2009 Yamaha V Star 950 - When Entry Level Is An Actual Entre - First Ride!

Star's New V Star 950 Fills The Bill For Newbies And Vets Alike

Any account grunt in the advertising business will tell you market positioning is everything. It's why we're always hearing about new subcategories or occasionally even seeing the redefinition of established ones in motorcycle ads. "Entry level," is a prime example. The phrase used to refer to bikes approximately 600cc and less, but designs evolved, riders changed, and oh yea, the market tanked. Suddenly, it's in vogue to think 'compactly' again. I'm not sure that was Star Motorcycles' initial intent, but you have to admit that, in a period when everyone else is scrambling to introduce smaller vehicles, the release of the new V Star 950 is a case of damn-near-perfect timing.

Then again, you could say Star is muddying the "entry-level" definition with the introduction of the V Star 950 and V Star 950 Tourer. These bikes may be touted as entry level by Star's crack marketing team, but with features like a 942cc engine with four-valve heads and fuel injection, genuine steel fenders and belt drive, we're a little surprised they've chosen to trumpet the "budget" angle.

Face to Face
We were even more puzzled once we got our hands on a test unit at Star's official launch in the mountains of northern Georgia. Yes, this newest V Star may appear benign from far away, but a cursory inspection of the 950 offers up no clues of its "budget" status (we're more inclined to call it mid-size).

Leading the way for the V Star 950 is a fat front tire wrapped around a beautifully finished, all new 18-inch 8-spoke aluminum wheel exclusive to this model. With only one brake rotor up front, you get an eyeful of the low profile 130/70-18 rubber that caps off a sleek, aggressive look.

There's also no radiator blocking the air-cooled V-Twin engine, so you get a clear view of the blacked-out cylinders and polished cylinder cooling fins. The flattened profile of the slim 4.4 gallon steel gas tank draws your eyes rearward while a cut-off steel rear fender finishes off the neo streamline theme. The company's buzzword for this new generation of style is "sport classic," a look that takes classic cues and brings in enough dynamic lines to let you know this isn't your grandpappy's cruiser.

Still, it is a cruiser, and cruisers need to deliver the goods in a certain way, with pulsing power and feel. The V Star 950 gets 'er done with a single crankpin, 60-degree, 942cc, V-twin mill that adds the requisite street cred while keeping things simple-yet sophisticated. The clean-sheet design uses traditional air-cooling, but this engine also has four-valve cylinder heads, ceramic-composite-lined cylinders, forged aluminum pistons, and fuel injection-hardly price-point stuff. A straightforward SOHC design with special compact roller-type rocker arms helps keep the top end lighter, and four-hole, two-directional injectors handle the mixing duties. A five-speed transmission works through belt final drive.

Giddy Yap
Although the 950 looks long and sizeable up close, once you saddle up, everything feels proportional. Still, there's an impression of substance here, and details like wide control levers only reinforce the vibe. The one inch bar is low profile, and at first glance its swept back configuration looks too low to be comfortable. Once you're on the road though, it all falls into place, offering easy input and decent feedback.

The biggest giveaway that this bike is designed for beginning and re-entry riders is its low, 26.6-inch seat height-it gets even shorter riders flat footed at stop lights. The wide, dished seat has a narrow leading edge, and is lower than even the V Star 650 Custom (27.4 in.), the company's de facto entry level cruiser. Floorboards are situated right where they should be (not too far forward), for a neutral, comfortable riding position. The 'boards also feature replaceable skids underneath, so clearly Star acknowledges the limited lean angle (which we experienced more than once) on this bike.

Fire 'er up and the new V Star's sound is smooth yet throaty, despite all the emissions plumbing within the stylish 2-into-1 exhaust system (a 3-way catalytic converter is tucked in there). The motor runs smoothly with a relaxed loping cadence, even though it's solidly mounted in the steel frame.

Star says the frame has been designed to offer rigidity in the longitudinal, lateral, and torsional directions for a light feel on the road. Four-point rigid engine mounts are said to add stability.

That dovetails with Star's design mandate for this bike-ease of use for riders of all skill levels. With that in mind, it's not surprising that power coming from the 942cc V-Twin is stout, if not exactly arm-wrenching. Still, the 950 packs a lot of muscle into a class that isn't used to seeing much; strong thrust is readily available if you twist hard enough. Judging by our seat of the pants dyno, the V Star offers slightly more punch in the higher revs than its competitor, the Kawasaki 900 (though the Vulcan feels stronger down low). The 950's EFI is also spot-on with even delivery and almost no flat spots except for occasional on-off throttle transitions.

Once you're sweeping through the turns, the 950 actually feels quite nimble. It's even more agreeable at lower speeds, and its handling on the open road is amazingly neutral. A 66-inch wheelbase may help explain some of that nimbleness, and the V Star turns into corners with very little prompting, though we found the floorboards touched down earlier than we'd like.

The front fork's 5.3 inches of travel soaks up pavement acne fairly well but the big news is the rear shock's 9-position adjustability. A special tool is included in the underseat tool kit, which allows you to tweak the settings on the road without having to resort to major bodywork removal. Working the light clutch lever and stirring the smooth-shifting gearbox both proved to be a breeze, while the belt drive provided better absorption of shift shock and quieter transfer of power.

Surprise Compromise
The seat, alas, is another story. While the saddle's got plenty of width, the rear dished portion got me right in the tailbone. My backside was numb after about 35 minutes (on the standard model), and there was little I could do to modify my position en route.

The brakes, too, are underwhelming, though Star says they planned it that way. The single discs - 320mm up front and 298mm out back - prove just about adequate at speed, but Star says they avoided performance bits here so as not to intimidate the easy cruising entry-level rider. That's valid, though we'd still like them to be a bit more progressive.

Roll Your Own
Star is known for rolling out plenty of accessories along with new models, and the V Star 950 is no exception. You can choose from a plethora of windshields (3 different heights), backrests and engine guards to name just a few items. There are also a variety of aftermarket seats available, which we'd wholeheartedly recommend after our short stint on the 950,

And if you want a readily equipped touring rig, look no further than the 950 Tourer, the same fundamental bike equipped with a shield, lockable side bags and a backrest. Those bags hold about 2300 ci and are covered with premium leather. The Tourer runs you about $1100 more than the standard version, which sounds like a pretty good deal when you consider that the average customer spends over $1400 in accessories on his bike, most of it at the time of purchase (according to Star). Though we only spent a short time on the Tourer, we were equally impressed with its overall ride quality.

The standard V Star 950 can be had in black for $7,890, or red and blue for $8,090. The Tourer is available in Raven Black and Black Cherry for $8,990 and Liquid Silver for $9,090.

With their solid feature set and broad appeal, these V Stars could be a big home run for Star. They may be easy to ride, but the V-Star 950 and 950 Tourer have the credentials to appeal to seasoned riders just as much as those looking for a solid entry-level machine. It's difficult to combine high style with decent performance and presence, but to do it for less than $8000 is impressive to say the least.

2009 V Star 950
MSRP: $7890 (base); +$100 for colors, +$1100 for Tourer version

Type: air-cooled 60 degree V-twinValvetrain; SOHC, 4 valves per cylinderDisplacement, bore x stroke: 942cc, 85.0mm x 83.0mm
Compression Ratio : 9.0:1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed; multiplate wet clutch
Final Drive : Belt

Front Suspension: Telescopic fork, 5.3-in.travel
Rear Suspension: Single damper, 4.3-in travel, preload adjustable
Front brakes: 320mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Rear Brakes: 298mm disc, single piston caliper
Front Tire: 130/70-18M/C 63H
Rear Tire: 170/70-16 M/C 75H
Wheels: 8-spoke cast aluminum

Overall length: 95.9 in
Seat Height: 26.5 in
Wheelbase: 66.3 in
Rake/trail: 32.0/145mm
Fuel Capacity: 4.4 gal
Wet Weight: 612 lb (claimed)

A fresh new large-diameter meter is set in the fuel tank for a traditional look. The LCD displays are adjusted with a right handlebar-mounted switch.
Mounted on an 18-inch wheel, the low-profile front tire is a looker.
Those fenders are steel, too.
With its low, swept handlebars and painted headlight, the standard V Star 950 model goes for a clean, lean front end. The 60 degree V-twin uses a single-pin crank to churn out the requisite rumble. No counterbalancer is used for the rigid-mounted engine.
The premium-leather-covered saddlebags on the Tourer are lockable, and can accommodate up to 11 gallons of your stuff.
Helmet: Shoei J Wing
Jacket: Shift Leather
Gloves: Star Leather Gauntlet
Boots: Icon Super Duty 3