbly linear.

The V-Star, with its oversquare, 95.0 x 75.0mm bore and stroke, revs out nicely. Its horsepower curve climbs steadily up to the 53.1-hp peak at 5,800 rpm and hovers above 50 hp before the rev limiter cuts in at 6,400 rpm. The V-Star’s engine is remarkably well-mannered, especially considering its old-tech components and modest 1063cc displacement, and has enough oomph to run with some bigger competitors.

The V-Star’s riding position is thankfully not too radical. The handlebars have a surprisingly neutral location and hands fall naturally to them. Floorboards are cruiser-appropriate forward, but not objectionably so. Moderately aggressive cornering results in scrapage, though the spark show begins no sooner than most other cruisers. The heel-toe shifter allows the tips of a rider’s Gucci boots to remain unscuffed.

With the touring amenities of the Silverado, you’d expect the V-Star to be a composed mount on the highway. For the most part Yamaha has succeeded. Thanks to a long 64.8-inch wheelbase and the fork with a generous 5.5 inches of travel, the medium Star delivers a comfortable ride. The low-tech, damping-rod fork sucks up most bumps easily if not plushly.

The preload-adjustable rear shock hidden for the slammed hardtail look provides a class-leading 4.5 inches of travel to help soak up pavement imperfections. Still, larger bumps cause the rear end of the bike to launch upward on extension, making a rider wish for more rebound damping. Damping often gets overwhelmed with a heavy rider and/or with a passenger. Building to a price point has its limitations.

Cruising speeds of up to 75 mph are relaxed, although engine vibes intrude once past that threshold. Although the V-Star has no tachometer, we can tell you the Dynojet dyno’s speedometer indicated 80 mph at 4,000 rpm. Freeway-speed cruising is hindered by buffeting from a modestly-sized adjustable windshield. It’s actually quieter to ride with the face shield of a full-face helmet up than down, as the turbulent air performs a Keith Moon impression on a rider’s helmet.

The top of the windscreen can just barely be seen over by my five-foot-eight perched eyes, so visibility won’t be a problem unless you’re more vertically-challenged. If you’re about my height, the turbulence coming off the clear shield eventually becomes an omnipresent annoyance. In addition, blustery air, such as when riding in windy conditions amongst freeway traffic, tugs at the fork-mounted windscreen to adversely affect the steering.

A fix for the windscreen’s shortcomings potentially lies in the extensive accessory catalog for the Star series of bikes. Yamaha says more than 700 items are available, and nearly 100 bits for the V-Star Classic alone are listed in the cruiser section of Yamaha’s website. Included among a host of billet and chrome dress-up goodies, assorted handlebars and luggage, are several optional windshields.

The broad, comfy saddle (it’s too big to simply call it a seat) of the Silverado offers good long-range support for riders of my size, but tall riders can be confined in one spot by the large lip at the rear edge of the seat. A choice of four optional seats, including a solo seat, is offered by Yamaha. The standard passenger seat is quite broad, if a bit hard, and pillions really appreciated the extra security of the backrest.

In addition to the windshield and touring seat, the Silverado version includes studded leather saddlebags that are reinforced with hard plastic bottoms. They really add to the bike’s versatility, although they are a bit on the small side. Also, the pair of chrome buckles on each bag are more fiddlesome than typical hard bags, and they offer as much security for your belongings as the belt around your waist. Again, the accessory catalog has several options.

The V-Star’s dynamic handling is about what you’d expect from a cruiser of this size. The long wheelbase and raked-out front end results in somewhat lazy steering manners, although not stubbornly slow. Ride the V-Star in a relaxed mode and it handles as a good cruiser should: easy with no surprises.

Get a little aggressive with it and the 639 pounds of weight begin to overwhelm the mild-steel tube chassis. Tossing it around like a sportbike, if you’re foolish enough, will tie the flexible chassis in knots. Also, changing lanes over deeply grooved pavement will cause a bit of a weave. That said, a smooth rider can actually chuck the Star around fairly well, and it becomes satisfying to wear down the lead blobs on the bottom of the folding floorboards.

The new 7-spoke cast aluminum wheels mean the days of inner tubes on the old spoked-wheels are over. A fattish 170/80-15 resides out back, while a wide 130/90-16 leads the way; spoke-equipped models like our tester have a 110/90-18 up front. The shaft drive eliminates the crud and needed adjustment of a chain drive, and drivetrain lash never becomes bothersome.

Props go out to Yamaha for fitting dual front disc brakes to the V-Star rather than the cheaper single-disc setups on some other budget cruisers. But, while the twin-piston calipers offer a decent bite, the 298mm rotors seem unable to stand up to repeated abuse ours warped from just riding around town. Just like J-Lo, a large and powerful rear (282mm disc) handily improves stopping potential.

Also bigger than most cruisers is the V-Star’s 4.5-gallon gas tank. Fuel mileage depends totally on a rider’s right wrist, as we observed a variance from 37 to 47 mpg. Take it easy on the throttle cable and you might see close to 200 miles between fill-ups.

Keeping the focus on the glossy, two-toned fuel tank, we weren’t enamored with the placement of the tank-mounted speedometer. It’s impossible to read with a full-face helmet without looking downward, and the glare from the lighted instruments reflecting up into the windshield at night is a distraction. And while we’re talking about the view from the saddle, we’d like to point out the attractive satin finish on the clamps for the chrome handlebar.

Indeed, the V-Star has many handsome details, especially considering the bike’s price point. Fit-and-finish is excellent for a bike in this price range, so a V-Star rider never feels underdressed. Convenience is enhanced by a locking compartment under the side cover that can store small items, and an underseat helmet holder that is overlooked on some other cruisers.

The bottom line: The V-Star 1100 Silverado is an honest cruiser with versatility and performance that belie its sub-$10,000 price tag. An informal poll of V-Star observers consistently had its price pegged higher – sometimes much higher – than it actually cost. That, plus the fact that I never felt as if I were riding a budget cruiser over several week’s of use, means the the V-Star is truly a solid value.

So, to my friend Shawn mentioned in the intro, I may have found the perfect bike for you.