Aboard Yamaha's 1997 Drag Star 650

Taking a ride aboard 1997 Yamaha Drag Star 650 from the Cruiser staff of the past

Long and low, the Drag Star updates the look of the XV535 Virago.Cruiser

Yamaha's 1997 Drag Star 650 Twin is a grown-up, restyled version of the Virago 535. The XV535 Virago has been a big seller in Europe since its launch in 1988, thanks to neat styling, gentle power delivery and its low-altitude seat, features that have made the bike popular with the increasing number of women riders. Because middleweight cruisers are so popular in Europe, the first of what is expected to be a new line of Yamaha twins has been introduced there first. Well, that’s not quite correct. The Drag Star has only been introduced to the European press so far, but Yamaha flew the European press to Palm Springs, California, to sample the new bike.

The 535’s SOHC V-twin was enlarged to 649cc by increasing bore and stroke to 81 x 63mm (from 76 x 59mm). Shorter intake and exhaust valves use single springs instead of the XV535’s double springs. New camshaft profiles, a position sensor in the linkage for the 28mm carbs, and a twin-pipe exhaust system help juggle power output, which is actually reduced by five horsepower to 40 bhp, though low and midrange output shows a substantial boost. Oil pump capacity is increased by 50 percent, and the clutch is stronger.

The 650cc motor sits in an all-new, steel twin-cradle frame, which hides its single rear shock unit under the seat for that all-important hard-tail look. The fork sports hefty 41mm-diameter stanchions set 240mm apart. They brace wire-spoked wheels in 19-inch front, 15-inch rear sizes, the latter wearing a fat 170-section Bridgestone be-neath the big rear fender.

At 25.6 inches off the road, the rider’s perch is the lowest on a production motorcycle. The handlebar is quite high, wide and pulled back, and forward-set footpegs add the finishing cruiser touch. The Drag Star’s speedometer and idiot lights mount atop of the 4.2-gallon fuel tank. Smooth chrome and paint finish the job.

Cruising through the furnacelike heat northeast of Palm Springs (over 105 de-grees in the shade, and there was no shade), the Yamaha pulled crisply from very low revs and was easy to handle in spite of its long 63-inch wheelbase. The tor-quey V-twin motor was perfect for lazily overtaking the slow-moving Winnebagos, with the assistance of its smooth five-speed gearbox that’s redesigned from the 535 unit.

The 650 engine adheres to the less-is-more attitude about power. The Drag Star boasts the lowest saddle height in cruiserdom.Cruiser

On the straights, the Star cruised happily at about 75mph, rumbling quietly on to a top speed of about a genuine ton when provoked. The slight vibration that came through to the handlebars didn’t blur the mirrors and was not unpleasant at first but made my hands tingle slightly after a couple of hours. More of a problem was that the riding position and firm, short-travel rear suspension combined to make my back ache, though shorter riders weren’t affected. The Drag Star’s range was about 150 miles, but I was glad to stop long before then.

The front end is softer than the rear, but handling was excellent nevertheless. The Utah Trail winding through Joshua Tree National Park had plenty of bends to put the XVS to the test. Suspension was pretty well damped, so the bike didn’t move around over bumps unless severely provoked, and the drive shaft (which is exposed for visual effect) did not cause any problems even when opening or closing the throttle in corners.

Stability was fine, thanks in part to its 35-degree rake and six-inch trail. Despite also having a 19-inch front wheel and although it’s the length of a small train, the Drag Star wasn’t particularly reluctant to turn. The Bridgestone tires had enough grip to make use of the fairly generous ground clearance. Braking from the single 298mm front disc and rear drum was respectable too. The Star was no Drag on a twisty road.

Although the new bike will be more expensive than the 535 Virago (which remains in production), its price is likely to be competitive in Europe. Of course, we’re more interested in whether it will come to the U.S. Yamaha indicates that a version of the bike will come here, but with changes aimed at the American market.

This article was originally published in the April 1997 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

1997 Yamaha XVS650 Drag Star
1997 Yamaha XVS650 Drag StarCruiser
Engine type: Air-cooled four-stroke V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two valves
Displacement: 649cc
Bore x stroke: 81 x 63mm
Compression ratio: 9:1
Carburetion: 2, 28mm
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
Front suspension: 41mm telescopic
Rear suspension: Monocross single shock, adjustment for preload
Front brake: Twin-piston caliper, single 298mm disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front wheel: 2.50 x 19; wire spoked
Rear wheel: 3.50 x 15; wire spoked
Front tire: 100/90 x 19 Bridgestone
Rear tire: 170/80 x 15 Bridgestone
Rake/trail: 35 degrees (6.0 in.)
Wheelbase: 63.4 in.
Seat height: 25.6 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal
Dry weight: 471 lb
Instruments: Speedometer, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, low oil pressure