2009 Star VMax - Prince Of Darkness

Star's 2009 VMAX Is Evil Incarnate

It was just a freeway entrance; a smooth, easy downhill right, with an abrupt merge. Naturally enough, anyone would want to get on the gas hard for that. You know-bang through a few gears, short-shifting with a handful of throttle. Except on the '09 VMAX, you don't do that unless you want to be going an indicated 115 mph by the time you finish blinking. It was sneaky about it. Southern California traffic moves fast (around mid-80s), so the scale was warped to begin with. But the acceleration and the ride was so smooth, I could have been going 65 for all I knew. It was this moment that I knew the VMAX for what it truly is.

I mean, just look at it. Everything about it is diabolical. It's painted and anodized three shades of black, a hulking machine that looks like it came out of a Giger painting. It oozes menace. It's pretty up front about its intentions, but swing a leg over it and it all changes. It's a hefty machine, but once going over parking lot speeds it's very neutral handling. It's a powerful machine but in the lower revs it's quite civilized. It's broad across the middle but has a very neutral cruiser-ish riding position. Hopping aboard for a little get-to-know-you ride around the block, fear and intimidation swiftly turn to comfort and ease. Let not the devil tempt you. These are not emotions to be ruled by on a 200 horsepower beast.

The project to re-design the venerable 'Max started way back in the 90's. There were running prototypes being tested by Yamaha as early as 2001... so if you thought you heard rumors of a new VMAX years ago, they were probably right. The problem was that the first version was too tame, too big, too different, and the power delivery too smooth. Basically, it didn't fill its "evil" quota, so it was sent back to the drawing board, scrapped for a clean sheet design. Focus groups were engaged along with tracking surveys from current owners (demonic horde that they are!), and what they found all boiled down to: better handling, more power (but only a little), better ergonomics, and above all to keep the V-Boost!

An important decision made by the Star execs early in the process that really helped to make this bike the demon lord that it is, was to position it as a premium model. It is the pinnacle of performance for their brand and was conceived as such, without any shortcuts to meet an unrealistic (or insufficient) price-point.

The end result kept the basic lines of the original, gained some bulk, and added a little panache. A remarkable thing about the new VMAX is that unlike just about all other cruiser bikes, it doesn't make broad references to bikes of yore. If anything, it's the first Japanese cruiser to only refer to its immediate predecessor. It's got more rake and a more abbreviated rear fender, but stays true to the concept laid out by the old VMAX, only now with its designation as a premium ($17k) bike, the details are far more thorough than anything Star has ever put out. The 'Max is a truly elemental machine, with very few parts that aren't exactly what they look like (the faux rear fender struts are a notable exception). But almost all of those parts have obviously been lovingly designed and styled to look their wicked best, adding style while keeping the bulk of a 1680cc bike down to a manageable level.

The drag-race style speedo/tach, complete with a shift light, almost looks like an aftermarket add-on, with the bioluminescent information panel on the tank complimenting it in a very stylish manner. The large hand-brushed aluminum air scoops are actually functional this time around, leading to an airbox that's doubled in capacity since the last model. Tapered MX-style fatty handlebars probably don't do anything functional, but serve as a reminder that pretty much every piece of this bike was looked at during the long design process. Even some basically throw-away stuff like the exhaust pipes and engine side covers were made from titanium and magnesium respectively. There are still some subjective warts. Though I'll probably catch hell from old VMAX fiends, that rear fender (and the one that came before it) was dated when it came out in the 1980's. Also, some might complain that the radially-actuated Brembo brake master cylinder doesn't even remotely match the Nissin clutch master cylinder, but the asymmetry fits the bike's post-modern looks very well.

With a 200-ish (claimed, crankshaft) horsepower motor the focus of the design team was on the chassis. The centerpiece is a cast aluminum frame that utilizes the massive engine as a stressed member. A complimentary cast aluminum swingarm makes for one of the nicest-looking shaft-driven rear ends ever, as well as adding needed rigidity. A lay-down linkage-style mono-shock replaces the dual rear dampers of the old VMAX. The shock is remotely adjustable (without tools) for preload, as well as rebound and compression damping via knobs placed on either side of the swingarm. The fork is a beefy 52mm Soqi conventional unit, fully adjustable, with titanium oxide-coated tubes to reduce stiction (and to look evil).

To this 685-lb road rocket, Star threw the whole book of superbike magic at it. Up front a pair of radially-mounted six-piston Sumitomo calipers grab at 320mm floating rotors that look something akin to sawblades. If that wasn't enough, the VMAX is also equipped with ABS as a standard feature. Gone are the squishy-handling bias-ply tires of the VMAX of yore, replaced by sticky 18-inch radials at both ends, the rear rockin' a wicked 200mm cross-section-big enough to look substantial, but not so big as to hamper steering.

For the engine there is the usual mix of exotica from high-performance powerplants with a few unique little touches. The battle against bulk continued in the big V-four lump, with a 5-degree tighter 65-degree Vee and all-around space saving measures resulting in a mill that at the heads was actually a few millimeters smaller than the old one, despite gaining almost 500cc.

In order to feed such a huge high-performance motor, as well as re-create the V-Boost of the original VMAX, much thought went into the airbox. For one thing, it's huge. 13 liters is the "happy place" that the designers found; the minimum volume that the bike wouldn't be starved for air at WOT. The modern-day V-Boost comes from variable-length intake horns within the box, complimented by Yamaha's legendary EXUP valve in the exhaust. A whole article could be dedicated to how the system works, but in short: at 6650 rpm the intakes effectively shorten (and the EXUP engages) which provides a wicked kick in the shorts. So wicked, in fact, that the Yamaha technicians on hand reported having trouble keeping the rear wheel from spinning while recording chassis dyno runs.

All that air is mixed with fuel in a quartet of 48mm Mikuni throttle bodies equipped with 12-hole Denso injectors. Four narrow-angled valves let the mixture shoot right into a 11.3:1 combustion chamber, where forged aluminum short-skirted pistons riding in ceramic cylinder liners jackhammer away at single-piece forged connecting rods. You know, the usual cutting-edge motor stuff. A unique hybrid chain and gear-driven cam system reduces the physical dimensions of the huge motor some, while a single counter balancer keeps the vibes from getting too intrusive.

The living heart of this demon is controlled via the magic of electronics: an electronic throttle control system directly actuates the throttle bodies which keeps the bike from bogging at low rpm from too much butterfly opening, as well as helping reduce engine braking. Custom nuts will appreciate fewer lines to hide on the handlebars.

Designing the transmission was a balancing act for the engineers. Smoothness in the transmission and clutch was paramount, but the thing also had to harness almost 200 hp. The result is a moderate clutch pull, and a very smooth shifting gearbox. A slipper clutch was fitted to control engine braking from the high-compression mill.

Shaft final drive has a double-jointed design mostly to fit the packaging the design team dealt to the engineers, but has the happy side benefits of reducing shaft effect on handling, as well as making it exceedingly simple for a customizer to build his own swingarm and slap some really fat meat on the back of the bike.

All this technical mastery did little to convince me of the new Prince's greatness; the last VMAX sounded pretty good on paper as well. At the risk of offending His Dark Lord's minions, the old 'Max was a miserable machine on many levels. I really wanted to like it but the shaft drive's lash, combined with spotty low-end jetting and weird handling made low-speed riding, shall we say, uncivilized. Twist the throttle hard and several things happen, all of which were bad: the shaft would bind up the chassis in knots, while the bias ply tires struggled to deal with all the power-the result was usually unsatisfying to scary. Frankly, I was worried if all of the technical mastery aimed at the new, more potent mill, would merely bring the handling to the level of the old machine.

My fears of the demon prince came to the fore as I tossed a leg across his saddle, and settled into the wide cockpit. Though it has a low 30.5-inch seat height, it is very wide across the middle, meaning that even standing 6' tall, I was just barely flat-footed while seated. Firing the engine, it growls to life with a sweet deep staccato. Lifting anchor and getting under way, the 'Max is a bit heavy-steering at parking lot velocities, or moving it around by foot, but once rolling that all disappears.

In fact, It's more civilized at in-town riding than more than a few bikes. Neutral, predictable handling, and a nice torquey motor combine for that rare combination of an exciting bike that is supremely easy to ride. Staying in the lower rpm reaches and short shifting it's downright confidence inspiring. If you could set the rev-limiter at 5000 rpm, you could set loose a recent MSF course graduate on this thing without a twinge of guilt. But those warm fuzzies are exactly what makes the VMAX a true manifestation of evil.

Twist the throttle a little harder, say up past where the V-Boost kicks in near 7000 rpm, and hold on tight. The hit actually starts a little lower than that, though the 'Max has a potent but utterly controllable powerband from all the way down at 2000 to about 5000 rpm, where it starts to hit harder and harder, shuddering, and the intake screaming like Beelzebub's hordes. I didn't hit the sweet spot for a good half hour after climbing aboard, but when it hit, I knew it. I have to stress that the bike is deceptively fast even when being lugged, then becomes obviously and painfully fast at high rpm. It's like the VMAX has two engines: the cruiser motor from idle to 5500 and the drag racer above that.

As the day went on, I began to get comfortable with the displays of power this devil was capable of. I was going roughly 100 mph on a deserted stretch of public...I mean a closed race course, when an editor from another magazine came past me like I was in reverse. The speeds involved were kind-of mind-bending.

All that said, the chassis is well matched to the motor. In tighter twisty roads, keep the revs lowish and the big machine will heel over and torque you out of the corners. The shaft effect is so light at low rpm that you'd almost think it had a belt. In faster stuff, you can let 'er rip a little more, but do yourself a favor and at least get up on the meat of the tire before opening the throttle too far and releasing the demons. Shaft effect is more noticeable at higher revs, but far from a deal breaker, and the chassis is utterly composed. When riding aggressively the big boy can be a bit of a handful, requiring some muscling to get it to flop side to side, but there are few bikes this large that can do the things that this one can.

The reduced engine braking from the slipper clutch and ECU is set about perfectly; at no point does it even remotely freewheel like a two-stroke, there still is quite a bit of whoa to be had by simple closing the throttle, but no rear wheel skipping.

On the practical side, the bike is a typical devil's bargain: there are definitely some considerable compromises needed to make a muscle machine this good. We didn't get a real accurate reading with the Star folks filling the bike for us from a mobile drum, but with the fuel light going on at about 70 miles on the 4 gallon tank that puts mileage at somewhere south of 30 mpg. The seat is a nice, secure throne for launching the bike hard, but by the time the skimpy tank runs out of gas you'll be ready to take a break. There is also nowhere besides the footpegs to rest your feet for a change of position; the rear pegs are too far back, and there's nowhere to attach a set of forward pegs with no downtubes. Clutch pull is still on the heavy side, but for the kind of duty its pulling, it's totally acceptable

There's also some nice, humane touches. Adjustable levers are key to getting the controls set up right, and you'll find them here. The dual displays are easy to read and very informative; however, the tank-mounted one is a little hard to see wearing a full face helmet. The fuel tank access is under the seat, like the old 'Max, but pops up with a spring-loaded catch, and even leaves a little space to store stuff like small maps, tools, keys, and the like.

So is the new VMAX one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse told of in the Book of Revelations? We don't claim to know, but don't say you weren't warned that this bike is an evil, evil beast. The Dark One's arrival had been prophesied via press release, shown to the press on the deck of an aircraft carrier, exhibited at shows around the country, and, by the time you read this, quite possibly sold-out. Evidence enough of its malevolence! Need more? Simply look at its wheelbase length and turn the last number around: 66.9 inches. You can't fool us...

Ever Darker...
As always with Star Motorcycles, the accessories department was in on the plot from its early stages, so there are already a number of ways to customize and change up the brand-new machine.

Aluminum covers to replace the (mostly) magnesium ones that come with the bike (!), along with more carbon fiber bits than you'll know what to do with. A new rear seat integrates the rider butt-rest, the passenger pad and the gas door cover in a sleek tapered shape. There are also travel accessories like hard luggage, racks, and windshields (small and large).

'09 Star Vmax
Base Price/MSRP: $17,990
Colors: Intense Black

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: 1679cc, liquid-cooled, 65-degree V-four
Bore And Stroke: 90x66mm
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves/cylinder
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1
Horsepower (claimed, crankshaft): 197hp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 122 lb-ft @ 6500 rpm
Fuel Capacity: 4 gal.
Fuel System: EFI, quad 48mm throttle bodies
Transmission/Final Drive: 5-speed, shaft final drive

Rake/Trail: 31-degrees/ 5.8 in.
Front Tire: 120/70x18 Bridgestone BT028
Rear Tire: 200/50x18 Bridgestone BT028
Front Brake: Dual six-piston radial-mount calipers, 320mm discs w/ ABS
Rear Brake: Single caliper, 298mm disc
Front Suspension: 52mm telescopic fork, 4.72 in. travel, fully adjustable
Rear Suspension: single shock, 4.33 in. travel, fully adjustable
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Seat Height: 30.5 in.
Wet Weight: 685 lbs.

"Mephistopheles is not your name, but I know what you're up to just the same"
The Police
Jacket: Shift
Helmet: HJC AC-10 Carbon
boots: Red Wing
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."
Charles Baudelaire