This article was originally published in the August 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.
Some custom projects start with a specific plan drawn out on paper. Every detail is worked out in advance and only a few adjustments are required to complete the transition from a two-dimensional drawing to the three-dimensional world. Other projects are a result of the process of evolution—over the years a little change here sparks a bigger change there. But evolution is a haphazard process with many false leads to be followed before arriving, much to the surprise of the participants, at the finished product. Richard Croce’s V-Max reflects a blending of these approaches. While no specific blueprint was drawn out, a final destination was set. All that remained was getting there.
The goal was simple: Build a better V-Max—in every aspect. However, the plan was complicated by the desire to make sure the bike retained the unmitigated V-Max look but with an understated elegance; a shape that would keep the eye moving from front to back, pausing on details here and there, before moving on to the next machining marvel. Oh, and the bike should make at least 170 horsepower. In fact, it should perform better than the stocker in all the important performance categories.
When Croce bought his V-Max in 1986, few aftermarket parts were available for it. Like most folks, he started with a pipe and a jet kit. Then he moved on to minor modifications such as a different handlebar, fork work, a shock and stickier tires. Once he decided to move even slightly away from mainstream mods, he found himself in uncharted territory. So, he fell in to removing stock parts and building custom one-off pieces to replace them. Sometimes he found parts from other bikes that could be drafted into service. Croce didn’t realize it yet, but the seed for Meta-Max had been planted, needing only time and the right environment to come to life. Gradually the bike progressed to the 165-to-170 rear-wheel horsepower range, which satisfied Croce for a few years. Then the relationship with his V-Max lost its spark, and Croce found himself with his motorcycle mentor/ guru, Lenny Castelli, and a few other V-Max fanatics at PCW Racing discussing how they could improve the machine. They agreed they wanted the bike to have a simple look—an updated power cruiser with a bit of sportbike thrown in for good measure. They would build a musclebike for the millennium, the bike the V-Max should have been in the first place.
Have you ever tried to make a sledgehammer beautiful without compromising its sledgehammer-ness? Croce and company had their work cut out for them.
Gilding the Sledge
Meta-Max gets much of its purposeful look from the inverted fork, beefy front wheel, and monster brakes that began their lives on a late-model Suzuki GSX-R750. The 17 x 3.5-inch cast-aluminum wheels allow for premium rubber, which is a bonus when you have two six-piston calipers and 320mm discs pulling the V-Max down from the insane speeds it’s capable of creating. Progressive springs help to keep the front wheel tracking over road irregularities.
However, mounting a GSX-R750 front end to a V-Max is not a simple operation. Since the fork is two inches shorter than the stocker, many builders will simply lengthen the donor fork to achieve proper ride height—or just ignore the problem altogether and live with limited ground clearance.
Being somewhat of a stickler for detail, John Gainey at PCW took an unorthodox approach to the ride-height problem. First, he carved a set of billet triple clamps. Then he cut the neck off the frame and lowered it four inches. When reassembling the frame, he added gussets to the all-important steering head. Recreating some of the removable chassis parts in chrome-moly and securing them with dowel pins in addition to bolts increased frame rigidity. A brace was added from the engine to the frame on both sides of the bike to help maintain structural integrity and control the notorious wiggles of the V-Max. Solid motor mounts and the replacement of every bolt on the bike with lighter, stronger titanium bolts added the finishing touches to the stout chassis.
The extended custom swingarm was built from sheets of aluminum and houses a drilled seamless steel bar containing needle bearings as its pivot, yielding smooth swingarm movement and increased lateral strength. The piece was polished and clearcoated before being mounted and held in place by a pair of Works Performance piggyback shocks. A 200-series Pirelli Phantom radial mounts to the six-inch-wide GSX-R aluminum wheel, which is powered by a 530 chain. A ZX-11 master cylinder feeds the GSX-R rear brake.
Swinging the Sledge
Since Croce was happy with the power delivery, the 170-horsepower motor was freshened with new rings. Croce says in the 13 years he has owned his V-Max, he’s never needed to rebuild the engine. He just decides periodically that he wants to make it bigger for more power. Presently, the V-4 displaces 1327cc and puts out peak power at approximately 9600 rpm, falling off around 10,000 rpm. Typically, stock V-Maxes peak at 8000 and fall off pretty severely thereafter. Croce credits the bump in power to big pistons, head work, lumpier cams and a unique three step equal-length header system. When exhaust gasses exit the cylinder, they pass through three reductions of pipe diameter before entering the twin Vance & Hines elliptical carbon-fiber canisters. At each reduction, the velocity of the flow increases, helping to create a vacuum and actually draw the spent combustibles from the system.
Still more power can be found in the engine with additional work, but Croce wanted Meta-Max to put out streetable horsepower using pump gas. To aid in the bike’s ridability and help soften the hit that those 170 ponies make when spurred, he added three teeth to the gearing that many chain-driven V-Max owners run. Remember, this is a streetbike that gets ridden a couple hundred miles every week, so ridability is of primary importance. (Although the electric shifter implies Croce does more than piddle around on his bike!) When the frame was being constructed, Croce restrained himself when it came to building the engine because he didn’t want the power to get too big before he was certain the rest of the bike could handle it. Now that the chassis is sorted out, he says he’s got his eye on 1570cc! Who knows what will happen next winter?
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Meta-Max project was the sculpting of the bodywork. Croce knew he didn’t like the V-Max’s disjointed, bulbous look, but he thought the concept behind the style of the factory unit could be massaged into a workable form. He started by having Mr. Custom paint everything black. The heads, barrels and most other external engine parts were sent to Color Life for powdercoating although a few key highlights were left polished aluminum. Next he began to experiment with the shape of the parts around the radiator in an effort to make the lines of the bike flow together. But the bodywork didn’t really gel until Croce met Mall Ross from Parts Bin. Ross had experience building bodywork for Harley customs and expressed interest in working with Croce on his V-Max. The rear fender was extended and reshaped to fit the new wheel location. The air scoops were lengthened front and rear, further accentuating the long, low appearance of the Max. A new radiator shroud and steering-neck covers help to integrate the front end. A generic sportbike front fender keeps the fork simple. By the time Ross was done, the lines were indeed elegant while still emphasizing speed—just what Croce wanted.
After admiring Meta-Max in the glimmering, late-afternoon sun at Daytona Bike Week, we can say Croce’s creation has surpassed the V-Max in every way. From the sultry curves of the bodywork, to the stout frame, to the gut-wrenching engine, this bike has raised our expectations of what a V-Max can be. If Yamaha is planning a new musclebike for the new millennium, it would do well to give this bike a once-over.