This article was originally published in the August 2002 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.
In our first installment of Project V-Max, we said we were taking a bottom up approach. First we would address the bike’s shortcomings and, only when those were resolved, would we move forward. The two weak sections in the V-Max’s armor were its handling and braking. Before we addressed the handling, we figured we should outfit Max to wear new, grippy shoes. Kosman Specialties stepped up with its V-Max Wheel Upgrade (Motorcycle Cruiser August 2001). The new 17-inch hoops fit a set of Metzeler MEZ-3 tires. Flush with the excitement of the new wheels, Sandy Kosman created a Brembo brake kit for Max (Motorcycle Cruiser December 2001), and all was right in the world—until we rode around corners.
In the February 2002 issue, our V-Max’s case of the wobbles was addressed by the nice folks at Progressive Suspension. We installed the progressive-rate fork springs and a set of Progressive 440 series shocks. The new suspenders helped tremendously, but Max still got a little hinky around sweeping corners or after mid-corner bumps. The stock frame just wasn’t up to the task that the tires and suspension were asking of it. In stepped T.A.W. Vehicle Concepts, Inc. to the rescue with a Carbon Honeycomb Sub-frame kit imported exclusively from Active in Japan. With these sexy carbon fiber bits bolted on, Max was transformed into a new animal. Only a small reminder of the previous wobble remained.
Our V-Max was ready for the stage I’d anticipated throughout the project.
The first step in any hop up project is to find what the baseline is for the current condition of the bike. Otherwise all you can say is, “It sure feels faster.” So off Max and I went to the magazine’s dyno, which is calibrated to get numbers comparable to the Dynojet Dynos found in many bike shops. After a few runs, we had the poop: 120.1 peak horsepower and 81.4 foot pounds peak torque. Not bad, particularly if you’ve ever ridden a V-Max when the V-Boost kicks in. Who in their right mind would consider adding more?
My mission was to get the most power I could without opening the stock engine. So, there would be no big pistons or fancy head work or clandestine grinding of the ports. No, we’d get power the good old fashioned way—free-breathing exhaust and burly carbs. We wanted to make sure that when we cranked on the throttle, mothers would have to hang on to their small children to keep them from being sucked into the maw of the V4.
Regular readers of Motorcycle Cruiser may remember Jon Cornell’s V-Max, featured way back in August 1999. On this bike he gave us our first glance at the V-Gas system he developed for the V-Max. Since Jon had been tempting us with his stories of bolt-on power, I decided to let him prove it. A few weeks later an innocuous box arrived on my doorstep.
The V-Gas system consists of four Keihin FCR 39mm flat slide carburetors; four handcrafted, polished aluminum manifolds; four polished velocity stacks; and all of the cables, hoses, and doodads necessary to be the life of the party. Installation is straightforward. You start by turning the key that unlocks the top of the faux gas tank, start removing parts, and don’t stop until you reach the intake ports. Along the way, the airbox, carbs, intake manifolds, and all the accoutrements of the stock V-Boost system take up residence on a garage shelf. The only glitch in the process was getting the square rack of carbs to let go of their rubber boots. A little WD-40 and some judicious tapping with a dead blow hammer followed by a heavy application of muscle, and the carb rack popped off like a stubborn cork from a wine bottle.
The V-Gas’ instructions are thorough and walk the user through the process in a step-by-step manner. The only sticking point came with mounting the left pair of carbs. The cable mount for the bell crank on the rear carburetor contacts the frame rail necessitating a good deal of wiggling to get the carb’s spigot fully seated in the rubber boot. Once the throttle cables are situated, you get an opportunity to sample the hefty effort required to turn the throttle. Perhaps this is a safety feature to keep the uninformed from accidentally releasing all the ponies hiding in the V-Gas system. The only notable absence in the kit was a filter to attach to the crankcase vent to keep abrasives from filtering down into the engine’s internals. A few bucks and a trip to your local bike shop for a little K&N filter will solve the problem.
For the exhaust end of the equation, we turned to Two Brothers Racing for one of its stainless-steel systems with a titanium canister. We’ve used their pipes before, and have always been happy with the superior fit and power delivery of their systems. So, imagine my surprise when I couldn’t get the headers for the rear cylinders to mate properly with the rest of the system. After a quick phone call, Max was in the back of my truck on the way to TBR’s expansive new facility. Two days later, I was told that somehow the rear headers had been made too short to interface with the rest of the system. They also said that the staff had been so excited about the look of the V-Gas system that they’d redesigned the exhaust to more suit the style of this project. Once this article is complete, Max will again go down to TBR so they can measure the system and incorporate the new high-pipe style of this system into their inventory. It’s nice to work with people who get turned on by machinery.
The Bellow Of The Beast
Starting Max with these carbs and exhaust components is not a socially conscious activity. All its unrestricted power comes with a cost: Noise. This bike sounds like a dragster at idle. The clat-clat of the slides rattling inside the carburetor bodies and the lumpy whut-whut-whut of the exhaust says, “Don’t screw with me.” And that’s only at idle. Crank on the loud tap and you can feel the force in your gut. The pipe clearly leans towards the power instead of the sound-reduction end of the spectrum, but the pipe is nowhere near as loud as a few V-Max systems I’ve heard, and doesn’t give the annoying blat of straight pipes.
Riding the bike immediately turns you into an outlaw—as if the stock V-Max wasn’t already a ticket looking for a place to happen. Rail away from a stop light, and you’ll see 75 mph in an insanely short time. Thank goodness for Kosman’s Brembo brakes. From the saddle, carburetion felt spot on with the kit right out of the box. The dyno told another story.
The first dyno run revealed a healthy horsepower reading around 130, but the exhaust gas sniffer said that the carburetion needed to be fattened up. So, we raised the needles two slots and ran Max again. The midrange flat spot I couldn’t feel from the saddle improved and the peak power jumped to 133 hp.
A Bit Of A Makeover
Content with our more-than-adequate power delivery, I moved on to dressing up our V-Max. Since the project was directed primarily towards functional changes to the big four, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that most of the vanity bits served a purpose, as well. With the new, more aggressive throttle response of the V-Gas system, the first change made was mounting a Flanders Drag Bar. The 28-inch bar features a 15-degree bend and mates perfectly with the stock controls. The riding position is now slightly more forward-leaning, easing the rider’s job of hanging on in full boogie mode.
Since Max’s more aggressive personality made everyone who rode it run the bike up to redline in the first few gears, I figured that asking the pilot to look down at the puny tach on the tank wasn’t a good idea. During our tachometer comparison in December 1998, I developed a fondness for the Auto Meter Tachometer. A quick call to Drag Specialties had the Pro-Cycle 19208 in transit. The five-inch tach isn’t subtle, but what about this bike is? The features that sold us were the big, easy-to-read face and the adjustable shift light. So, while the G-force of acceleration was distorting our vision, we’d still be able to shift at the right point to keep the party going.
The two nods solely to fashion were the sultry Aeromach Sidewinder billet mirrors and the UFO Cycles clutch cover. Why did we add the mirrors? Simple, the stockers were ugly, and once we saw the Aeromach mirrors we had to have them. In fact, the mirrors almost sent us into a billet bolting frenzy, but sanity prevailed. While billet grips would look super cool, rubber is much more effective when you’re hanging on for dear life! The transparent clutch cover is unlike anything we’ve seen before, and after seeing the reaction to it on the street, we predict that other muscle cruisers (Can you say Warrior?) won’t be complete without this trick item. The only complaint we have about the cover is that it will make you want to powdercoat and polish your clutch components.
The final addition to our friend (or is it fiend?) Max was a set of DPM rearsets from Planet Cruiser. While we wanted rearsets because they add to the racy looks of the bike, they were also necessitated by the velocity stacks, which poke out right where the rider’s knees would naturally land. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve all spent years ridiculing riders who’s sense of style required that they splay their knees on the road like they’ve got such a hot ticket between their legs that they need the extra cooling. So, rearsets it was. Unfortunately, since the parts had to be ordered from DPM’s factory in Italy, they weren’t on the bike for the photos. Rest assured, faithful reader, we will make sure these trick bits will grace the pages of Motorcycle Cruiser in the future.
The Big Wrap Up
The year with Max in and out of our garage has passed us in a flash. We’ve learned the hard lessons of custom projects. We’ve felt the joy at seeing stages of the project come together. We’ve dealt with the frustrations of delays while waiting for parts or services. And now, we’re suffering the sadness of bidding farewell to our project. Time waits for no one, and Max is off to its new home. Thanks for the ride.