Somehow the social process makes us chase things that are bigger, because for some reason we perceive them as better. Maybe it's an American thing, since riders in other parts of the world cherish their modest-size motorcycles. Think about it. Should it really be about size, or satisfaction?
Yamaha's fresh-from-the-ground-up V-Star 1100 is a bold new entry in the middleweight market. It stands next to the venerable Virago 1100 in relative size and equipment. Both utilize a 1063cc, air-cooled, single overhead-cam, two-valves-per-cylinder V-twin engine with dual carbs, wide-ratio five-speed transmission and shaft final drive. The similarities end there, however. The new V-Star represents an entirely different perspective. For example, many people think the faithful Virago is ugly -- virtually everyone will agree the new V-Star is not.
The V-Star 1100 follows the same concept as the very popular V-Star 650. As our 1998 Cruiser of the Year, the entry-level V-Star Classic won high marks for value, visual appeal and overall package performance. Both 650s, released in 1998, retail for well under $6000. It's no wonder they are their manufacturer's best-selling cruisers. Yamaha has now created an affordable and thoroughly worthy option for those yearning for something a bit more substantial, but not too costly. The V-Star 1100 will retail for a suggested $7799, right at the bottom of the 1100-class price range.
Yamaha's attempt to overShadow the competition is well-executed. All of the models in the Star cruiser series feature a striking visual balance and keen exhaust note. The V-Star 1100's long, low stance, consolidated components and rounded edges integrate in a flowing visual effect. If worthiness were based on beauty alone, this new V-Star would be runner-up only to Honda's Shadow Aero ($9700). We love the drag bars, spoked wheels and pert bobtail rear fender. And the hidden monoshock leaves the V-Star looking clean and hard in the tail. There's always more than meets the eye, though, and the new Yamaha is up to the challenge in that area too. In terms of performance, the V-twin-powered V-Star 1100 is, alas, easily outrun by its fraternal twin, the Virago -- reigning King of Performance in the 1100 class. The Honda Shadow Aero, A.C.E. and Spirit are left behind in that order, when it comes to acceleration and top speed.
Power is delivered evenly and efficiently through the rpm range, with enough torque at low rpm to let you start in second gear. Throttle response provided by the two Mikuni carbs is smooth and crisp.
It almost seems as though the "V" in "V-twin" also stands for "Vibration," and the V-Star does exude fairly intrusive engine feedback. There's only a faint oscillation at lower rpm felt through the pegs, grips and fuel tank (if your knees contact it). At highway speeds the vibration becomes more vigorous and radiates through the chassis and up through the seat as well. If, for some silly reason, you're cruising above suggested freeway speeds and roll on additional throttle, you'll feel like you put a quarter in a "magic fingers" mattress. But regardless of the price you pay in pulse, the power is there -- and there always seems to be a little left in reserve.
Yamaha uses a double-cradle frame in the V-Stars and draws out the chassis length for a long, low look. Overall length is a hearty 94.6 inches and the wheelbase measures 64.5 inches. It's no longer than its smaller displacement stablemates -- the 650 Classic and Custom -- but then all of the V-Stars are stretched to big-bore proportions. The seat height on the 1100 is a friendly 27.0 inches, allowing new riders and those short in the inseam, to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. We enlisted a 5-foot-5 rider to sit on the V-Star and she could easily touch the ground, with both feet. While the low seat works to the advantage of some, it is likely to be an irritant for those with more spindly legs. The 1100 weighs in at 616 pounds with the tank full, falling right in the middle of the typical range for 1100s.
The seating position puts the rider in a bit of a stretch, but those of average proportions found it inviting and not exaggerated to the point of discomfort. One point of contention, however, is the protruding air-cleaner steals legroom. The footpegs are set fairly far forward, so taking the weight off your bum requires shifting your feet to the passenger pegs. Unfortunately, the rear pegs are mounted very high in order to stay in relation to the stepped passenger seat, so keeping your feet on them bends the legs in a manner only small children are capable of sustaining.
The seat itself is comfortable, and after 1700 miles of testing we don't have any major complaints about its cushioning ability. Those with more substantial seats of their own wished for a bit more width. The forward edge of the passenger pad can feel confining to some riders and can become especially irritating when you factor in vibration. The passenger seat is easily removed with a single bolt, and its bracket can be removed separately for a finished look. You may as well do this immediately because no one is going to want to ride with you unless you install a custom passenger seat. The pillion on the V-Star feels about as comfortable as squatting on a vibrating loaf of day-old French bread. The rider's ergonomics are comfortable with the drag-style bars set low but graduating rearward. The low bars provide good steering feel with a nice degree of leverage.
Steering the V-Star 1100 doesn't require exertion and the bike hooks up and travels solidly and smoothly in every cornering situation, from parking-lot maneuvers to high-speed sweepers. However, cornering clearance significantly limits lean angle.
Some might find fault with the rear suspension as well. It leans toward harsh. Set at factory specs and unloaded, the bike occasionally wants to skip across the pavement in hard cornering, which can be disconcerting if you're trailing sparks off the footpeg. On the highway the effect is jarring -- but remember, there's probably one dentist for every 10 potholes in this country.
The rear monocross single shock is preload-adjustable and can be accessed by removing the seat and a plastic fender port cover. Setting it full-soft makes only a minimal difference. Lighter riders felt that it looked and acted like a hardtail. The front telescopic fork feels solid, yet obedient in contrast.
The V-Star drivetrain is smooth and easy to manipulate. The five-speed transmission worked flawlessly and the well-staged gear ratios were appreciated. The 1100 employs large double discs on the front and a single disc on the rear. We noted plenty of stopping power and no fade.
Handlebar controls are easy to access and the low bar provides a nice visual frame for the tank-mounted gauges. The nostalgic speedometer numbers carry the vintage flavor down to detail. It's always a compromise when you have to take your eyes off the road to check speed, mileage or indicator lights; we'd add a tripmeter and a clock to the LCD odometer display. And as a conclusive touch on otherwise well-done aesthetics, we'd like to see the unit's three mounting bolts further finished or capped flush to the casing.
Our test unit started showing us an oil warning light with only 250 miles on the odometer. Hayward Kawasaki-Yamaha, in Northern California, tracked the problem to a faulty oil-sender switch.
The V-Star is eager to start and quick to idle. The tone emitting from the dual exhaust is pleasing to the ear, although it's forced to compete with a good amount of top-end noise. Brasfield, who rode the bike at the European press introduction, didn't remember hearing such valve clatter.
Mirrors on the V-Star are stylishly small and teardrop-shaped. They fit the visual format of the bike, but because the small viewing area is coupled with prevalent vibration in the bar, the mirrors work for placement of objects only. The other fundamental feature suffering on the V-Star is the headlight's ability to illuminate the road at night. The halogen lamp casts a rectangular beam that lights the side angles nicely but it doesn't travel very far on the road ahead. And when you're leaned into a corner, the beam doesn't cover an overall surface area large enough to be comforting. You must apply the high beam more often than vehicles in the vicinity appreciate.
We've spent more than one 400-mile day on the new 1100 and found it to be pleasingly tripworthy. The 4.3-gallon fuel tank permitted the V-Star to travel for 110 miles regularly before asking for reserve, which offers more than a gallon before the engine goes silent.
Packing on the V-Star was a bit of a challenge since the fender is high and the rear wheel is mostly exposed. If you're going to use soft saddlebags you'll need to install saddlebag guards to keep them from contacting the tire. Securing bungee cords was another challenge since everything is so tightly integrated within the frame.
Like the other bikes in the V-Star lineup, the 1100's overall performance package is more than worth the asking price. Even if nothing else seems to set it apart from its competition, the price point surely does. It may not deliver the grunt of Yamaha's 1600cc pushrod V-twin Road Star or approach the Royal Star in visual refinements, but the V-Star 1100 is an extremely well-balanced, middle-of-the-road motorcycle. In our opinion, it's the best package being offered in the 1100 class this year.
High Points: ** Great price, good looks, solid power.
**Low Points: ** Stiff suspension, vibration, poor passenger accommodations, ineffective headlight and mirrors.
**First Changes: ** Brighter headlight bulb, new seat if carrying passengers.
Andy Cherney: **Give me your poor, your vertically challenged, your power-hungry masses. Let them yearn for cruisers with clean lines and slinky paint jobs. They shall also demand fistfuls of stopping power, and a manageable handlebar instead of wheelbarrow grips. Gather them all and point them in the direction of Yamaha's V-Star 1100.
You'd call it a middleweight at first blush. It's long and low, and not a bad-looking scoot at that. A narrowish bar and way-low seat height ensure comfort and confidence for those closer to the ground. The handling is light and responsive and the power is much beefier than you'd expect; even though it's an 1100, its low, crouched stance gives the illusion of a much smaller powerplant. The brakes are solid -- double discs up front with plenty of grab on the wheel and none of the usual brake fade. Requisitely smooth throttle response, good low-end grunt and a fairly comfortable (did we already say "low"?) seating position round out the basic goodies.
Another thing that'll grab you is the price -- for 7800 bones, you're getting a solid middleweight you won't grow out of in a few years, and -- it shore is purty. Love it or hate it, that distinctive gold metalflake two-tone paint scheme will turn your retinas inside out. People notice these things.
Such a deal! 1100cc of middleweight magic for less than eight grand. You can cruise in style without having to sacrifice your lavish gourmet dinners. Lemme jes dust off the ol' checkbook here and...
E-mail your McDonald's coupons to Cherney at: Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.
**Jamie Elvidge: **Boy, this bike gets the looks. In the two weeks I had it I hardly parked once without someone reminding me how pretty it was. It's quite a catch for the cash and it offers enough performance to back up the visual attitude. I think it raises the bar in the 1100 class and I'd be the first to recommend it, especially to a competent beginning rider. It is well-mannered and physically manageable, yet it won't leave you hemming and hawing in a year. It's a great package, and the silver-and-gold paint combination is striking.
But if I could just ride and never have to actually look at my bike, I'd be likely to opt for the Virago 1100. It might have missed out on the pretty pills, but it has the power and handling characteristics I appreciate. On the other hand, if I looked at my motorcycle more than I rode it, Honda's Shadow Aero 1100 would be my pick. Luckily, in the real world, we get to do a lot of both -- and the newest V-Star is poised in the balance.
When Elvidge doesn't have V-Stars in her eyes she's reading e-mail at: Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.
**Art Friedman: **Virago lovers, I feel your pain. This upstart threatens the future of your venerable 1100 V-twin. And why? Because it's fashionable this week? Because somebody decided that new is better?
Brasfield, who had attended the V-Star intro, wondered if I'd still prefer the Virago -- which has been one of my favorite twins for a long time. Having seen the photos and heard from him what it was like, I was pretty sure I'd surprise him and like the V-Star more.
Sorry. I still prefer the Virago by the smallest of margins. I expect the V-Star, with its sleek good looks, to outsell its stablemate severalfold this year, even though the new bike got a late start. But I think I'd stay with the faster, smoother, and -- for me -- more comfortable Virago, and also get the centerstand, tachometer and other features. I score the Star slightly higher for saddle and suspension but the Virago feels like it was built for my dimensions and riding style. Yes, the V-Star is prettier, but it still has a surprising number of warts when you look at it up close. It definitely has the nicer profile, though.
That is actually one of the problems. If I bought the Virago, I'd be sorry that the V-Star is slower. It would be nice if it was a little faster, so it could stay where I could look at those pretty lines rather than just a shimmering dot receding from my rearview mirrors.
1999 Yamaha V-Star 1100 Custom
Suggested base price: $7799
Standard colors: Black, cranberry/red, silver/gold
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 8000 miles
Yamaha web site: www.yamaha-motor.com
Owners groups web sites:
MSN Yamaha Star Club
Star Touring and Riding
ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled, 75-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve; rocker arm, screw tappet adjust
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1063cc, 95 x 75mm
Compression ratio: 8.3:1
Carburetion: 2, 37mm Mikuni
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.6 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 86 octane
Transmission: Constant mesh; 5 speeds
Final drive: Exposed shaft
Wet weight: 616 lb, 53.8% rear wheel
GVWR: 1047 lb
Wheelbase: 64.5 in.
Overall length: 94.6 in.
Rake/trail: 33 degrees / 5.4 in.
Wheels: Spoke, 2.2 x 18.0 in. front, 4.5 x 15.0 in. rear
Front tire: 110/90-18 Dunlop K55SF
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Dunlop K55S
Front brake: 2 dual-piston calipers, pin-slide type, 11.7-in. discs
Rear brake: 1 dual Popposed piston caliper, 11.1-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.5 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single shock, adjustable for preload, 4.5 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.3 gal (1.2 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.0 in.
Inseam equivalent: 32.0 in.
Seat height: 27.0 in.
ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Battery: 12v, 8AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure
Fuel mileage: 31 to 39 mpg, 35.2 mpg avg.
Average range: 158 miles
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.29 sec., 90.9 mph
The other V-Star 1100, the Classic, was a top contender in our 2002 1100 twin Comparison, which you can read here