They say: A long, low look that also means an extra-low seat height. We say: And sparks
When Yamaha released the original V-Star back in 1998, it proved it had a keen eye on the metric cruiser market's serendipitous dynamics. That bike replaced the venerable Virago 750, which had been keeping a seat warm for its successor for 17 seasons. In a market where size really does matter, we expected at least an 800. Instead we got a machine with less displacement: a stylish, affordable 650 that looked, felt and rode more like an 1100. I was editor of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine at the time, and we voted the entry-level V-Star 650 our Motorcycle of the Year.
In the 10 years that have passed since then, Yamaha has made its share of bold statements, and the boldest was launching the Star line as a separate brand in 2005. We've seen a lot of daring choices in Star's top-shelf cruiser lineup. Along with the Stratoliner, Roadliner and Raider, there are continually refined crowd pleasers like the Road Star and V-Star 1100 and 1300 series. Now, with the new V-Star 950, the Stars shine for everyone.
The 950's biggest selling point is obvious: It's a lot of bike for the money. Starting just below $8000, it looks, feels and, at 942cc, really is a lavish, full-size cruiser. Beautifully styled, blending classic and sporty elements, the bike offers a long, streamlined profile, accentuated by large front and rear wheels with low-profile tires. There is no fussiness going on, either aesthetically or mechanically. The eight-valve, SOHC, 60-degree V-twin is air-cooled and mild-mannered. It provides a smooth, strong powerband riders aren't likely to tire of. There is no counterbalancer, but the V-twin's pulse is mostly pleasant and innocuous, save for some buzziness at high rpm. The fuel injection works flawlessly.
At 8 feet tip to tail, the 612-pound 950 is a lot of middleweight for $8090 in Tommy Blue.
Instruments get LCD illumination, adjustable via a nifty handlebar switch on the right.
The 950 Tourer adds windshield, leather-wrapped hard bags and a passenger backrest for $89
We rode the newest V-Star in the North Georgia mountains, where the roads are notoriously steep and twisty. The 950's lonely 320mm front disc, coupled with a 298mm disc out back, concerned me on paper. On pavement, there's more than enough stopping power for chasing fall leaves and maniacal journalists. Power flows through five nicely spaced ratios to a smooth, quiet final-drive belt. After eating twisty roads all day-plus a side of barbeque-I can say the 950 is very pleasant to manage. The basic 41mm fork and single shock are an obedient combination. Steering is light and precise, and the ergonomics-at least for a one-day ride-seemed to suit all 10 testers on hand.
The one glitch in the V-Star's chassis package is a niggling lack of ground clearance. V-Stars have never been praised for their cornering capabilities, but this one takes the Botts' Dots award for pavement sweeping. Try as you might to take corners slow and wide, it's virtually impossible not to spark up the floorboards. Luckily, there is plenty of feeler effect before the floorboard mounting bracket smacks down, and even such rigid bits don't bump 5.5 feet of wheelbase off course. All that grinding is disconcerting, however, especially to an entry-level rider who might panic and straighten up the bike when those chrome bits kiss the road. Maybe that's the price you pay for a 26.5-inch seat height. I know new riders like to have their feet firmly on the ground, but not mid-corner!
Yamaha claims 47 mpg for the 950. That's 207 miles from the 4.4-gallon tank.
The V-Star 950 also comes in a $1000 more expensive Touring version, which looks road-ready with a medium-height windshield, removable passenger backrest and trick leather-covered hard saddlebags. The top-opening bags are especially easy to use, and offer a ton of space by bagger standards. The standard windshield didn't reveal any distortion at its edges, though the brackets are bulky enough to create a cat-sized blind spot. Watch out, Sprinkles! Another plus for touring riders? Star claims 47 mpg for these babies, so you could potentially roll over 200 miles between fill-ups.
There's really not much to question here. As with the original V-Star 650, this 950 is a substantial, stylish bike with friendly, easy-to-use features, all at a very affordable price. Joe the Plumber will love it.