2009 Star V-Max Review/Test - Motorcycle.com

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

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This is a follow-up to our quickie ride story posted just one day after sampling the bike at its world press introduction in San Diego County. Here we delve deeper into the details of the exhilarating new VMax.

The word icon is described as an important and enduring symbol. For Yamaha and Star Motorcycles, the VMax stands near the top of its bikes eligible for icon status. First seen in 1985 and barely revised since, this all-new VMax has gone through a decade-long gestation, with development work going back to 1997. The first running prototype was judged to be too big and the power too linear.

The 2009 Star Motorcycles VMax - an icon reinvented.

Now sold under Yamaha's Star Motorcycles banner, engineers grappled with the concept of a rebirth of a legend. Star is positioning the new VMax at the edge of the expressive/aggressive personality of the modern cruiser category. As such, they use terms like hot rod, muscle, power and respect to describe what the VMax represents.

To make sure Star was hitting its target audience, they conducted extensive market research with focus groups. Owners of the previous generation (which have an average age of 45-plus years) insisted a new version should have improved handling, increased power, a better riding position and continued use of shaft drive. And they were adamant for Star to use a V-Four engine and "keep the V Boost!"

Key to the new VMax's success is a cast-aluminum frame that uses the giant engine as a stressed member.
A larger, more powerful engine was always going to be necessary, especially after the arrival last year of the Hayabusa-powered Suzuki B-King. An all-new V-Four (see sidebar below) was created, achieving Star's goal of reaching the 200-horsepower mark.

Bringing the VMax into the 21st century required enormous improvements to the flexi-flyer steel chassis of the old bike, so they threw it out and created an aluminum frame that uses the imposing engine as a stressed member for added rigidity. But getting a long, shaft-driven chassis to handle up to Yamaha's standards proved to be the most challenging aspect of the new bike, causing a delay to the bike's introduction until they got it right.

The production version of the chassis consists of a cast-aluminum perimeter-style frame and new alloy swingarm. The subframe is made from Controlled-Fill cast-aluminum sections and extruded-aluminum. The chassis' geometry is closer to cruiser specs than sportbike numbers, with a 31.0-degree rake, 148mm of trail, and a 66.9-inch wheelbase. The previous model had sportier geometry: 29.0 degrees, 119mm, and 62.6 inches, respectively. This latest Max is about an inch wider and 3.7 inches longer overall.

It all adds up to a machine with immense visual punch. The VMax's crowning accents are the aluminum air intake scoops that are now functional. The scoops are hand-polished to a fine luster (taking 40 minutes each!) then are clear-coated for an enduring shine.

A large tachometer figures front and center with an inset digital speedometer. Tank-top info screen is small and hard to see while riding.
What appears to be a fuel tank is really just a cover for the non-pressurized airbox and a place to mount a digital info panel that includes a clock, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, gear indicator, coolant temp, mpg, intake air temp, throttle angle, stopwatch and a countdown indicator. Its electro-luminescence display is said to be clearer and faster than LCD. While the info panel is placed too low to be easily seen while riding, the giant muscle-car-like tachometer is in full view and is augmented by a shift light placed prominently alongside.

Upon firing, the VMax settles into a steady but menacing rumble. The V-Four, with its contra-rotating balance shaft, is quite smooth, but a rider never forgets there is something substantial reciprocating between the knees. A blip of the throttle reveals a fairly heavy flywheel effect, as revs don't soar as quickly as smaller, sport-oriented engines.

The Heart of the Beast
Though built as compact as possible, the 1679cc V-Four VMax motor is a substantial lump.
Exhaust cams are gear-driven by the chain-driven intake cams.
Forged-aluminum pistons sit atop fracture-split connecting rods, just like the latest sportbike motors.
A convoluted exhaust system spits spent gasses out of titanium-skinned quad-exit mufflers.

When building a replacement motor for an icon like the VMax, Yamaha/Star engineers knew they had to recreate a legend. While the old 1198cc V-Four was the bees' knees in 1985, it would take a large injection of power to be king of the hill in 2009.

The mantra of the muscle-car era was "there's no replacement for displacement," and the new VMax hums the same tune. While its 66mm stroke was retained, the '09 Max gets a big-bore treatment by enlarging its cylinders from 76mm to 90mm. This yields an engine with 481cc extra, a 40.2% bump to 1679cc.

Like the upcoming Aprilia V-Four Superbike engine, the VMax uses a chain to drive the intake cams, and from there a gear-set turns the exhaust cams, keeping the engine as short as possible. Valve-adjustment intervals are only every 26K miles. Star also tightened up the 70-degree vee cylinder angle to 65 degrees, also the same as the Aprilia mill. Combined, this tightened up the distance between the cylinder heads by a little more than 1 inch, and the monster motor is 7mm shorter overall.

Much of this new engine uses technology seen on Yamaha's top-line sportbikes. A Mikuni fuel-injection system uses a quartet of 48mm throttle bodies with 12-hole injectors, and it's operated by Yamaha's ride-by-wire Chip-Controlled Throttle (YCC-T). The three-processor ECU measures parameters (wheel speed, crank position, temperature, etc) every 1/1000th of a second. Interestingly, a Star-supplied chart says YCC-T also takes into account a lean-angle sensor, which, along with the standard ABS's wheel-speed sensors, could be deployed as a traction-control system. A look at our tire-melting video shows this not to be the case.

Also borrowed from Team Blue's R-series sportbikes are variable-length intake stacks (YCC-I) that use 150mm snorkels for strong torque at low revs. At 6650 rpm, the trumpets raise up to reveal shortie 54mm intakes for a V-Boost-like top-end hit that voraciously rockets the bike quickly through the gears.

Inside the motor are more sportbike-derivative pieces. Pistons are made from lightweight forged aluminum, and they rise and fall on the 180-degree crank inside ceramic-composite cylinder linings. The connecting rods are fracture-split and carburized for strength. The new combustion chamber is much flatter (a 29-degree included valve angle) and nets an 11.3:1 compression ratio which requires premium fuel. Magnesium engine covers try to keep weight down as much as possible.

Spent fuel exits into four header pipes that join in a large under-swingarm collector before flowing into a pair of four-exit mufflers with titanium skins. Inside are an oxygen sensor, two catalyzers, and an EXUP power valve.

What it all adds up to is a colossal 197 crankshaft horsepower at 9000 rpm. The final version of the previous VMax (last sold in '07) was rated at a paltry 133 hp at 8000 rpm, a whopping 48.0% less. Prodigious, too, is the new Max's torque production. Its 122 ft-lbs at 6500 revs dwarfs the 86.8 ft-lbs at 6000 rpm of the old bike to the tune of 40.6%.

There is so much power on tap that a Star rep related a story of how its rear tire was slipping on a rear-wheel dyno drum when testing its max power. Even adding a passenger didn't completely stop the slipping! I didn't manage to get him to reveal what numbers came up on Yamaha's Dynojet, but reading between the lines, we expect rear-wheel dyno figures approaching 180 hp. Note that Suzuki's B-King pumps out about 160 horses at the back wheel.

With nearly 180 rear-wheel horsepower on tap, the VMax gets down the road like nothing else on it.
The VMax's tank-mounted info panel has a display that shows how much throttle is being used, but that's the last place you'll want to be looking if the throttle is cracked more than a quarter turn. Despite being muted by a substantial 684 lbs full of fluids, 200 ponies have a way of bringing the future quickly into the present. Serious thrust is available at just 2500 rpm, and it just keeps building exponentially from there to the 9500-rpm rev limit, accompanied by an impressive and distinct V-Four yowl. The outrageous powerband is linear but explosive, so much so that the midrange opening of the YCC-I is barely perceptible - acceleration changes only from "holy s*%t! to "Hello, God!"

The VMax is fitted with a drive system that helps and hurts. Hydraulic clutch actuation eases lever effort, and gearbox throws in the 5-speed tranny are short and precise. A race-style slipper clutch works okay, but it seems a bit incongruous to be doing high-rpm downshifts on a so-called cruiser. However, this is no ordinary cruiser and, in fact, might better be labeled something like a muscle naked. Star's Warrior is correctly termed a power cruiser, and the VMax is certainly something quite different.

The VMax's rear wheel is driven by a shaft, creating some suspension issues but enhancing its tire-smoking corner-exit abilities.

While the gearbox is first-rate, the shaft-drive system partially falls on the negative side of the ledger. Focus groups may have insisted on a shaftie, but this arrangement has its dynamic compromises, no matter how well it's designed. It's heavier, so a rear suspension can't react as quick, and it also makes the bike suffer a jacking effect that results in a stiffer and higher rear end when under power.

Meet the new burnout king.
A set of 6-piston radial-mount calipers clamp down on 320mm wave discs with the assistance of standard anti-lock modulation. Note the modern headlight and scrumptious aluminum intake scoops that are polished by hand.
The jacking effect is actually quite minimal on the VMax, so kudos there, but there's no getting around the stiffer rear suspension with the throttle twisted. Bump absorption isn't as compliant and, worse, the minimal weight transfer makes this the most difficult 200-horse bike to wheelie that I've sampled! Long black darkies are typically the result of mono-wheel attempts - taller, heavier riders, who induce more weight transfer, have an easier time of it.

However, this shaft-drive byproduct has hooligan benefits of its own. Without much rearward weight transfer, the reasonably sticky 200mm Bridgestone BT028 has a snowball's chance in hell of not melting when the V-Four is given its head. If you've even been foolish enough to want to mimic the rear-wheel-sliding corner exits of pre-traction-control GP riders, the VMax stands head and shoulders above anything else on two wheels. Tire-spinning corners exits have been part of my fantasy world that rarely transfer into actuality, but Mr. Max makes them ear-to-ear-grinningly real.

In regard to the bike's ultimate acceleration, the VMax is absent a probable electronic trick and equipped with an unexpected one. First, we're thrilled to report the ECU doesn't limit power in the lower gears like on many other modern hyperbikes. Electronic intervention comes into play once 220 kph (136.7 mph) is reached, as this is the Max's top-speed limiter. However, to not handcuff dragstrip performance, the limiter is lifted to a 230-kph (142.9 mph) threshold when a quarter-mile acceleration run is sensed! For what it's worth, I saw 145 mph on the speedo before I ran out of open road.

When it comes time to shed speed, the new VMax is worlds apart from the wimpy brakes of its forbear. Up front, a four-position lever actuates a Brembo radial-pump master cylinder that feeds a pair of 6-piston radial calipers biting on 320mm wave-type discs. They proved to be very powerful but not overly sharp. A Brembo rear master cylinder powerfully fires a single-pot caliper and 298mm wave rotor, and it was when using the rear brake that I was grateful for the bike's standard ABS which isn't intrusive.

In terms of real-world usability, the VMax performs better than expected, although it's a bit clumsy at lower speeds. The narrow handlebar and cramped riding position of the old bike has been opened up by moving the grip position an inch further forward and about a half-inch taller. The seat height is listed at a modest 30.5 inches, but its broad seating area gives narrow-hipped people like me a bit of struggle to reach the ground firmly with both feet. A stepped seat-back isn't just for comfort; it's also to keep you aboard the bike during 1G acceleration.

Dressed to the Nines
Extra menace can be found in the carbon-fiber section of the Star accessory catalog, accented by billet-aluminum bling.
Star understands better than most Japanese OEMs that personalizing a motorcycle can be an integral part of the ownership experience. As such, it offers an extensive line of accessories for the new VMax.

Few materials are as emblematic of contemporary speed and racing as is lightweight carbon fiber, and Star delivers with an assortment of lovely composite pieces manufactured in-house. Tasty carbon bits include fenders, tank covers, seat cowls and side covers, but the beautifully made stuff isn't cheap. A set of the C-F air intake scoops costs a whopping $999.95.

Functional components include a flyscreen, touring windshield, hard saddlebags and a passenger backrest. An optional tail pack can attach to the passenger seat or an accessory aluminum luggage rack. Upping the bling factor is as easy as bolting on some billet aluminum covers for the cams, master cylinders and swingarm pivot.

The VMax's riding position is open and comfortable for rides longer than a quarter-mile.

Underneath the seat is 3.96-gallon fuel tank, same as the old bike, which helps lower the bike's CG. The VMax manages decent heat control through its dual radiators that keep its frontal area as slim as possible. Out of Ramona, stuck in traffic, I could feel a little heat on my ankles and shins, but not bad considering the engine's enormous output.

There are decent views out of the bar-mount mirrors for keeping an eye on your tail during your inevitable extra-legal antics. Freeway cruising is very comfortable for a naked, as a rider is sitting down in the bike, making even a 90-mph lope (with its overdriven fifth gear) quite bearable. A 2-year warranty adds peace of mind.

Star should be commended for the suspension it fitted to the Max. Both ends are produced by Soqi, a Yamaha subsidiary, and both the 52mm fork and single shock are adjustable for spring preload and both compression and rebound damping. But their best feature is tools-free knurled knobs to easily dial in optimum rebound damping at both ends, plus rear compression damping; a screwdriver needs to be unsheathed only for front compression. The rear end also has a handy hydraulic preload adjuster on the bike's left side that can be altered on the fly if you're flexible - otherwise, do it easily at a stop.

Although there are better bikes for cutting up the twisties, the VMax acquits itself well for a machine of its size.
Who wants to rumble?
The suspension is good stuff, but it is faced with the formidable task of controlling a hefty machine and its shaft-drive dynamics. Action from the titanium-oxide-coated fork legs is quite good, even with substantially increased spring rates. But the rear end often struggles with isolating bumps, faced as it is with the shaft-drive compromises. Backing off rear preload and compression damping soothed things somewhat, but it never responded like an optimized chain- or belt-driven bike.

More successful is the new VMax's handling qualities, one of the old bike's weakest aspects. Now with the new aluminum chassis, a beefy fork and a forged-aluminum lower triple clamp and a cast-aluminum upper, the big Star is ready to intimidate lesser riders on pure sportbikes down a canyon road.

Although it makes a Suzuki SV650 feel like a mountain bike in comparison, its handling is better than expected, with a chassis that feels stiff and responsive in steering transitions and a fork that offers decent front-end feel. You don't have to be a racetrack refugee to drag pegs on the VMax, but available lean angle is actually very respectable for a beast like this.

Any handling deficiencies it has are related to throttle response and the shaft drive. The YCC-T is endowed with a program to reduce engine braking feel by letting a bit of fuel seep through on trailing throttle, and this works seamlessly most of the time. But in some instances, the compression-braking effect is quite pronounced and, worse, unpredictable when it happens. Chopping the throttle mid-corner can unsettle the chassis, and a rider can feel some drivetrain lash with an uncertain throttle hand in corners.

The 2009 VMax - like nothing else.

When I first heard about the new VMax, I had two thoughts: First, it was about damn time! Second, hanging a $17,990 price tag on a Japanese bike can be akin to wearing cement shoes. But while I still wonder how well second- and third-year models will sell, I do see a lot of value in this scintillating machine.

Recreating an icon is never easy, but that's exactly what Star and Yamaha have done with the 2009 VMax. It has a few flaws and limitations, but its overall persona extends the Max's icon status. It's as distinctive as bikes come, it has terrific attention to detail, and it offers a thrill ride that can't be equaled by anything else on two wheels.

Just 2500 units (with commemorative badges) will be available for the 2009 model year, and more than half are already sold. You only have until October 31 to get your order in on the '09 VMax. Those who ordered early should see their bikes by the first part of November.

Highs: Sighs:
Mondo power Iconic and exotic style Looks expensiveShaft-drive woes Huge size Is expensive
The Perfect Bike For...
A rider who thinks too much is just enough!

Related Reading:
2004 Yamaha VMax Review
2009 Star V-Max Launch
1996 Musclebike Shootout
2009 Star Motorcycles VMax Preview

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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