Yamaha’s original V-Max was wild, bombastic, and an absolute shock to the senses when it was first introduced to the masses 30 years ago. Nearly 20 years later the V-Max was still in Yamaha’s lineup, still delivering mind-numbing straight-line performance. You’d think that two decades would be enough time for the competition to narrow the performance gap, but that was never the case. So, for this Church of MO feature, Eric Bass revisits the original V-Max. The year is 2004, but that doesn’t really matter, as the V-Max is one of those rare bikes that will leave people breathless no matter what year it is. Also, be sure to visit the photo gallery to see even more pictures of this iconic motorcycle.
By Eric Bass May. 20, 2004
Photos by Ivy Brooks
Yamaha’s V-Max is the Jerry Rice of motorcycles. Been around for almost 20 years. A living legend. Light years ahead of its competition back in the days of its youth. And somehow still blowing past the young bucks like they were standing still, leaving them shaking their heads with looks of, “How’d you do me like that Old Man?!” , written across their faces. Like the esteemed Mr. Rice, the V-Max is a straight-up freak that breaks new ground for functional longevity with each passing year. You keep waiting for it to be retired, but it keeps on dusting whatever you throw at it. V-Rods? Get back! Warriors? Puhlease!
As the 1200cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve, 70° V4 hits 6000 rpm, the V-Boost induction kicks in, opening a servo-controlled butterfly valve which creates an expressway for the mixture from the four 35mm Mikuni downdraft carbs. At the same time, the lumpy cams are reaching the sweet-spot in their tuning and the whole shebang becomes a howling freight train which tries to dislocate your arms, as the shaft drive delivers the good news to the 150/90-V15 rear skin, and your opponent comes clearly into focus in your rear-view mirror. Then you briefly engage the hydraulically activated diaphragm-type clutch and do it again, and again. You get the picture. It would get boring except that it’s so dang much fun!
That is until that stop light, which seemed so far off in the distance when you first dumped the clutch, looms larger and larger and turns yellow just as you enter that nether-distance where you cooould nail it, or you cooould hit the brakes. My personal recommendation? Nail it! The V-Max carries 580 lbs of dry weight plus fluids and whatever your personal poundage brings to the equation. It may launch like a sportbike but it don’t brake like one. Yamaha made a game effort at trying to tame the rampaging beast with dual 298mm front discs with 4-piston calipers and single 282mm rear disc brakes. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s still a rampaging beast.
Should you encounter curves along your route, the V-Max behaves itself so long as you do. The 43mm front fork affords 5.5″ of travel and air-assist adjustability, while the dual rear shocks feature 4-position rebound damping and 5-click spring preload variations. Tinker all you want, just don’t get carried away thinking you’re gonna lean her over hard to see what part drags first. That part most likely will be you.
Aesthetically, the muscle-bike most resembles a collegiate wrestler. Short, buff, and powerful. The thick, stubby pipes flare away from the bike like the arms of a steroid freak who can’t keep them down by his sides anymore. The color scheme, like that of #80, is an exercise in Oakland Raider silver and black. The voice of the engine and exhaust seems to growl, “Don’t mess with me” at idle, and roars “Don’t F*#kin Mess With Me!” when you roll the throttle open. That’s with stock pipes. Install a set of good quality aftermarket pipes and do a little intake tuning and you’ll end-up with the aural equivalent of an NHRA Pro Stock Mountain Motor V-8.
If speed is what you need, but you don’t see yourself as the Joe Rocket-eer type, the V-Max offers plenty of cheap thrills and offers comfortable cruisability for those nights on the boulevard. In fact, at first, I spent several awkward moments trying to decide if I should grab a full-face or half-dome before straddling the steed. Ultimately, the choice is yours, but the point is that the V-Max is a unique species unto itself. Unlike its peers, and contrary to popular rumor, Mr. Max seems to show no signs of becoming extinct anytime soon. When and IF Yamaha decides to replace the V-Max, they will need to bring nearly 200hp to the table. Especially if they hope to place it as far ahead of its peers as the original was in the mid-80s.
2004 V-Max Specs
MSRP: $10,899* Available from July 2003
Engine Type: 1198cc, liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, 70° V-4
Bore x Stroke: 76 X 66mm
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Carburetion: 35mm Mikuni downdraft-type w/V-Boost
Ignition: Digital TCI
Transmission: 5-speed w/hydraulically activated diaphragm-type clutch Final Drive: Shaft Chassis
Suspension/Front: 40mm telescopic fork w/air-assist; 5.5″ travel
Suspension/Rear: Dual shocks w/adjustable spring preload and rebound damping; 3.94″ travel
Brakes/Front: Dual 298mm Discs
Brakes/Rear: 282mm Disc
Seat Height: 30.1″
Dry Weight: 580 Lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.0 Gallons
Color: Matte Black
Warranty: 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)