It happens every time the tach strikes 6650 rpm. Grab a handful of fly-by-wire throttle and hang on. Tight. The 1679cc V-4 growls like a heavyweight Jurassic Fight Club contender, squats down and pulls your arms straight. By 9000 rpm, an alleged 197 horses are headed for the pavement and whatever was way down there is right here, right now. Breathe. Smile. Repeat. It's like having your own steam catapult without worrying about where to dock the aircraft carrier.
Welcome to the 2009 Star V-Max, long-awaited successor to the bike that soiled a million shorts in 1985. It's 481cc bigger and 64 horsepower stronger. Civilized as the family Camry when it needs to be, this one leaves huge black marks on the pavement and big, stupid smiles under helmets just as easily. We expected something big after a 23-year wait, but nobody quite expected this.
Yamaha's research said committed V-Max riders-as if there were another kind-wanted a roomier, more comfortable riding position and better handling. Oh, and don't forget the V-Boost afterburner effect at 6000 rpm. Engineers went to work on all that in the mid-'90s, and while the running prototype they came up with was very big and very, very fast, it wasn't a V-Max. Man doth not live by horsepower alone. It has to be the right kind of power, coming from an engine with the right feel. Acceleration without character is just a commodity, and Yamaha wanted something you couldn't get in anybody else's showroom. And so, to the eternal chagrin of the accounting department, they started over.
Give your eyes time to adjust, and it looks like the Star design boffins hit this nail dead center...with a 20-lb. sledgehammer. The big-block soul is here, but the '80s weren't invited. True to the bigger-is-better hot-rod mantra, there's more of everything, but not too much. The new bike is big: 3.7 inches longer than before, and 61 lbs. heavier according to the factory spec sheet. Climb on and the first thing you notice is a more accommodating riding position. The low, flat handlebar is 15mm higher and 25mm farther back. Footpegs are just 2mm lower than before, but shifted 36mm to the rear, while the broad, flat seat is about a half-inch higher.
Each air scoop takes 40 minutes to hand polish. They feed a 13-liter airbox under a plasti
The result is roomy enough if you're 5'10", but marginal for anyone on the long side of six-feet tall. Everything below that seat is wide enough to make sub-six-footers stretch for the pavement. Lanky types end up straddling the signature air scoops-they're functional on the latest version-or sliding under them. The seat's rear bolster keeps you from sliding backward under the rocket-sled acceleration that lurks just beyond 7000 rpm. The closer you look, the clearer it becomes that Japan sweated over the details on this one.
The sun catches subtle red flakes in the Intense Black paint that match stitching in the seat. The suitably huge 10,000-rpm tachometer is inset with a digital speedo-meter, and there's an adjustable shift light offset to the right. Really, you can't miss it. A luminescent display set in what would be a fuel tank on most bikes-the 13-liter airbox lives underneath here-tells the upscale stoplight-to-stoplight warrior everything he or she needs to know: time, temperature, gear position, even throttle angle if you're interested.
After the obligatory technical explanations and way too much coffee, the only thing we're interested in is pulling the trigger on this thing. Despite a pathological need to horrify any member of the landed gentry towing an overstuffed Callaway golf bag, smoky burnouts are quite dclass here at the Rancho Bernardo Inn Golf Resort & Spa. Perhaps a more rural location would be more appropriate?