Church of MO: 2010 Triumph Rocket III Roadster Vs. 2010 Star VMax

John Burns
by John Burns

Holy of moleys, the miracle isn’t that the VMax is still around, but that Yamaha wants to sell you one for $1501 less than in 2010 – a deflationary $17,999. The Triumph Rocket III of yore could’ve been yours for just $13,999. The reinvented 2020 Rocket 3 has much more kept up with inflation, but also with modern technology, and would no doubt give the old VMax an even rougher run for its money. Let he who is without 160 horsepower cast the first throne.

Big-bore power struggle

Photography by Pete Brissette

From its earliest days as a product of the Yamaha motorcycle brand, the VMax was the icon of brute force on two wheels.Merely mentioning the VMax is sure to conjure images of a rear tire-roasting, muscle-bound, two-wheeled monster in the mind of just about any bike enthusiast old enough to recall the 1985 release of Mad Max.

And to this day the VMax retains much of its lore, even as a member of the Star Motorcycles brand.

A thorough and bold redesign of the VMax in 2009 – that included a massive boost in performance from its legendary V-4 engine – has not only stirred the souls of veteran riders, it’s also exposed a whole new generation of riders to the august Mr. Max.

Coupla hogzillas here. 2010 Triumph Rocket Roadster and 2010 Star VMax.

Although Triumph’s Rocket III is a babe in the woods next to the long-running Max, it made an indelible mark on all of motorcycledom when unveiled in 2004.

Its massive, longitudinally mounted inline-Triple and three prominent exhaust headers were, and still are, striking. The Rocket has an imposing but approachable presence, as if it were a Boss Hoss Lite.

The Rocket, like the VMax, continues to thrill and intrigue since its birth.

It’s the VMax. What else do you need to know?

However, unlike the VMax’s relative stagnation of design for 20-plus years, Triumph spawned a powerful, touring-capable cruiser, as well as a “classic” model, in the matter of only a few years from the original Rocket’s introduction.

For 2010, only six short years since the RIII was launched, the Roadster is with us. With this latest incarnation of the Rocket comes a breathed-on mill making this the most powerful Rocket III to date.

In many ways the Roadster and VMax are quite different. But the common denominator here, and the primary reason we brought them together, are the ridiculous amounts of horsepower and torque each produces.

Sure, modern literbikes like the BMW S1000RR are capable of more peak horsepower than the Rocket or Max; but good luck finding a production motorcycle engine that chugs out sizable hp numbers paralleled by plump torque figures like the Rocket and Vmax generate!

“I’ll have the 72-oz rib eye, please.”

We’re a nation that often embraces the ostentatious – we’re mostly to blame for professional wrestling and competitive eating! – so we figure you’re ready for the main course, to get to the meat of the matter: two over-the-top engines.

An outright leader here depends on your moto value system.

If you’re most enthralled by peak horsepower, then you’ll relish in the fact Big Max’s revvy 1679cc, liquid-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder, 65-degree, DOHC, V-4 readily hands the Roadster its ass when comparing peak horsepower.

These ostentatious brutes are mostly about big muscle.

Mad Max managed 167.5 hp at roughly 9000 rpm (Star’s claim is 197 hp at the crank) when we strapped it to the dyno. From this we see why the VMax makes a good platform for a powerful dragster. The power of the Max is the key element behind its allure.

“Its power is nothing short of incredible,” says Kevin of the VMax. He went on to call it a “rubber-burner extraordinaire!”

Mad Max has the potential to post big top speed numbers, but it’s electronically limited to approximately 146 mph. The most sensible answer to this e-nanny is likely an issue of simple aerodynamics. Riding the naked VMax (or just about any unfaired bike for that matter) at higher speeds seems like a frightening, even hazardous prospect. And, well, we do live in a litigious society…

Although respectable by most standards, the Rocket’s best run of a little less than 119 ponies at 5300 rpm simply falls short of the Star’s sportbike-like peak power.

So there ya have it. If you’re looking for a horsepower king, crown Mr. Max.

The Rocket III Roadster shows up for the gunfight with a 2.3-liter cannon, a cannon lobbing fat torque bombs at its foe. A peak-torque reading of 136 ft-lbs at 3200 rpm is utterly impressive in its own right, but equally noteworthy is that it twisted out over 118 ft-lbs as early as 1500 rpm. WTF?

Even when the RIII’s peak hp tops out, the Big Triple is still making 117 ft-lbs. Short shift and fuhgeddaboudit!

The Max’s peak 107 ft-lbs at 6700 rpm is nothing to brush off, but in the low-rpm arena the Star’s torque production is shy of the Rocket’s by as much as 55% at some points. And that’s a conservative comparison.

As unique as the power curves are, so too is the character of each engine.

The Roadster’s large flywheel effect is notable as it rocks the bike sideways when the throttle is blipped. It feels as though there’s a deep well of irresistible force lurking in the bowels of the big Triple. Of course the Roadster accelerates with authority, but it does so in a deliberate, linear manner that mirrors its mostly flat torque curve.

A rocket indeed!

The Star’s engine complexion suits the bike’s Mad Max nickname. Like a Jekyll and Hyde, the VMax is as friendly as you like it. But a hideous mad man is only one quick twist of the throttle away.

“Even at low rpm, you can tell there is a brute between your legs. Just a whiff of throttle has major speed implications,” Kevin said with a tinge of fear in his voice (not really).

Indeed, the Max accelerates with the ferocity of most literbikes, as the V-4 spins up much quicker than the Trumpet’s inline. Yet there’s a degree of serenity to the engine thanks to its limited vibration.

On the subject of exhaust notes, the Max reminded Kevin of V-8 at idle, and under power it sounds like a modern, high-performance V-8. The Roadster has a throaty, menacing grumble at idle, too. Pull the trigger and the sound emanating out back is reminiscent of a built truck; like the older Chevy with glasspacks the local kid takes to the Tuesday night drags.

One does it on top, the other on the bottom. Different animals for sure; both big, but different.

If the VMax was good at only on thing, this is it. Of course, it does many things well.

The Rocket, as expected, can roast the rear tire from a stop, launches hard and will even hoist a sizeable wheelie providing the clutch is finessed just right along with a handful of throttle. But the Max will do the same and then some. Just a little slip of the clutch in second gear and the Star can bake its 200-section rear tire from a rolling start.

Both manufacturers have done a commendable job of mitigating engine vibes.

A V-4 design is inherently smooth running. In the VMax this trait is further enhanced via a contra-rotating balance shaft. Kudos to Triumph, as the big rigid-mount Trumpet Triple is generally free of major buzz, too.

Although the Roadster’s final torque number is huge, its graph line looks like a blip on the radar next to the Max’s. That’s because the Rocket redlines around 6500 rpm; the Max around 9500. Yet again one of the many ways this pair differ.

More silky smooooveness is located in each bike’s 5-speed gearbox. Shifting action was light and precise on both sleds, although the shorty ASV accessory lever on the Max may have contributed to the sensation extra pull was required.

Good things come in big packages

The VMax brings hi-tech to the table in the form of various engine technologies borrowed from Yamaha’s sportbike line, like YCC-T, YCC-I and the well-known power-enhancing EXUP.

Equally techy is the VMax’s chassis, appropriately updated to match the new V4.

The Max’s skeletal composition boasts a cast-aluminum perimeter-style frame joined to an alloy swingarm; a subframe made of Controlled-Fill cast-aluminum and extruded aluminum pieces completes the package.

If the Roadster ate beef we suspect it would take it on the rare side.

We’d expect nothing less for a bike that was some 10 years in the making before its final unveiling. However, for all the VMax’s advanced chassis design it’s not necessarily light years ahead when it comes to real-world riding.

The Rocket’s chassis package is pretty basic cruiser-type stuff compared to the VMax frame.

A twin-spine tubular-steel frame holds the big Triple as a stressed member; the swingarm/shaft-drive housing is also steel. We don’t want to minimize the Rocket’s frame technology, but that’s about all there is to it.

Despite a suspension package (non-adjustable 43mm USD fork and twin coil-over shocks with 5-position ramp-style preload) as no-frills as the frame, the Triumph acquits itself quite well in just about every riding situation you can throw its way.

Considering the limited range of suspension adjustment on the RIII, overall ride quality is descent with sufficient damping.

The Rocket exhibited moderate-to-light steering effort; even low-speed, tight-radius turns are managed with marked ease. Excellent leverage provided by its wide, sweeping handlebar is a big contributor to the friendly handling.

Although Mighty Max doesn’t initiate turns as fluidly as the Roadster, it otherwise provides sure-footed, confidence-inspiring handling.

For a big, honking, 807-lb sporty cruiser, the newest of the Rockets carries its weight well when hustled down flowing canyon roads where a rider can quickly forget the Roadster rolls a fat 240-section rear tire. Motorcycles with such large rear tires often feel as though they want to right themselves only seconds after initiating a turn. Not so with the Rocket.

The portly Roadster further disguises its heft with a 66.7-inch wheelbase, 32.0-degree rake and 148mm of trail. This is nearly a carbon copy of the VMax’s dimensions save for the Max’s minor advantage of a 1.0-degree steeper steering angle.

Despite the opportunity to finally grace the VMax with fleet-footed steering geometry after all these years, Star (Yamaha) designers and engineers actually made the new Max’s chassis dimensions milder compared to VMax 1.0, as Kevin noted during the 2009 Max’s press launch.

The Roadster’s ability to handle like a motorcycle, say, 100-lbs lighter, is a defining quality of its character, a pleasantly surprising quality at that.

Rocket III Roadster: Not afraid of a twisty road.

It’s a safe bet the VMax’s aluminum chassis lends considerably to the bike’s middleweight-by-comparison claimed wet weight of 685 pounds. Yet the VMax doesn’t whip ‘round corners as briskly as you might expect.

There isn’t any discernable flex or wallow from the VMax’s stout chassis. However, Kevin noted that chopping the throttle mid-corner occasionally upsets the chassis, a condition he attributes partly to how the Yamaha Chip Controlled-Throttle (YCC-T) affects engine compression braking.

This annoyance aside, the VMax otherwise feels solid and planted, enough that new MO Editor, Jeff Cobb, said he was inspired to routinely drag the VMax’s footpeg feelers during a weekend-long trip up California’s twisty coastline near Big Sur and surrounding areas.

On the flipside, I was surprised at the initial effort required to turn Mr. Max, especially after time aboard the lighter-steering but heavier weight Rocket.

The Max exhibits a falling-into-the-corner sensation. Kevin referred to the feeling as steering “flop.” He also keenly noted the Max’s awkward feeling at low speeds, a trait reflective of what feels like a high CoG on the Star.

We suspect a narrower handlebar compared to the Triumph’s wide bar, and an 18-inch front wheel as opposed to the Rocket’s 17-incher, as culprits that prevent crisper steering on the Star.

Although the VMax lacks sportbike-like handling to mate up to its sportbike-like power, its suspension is polar-opposite of the Roadster’s springy parts.

The VMax’s 52mm fork and solo shock are fully adjustable. A rider benefits further from easily accessed knurled knobs for rebound and compression damping on both the shock and fork. A remote hydraulic adjuster on the bike’s left side handles shock preload.

The Star’s ride is better damped overall than what the Rocket offers, but ultimately it’s difficult to get around the rear suspension-altering effects of a shaft drive.

Though shaft-jacking on the Vmax and Roadster’s traditional shaft drive systems isn’t as bad as shaft drives of yore, aggressive acceleration will nevertheless cause the rear suspension to “grow,” just as it does on all shaft final-drive motorcycles. Rear suspension thereby can seem momentarily overly stiff and unforgiving, especially if a handful of throttle is applied.

Braking on either bike is more than sufficient, especially considering the weights and monster power of these big boys.

The VMax wears an impressive-looking set of radial-mount, six-pot calipers clamping down on 320mm wave-type rotors; a Brembo master cylinder is a nice bonus. Braking is aided by the addition of ABS.

The Max’s brakes ultimately have good stopping power, but a smidgen more effort is required at the lever than you might expect from such a formidable-looking set up.

Triumph-branded four-piston Nissin calipers squeeze 320mm rotors with lots of force and excellent feel. They performed better than anticipated for stopping such a heavy machine. ABS is standard on the Rocket but it wasn’t the most refined system we’ve encountered.

Dressing Mr. MaxBy Jeff Cobb
JPD billet rear brake rotor cover and exhaust tips.

For those wanting to add a bit more personalization to the VMax, you may look to the aftermarket, but Star makes it possible to bling out this boulevard bender with the convenience of one-stop shopping.

Our 2009 VMax came with an assortment of dealer-supplied accessories offering a greater or lesser degree of usefulness.

On the list of stylistically matched items that are purely aesthetic, were the following JPD billet alloy products:

Swingarm Cover ($129.95), Camshaft Covers ($429.95), Clutch Cover ($239.95) Left Hand Engine Cover ($189.95), Front Brake Master Cylinder Cover ($79.95), and Clutch Master Cylinder Cover ($69.95).

Out back, additional JPD billet items include the Rear Brake Rotor Cover ($139.95), and Exhaust Tips ($549.95).

Accessory windshield does an admirable job of deflecting wind while upping the Max’s appeal.

If you are not a savant when it comes to adding numbers up, or otherwise don’t have your calculator handy, all this coolness will run you $1,829.60. But our bike had more than just these beautifying goodies …

On the list of truly functional items, the Boulevard Windscreen ($259.95) makes a difference on the highway, although the headlight reflects somewhat inside the abbreviated fairing, and could stand a guard to keep all the light pointing forward.

Another comfort accessory is the Backrest Assembly ($359.95), which does help with lumbar support, and keeps the drag racer, er, rider, in place when trying to crack the 10-second quarter mile barrier this bike is known to do.

The ASV Adjustable Clutch and Brake Levers ($139.95 each) are good quality, eye-catching upgrades.

These additional accessories will set you back an additional $899.80. All combined, this $19,500 bike has $2,719.40 worth of extras, ratcheting final cost to $22,219.40.

Our VMax test unit came to us decked-out in a plethora of bolt-on treats. The JPD billet engine case cover(s), camshaft covers, exhaust tips and seat backrest are but a few of the dress-up parts available from Star for Mr. Max.

But again, this is not all that’s available. If your need to individualize exceeds this list, Star offers additional accessories, including a swingarm kit that will accommodate a 240 series tire, various carbon bits, and more.

In all, we think it’s pretty clear that Mr. Max has not only grown far more potent, he’s now jumped an income bracket or two, and aspires to be legitimately upscale.

Big bike ergonomic landscape and little things that matter

If you’re tantalized by these monster-engine motorbikes and pondering a purchase for your stable, then consider your preferred riding style as part of the decision-making process.

Although the Roadster’s footpeg position is now closer to the rider on the horizontal plane compared to other Rocket models, the Roadster’s rider triangle still smacks of cruiser.

It has a broad, roomy seat like many cruisers do, and the wide handlebar creates an open sitting position. The position is open enough that cruising at speeds above 80 mph for extended periods may cause fatigue in some riders as they attempt to hold on tight against windblast. Below 80 mph or so wind buffeting is minimal on the unfaired beast.

With its roomy and open rider environment, the Roadster retains a strong cruiser-ish influence.

The VMax’s position feels bolt upright compared to the Rocket.

Its footpeg location seems as if it’s directly beneath the rider’s hips; reach to its narrower handlebar feels shorter when compared to the Triumph. The Max’s seating position is kind of like an expensive office chair that’s designed to create correct seating posture. Six-footer Jeff found it comfortable after eight-plus hours in the saddle.

A 30.5-inch seat height on the Max is 1.0-inch higher than the Roadster’s saddle.

Rearward view from Mighty Max’s mirrors is good, but not so good is the view of its comprehensive LCD display mounted atop the faux fuel tank.

We like the forward-thinking design, but the combination of the little hood ostensibly employed to shield the sun, and, well, the sun itself, make viewing all the info difficult during midday.

There’s lots of data on display – like fuel level, gear position, clock, etc ¬– but trying to sort it out while the VMax’s ferocious mill launches you into tomorrow is often a frustrating task. Looking at the LCD while at a standstill seemed most prudent.

The VMax’s rider triangle keeps the rider in an upright position, yet is comfortable for hours on end according to new MO mule, Jeff.

Also, some of the display figures are on the small side. If not made larger in the next redesign, they at least could be made bolder. Star/Yamaha got it right, however, with the prominently displayed tach-o and integrated large-display digital speedo. A mondo shift light is mounted on top the tach.

Really, though, the only things you need to know while riding the silly-fast VMax are when to shift and at what point you’ve crossed into reckless driving territory. Right?

The Roadster’s instrument package consists of simple but effective gauges: one for road speed and one for engine speed. Small LCDs in each gauge display data such as real-time miles-to-empty counter, clock, tripmeters, odo, etc. There’s nothing especially trick going on here, just the basics. Yet there’s a classic and classy appeal to the simplicity.

If you think it’s difficult to make out the data on the Max’s LCD during the day in this photo, imagine trying to do so whilst riding.

Lastly, we expected that such large engines would have voracious appetites, but what we didn’t expect was just how quickly the Max empties its tummy. Poor Jeff found himself pushing the bike to the next fuel stop (until fellow riders lent a hand) after tempting the Max’s low-fuel warning.

“I had to second guess the digital fuel gauge all the way up the Coast,” said Jeff after returning from a long stint aboard the Star. “When it says 50%, you might want to pull over, ’cause it won’t be long before 25%, then watch it! File this under ‘Don’t let this happen to you.’ “

Best observed fuel mileage from our VMax test unit was around 30 mpg. Not bad for a big engine but what is bad is a 4.0-gallon tank on a bike that loves to stretch its legs.

The Roadster didn’t post fuel economy good enough to blow the Max out of the water; but an observed 34 mpg from its cavernous 6.3-gallon tank will take you miles past where the VMax turned off the ride route in order to refuel.


As noted early on, the Roadster and VMax differ enough that only the absurdness of engine size and performance warrant their pairing up. Each offers reasons to prefer one to the other.

Do you enjoy profiling down the boulevard with steam engine-like torque easily pulling top gear from just above idle? Yet still want a bike that doesn’t shy away from twisted pavement?

Relaxed riding position and understated styling your thing? Are you a big dude looking for a bike that’ll finally fit your stature as well as satiate your desire to have a potent but manageable cruiser?

Then the Roadster could be your pick.

Is this the one you want? We’ll take it if you won’t!

The Triumph reminds us of a cleanly restored, hopped-up big-block American muscle car with an engine that does all the talking. Nothing fancy about it, just big torque and no B.S. An unexpectedly low MSRP of $13,999 gives access to this straight-shooting Rocket.

Maybe you respect the old school and those things influenced by it, but for your money you’d have a modern-day Camaro rather than a retro ride. The new VMax might be the powerhouse bike you’ve longed for.

It doesn’t have all the bottom-end stonk of the Triumph, but Mad Max’s top-end-biased big horsepower is more your speed. Futuristic looks packaged around a smooth-running, screamer V-4 and a neutral riding position keep the VMax a dream bike for riders old and new alike.

Perhaps keeping the 2010 VMax merely a dream for many could be its $19,500 MSRP and special-order only availability.

Despite the commonality of mondo engines, the Roadster and VMax are quite different. Each is a winner to us.

“This is an exotic, whether judged in terms of power, engine configuration, styling or scarcity. It’s premium in nearly every way except for its turn signals,” opined Kev.

Through all this, rather than decide which bike suits you best, maybe you’ve become like us: we’ve decided we want both!

John Burns
John Burns

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2 of 12 comments
  • Craig Hoffman Craig Hoffman on Aug 25, 2020

    Ah the absurdity. Ya just gotta love the intake and exhaust sound of an uncorked 'Max with the revs up, throttle wound and the "V-Boost" fully operational. That sound is one of the better aural treats in all of motorcycling.

    'Max video with a Hindle slip on. Scroll to 40 seconds in for the estimated 130 MPH flyby. Not me by the way - LOL

  • Joe Gresh Joe Gresh on Sep 02, 2020

    I've ridden both of these bikes. The V-max front end felt very heavy at slow speeds. Like it had low air pressure in the front tire but no, it's just that heavy. Once rolling it was better. Still not great. In the lower gears when you cracked the throttle coming out of a turn the rear tire would spin trying to push all that weight. It kind of felt like the front brake was dragging. I guess it looked cool though.

    The 3-banger Turnip was also heavy as hell. I didn't care for it because the thing hit the rev limiter so soon. The engine felt stifled and kind of boring. You couldn't make a nice, sustained rip without the thing blubbering and ruining the fun. Handling was as good as you could expect for a bike of those dimensions.

    I'm really not the market for these two bikes, I prefer motorcycles under 500 pounds so ignore me. Between the two the Star V-Max was better but to me the first generation V-max was a better motorcycle than either of these heavy, heavy hitters.