Suzuki B-King vs. Star V-Max - Ready To Rumble

It's King Kong Versus Godzilla In The Intergalactic Heavyweight Title Fight Of The Millennium

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Kevin Wing

Welcome to the drag strip, and not just any drag strip. This is Auto Club Raceway in lovely Pomona, oldest stop on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing circuit and home of the Winternationals since 1961. It's a little different lining up in front of 40,000 empty seats on a cold track that hasn't seen action for weeks. Smooth, cold and black with spent rubber: perfect for drag slicks and lots of ultra-sticky liquid traction compound, but something short of perfect for street tires. Triggerman Gene Thomason did a masterful job under the circumstances, though the results just might surprise you.

Rolling Mr. Max's prodigious mass up to the line takes extra muscle, and that's the easy part. Getting a firm footing from the wide seat is tougher than it is on the Suzuki. We'll let Thomason take it from here. "Burnouts are easier because the V-Max is so long and so planted," he says, "but you know from the second you get on that it's a monster. Launching something with this much torque, you're just above idle: about 2500 rpm. Get the clutch out as quick as you can, then hard on the throttle. Using the clutch to shift is about .2 of a second slower. Slipping the clutch makes it more stable, but no quicker.

"Managing wheelspin is the hardest part. Short-shifting from first to second-between 6000 and 7000 rpm instead of 9000 and 10,000-helps as well. I'd really like to shift my weight farther back, but the seat won't let me. If the rear tire spins up before you've got some momentum, this bike goes nowhere-you shift and it just keeps spinning all the way down the strip. Shifting is stiffer and clunkier than on the Suzuki. You have to close the throttle between gears to unload the transmission and get it to shift. Shaft reaction isn't much of a problem; the rear end rises at the launch and just stays there as long as you keep the power on. But if you get the thing crooked, shut the throttle and get back in it again, things get very...interesting. I smacked my head on a mirror a couple of times."

Getting off the V-Max, the B-King is a joy to ride at the strip, mostly because it acts more like a big, fast motorcycle should when you pull the trigger. "The front gets light under heavy throttle," says Thomason, "but you can get your weight on top of it to help hold the wheel down. Catch third gear just right and the front end comes up. The Suzuki's clutch makes launching a bit easier, and all it takes is a blip of throttle between gears to make it shift. The transmission is way better. But weight is the biggest difference, along with a shorter wheelbase that shifts weight to the rear wheel for better grip at the start."

The B-King likes the same quick hand on the clutch, but more grip and less torque right off the bottom let Gene come off the line at 5000 rpm. Bottom line? Punting a 700-lb. motorcycle down the quarter-mile takes a balance of power and traction. The V-Max has plenty of the former, but on this track, on this day, it couldn't come up with enough of the latter, managing a 10.41-second best at 137.4 mph to the 'King's 10.13 at 139.31. More grip would likely shave upward of a half-second off those times, but it wouldn't change the order: Suzuki's B-King still rules the strip.

On the street, where how much you make is exactly as important as how you make it, things aren't so clear cut. The 'King's relatively agile nature and flawless urban demeanor make anybody's daily grind a little less abrasive. The tank-top data conveys diversionary factoids-average speed, trip time and distance, among others-with a soft blue glow after dark. Mr. Max's higher-tech electroluminescent display can tell you more-intake air temperature and throttle-plate angle if you're interested-but you have to take your eyes off the road to see the hooded readout. Fit and finish are proportionate with the $17,990 price tag, and an excellent ABS system comes standard. Suzuki's system is a $600 option not fitted to our test bike. Still, at $12,899 it's the howling-mad deal of the two.

For us, the kicker registers when you grab a handful of throttle. Judged solely by the numbers, Suzuki still builds the quickest naked bike in the known galaxy, capable of sprinting from a standstill to 100 mph in 5.7 seconds versus 6.0 for the Star. King Kong takes you there with the ruthless efficiency of what may well be the ultimate Japanese inline-four, and all the soul of a nuclear-powered blow dryer. Nearly omnipotent on paper, that clich-flattening knockout punch is usually just out of reach on the street, a downshift and a few thousand rpm upstream.

Over in the next lane, the V-Max lays down more than 100 lb.-ft. of torque all the way from 5000 to 8750 rpm, turning illicit into instant acceleration. No downshifting. No waiting. It's Godzilla at every green light. Never mind what the tach says, just crack the throttle. There are more efficient choices for those contemplating a professional drag-racing career, but in the real world, there is only one V-Max. That syncopated T-Rex growl transmits subliminal messages to pleasure centers tuned to the rhythm of big-block American V-8s. Suddenly, nothing less makes sense. It is excessive, expensive and so far over the top that most people will question the sanity of owning one. That's okay-neither of these bikes is for most people. As good as it is most of the time, Suzuki's challenger from planet Cybertron is a Hayabusa undressed for BotCon '09. But just as it was back in '85, there is only one V-Max: Heavyweight Champion of this or any other universe.

Brian Catterson Editor-in-Chief
Off The Record

I'm not gonna cop to being intimidated by these two musclebikes like our FNG did. I've ridden MotoGP bikes, fercrissake! But I have tended to shy away from them, preferring something smaller/lighter/more maneuverable for my cross-town commute. Until one evening, when everything else was checked out, I rode the B-King home-and didn't get off it for two weeks. Yes, it's mean-looking, but I wouldn't call it mean. In fact, it's a pussycat-as is the V-Max-so long as you exercise some right-wrist restraint. Grab a handful and you risk punting a pedestrian-or something far more solid. ABS is nice in that regard.
Personally, I prefer the B-King because it feels more like a regular motorcycle. But if you're seriously considering buying one of these behemoths, that's probably the last thing you want.
Age: 46 Height: 6'1" Weight: 215 lbs. Inseam: 34 in.

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