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.
Handling on the Aquila Pro was held back by the subpar rear suspension. It turns in quickly and readily, but the sporty radial tires don’t hold a line particularly well. In tighter or bumpy corners the back is so loose, it knocks the light-steering front off-line easily. It also feels tall and top heavy, perhaps due to its healthy ground clearance. On a smooth, fast road it’s an absolute joy to motor out of long, sweeping corners. The Star handles like a prototypical cruiser should, fairly light-steering (if a little bit floppy) at low speeds, and getting more stable but also heavier-steering once MPHs build. It carries its weight very low, with a minimum of cornering clearance, but not dangerously lacking. Hopping from one to the other, it was easy to feel like the Star had a flat tire at elevated speeds (it didn’t).
In the end our choice was between a well-worn old shoe, and the newest pumped-up kicks. The old shoe that is the V Star Custom delivers as a basic entry-level cruiser, with nothing particularly impressive or depressing about it, other than obvious age. Dealing with a choke and a petcock after all these years was interesting, but might be a needless distraction for a new rider. We don’t see it as a particularly good ride for a mid-to-tall-sized rider, as even a beginner will outgrow it quickly. That leaves shorter riders, who might love the compact size and styling, but still might outgrow the horsepower.
The Hyosung GV 650 looks like a total winner at the spec sheet, and at first glance, but that’s why we have these tests. It is an impressive machine in many aspects, especially at the price, but it let us down in a few key ways. The biggest issue was a cracked radiator on our second day of testing. We got it fixed and finished the test without another hiccup, but the event itself made us leery of the bike. The mechanic who fixed it said the radiator was installed improperly, putting pressure on the bolts, which may have caused the crack. During the overheating itself, the temp gauge never read higher than 3 bars (of 10), while later on it read as high as 4 in hot, slow riding. That said, for a bike that was so hot the insides of the exhaust pipe glowed red, it recovered without a hiccup, running smooth as ever.
Even setting aside that incident, it’s not a good candidate for an entry-level machine, with a little too much power and responsiveness on tap for a new rider. A rider switching from sportbikes will appreciate its characteristics far more than a total newbie.
In the end, between its total suitability for both shorter and newer riders, as well as a hiccup-free performance, the Star V Star Custom wins this test. It’s not without warts, but it does what it does very well, while the Aquila Pro needs some work.
||2012 Hyosung GV650 Aquila Pro
||2013 Star V Star Custom
||Red, white, black
||2 years (1 year parts and labor)
||Liquid-cooled 90-degree V-twin
||Air-cooled 70-degree V-twin
|Displacement, bore x stroke
||647cc, 81.5 x 62mm
||649cc, 81 x 63mm
||DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
||SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
||Carbureted; 2 28mm CV carbs
||35°/ 6.3 in.
||35° / 5.7 in.
||Cast aluminum, 3-spoke
||Dual 300mm discs; 2-piston calipers
||298mm disc; 2-piston caliper
||270mm disc, 2-piston caliper
||Inverted 41mm fork, 5.1 in. travel
||41mm fork, 5.5 in. travel
||Dual shocks, preload adjustable; 3.5 in. travel
||Single shock, preload adjustable; 3.4 in. travel
||Digital speedometer w/dual tripmeters, coolant temp gauge, fuel gauge, clock
|Average fuel mileage
Why, you Savage!
Even further down in this budget-oriented neck of the woods is the Suzuki S40, or The Bike Formerly Known as Savage. A single, wheezy air-cooled cylinder powers the little bike that’s even cheaper, even smaller, and of an even older design than the V Star. When you read last year’s Ryca custom kit story on our website, you’ll see the S40 has a chance to be a super-cool ride as well. (http://www.motorcyclecruiser.com/features/1204_crup_ryca_cs_1_cafe_racer_project/
But while it’s large enough not to qualify for novelty status, it’s definitely not in a class with these two machines in terms of power, comfort, and capability. It is, however, over a grand cheaper. www.suzukicycles.com
:: 6 ft., 193 lbs., 33 in. inseam
If you are a large-sized human, wanting to save a few bucks or just get a small machine for whatever reason, forget it. In my estimation, the minimum bike for a guy my size starts at about 750-800ccs. My butt hits the pan on the seats of both these bikes, pushing right through over-soft foam, though on the Star I can fold myself in and get to the soft spot in the middle.
The funny thing is that the Hyosung might have broken that barrier, if not for a few construction issues. I actually like the it-is-what-it-looks-like vibe of the bike. They literally took a sportbike, dropped the seat, and put forward controls on. Half the point of a cruiser (at least originally) is that they’re elemental, unlike many modern cruisers (Harley included) that disguise things to make them look more “old school.”
The Aquila Pro’s motor is sweet, and hauls around my burgeoning beer gut with gusto. It could use a custom seat to replace the poorly designed stocker, and a set of basic aftermarket coil-over shocks. Both these items could be had for under $1000, making it an intriguing possibility. I really wanted to like this machine—it’s sized right for me, with that great motor—but honestly, it scares me a little. With shocks that out of whack and with potential build issues like not mounting a radiator properly, I just can’t pick it. Even if the Star doesn’t fit me in so many ways.
:: 5 ft. 6 in., 160 lbs., 31in. inseam
My pick for this test is definitely the V Star. It fits me better than most bikes I’ve tested. I have plenty of room to stand up, with clearance under my ass. This bike is stable, and I can take it over 100 mph without feeling any wobbles. I wasn’t too impressed with the engine though. It has a nice sound, and I can actually get it to do a little wheelie, so for my weight, it’s got some power. However the top end is weak; there’s no power for passing going uphill. The shifter issue bugged me too.
The GV650 Aquila Pro was a bit too big for me, with a stretch to the bars and pegs, plus it’s a bit too wide across the middle, which is a more important issue for stubby people than seat height. I actually enjoyed the power of this engine and the power band, and it felt like a nice cross between a cruiser and a sportbike. It was a lot of fun to ride, until it almost caught fire on the side of the freeway.
The Hyosung is a remarkable motorcycle, however in my opinion, the Star was by far the better cruiser of the two.