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2009 V Star 950 and V Star 950 Tourer: MD First Ride

With the changing economic conditions, there have been changes to the motorcycle market, of course. Cruisers continue to be the most popular category – outselling all other categories by at least 2-to-1. Nevertheless, where large displacement machines were increasing in sales recently, entry level and mid-displacement cruisers are now increasing in popularity. Some large displacement cruiser owners are even “down sizing” to mid-displacement machines.

Within the lower displacement categories, there appears to be a preference for a higher tech bike. For example, according to Star’s surveying, there is a preference for EFI over carburetion, as well as a preference for overhead camshaft design versus pushrods. Surveys conducted by Star also show some preference for styling that is not merely a clone of the “classic look”.

Following in the footsteps of the flagship of the line, the 1854cc Roadliner, the new V Star 950 offers “neo streamline” styling. The new 950 intends to convey a performance attitude with a low and aggressive, minimalist look coupled with a large diameter 18-inch front wheel. Competing directly with Kawasaki’s liquid-cooled Vulcan 900, the V Star 950 stays with air cooling, but matches the torque output of the Kawasaki with its slightly larger displacement.

If you are surprised that Star, like Kawasaki, has clearly spent considerable time and money developing a cruiser displacing less than 1000cc, understand that this is the sweet spot as far as volume sales are concerned, and also represents a price point where Star can begin to develop brand loyalty with new and returning riders.

So despite a base price below $8,000, Star offers four-valve heads in an efficient pent-roof combustion chamber, EF I, genuine steel fenders and belt drive. Star has also clearly spent considerable time refining power delivery, braking and handling of these new 950s, as we discovered during our test of both models in Atlanta recently.

After 150 miles, or so, aboard both the standard and touring versions of the new V Star 950, one question stuck in my mind. Does anyone need more cruiser than this? It was not so long ago that a 942cc v-twin engine was considered large. Coupled with its relatively modern design and high compression ratio of 9.0-to-1 (high for an air cooled engine), I never felt that I lacked the power necessary to enjoy my ride through the beautiful north Georgia mountains. Under the circumstances, I had all the acceleration I wanted from a comfortable cruiser platform.

Of course, with the smaller displacement, and single disc front brake (which is a large 320mm rotor — allowed by the 18-inch wheel) the V Star 950 is relatively light at just over 600 pounds, and handles nimbly for a cruiser that looks just as big physically as the large-displacement machines. Indeed, an argument can be made that the lighter platform with the lower inertia of the lighter crank made for a more enjoyable ride on a gorgeous day in the south.

The five-speed transmission was not an issue, either, as the lack of a sixth cog was never a factor for me, and the bike easily cruised at extra-legal speeds. I wish 1100s designed just a few years ago could as comfortably cruise above 70 mph.

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Braking was also impressive. Larger cruisers these days typically have two discs up front, but the single large disc brake on the V Star 950 did more than an adequate job with good power and feel. Star set the front brake up with strong initial bite, and did not sacrifice much in the way of overall power.

The extremely low seat height of just 26-1/2 inches will allow virtually any rider, male or female, to feel confident at stops. At 5’10″ tall, I found a comfortable riding position, and good wind protection (without buffeting) behind the windshield of the touring version. The seat initially felt very good, but after a long day in the saddle I could have used a bit more support. Vibration levels seemed low, but again after several hours aboard the bike I found some discomfort through the floor boards. Nevertheless, I would have to say vibration is well controlled overall and generally not an issue.

I was quite impressed with the quality of the saddlebags on the touring version. Attractive stretched leather covers the hard bags, and they appear very well made and durable. Their capacity is not the largest I have seen, but reasonable.

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The suspension offered a smooth and well-controlled ride, although the roads were nearly perfect in most instances. When the pace was pushed (as it is inevitably when journalists gather to ride anything), the bike offered reasonable feedback and confidence, and the chassis remained composed when braking hard for corner entries.

This is a remarkably well-sorted cruiser that bears little or no resemblance to the cruisers sold just a decade ago. Star has worked hard to design a premium quality machine at a bargain price, and in our opinion they have hit their mark. For the most part, cruiser riders want comfort, style and adequate power to enjoy a riding experience that is different from the experience sought by a sport bike rider. The new V Star 950s deliver a very refined cruising experience with just enough power and attitude to make many riders wonder whether spending more money for a larger-displacement machine will really bring a commensurate increase in pleasure and status.

The new V Star 950 starts at a U.S. MSRP of $7,890, while the touring version starts at $8,990. For additional details, specifications and available colors visit Star’s website.