2009 Yamaha V-Star 950 Review
A rational cruiser
Get the Flash Player to see this player.So, there’s another new cruiser on the market, and it’s powered by a V-Twin motor that doesn’t come close to setting new records in terms of size or power. Some may yawn.
But that would be to ignore what’s currently happening in the motorcycle market. Cruisers continue to dominate, nearly doubling the sales total of the higher-profile sportbike market with 436,000 sold over the past 12 months. High-end cruisers are the best selling category, but the smaller classes have recently had a big upturn while the expensive stuff has been tailing off.
Enter the V-Star 950, a new cruiser that is appealing for its combination of manageable size, big-bike style and reasonable price. The new 950 fills a hole in Yamaha’s Star brand of cruisers, slotting in between two long-in-tooth models: the V-Star 650 and V-Star 1100. Star’s design goals for the bike were to offer an easy-to-use platform for all skill levels and rider sizes while providing a full-size cruiser feel with comfort, attitude and image.
Seeing the bike in the flesh, its styling isn’t revolutionary but is a fresher take on the traditional cruiser profile. Its proportions are nicely balanced, especially on the right side where the two-into-one exhaust anchors the flowing silhouette. Cast-aluminum wheels with polished rims are an attractive touch, with the front hoop extra visible on the right side due to the single front brake rotor. Upper fork leg covers add some butchness to the 41mm Kayaba unit, while an intentional gap in the frame below the steering head offers the impression of lightness. The 4.4-gallon fuel tank is curvaceous, and a large chrome airbox cover juts out proudly between the two cylinders. It’s all tastefully done if not ground-breaking.
Thumbing the starter button ignites the fuel-injected 942cc V-Twin without employing a choke lever. The twin-cylinder mill is air-cooled for simplicity and aesthetics, with its 85 x 83mm cylinders arranged 60 degrees apart. A single overhead cam and roller rockers actuate four valves per cylinder. Modern technology comes in the forms of ceramic-coated cylinders for improved heat dissipation and forged-aluminum pistons and connecting rods for durability. The compression ratio is 9.0:1, allowing the use of non-premium fuel. The exhaust note from the single-pin-crank motor is adequately deep but probably not loud enough to save lives. It sounds good but a bit flaccid from the cockpit, so you’ll be happy to know that fitting aftermarket slip-on mufflers is made simple by the ECU’s oxygen sensor being located just ahead of the mufflers.
It helps if you grunt when lifting the V-Star 950 off its wee-bit-short sidestand, although it’s a barely audile grunt. Star claims its newest cruiser weighs 613 lbs, but that’s a ready-to-ride, full-of-fuel number. Yamaha/Star appears to have followed Honda’s lead of providing real-world weights instead of the overly optimistic dry weights usually claimed by OEMs.
It was a cool but sunny morning in rural Georgia, and the air was sweet with the surrounding fall foliage – quite refreshing from our SoCal digs. Refreshing, too, was the way the V-Star 950 immediately felt manageable when negotiating the hilly parking lot surrounding our resort, which contrasts greatly from some of the more gargantuan cruisers available.
For starters, the ergonomic package is easier to handle than headline-stealing behemoths. Even compared to the not-so-huge V-Star 1300, the handlebars are 2 inches rearward and slightly down, and its 26.6-inch seat height is 1.6 inches lower. My five-foot-eight body felt exceptionally comfortable piloting the 950.
"This Star is definitely not an arm-stretcher like the mega cruisers like the Roadliner, but it’s quite responsive and revs out nicely."
The double-cradle chassis of the V-Star is made from steel (rather than aluminum) to keep the price low. Although the 8-spoke wheels are set at a fairly lengthy 66.3 inches apart, the 950 doesn’t feel cumbersome. A 32-degree rake and 5.7 inches of trail is typical of this type of bike, but the combination of 130/70-18 front and 170/70-16 rear tires offers a surprisingly nimble package.
Although the cable-actuated clutch is larger than the V-Star 1100’s, it requires less lever effort to pull. Light, too, is the action from the 5-speed transmission that uses straight-cut gear dogs (rather than 3 degrees undercut) for smoother shifts. Final drive is via a belt for less shift shock and easier customization.
Star didn’t release horsepower figures for the 950, but it did provide peak torque numbers: 58.2 ft-lbs at 3500 rpm, which coincidentally are the exact stats claimed by Kawasaki for the smaller but liquid-cooled 903cc Vulcan 900. On a Dynojet, the Vulcan spat out 53.4 ft-lbs of torque and 47.3 hp. This Star is definitely not an arm-stretcher like the mega cruisers like the Roadliner, but it’s quite responsive and revs out nicely. Although the motor is rigid-mounted in four locations and has no balance shaft; vibration never becomes intrusive – a rider receives only a lightly reassuring thudding from the engine room. The response from the fuel-injection’s 35mm throttle bodies is newbie-friendly.
Georgia’s thick trees gleamed with crimson and gold as we cruised over and down the gently rolling hills of the rural south. The V-Star 950 was in its element as our group ambled briskly on sparsely trafficked backroads. Neutral steering response gives the little-big cruiser a natural feel as it maneuvers through corners. Floorboard-scuffing bank angles are easy to reach, but Star’s research shows that cruiser riders rarely ever request more cornering clearance. For those who enjoy the fun of horizon tilting, Star is wise to fit its cruisers with removable floorboard sliders, which are much cheaper to replace than the entire floorboards.
The usual compromise of a low seat height is harsh suspension, but the 950 has a fairly generous 4.3 inches of rear travel. The single shock has provisions only for preload adjustment, but it gets bonus marks for being the easy-to-tweak ramp-type adjuster that can be altered by a tool in the bike’s tool kit. Together with 5.3 inches of travel from the compliant fork, the Star provides a cushy ride without feeling under-damped and sucks up bumps with aplomb.
The V-Star 950’s cockpit is a pleasant place to spend the hours exploring new areas. Its attractive tank-mounted instrument console includes a countdown reserve, clock and dual tripmeters, controlled via buttons on the right handlebar. A rider has to look down to see the large analog speedometer, which is easy enough, though the digits on the clock and odo are too small to be seen at a glance. A gear-position indicator would be a nice touch on a bike such as this. The bar-mounted mirrors offer a clear view rearward, and the swing-top fuel-cap cover is a nice touch.
Braking duties are handled by a single large 320mm rotor with 2-piston pin-slide caliper up front. It’s low-tech but works surprisingly well, able to howl the front tire at will. A 12.7mm master cylinder is smaller than typical, making for a lighter lever pull. Maximum whoa is achieved by incorporating the rear brake’s 298mm rotor and single-piston caliper, but you’d better be ready to lift your foot of the floorboard to reach the large pedal.
I spent much of my day on the Tour version of the V-Star 950, which is burdened with added baggage of touring accoutrements to the tune of an additional 44 lbs. The shorty windshield worked well for a person of my height, as I was able to easily see above it while enjoying a decent level of wind protection. Tall riders may want to fit a taller screen from Star’s extensive accessory catalog. I like how the 11-gallon saddlebags are lockable and keyed to the ignition, but, like the bags on most touring cruisers, their entry is too small to fit a helmet, even a half-face one. Your passenger will appreciate the backrest and what appears to be a fairly comfy perch.
It should be noted that the quick-release windshield and backrest shown in the accompanying video are from Star’s accessory department; removing the standard components on the Tour model involves the fussy procedure of unbolting them. The scuttlebutt is that the quick-release stuff was too expensive to fit to the Tour model, which would’ve boosted its $8,990 base price (in red or black; $9,090 in silver) above the price-point goal for the bike.
So, what hath Star wrought in this newest of V-Stars? It’s a comfy, classy and attractive cruiser that can satisfy relative newbs and budget-conscious veterans. Downsides? Its relatively compact ergonomic triangle that works so well for riders of average and smaller stature might be a bit tight for six-plus-footers. Also, its seat feels plush for 40 minutes, then feels less so.
But these are small or inconsequential criticisms of a cool cruiser that retails for less than a 10-year-old Honda Civic. There’s a lot of value here for $8,000, as long as you’re not looking for tire-melting power or the manhood-extending allure of 100-plus-cubic-inch motors. Consider that the Jurassic-era V-Star 1100 starts at $9290, or the nicely turned out V-Star 1300 which starts above the $10K mark, and the new 950 looks even more appealing.
I predict Star has a sales hit with the V-Star 950 as long as our economy doesn’t fully implode. One of the few things standing in its way is Kawasaki’s similar-themed Vulcan 900, a bike that with an MSRP a few hundred bucks less at $7,499. Here’s how they stack up on paper.