Coming up with interesting metaphors and similes for the Yamaha V-Max is like shooting fish in a barrel. I could go to the muscle-bound metaphor, the proverbial Arnold Schwarzenegger call. I could talk about back alley aesthetics and performance, all of which are true, but certainly not original, which in my estimation is a disservice to the V-Max. It is, after all, the quintessential bruiser cruiser intended to create folds in public roadways thanks to mind-boggling torque and acceleration. We should use the V-Max to describe disturbingly strong forces in nature, not the other way around.
In 2005 the V-Max celebrates its 20th birthday as the king of asphalt-shredding speed and power. What’s remarkable is that it has gone largely unchanged for the last 19 years. Sure, there are bikes that have managed to hold a special place in the two-wheeled market place for long stretches of time, but as fast as technology advances, those bikes quickly get slapped with a retro label, and instead of being the toast of the town, they’re admired for the antiquated style and performance and their impact at the time of their introduction. Not Mr. Max.
No, the V-Max has somehow found a way to tap into that Dick Clark-like vortex where aging doesn’t exist. Well, that’s not entirely true; the V-Max could use a little nip here and a tuck there, but what the tuning fork engineers were able to accomplish on their first try with the king of the quarter-mile is nothing short of spectacular.
For those with short attention spans and a lack of patience, we’ll get the big question out of the way. Yes, the V-Max lives up to its reputation as one of the sickest quarter-mile machines on the market, despite its age. Twisting the throttle opens the door to an acceleration portal few casual riders should attempt. It’s a little like when the Millennium Falcon goes into light-speed mode and the stars transform from tight dots to streaking rays of light, that’s what Mr. Max does to the senses.
The funny thing about the Max is the amount of lore that it carries with it. Most know a V-Max when they see it, and even the most hardened bike vets will get a little twinkle in their eye when approaching Max. Everybody really wants to mount up and twist the throttle, but not all are sure they can properly tame the ol’ steed.
The source of this metaphorical warp speed is a seemingly ancient liquid-cooled, 16-valve, DOHC, 70-degree V-4. For all intents and purposes, it’s the exact same 1198cc engine that graced the ’85 model and subsequently shocked the world with its straight-line performance. The Max might not seem like it would accelerate at nearly the same pace as today’s superbikes, but it does, almost.
Duke Danger proves wheelies aren’t just for sportbikes. Yes, that’s a 19-year old cruiser with the front wheel in the air.
The burble of the V-4 is intoxicating at idle, and at speed its snarling mill begs for the rider to twist the throttle. I’ve ridden the Max a few times over the last few years, but this was a good time to flog it considering I’d recently tested the 2004 crop of literbikes, the sickest set of tarmac-carving machines to ever grace the racing pavement. I expected it to pale in comparison, but it didn’t. The superbikes do exhibit a little more acceleration, but lying down in the prone position hunkered behind a windscreen is one thing; twisting the throttle and accelerating at the same speed in an upright position with nothing more than a miniscule speedo to block the wind is another.
Wick it on and the V-Max accelerates quickly off idle like a high-powered Twin, but things really start to get interesting once the tach hits 6000 rpm. At that point Yamaha‘s “V-Boost” kicks in and rapid acceleration gives way to face-flattening speed. The V-Boost has been dubbed by some to be a myth, but truth be told, there is a little something extra in Max’s innards.
At lower revs, the four 35mm downdraft carburetors have their own individual path to each cylinder. But once past 6000 rpm, a servo motor begins to open a butterfly-valve in the intake manifold between the cylinders, becoming fully open at 8000 rpm, allowing a pair of carbs smooth access to each cylinder bank of the V-4. Or so the theory goes. All I know is that the thing freakin’ gets with the program at 6500 rpm and landmarks are transformed into kaleidoscopic blurs.
We expected big things out of the V-Max when we took it to the dyno at Hansen’s BMW/Triumph/Ducati to ensure we got true numbers, like 200 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, but instead we were disappointed with Yamaha’s “muscle bike” and its paltry effort. Max torque only logs 76.6 lb-ft @ 6300 rpm. Moreover, the bike only puts out 70 lb-ft as low as 5300 rpm and continues that shameful performance all the way up to 6950 rpm, the heart of the powerband. The V-Max’s horsepower numbers are equally disgraceful; it only cranks out 110.6 hp at 8200 rpm, cresting the 100-hp mark from 7100 rpm to redline at 9350. Too bad a twist of the wrist doesn’t elicit any real response.
In all seriousness, the dyno numbers prove what a bad-ass this V-4 is, especially at 20 years of age. It pulls hard off the bottom, but once it hits that 6500 rpm mark it’s on like Donkey Kong, nearly ripping the bars right out of your hands until redline. While the power on many bikes, like some V-Twins, lets up as the engine nears redline, the V-4 only gets stronger. The hard numbers indicate a slight decline at the top of the rev range, but in the real world it still feels like Mr. Max is trying hard to push you off the back.
The V-Max pumps out 110.6 ponies at 8200 rpm, while torque is equally impressive thanks to 76.6 lb-ft at 6300 rpm.
To get a good launch from a stop doesn’t take much clutching, but if you decide to do so you will almost certainly find the front wheel in the air. One would think that an engine of such mammoth proportions would require a ham-fisted stud to pull on a beefy clutch. Not so. A hydraulic clutch reduces lever effort to easy two-finger pulls, which makes the Yamaha a dragster in waiting. Moreover, the 5-speed transmission is still light years ahead of many of today’s bikes that are considered front-runners in the power-cruiser category.
Acceleration does begin to taper off once the speedo goes past 115 mph, but at that point the rider is a bit more concerned with self preservation than more speed. The V-Max can haul ass, there’s no question about that, but the rattling chassis can instill the fear of god into most mortal beings, and fear is ultimately the factor that had us backing off the throttle.
For all the ponies lurking within the V-4, you’d think the Yamaha engineers might try and improve the chassis and suspension so that the V-Max could realize its full potential on the road. Whether it’s stubbornness to change a good thing, or simply the tuning fork logo laughing while the competition tries to beat a bike that has been untouchable for 20 years, not much has been changed since 1985.
The tubular steel frame cradles the V-4, but it’s not exactly the most rigid chassis I’ve ever been on. At low speeds, the V-Max is quick steering and can be maneuvered easily, but at cruising speeds Max is a little less steady. Break out of a straight line at high speeds and the entire bike seems to sway and contort as the heft of the engine and centrifugal force wrestle with the shaft drive for gravitational supremacy. Moreover, the spindly 40mm fork has a tough time holding up the 580 lbs pounds of Max when entering corners at high speeds. Get on the brakes and the front takes a dive like a Don King lackey. It’s reasonably suited for moderate riding, but a bike this fast needs an updated fork for more assured corner entries and exits and stable handling.
Out back, a pair of dual shocks with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping do a fair enough job of soaking up real world bumps and undulations. We can live with the rear suspension, but that fork has got to go, which would improve handling abilities a great deal on the V-Max.
The adequate suspension supplies feedback at a manageable pace, but it won’t exactly let you turn hot laps in the AMA Superbike series either. Certainly, this is the biggest area in need of attention on the V-Max. A more rigid chassis and an improved front fork would bolster handling at high speeds, which would unquestionably turn Max into a true streetfighter. Imagine this engine in a sportier chassis like the FZ1! Or if your tastes are more suited to the cruising genre, stuff that highly tuned V-4 into an updated cruiser frame and let her rip (no, the V-4-powered Royal Star doesn’t count).
Few bikes spark conversation like the Yamaha V-Max. We found Mr. Max draws attention like few muscle machines can.
The chassis and suspension aren’t the only aspects that need a little updating. To be perfectly blunt, the brakes aren’t adequate to handle stopping duties on a bike with this kind of power. Sorry, Yamaha, I love a lot of things about this bike, but the dual 298mm discs up front and a single 298mm disc out back ain’t one of them, especially for a bike that begs for triple-digit speeds. Lever feel is smooth and provides ample feedback to the rider, but the amount of grip applied by the caliper isn’t enough. Even a stronger pull on the lever doesn’t seem to want to stop the hurtling mass of metal and plastic. It takes a fist-full of lever and a foot-full of pedal to slow the mighty Max. Once again, adequate, but it could be so much more.
The seating position is pretty comfortable. There is a short reach to the bars and the seat is cushy while being just 30.1 inches from the ground. In normal conditions the narrow bars seem pretty cool, but when trying to muscle the bike in and out of corners, wider bars would almost certainly improve turn-in capabilities by providing more leverage. The seating position tends to put the pilot in the proverbial parachute position when the speedo needle starts to move clockwise. The chest and head start to collect massive amounts of air flow and it’s evident the stronger the arms, the better your chances of surviving the wicked acceleration. Passenger accommodations are nice with a soft, comfortable seat and pegs that allow for a comfortably upright position. Moreover, the passenger is situated close to the pilot, which is a good thing considering a tight grip around the waist is an absolute necessity when hard on the throttle.
For real world riding, Mr. Max gets the job done rather well. The comfortable seating position and plush seat make for a pleasant ride around town and on back roads. Yamaha utililizes a counter-balancer to effectively suppress vibration throughout the rpm range, which is an excellent feature for those who enjoy getting their buzz from adrenaline and not engine vibration.
Information is relayed to the rider via a white-faced speedo which sits alone atop the bars as the lone source of wind protection, while a cluster of gauges resides further down at the top of the faux fuel tank. A small white-faced fuel indicator is accompanied by an equally small tach, while five idiot lights round out the information panel. Best to keep an eye on that gas gauge, as well, because we had to switch to the 4.0-gallon tank’s reserve position after just 95 miles. Throughout the test our heavy-handed riders frequently logged under 30 miles per gallon while wringing the neck of the beast.
While the V-Max is certainly one of the most original bikes of all time, its most unique feature is trying to find the gas tank. Even if you know its location is under the seat, the odds of accessing the gas cap are about the same as getting struck by lighting the same day as winning Powerball.
The engine may be good, but the chassis is downright poor. Good enough for 1985 but ridiculous by modern standards, the tubular steel frame is one of the first aspects of the V-Max that should be updated.
The tank resides underneath the seat because the faux fuel cell is really just a cosmetic covering for the air box, fuses, and radiator overflow tank, all of which are easily accessible by unlocking the metal cover. Accessing the gas cap, however, requires the rider to push down on two levers behind the passenger seat. A center section of the seat pops open to reveal the gas cap.
Overall, the V-Max’s 1980s styling is still unique and, in a sense, cool. The fake air scoops would be an aesthetic triumph if they actually worked. The rest of the bike screams ’80s muscle machine, but in its own way it still works because the bike is so ridiculously powerful. As clichÃ© as it sounds, the V-Max really does look like a bike that was developed by the same mind that spawned Road Warrior and Mad Max. In fact, it’s a bike that is so intimidating to would-be draggers that other motorcyclists simply look and nod out of respect. Yes, even the H-D riders tend to check it out. You can almost see the wheels turning in their mind juggling the idea of what that kind of power must feel like.
For nearly two decades, the V-Max has converted a legion of hardcore fans, but many of them cry for an updated version. Rumors of a new Max have been circulating for the past several years, but the 2005 model remains the same machine they have been producing for the last 20 years. Sure, the ’05 Max has updated anniversary graphics and red pinstripes around its rims, but it’s the same bike pumping out the same face-flattening power as the 19 models before it.
For now it appears V-Max enthusiasts will have to wait with their fingers crossed for the long-awaited updated version, although I shudder to think what a new model might cost, as the current version with all of its ancient fittings still runs at a hefty $10,099. Regardless of its potential MSRP, a new Max with an updated chassis, suspension, and brakes would likely set the two-wheel world on fire.
Mr. Max isn’t for everybody, but for those that know their limits and can temper their use of the throttle in a judicious manner, Yamaha’s muscle machine is a must have for one simply reason: it’s a V-Max. There certainly has never been anything like it, and as hard as the other manufacturers of the world try, there hasn’t been a company that has managed to produce a straight-line machine with the same muscle-bound gravitas and icon status.
Yes, Mr. Max remains king of straightline performance, and as fast as the competition can produce challengers the V-Max continues to eat them up and spit them out just as quickly. Max is truly the yardstick by which all powerful motorcycles are measured.