It’s said that absolute power corrupts. And though this idiom was coined based on social and political principle, it could just as well be used to describe the all-new 2009 Star VMax. How many times have you ridden a motorcycle and thought, ‘Gee, I wish it had just a bit more power?’ Well, go ahead then. Take one wide-open throttle stab and that thought, along with any other brain waves for that matter, is purged from your mind and replaced with the euphoric rush of pure unbridled acceleration. It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, that is unless you have a cool nickname emblazoned on your helmet and collect a paycheck flying for the U.S. Air Force.
That’s right. The new VMax ups the ante on everything short of a fighter jet. And if you restrict the category to that of the ground-based rubber shod-type, then even a million dollar-plus Bugatti Veyron supercar might fall short in a drag race under a quarter-mile. The VMax is that fast!
But there’s much more to this machine than outright acceleration. We expected it to haul-ass as soon as we set our eyes on it during its First Look unveiling aboard the USS Midway. But we didn’t expect engineers to have raised the bar in every area of this motorcycle. Everything from its aggressive yet sleek styling (that pays homage to the original 1985 ‘Max), to the gigantic V-Four engine, to the state-of-the-art chassis designed to smash all rules by which cruiser-style motorcycles abide by. The new VMax is more than just a power cruiser… it is the indisputable definition of the term.
Powering this two-wheeled projectile is a 1679cc liquid-cooled V-Four engine. Forged aluminum pistons slide 60mm up and down inside the 90mm cylinder bore and compress fuel to a ratio of 11.3:1. Despite its significant 40% increase in displacement as compared to the VMax of old, the engines four cylinders are set at a narrower 65-degree angle which allows for more compact external dimensions. An ingenious camshaft drive system slims down the cylinder head and controls the engine’s 16-valves via a chain drive for the intake cam and a gear drive for the exhaust.
Behold! The 2009 Star VMax engine. Between those ultra-trick magnesium engine covers lies four pistons cobbling up 1679cc of dispacement. Star reps claim almost 200 horsepower at the crank.
Thumb the starter and the engine comes to life with a unique growl that only a V-Four can produce. Pump the throttle a few times and rpms instantly climb and are accompanied by ultra-cool gear drive cam clatter that might fool you into thinking that you’re at the controls of a new BMW M3 sports car.
Slip your fingers over the hydraulically-actuated clutch lever and you can’t help but be amazed by how light lever pull is despite the use of a thick 19-plate clutch pack. Drop the shift lever down into first gear and let the games begin.
Right off the bottom, the engine feels similar to that of a V-Twin. So much torque is doled out down right off idle that almost no throttle needs to be given to launch from a stop. Similar to other big-bore cruisers, if you keep the revs below 4K the engine is pretty mellow. However, that Twin association ends as soon as the tachometer needle flirts above that magic 4K-number. After that the engine gains momentum with shocking voracity akin to any modern liter-class bike! I’m not joking… there’s so much power on tap that in first and second gear you can literally lay down fat rubber streaks from the 200-series Bridgestone tire anywhere, anytime. If you don’t think that’s cool – then maybe you should pick up a different hobby.
Achieving sportbike levels of acceleration is no easy task, so engineers swiped a couple of hot-rod tricks employed on the Yamaha YZF-R1 and R6 sportbikes. Air is funneled into the giant 3.4-gallon airbox via the hand-polished aluminum intake scoops on either side. Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I) then provides optimum intake tuning by utilizing variable length intake funnels above the 48mm throttle bodies. Below 6650 rpm, funnel length is in tall (150mm) mode, which optimizes low and mid-range power output. Above 6650 rpm, funnel height is reduced to 54mm, which helps give the ‘Max an exhilarating “V-Boost” acceleration surge.
Yamaha’s Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) ride-by-wire system works in conjunction with the machine’s four 12-hole fuel-injectors, measuring engine running conditions every 1/1000th of a second. This permits immediate throttle response and ensures that the engine will always have the correct amount of fuel regardless of throttle opening or engine load.
Around town the VMax is surprisingly well behaved. But when the road opens up, it gets as wild as a 12-year-old on a Mountain Dew bender.
And the gadgetry actually works… maybe a little bit too well in fact. Engine reaction from throttle input is instantaneous. It feels like your right hand is linked directly to the rear tire. So much so that it takes a little bit of seat time for the rider to become acclimated to how sensitive the throttle feels.
As you’re catapulted forward, that sweet snarl you hear bellowing out of the twin titanium mufflers is courtesy of a high-tech and very expensive-looking 4-1-2-4 exhaust system. Inside, an oxygen sensor feeds data into the ECU and YCC-T subsystem with the purpose of constantly optimizing the air-fuel ratio. An Exhaust Ultimate Power Valve (EXUP) varies backpressure for improved torque production in the lower rpms.
Torque twist is channeled through a closely spaced five-speed transmission and on to the 18-inch rear wheel via a left-side shaft drive. A clear benefit of this design is that there is no greasy messiness, minimal drivetrain lash, virtually no maintenance and only a minute rear-end lifting effect.
Although the gears feel close together and on the low side, transmission operation is superb. Star engineers have given the VMax exceptionally smooth shifting action. And since it’s got a sportbike-spec ramp-style slipper clutch, it’s not scary at all to bang downshifts, making gear changes more effortless than anticipated.
Out on the road you’ll be surprised how relaxed the riding position is. The handlebars are at a near perfect height and are far enough forward for ideal body weight distribution. Footpeg height is bit on the higher side which no doubt aids ground clearance, yet there was still plenty of room for my long legs. Shorter riders grumbled about seat height, but I thought it was plenty low to accommodate a variety of different size riders. Nonetheless, we all agreed that the comfy, well-supported seat provides a wide platform to rest on and does a fine job of keeping the rider in place during the jumps to warp speed. As mph increases, you could gripe about the fact there is zero wind protection. But then again, all it takes is a multi-second tug on the juice and that thought will be as old as those Beatles albums buried in your basement.
V-Four engine configurations are known for being inherently well-balanced and the one in the VMax definitely impresses. There is a light level of vibration in the lower rpms, but it vanishes as the revs climb. At 65 mph, it cruises on the highway as smooth as the aforementioned M3. And that, in essence, is the beauty of the VMax. At wide-open throttle it’s as unruly and wild as your best friend in college, but at low speeds it’s as polished and refined as our presidential hopefuls at a press conference.
Star engineers recognized that handling was a specific limitation of the old VMax so a great deal of effort went into creating a chassis that would perform when the road starts to curve. On paper you’d assume that a motorcycle tipping the scales at 685 pounds (claimed wet weight) with a lengthy 5.5-foot wheelbase would plow around corners like a city bus, but too our delight the ‘Max is light on its feet.
In an effort to keep the new VMax composed in the twisties, an all-new cast aluminum frame uses the engine as a stressed member. The subframe is constructed out of die cast and extruded aluminum pieces. Similar to the frame, the swingarm is cast aluminum as well. A thick baseball bat-sized 52mm fork features 4.7-inches of travel and attaches to the frame via a cast aluminum top triple clamp and a forged lower triple clamp. The different triple clamp manufacturing process allowed engineers to tune the amount of rigidity. The stout fork features 3-way adjustability for spring preload, compression and rebound. Rear suspension is comprised of a single large diameter rear shock with 4.3-inches of travel. Similar to the fork, it’s also 3-way adjustable… and the best part is you don’t even need tools to make the adjustments. Separate twist-style remote adjustment knobs make rear suspension adjustment a quick and painless affair.
The moment you raise the kick stand you can’t help but be in awe of how balanced the bike feels. Its mass is carried low and towards the center of the machine which is aided by the 3.96-gallon polyethylene fuel tank stashed underneath the seat. And it gets better the faster you go. Steering is neutral and takes a light touch of the handlebar to point the bike in the right direction. As the pace quickened through inland San Diego County’s rolling hills, the chassis remained composed. Nope, there’s not a hint of flex or wallowing that we heard was typical on the old bike. Equally impressive is the considerable amount of lean angle that can be achieved before the footpeg feelers begin to drag. And even then its a welcome reminder of just how quick the ‘Max can be hustled around.
Instrumentation is comprised of a large analog tachometer which houses a digital speedometer in addition to the warning lights. A big, bright, programmable shift light sits above it all. A separate electro luminescence display is located behind the ignition key atop the faux fuel tank and incorporates a clock, odometer, dual-trip meters, gear position, coolant temperature, intake air temperature, throttle grip angle, a fuel gauge as well as distance-to-empty mileage countdown.
The quality of the instrumentation is first-rate but it’s not easy to read at a glance. While the primary tachometer housing is perfectly placed, the secondary electro luminescence readout is located in a peculiar spot which requires the rider to take his or her eyes of the road to read the screen, making it a bit daunting to use while riding. It would have been helpful if engineers would have incorporated all of the information into a single display.
Do the math: a nearly 700-pound bike with close to 200 horsepower is going to achieve a lofty top speed (136 mph electronically limited to be exact… And easy to reach). That kind of mass in motion necessitates some serious stopping power. The solution: Up front a Brembo radial-mount master cylinder pushes brake fluid through rubber lines and into a pair of radial-mount six-piston brake calipers hijacked off the R1. The calipers latch on to dual 320mm wave-style rotors. Out back another Brembo master cylinder powers a single caliper pinching a big 298mm wave-type rotor. ABS completes the set-up and ensures that you can never lock up either wheel.
Our girl Vanessa says she normally doesn’t date motorcycle dudes… But she’d make an exception if you pulled up on a VMax.
Braking power from both the front and the rear is phenomenal. Hands down the most powerful brakes I’ve ever experienced on a bike of this size. There’s also loads of feel delivered from both ends allowing the rider to mash down on the either brake lever with confidence and authority. Unlike other ABS systems we’ve tested, the set-up on the VMax is unobtrusive during normal riding conditions, but when you get really aggressive with the rear brake, for example – it steps up modulating brake pressure to prevent the tire from sliding around.
Without a doubt people are going to gripe about the 18-grand asking price. But once you see it in person, it will all make sense. And after you ride one you’ll be reminding yourself of what a bargain this kind of raw adrenaline-generating performance is. Perhaps even more astounding than the level of engineering that went into creating the new Star VMax is the overall craftsmanship and build quality. Simply put, this is one of the finest-built motorcycles I’ve tested, period. It’s a shame that Star is only making a limited run of 2500 units because after these bikes hit the streets, they’ll leave showrooms faster than you can layout a 1/8 mile burnout… Okay, well maybe not that fast. Orders are being taken through Halloween ’08 so beg, borrow, or do whatever you need to come up with the cash because unlike your ex-girlfriend’s diamond ring, this is one fiscal decision you won’t soon regret.
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