HELMET: ICON VARIANT
JACKET: SPEED & STRENGTH CALL TO ARMS
GLOVES: TOURMASTER DEERSKIN
BOOTS: SIDI TOUR RAIN
HELMET: BELL CUSTOM 500
JACKET: TOURMASTER COASTER II
GLOVES: ICON SUPER DUTY
BOOTS: ICON REIGN
Some riders love their Rebels, and there are those that swore by the Virago 250. The Kawasaki Vulcan 500 was a fine machine when it was built, but times they are a changin’, especially when you consider how much motorcycle you can buy brand-new, for not a lot of money. These days, 650cc is the real entry level class—especially if you’re talking about possibly moving up to a bigger bike some day. Whether you’re a 5 ft. 1 in. human with no hope of mounting a post-1000cc behemoth, or a 6-footer that just wants something light to get started, this is a pretty good neighborhood to start your search.
At first glance, these are very similar machines in price, displacement and size, but a closer look reveals designs that are extremely divergent. The V Star Custom was a bit of a ground-breaker when it came out back in the late 90s (as a Yamaha). Styled like a full-sized cruiser (including hidden hardtail-style shocks), but sized and priced way lower, it set a high bar for what an entry level machine could be. That was over a decade ago, but (happily for Star), not many other players have stepped into the V Star’s realm... until now.
Hyosung’s entry is based on their do-it-all 90-degree, 650cc water-cooled V-twin. Though the 650 class is an undersized afterthought in the Star line, it represents the top-of-the-line for the Korean maker. Visualized as a sport/cruiser hybrid, it rolls on radials, with an inverted front fork and an aggressive stance. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the GV650 Aquila Pro sports a unique look, and yet is completely recognizable as a cruiser at a glance. As is the norm for a new cruiser maker, however, there is a blend of right and wrong in the design.
Hyosung GV650 Aquila Pro
The lines are decent, with a big bazooka of a muffler, and a purposefully slim gas tank to fit over the 90-degree twin. The raked-out, beefy front fork leads to a smallish 17-inch radial, completing the hybrid sport/cruiser thing in convincing fashion. There are even some nice details like a color-matched headlight, a multi-function digital gauge, a decent-looking radiator cover and LED lighting. Ironically, some of these touches are cribbed straight from Star cruisers, though the 90s-era V Star doesn’t have too many of them. But the whole package looks great only from a few feet away.
Up close you’ll notice blemishes on the Aquila Pro, like the chrome parts not getting a thorough-enough polishing, an unused clutch cable mount still on the clutch cover, and a mess of pipes and mounts in the motor compartment. Where the engineers went for functional, things went well; when they went for aesthetics, not so much. The blacked-out version of this machine is a far better-looking bike.
The V Star, on the other hand, completely looks the part of a conservatively-styled cruiser, albeit one designed some time ago. Other than the really nice, understated graphics, the platform is showing its age. It gives off the impression of being a bigger bike, right up until a person sits on it. Then it just looks tiny. Ergonomics are sized for people 5 ft. 8 inches and below, with taller riders feeling pretty crammed in the cockpit. Thankfully there’s plentiful padding on the low seat, making it less torturous for larger people.
Star V Star Custom
We would say the ergos on the Hyosung are better for larger riders, but it’s an odd mix. The foot controls are placed well-forward, but unfortunately the bars come a little too far back to match up; meanwhile the seat foam is very soft, and a rider that fits the foot controls will probably feel the seat pan. Additionally, the rear seat looks like it’s contoured to the front, but doesn’t come far enough forward to give any support without riding the back edge of the rider seat. For smaller riders the seat is better, but the spread across the middle made stopping (and reaching the ground) awkward. In other words, a compromise that didn’t work for anyone. One nice touch is a multi-position footpeg, which allows you to bring the pegs back toward the rider.
The Aquila did bring some smiles with its motor, however; we all agreed it was the highlight of the motorcycle. While some sport-tuned powerplants might be the wrong choice for a cruiser, a torquey V-twin is exactly the right choice. It has a broad spread of power from bottom to top that made shifting mostly optional. Power-wise, it matches up well with larger cruisers, without being a handful for an entry-level pilot. The only sportbike-like problem the 650 had was a slight inclination to stall at launch, probably caused by a too-light flywheel.
The V Star Custom’s motor was far more sedate, almost to the point of being unusably slow. Part of that is comparing a two-valve, carburetor-equipped (!), air-cooled motor to a liquid-cooled EFI four-valve. It’s not particularly torquey, but it spins up well... though it becomes uncomfortably buzzy in the handgrips and pegs once it does so. It might be a good mount for the nervous new rider, except the clutch action is abrupt and engages all the way out at the end of travel. How the power plays out on the road depends on how big you are. With a 190-lb. rider it feels pretty gutless, but our 160-lb. tester could wring it enough to keep up with the speedier Hyosung. Gearing on the five-speed is pretty low, too; you get into top gear around 40, using the over-rev to get up to highway speeds. The Aquila Pro was geared well for its power, and though you could shift into top gear at a similarly low speed it didn’t buzz when going fast. The GV650 had pretty solid shifter feel at all times, while the Star frequently hit neutral between first and second on upshifts and was vague throughout.
Suspension was an odd mix for these two bikes. The GV650 sported a sophisticated, fully-adjustable front suspension, and rear springs cribbed from a ‘75 Cadillac. Even with the shocks cranked up on preload, the Hyosung floated like a boat out back, making it hard for us to evaluate the front (though it seemed pretty well sorted). The V Star had predictably primitive suspension, but well-suited to the bike. The preload was easy to adjust on the underseat shock, and did a solid job of control and damping, working better for smaller, single riders than heavier or two-up loads.
For brakes, Hyosung focused on the front of the bike, with commendable results... up front. The dual disc, semi-floating setup works very well, especially for a bike in this price range, while the rear disk brake is barely functional; it makes noise and hardly slows the bike under massive pressure. It makes the V Star’s rear drum seem positively responsive (it’s not). The V Star single front disk is adequate, especially combined with a healthy dose of rear drum.