2009 Yamaha Star VMAX

In the land of bigger is better, a motorcycle like the VMAX has a lot of pull – literal and figurative. The PR claim is a head-glitching 197.4 horsepower at the crank, so our test began in full once we rolled the burly Star onto the dyno at Mickey Cohen Motorsports.

Shop owner, Mickey, said it all after the first run on the VMAX when he turned to chuckle his approval. The rear drum spun a 166.4 horsepower peak and with a 15% loss for the shaft drive transfer Yamaha’s near-200 hp crank claim rings true. VMAX torque production is also other-worldly at 104.2 lb-ft. Compared head-to-head with the Suzuki (158.6 hp, 93.9 lb-ft) it’s clear that, on the dyno at least, the Max is king.

The source of the dyno-bending power is the Max’s distinctive V-Four. The original 1985 Max sported an 1198cc mill but the newest version jacks displacement up to 1679cc via an oversquare 90mm bore x 60mm stroke. Sourcing new forged aluminum pistons the latest V-Four is slimmer too, set at 65-degrees with the four-valve heads actuated by chain-driven intake and gear-driven exhaust cams. Yamaha increases performance with its YCC-T and YCC-I systems, along with ram air courtesy of the stylish aluminum side intake scoops.

Roll the Max off the dyno and real-world application of power is pure acceleration from bottom to top. And by bottom we mean anything off idle, with the VMAX packing a fierce wallop at the right hand.

“On the VMAX you twist the throttle and from 1000rpm, the thing just lunges forward,” says Motorcycle USA Road Test editor Adam Waheed. “Acceleration on the VMAX is pretty much the gnarliest thing I’ve ever experienced. I mean a 1000cc sportbike is pretty fast but the VMAX gearing is so high and there’s so much power down low, you gotta hold on for dear life.”

Yamaha’s sportbike-derrived YCC-T and YCC-I systems deliver immediate fueling and while the throttle is quite controllable, the Max motor is so spry its feels enhanced not neutered by the technology. The throaty roar from the Four rumbling out of a 4-1-2-4 exhaust is a fitting soundtrack to the chaos and the lightning acceleration on the Max can’t be overstated. We never quite got used to the sensation – a good thing, as it’s what makes the VMAX such a grin-inducing ride.

On public pavement the power of the VMAX is past prodigious, beyond ridiculous. Probably should be illegal, but we’ll take it. And while the 66.9 wheelbase killed wheelie attempts, the power spat out of the shaft drive overwhelms the 200mm Bridgestone rear’s adhesion with ease.

“Spinning the tire at will is too fun,” say Atlas, “and with the VMAX you can light up the rear tire in any of the first three gears – just twist the grip and go!”
As for the drag strip results, we’ll save the analysis for the B-King section… We will say the high final drive gearing of the five-speed Max is made for acceleration not top speed, with the VMAX maxing near a paltry 140mph. Did we just say “paltry” 140 mph? Such are the strange verdicts of our comparison, the B-King tapping on one fourth-gear dyno run at 155 mph.

The five-speed gearbox is smooth and the hydraulic clutch lever is beyond complaint. Noteworthy is the VMAX’s slipper clutch, a much appreciated addition when jamming the raucous motor down a couple gears before a tight corner.

Speaking of corners, the handling department clearly divides our two test mounts. Sporting a half-foot longer wheelbase, with 31-degree rake, the Max is by far less agile. The VMAX is also heavier, tipping the scales tank full at 692 lbs (364 front/364 rear). The weight and steering geometry disadvantage is dramatic compared to the Suzuki, yet the VMAX is still more than competent, certainly it is stellar if applying the muscle cruiser context to the cruiser-ish Max.

The beefy 52mm fork and single rear shock suspension package on the Max exceeds any cruiser standards, with easy three-way adjustability thanks to twistable knobs taking care of the clicks. The suspension components deliver a solid, stable ride and the Max’s biggest cornering limitation is the low peg clearance.

Braking is another area where the VMAX sheds cruiser conventions for a higher-spec approach. No single-disc front brakes here, with two massive 320mm rotors pinched by radial-mount 6-piston Brembo calipers. The units deliver exceptional bite and feel when slowing down the near 700-lb beast. And riders will need to be confident with the brakes, as high speeds will, repeat will, be attained on the Max.

The brakes divided our test riders, some preferring the Star, others feeling the Suzuki’s were better. The Star’s standard ABS system felt more intrusive than the Suzuki’s, with a drastic pulsating feel. It did, however, prove quite effective, even during violent stomps on the lone 298mm rotor and single-piston rear.

The relaxed riding position of the Star is enjoyable, with an easy reach to the bars. The 30.5-inch seat is comfortable and the back rest helps keep the rider in place during those wheel-spinning green light starts. My only complaint was peg placement, low for cornering yet high enough that knees had to straddle rather than rest beneath the protruding air scoops.
The only big disappointment with the VMAX is its abysmal sub 100-mile range. We limped into re-fuel at 87 miles on one occasion. 87 miles! There’s a price to pay for gobs of power and on the VMAX it was a 23mpg efficiency. With the 4-gallon tank (located under the seat), you do the math. We found the gas-guzzling amusing during our brief time with the Max, but double-digit range dims the fun factor.

In the styling department, the VMAX’s muscle cruiser looks edge out the Bat-mocycle lines of the Suzuki. The engine itself is an eye-catcher, then there’s the shiny aluminum scoops… About the only thing we didn’t appreciate was the blocky key, but overall our testers felt the premium $17,999 MSRP is warranted.

“Where the VMax is a little nicer would be in the fit and finish dept,” notes Steve. “Everything is really well made, hand polished. It definitely feels like it costs a lot of money – that it’s a real quality piece. And I think with the limited production run it should be a pretty smart investment to hold their value.”

Then there is always that unexplainable factor when judging a bike. Call it the X-factor, the grin factor … Whatever it is the VMAX has it with the Star design gathering curious onlookers at every stop. Maybe it’s simple nostalgia, as in the short time I rode the bike more than one gentlemen of middling years ran up to ask if that was the new VMAX. Judging from the look in his eyes, you’d think he was reuniting with old college buddy. And given the Max’s storied past, maybe the old Yamaha really was.

Bruiser looks, scary acceleration, a popular past… The VMAX has a lot in its favor.