2009 V Star 950 First Ride

Steve Atlas | October 23, 2008
2009 Yamaha V Star 950
Yamaha’s Star Motorcycles delivers the 2009 V-Star 950 as an entry-level ride for the cruiser market.

The idea is simple: make it look big and stylish, but handle light and nimble, while still feeling large. Okay, maybe not so simple. Sounds almost contradictory, right? Not when you are in the business of making an entry-level cruiser. You see, everyone wants that “big-bike” feel, but not everyone wants a 700-pound pig that handles like a John Deere – especially less experienced riders. And while this may sound easy enough to achieve, it’s not. It is, however, extremely important. This is why Star has spent a great deal of time and money developing the all-new V-Star 950.

According to recent market research, in the United States cruisers find their way into the hands of the highest percentage of new buyers each year, more than two-fold over the competition. Of that, over 80 percent of those choose an “entry-level” (under 1300cc) machine with that percentage increasing slightly over the past year. This is one of the few growing (yes, even in our current economy) market segments today, adding to what is an already very large number of entry-level machines currently on the road – Hence the aforementioned importance of the new 950.

Innovation, From Inspiration

Star (and their parent company Yamaha) never have, and hopefully never will be, one to sit back and relax, trying to make an easy dollar by hyping up minor changes to an existing model. They could have easily just given their highly successful V-Star 650 a quick-fix steroid injection and a new gas tank with flashy paint and called it a day.

We here at MotoUSA, on the other hand, have never been fans of companies who care too much about the so-called “bottom line” – we like daring and new. So does Star. And always one of the first to push boundaries with their machines, the boys in blue have started with a clean slate when designing the all-new Star 950.

Design for their latest street sweeper originated in our very own Long Beach, California, at the GK Design International house. In fact, everything about its styling was done here in the LBC, right up to the final engineering stages (Japan handles that). Considering the majority of cruiser sales are U.S.-based this seems like a wise idea.

Called a Sport Classic look, much of their inspiration for the bike came from Italian car manufacturer Bugatti’s iconic cafĂ©-racer of the 1920s, the Type 38A Roadster; never seen it? Google it. It’s hard to argue with the styling of one the most sought-after and valuable cars in existence. Their idea was to make it dynamic, extending beyond just flashy wheels, with a modern facade and authentic roots. More specifically, it should have a sporty stance and classic look all while feeling very light, slim and tight; the rider sitting very much “in” the motorcycle, in order to become one with it.

Every girl s crazy bout a sharp-dressed man. Oh yeah  that s what Star is hoping to capture with the stylish appearance of its latest cruiser.
Every girl’s crazy bout a sharp-dressed man. Oh yeah, that’s what Star is hoping to capture with the stylish appearance of its latest cruiser.

Achieving this effect starts up front with a new 18-inch front wheel and low-profile Dunlop or Bridgestone tire (more on that stuff later), housed in an authentic steel fender. A stretched out, sleek fuel tank aims for the “sporty” side of things, holds 4.4 gallons. With a claimed 47 mpg, that equates to more than 200 miles between fill-ups (unheard of range in the big cruiser world). A stylish gauge cluster sitting atop of the tank, features more of the classic look, but still offers a full array of indicator lights, trip meters, fuel mileage, and so on. High quality, wide-faced brake and clutch levers add to the beefy, big-bike feel as well.

Beating strong at the heart of the new machine is a new air-cooled (got to stay true to those cruiser roots), 60-degree V-Twin lump which sits at an official 942cc. This it the result of an almost square 85mm x 83mm bore and stroke, featuring single overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Valves are now actuated via roller rocker arms for reduced mechanical friction and a single-pin crankshaft is utilized for that said “Big V-Twin Pulse.” Claimed torque output is 58.2 lbs.-ft. at 3500 rpm, measured at the crank (figure about 50 or so at the rear wheel).

Air intake is via a larger, 3.0-liter airbox, while petrol is delivered via a Mikuni closed-loop fuel injection system. FI is highly requested by you, the people, in Star rider surveys. The side-draft dual throttle body has two 35mm bores, each with their own injector. Fuel is then combusted in ceramic composite plated cylinders at a 9.0:1 compression ratio, propelling new forged aluminum pistons.

Five transmission speeds are at your disposal via a heel-toe floorboard-mounted shifter and benefit from straight-cut gear dogs and nine, large-diameter (10mm bigger than V-Star 1100) fiber clutch plates; oil filter is now spin-on for added convenience. This mill connects to the rear wheel via a belt drive system. The Aramid-reinforced belt sits at a beefy 28.6mm for durability. Belt drive allows for a smoother connection to the rear wheel as well as much more customization options as compared to the shaft drive used on the smaller Star 650.

A double-cradle steel frame makes up the base for an all-new chassis. Features include four-point rigid engine mounting with a 32-degree rake and 145mm of trail and an extremely low 26.6-inch seat height (V-Star 650 Custom is 27.4-inch as comparison). Up front a 41mm KYB fork provides 5.3 inches of travel, while out back a link-type SOQI shocks features 9-position adjustable preload and has 4.3 inches of travel.

Slowing things down is a sole 320mm disc and 2-piston brake caliper in front accompanied by a single 298mm disc and single-piston caliper out back. These attach to new, lightweight aluminum wheels which measure 18 x 3.5 in front and 16 x 4.5 in the rear. Bikes will either come shod with Dunlop or Bridgestone tires depending on production date. Color options for the standard model include Raven Black, Tommy Blue and Candy Red. The Raven will retail at $7,890, while the other two will be $200 more at $8,090.

There is plenty to like about the Star 950 including the nice lines  smooth motor and the attention to detail that Star and Yamaha are famous for.
There is plenty to like about the Star 950 including the nice lines, smooth motor and the attention to detail that Star and Yamaha are famous for.

And if you are one to log some serious miles with comfort on your mind, a V-Star 950 Tourer will be available as well. This treatment includes a short windscreen, leather-covered saddle bags (11 gallon capacity), and a quick-release passenger backrest. Available colors are Raven Black, Black Cherry and Liquid Silver, with the Raven Black and Black Cherry retailing for $8,990, while the Liquid Silver hits the showroom floor at $9,090.

Both models will be hitting dealers by the end of November, as will a full line of Star accessories – 87 total, 47 of them brand new for the V-Star 950.

Looking Big – Feeling Small

Climb aboard the all-new Twin and in no way does it feel small, or “entry-level.” Physical size between your legs is substantial, with a wide spread to the bars, looking forward at a sleek tank that bleeds into a large, chrome-lipped headlight bucket that appears to be pulled straight from a 60s classic roadster . The view from the cockpit says big-bore cruiser in every way. Just one look out at the stretched out handlebars and classic-styled bucket headlight and you will be evoking scenes from Easy Rider.

Ergonomics proved to be equally as accommodating. Legs rest at a very comfortable angle, with the floorboards feeling the perfect distance away from center for yours truly – easy to reach but not too cramped, making for great long distance comfort. Not to be overshadowed was the seat, which you sit very inside of, as opposed to on top of, providing great support as the miles racked up.

The sound emitted from the 2-1 exhaust says bigger-bore as well, with a nice muffled rumble. As does the power and torque produced at the 16-inch rear wheel. In fact, if put in a drag race with their V-Star 1100, I wouldn’t bet against the new 950, feeling easily as quick off the line as its big brother.

At speed the engine is more of the same – very smooth, seamless and easy-to-use. Some may complain that it lacks the character of a rumbling, carbureted Big Twin. And while the 950 is close to that elusive Big Twin feeling, thanks in-part to the new single-pin crank design, sometimes there really is no replacement for displacement. On the other hand, this bike is very rider-friendly starting every time on the first push of the button, running flawlessly no matter how hot or cold.

Vibration at low speeds is next to nothing; though due to the low gearing and use of a 5-speed transmission, at freeway cruising speeds over 70 mph it is a tad high in the rpm range (over 5K), causing a bit of a buzz on the feet and hands. Far less than that of its littler 650cc brother, but this is where that full-size 1500cc engine, chugging along at 3,000 rpm, would be nice.

From the low seat height to the belt drive everything about the Star 950 is easy on the rider.
From the low seat height to the belt drive everything about the Star 950 is easy on the rider.

In contrast, where not having that big 1500cc beast is nice, is when it comes to handling. Very easy to flick from side to side, the new 950 is equally poised and balanced once at speed. During our numerous photo shoots, tight-quarter U-turns were required when making multiple passes. No sweat for the 950. From 5 to 85 mph, the Star chassis feels right at home, balanced and responsive to rider input, never feeling vague in any way; no doubt Yamaha did their homework.

The only limiting factor in the turns is cornering clearance? As is usually the case with a cruiser, the large and wide floorboards quickly turn into pavement feelers as speed and lean angle increase. They fold up quickly and don’t inhibit handling much, if at all; that is until the floorboard frame mounts touch down, at which point we would highly recommend reducing your pace and lessening your lean angle. While the tires and suspension are more than up to the task, hitting solid-mounted parts could result in some not so pleasant results.

Unnoticed throughout the day, but in a good way, were the brakes. While they didn’t stand out as being amazing, they were more than up to the task at hand, easily getting the new Star slowed down in any situation. Good feel is there as well, giving us plenty of feedback as to what they were doing at all times from both the front brake lever and the floorboard-mounted rear pedal.

Another big factor in this appealing equation is the price. With it retailing at only a tad over $1200 more than the little V-Star 650 Classic, and feeling far more like a full-sized cruiser, we would venture to guess the days of the 650 are numbered. Bottom line is the V-Star 950 does everything really well; handles light, feels big, looks stylish. Plain and simple, behind the controls of the Star 950 is a very, very nice place to be.

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Steve Atlas

Contributing Editor |Articles | Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

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