Test Ride: Yamaha V-Star 650

Words: Andrew Boss Photos: Richard Seck

Alas Sharlene, I knew her well. Actually I’d only just met her.

Introduction, by Editor ‘arris

If you read the recent article on the women-only training course then you might be expecting our new contributor, Sharlene Azim to be submitting her first test ride on the Yamaha V-Star.

It seemed like a stroke of genius to get a newbie rider to complete her test and then get acquainted with a good mid-sized bike. Alas, unfortunately for Sharlene, her romance with the bike ended within minutes of her meeting it, after a mishap with a car at a four way stop. Bike and rider came away relatively unscathed, but the fearless Sharlene had now experienced fear, and regretfully announced that the ‘two wheel challenge’ was momentarily not for her.

This left us scrambling to find another rider who conveniently popped up in the shape of Andrew Boss. Andrew has a lot of experience on the dirt side of motorcycling and was being primed to cover just that for CMG. Always one to take on a challenge, the thought of a shiny new V-Star appealed to him and the rest is CMG history.

So without further ado, may I introduce (in a wrestling type, over-the-top announcer voice), the one, the only?

“The Bosssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!”


No Andrew, on the road.

So the folks at CMG asked if I would be interested in testing some Dual Sport/ Off-Road bikes. Hell yeah, that would be great. I’ve ridden off road for many years and was anxious to try out the latest machinery. So in typical CMG fashion, my first assignment is a Yamaha’s V-Star 650 Custom. Hey what the…

Now, I mostly ride Dual Sport and I acknowledge that D/S riders are probably tied with scooters in so far as bikes that offer the least opportunity to get laid. Cruisers on the other hand looked sexy, but in my experience, they were kind of dull to ride. However, when the V-Star rolled out of the plush CMG shop, I must admit, it looked pretty damn good.

The promotional shots in Yamaha’s brochure (and after checking the bike out on the local dealer floor, wedged in with similar bikes) really doesn’t do the V-Star justice. It has that well copied retro look, but with subtle details, such as the muted tank decals rather than a chrome logo. Surely this bike can’t help but give me street credibility.

A little choke when cold, and the 650 starts with ease and a quiet tone. The motor makes very little mechanical noise, and the low seat height allows both feet to be flat on the ground, which hasn’t happened since my XR75 days. Clutch in and a stab at the shifter, and we’re off. My street cred is not enhanced as I do my best Fred Flintstone impression as my feet flail though the air looking for the pegs. I think I settled on the side stand and the exhaust until I caught my breath.

Street credibility has to be earned I guess. How do those fat bastards on those American cruisers do this? A few more stops and starts and the foot-forward, Lazy Boy position starts to feel just right. It wasn’t much later that my anti-cruiser attitude begins to fade.

Power comes on with a little flywheel effect, with the 649cc, 70 degree, air cooled twin developing its 37.5 ft-lbs maximum torque at 3,000 rpm. Unlike other cruisers I’ve ridden, it doesn’t fall flat on its face when pushed beyond these values and was proving to be surprisingly flexible. It makes useful power right from the bottom and can be lugged in fifth in town, pulling cleanly without shifting.

Highway cruising at 120km/h didn’t have the little motor working excessively hard either. Riding two-up on a spin around my local Halton Hills impressed as well – the motor would chug along quietly and not require any downshifts to maintain speeds while climbing any of the undulating hills. Passing two-up requires a little bravery, but solo riding just required a bigger twist of the wrist.

The shifter was set up with quite a gap from the peg. This may be the reason I found neutral a few times on the 1-2 shift (but maybe it just requires a more deliberate stab). The rest of the gearbox provided nice shifts with little racket. I got beside a bitchin’ yellow Sportster at a light and when he went from neutral to first, the HD made some decidedly farm implement sounds. The V-Star by comparison sounded a lot less perilous. Otherwise, clutch action was fairly light and the engagement predictable.

A longish wheelbase of 63.4″ provides good stability at speed with a slight compromise during low speed manoeuvres. On the highway, I had only two scary incidents and both were due to the grooving of the surface of the highway prior to repaving… much prior (pave it already Mike Harris)!

Maybe this is why people don’t commute on bikes that much in Ontario.

I’m 5’11” and shrinking. Ergonomically, the bike was reasonable. The bars have a comfortable shape and aren’t excessively wide. I did feel about two inches too long (a complaint not commonly heard at my house) for the seat- to-footpeg relationship. I suspect that Yamaha might target this bike to women, as the ergos might be better suited.

Was this bike made with women in mind? Sharlene in her glory days/minutes.

A 27.4″ seat height will appeal to those with short inseams or unfeasibly large nether regions. The seat provided good support. Even several hours of continuous riding did not cause any unsettling ‘tingling’ in my pants. Miss Mary rode the skinny pillion seat for a while without complaint, but longer hauls would have certainly brought on an involuntary cowboy-like walk. Thankfully, vibration through the grips, pegs and seat was also minimal.

One thing I would do, is install a small windshield. At 120km/h on an extended ride with a bit of headwind, the upright position gave me enough windblast to make my back sore. Tank capacity is 16 litres, translating to about 220 km before touching reserve, which is a good time to get off and stretch your legs a bit anyhow.

Rear suspension looks like a hard tail. Exposed shaft looks the business.

A low seat height means modest suspension travel, but potholes at highway speeds were absorbed well by the 41mm forks and handled reasonably by the single shock, tucked neatly under the seat. It’s mated to a Monocross rear suspension that gives it a pleasing hardtail look, without the bone shaking qualities. Square edge potholes do get transferred to the spine, but this is not unexpected given the bike’s design.

Handling was pleasing considering the wheelbase length. Helping out are a low centre of gravity and a light weight (for a cruiser) of 471 lbs. I threw it around the best I could and never experienced cornering clearance problems. Lines around corners could be maintained or altered, within reason.

After about 500kms, the pads of the front brake should have been bedded in, but it still had a pig-like ability to squeal while in use. I tended to only use it on the highway, as during stop-and-go city traffic, using just the rear drum seemed to bring the V-Star to a nice controlled stop. While not providing stunning braking power, it lived up to the task when needed, albeit with a bit of a mushy feel through the lever. Hard braking showed no tendency towards lock up.

A riders view.

An exposed shaft (you can see it twirling around merrily) provides final drive on the V-Star – a pretty nice low maintenance and quiet feature for an entry-level bike. It provided drive to the back wheel without any undue effect, which is nice.

Overall, the look of the bike is impressive. The controls were of good quality with excellent finish – even the mirrors worked at all speeds. Paint quality was good and the chroming of the cases and other bits looked expensive and held up to some pretty harsh treatment, (as I’m sure you read elsewhere). I particularly liked the look of the chrome, bullet style headlight when viewed from the seat.

Instrumentation is suitably Spartan with the tank-mounted speedo and a few idiot lights, which were kind of hard to see. The ignition is mounted on the steering head. I’m not a fan of that, but I guess it suits the aesthetic. My only real gripe is the cheesy, electrical industry tie-raps, utilised on the bars to secure wiring harnesses. Would it cost that much more to use the more pleasing removable automotive types?

I rode the V-Star Custom, which differs from its Classic cousin in the cosmetics department with less overall length – which I suspect is due to differing rake. With a list price of $7899, the Custom costs $500 less than the Classic, making it the cheapest middleweight V-twin cruiser currently available. It also generated more waves from Harley riders in five days than I have received in all my ten years of Dual Sport riding.

Maybe street credibility is something you can buy!

 

 

Bike

Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom – Classic differences in bold

MSL

$7,899.00 – $8,399.00

Displacement

649 cc

Engine type

V-twin, sohc, air cooled

Carburetion

BDS28 x 2

Final drive

Five speed, shaft drive

Tires, front

100/90-19 – 130/90-19

Tires, rear

170/80-15

Brakes, front

Single 298 mm disc

Brakes, rear

Drum

Seat height

695 mm (27.4″) – 710 mm (28″)

Wheelbase

1610 mm (63.4″) – 1625 mm (64″)

Dry weight

214 Kg (471lbs) (claimed) – 225 Kg (495 lbs)

Canadian colours

Yamaha Black, Silver Metallic – Yamaha Black, Yellowish Grey Metallic

One thought on “Test Ride: Yamaha V-Star 650”

  1. Hunt around – you can get some great deals on these bikes. In 2015, I bought a held-over 2014 Custom for $5400 CND new from the Yamaha stealership.

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