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2009 Star VMax: MD First Ride

They say that Babe Ruth liked to pet kittens. We all know that King Kong had a soft spot for blondes, and General Patton loved his dogs. Titans can show some tenderness now and then . . . even exercise some finesse. But it is power we remember them for. Ruth smashing 400 foot home runs. King Kong swatting airplanes at the top of the Empire State building, and Patton crushing the Third Reich on the plains of northern Africa.

The new Star VMax has its charming side, as well. As we learned during our first ride here in Southern California, it actually goes around corners pretty well, it can stop on a dime, and it will cruise easily (even comfortably) for extended rides. But as you finish your first ride on the new VMax only one impression remains. Power. Massive Power. Power you never expected to experience on a street legal motorcycle.

We’ve ridden them all. The ZX-14. The Vulcan 2000 with its 2053 cc v-twin. The Hayabusa, and the Honda Rune with its 1832 cc flat six fed by a half dozen throttle bodies. Nothing leaves a stop light like the new VMax. The VMax is laying down more than 100 pound/feet of torque at the rear tire before inline-fours like the ZX-14 and Hayabusa have finished clearing their throats. Like many things in life, it is something you have to experience to fully appreciate and understand.

The new VMax is an expensive motorcycle (U.S. MSRP is $17,990), and for good reason. The engine and chassis have been purpose built with state-of-the-art design, and the components are top shelf by any standard. Brembo brake master cylinders, front and rear, six-piston front brake calipers mounted radially, fully-adjustable suspension (compression, rebound and spring preload front and rear) all aluminum chassis with “tuned flex”, three CPUs and instrumentation that includes an “organic electro luminescence multi-function display”. The new VMax has all that, and it has THAT ENGINE.

As we said in our preview article, that engine is 1679cc of 65° V-4. It is fuel injected, has a compression ratio of 11.3:1, four valves per cylinder and technology previously found only on Yamaha’s state-of-the-art sport bikes, including YCCI (variable intake trumpets that shorten themselves at 6,650 rpm) and YCCT (electronic throttle that monitors numerous parameters once every 1/1000th of a second). Yamaha claims 197 horsepower at the crank at 9,000 rpm, and 122 foot/pounds at 6,500 rpm. The last iteration of the VMax (sold in 2007) made 133.1 horsepower and 86.8 foot/pounds of torque. The new bike makes forty-eight percent more horsepower and forty-one percent more torque. The old bike was fast. The new bike is something else.

The five-speed transmission utilizes a slipper clutch, and power is delivered to the rear wheel via a maintenance-free shaft. An old sport bike trick is employed in the exhaust system. “EXUP” is a variable valve technique used by Yamaha for quite some time to control noise levels and vary exhaust back pressure.

If you look closely enough, you will notice 18″ wheels this year (with a 200 section rear tire), an under-seat fuel tank and those characteristic intake scoops (now functional, and hand polished).

Here is a tip from MD to all new VMax riders. The first time you twist the throttle hard, make sure (a) the bike is fully upright and pointing straight ahead, (b) you have a warm rear tire, and (c) there is plenty of room between you and the next vehicle. Oh, and one other thing . . . hold on tight! Assuming your rear tire is ready to grip (rolling burnouts are easy to do, and no clutch is required), the VMax will quickly warp your sense of time and distance. Fortunately, the brakes are superb. Few sport bikes deliver the power and feel offered by the brakes on the new VMax. They are outstanding, and probably better than anything available outside the sport bike category.

Once you re-calibrate your brain to deal with the accelerative forces (it took me at least an hour, and I’ve ridden some pretty fast motorcycles), you can focus on some of the more subtle attributes of the new VMax. You will already be familiar with those wonderful brakes, but you will also note the bike is pretty darn comfortable, and the adjustable suspension is surprisingly supple.

Those massive 52 mm forks have a titanium oxide coating to reduce friction, and offer 4.7 inches of surprisingly smooth travel. The rear shock can be adjusted without tools, and we added a few turns of preload to deal with our test riders girth. The stiff aluminum swingarm (which incorporates the shaft drive system in its left arm) displayed very little of the “jacking” common to many shaft drive motorcycles, and did a pretty decent job of transferring all of that horsepower and torque to the back tire.

The VMax’s raison d’etre is certainly not cornering, but the new bike can still be hustled through the twisties relatively well. At a claimed wet weight of nearly 700 pounds, you are not going to be flicking the VMax like a modern supersport, but it will hold its own through corners with any cruiser and many naked bikes.

Clutch pull is somewhat heavy, but lighter than we expected given the massive torque transferred from crank to rear wheel. Both the clutch lever and the brake lever are reach-adjustable.

The ergonomics are similar to the old bike, that is, upright. Very slightly leaned forward (the bars are a bit further away this year), the VMax provides a comfortable perch for cruising. Wind blast at elevated speeds didn’t seem too bad, but Star will offer a fly screen and a windshield if you want to eliminate the bulk of it.

Instrumentation is extremely thorough by any standards, but the secondary display on the gas tank is pretty low, and certainly not in a place where you want your eyes for any extended period of time.

Although acceleration might well be termed “violent”, the power delivery is relatively linear, and throttle response is smooth and predictable (thanks to very well sorted fuel injection). You can tip toe around at very low rpm levels and then roll the throttle without a hiccup. At roughly 6,500 rpm, however, “V-Boost” occurs in the form of a slight surge in acceleration (can a streaking bullet “surge”?) — something Yamaha purposely incorporated to add character to an otherwise dull experience (that was a joke).

Obviously, this motorcycle is meant for experienced, mature adults. Although the well-sorted chassis of the new VMax will let experienced riders get away with wheel spin (even on corner exits), a cold rear tire can be an invitation to disaster. Even experienced riders need to be more careful than they usually would be on a different motorcycle. Make sure you have a cup of coffee (or a Red Bull) before you ride the VMax to work on a cold morning. You need to be wide awake.

Which brings us to the essential character of the 2009 VMax. There is nothing politically correct about this motorcycle, and that neighbor driving the Toyota Prius to work each morning will turn his nose up even higher the next time he sees you. But if you remember the “E” ticket rides at Disneyland, this bike is the “F” ticket. No matter your level of riding experience, the new VMax demands the ultimate in rider respect and responsibility. If you are up to the task, the VMax can deliver thrills (and seemingly gallons of adrenalin) in a way no other stock motorcycle can. We got off the 2009 Star VMax more than 24 hours ago, but we’re still grinning.

The 2009 Star VMax retails for $17,990, and only 2,500 units will be available this year (more than half of those have already been pre-sold). If you want one, get down to your dealer before October 31, 2008 with $1,000 in hand (as a deposit). Oh, and don’t make any plans for after-market performance enhancements. We personally guaranty you will be busy wrapping your brain around the stock performance for the foreseeable future.

For additional details and specifications, visit the Star Motorcycles’ website here.