Mr Bond twists and turns through the Georgia back country on the new Yamaha V-Star 950.
The Chattooga River tumbles and flows through the Blue Ridge Mountains near the town of Clayton in the northern part of Georgia. The river is one of the premier whitewater canoeing and kayaking destinations in the world.
It’s a very scenic area, especially as the trees were just starting to change colour and, as you’d expect in a hilly area, the roads are incredible – twisting and turning with a myriad of banked corners and pavement as smooth as a baby’s bottom. It’s the land of biscuits, bassboats and banjos.
It’s also where the movie Deliverance was filmed and, images of Ned Beatty’s squealing piggy aside, I thought it was the perfect venue for Yamaha to launch their new cruiser – the 2009 V-Star 950.
CRUSIER STILL #1
Like ‘em or not, cruisers are major players in the motorcycle marketplace. In the US, cruisers still outsell everything else put together by a two-to-one margin with entry level machines showing the most growth while the enormous large-displacement monsters are declining.
With the new V-Star 950 Yamaha not only fills a void in their lineup between the 650 and 1100 V-Stars, but they reckon that it’ll appeal to new and/or female riders, as well as attract those wishing to trade down to a lighter, more manageable machine, such as the aging baby-boomer.
Available in two sets of pajamas – $9,049.00 buys you the standard model while a Touring version comes with leather covered hard bags, a windshield and passenger backrest for $10,599.00.
At first glance, the V-Star 950 shows a very strong family resemblance to other Yamaha cruisers, notably the XV1900 Raider with touches of Roadliner and Stratoliner thrown in. And that’s good because far too many cruisers exhibit the same styling traits – mildly kicked out front end, pullback bars, scalloped seat and fat rear tire. Ho hum.
The 18-inch low-profile front tire is nicely complemented by the steel front fender and styled wheel, while the slimline fuel tank gracefully flows into the profile of the seat.
The fine details
The engine is an all new 942cc air-cooled unit with single overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.
The usual EFI with digital ignition applies and the engine is rigidly mounted in the frame. Surprisingly, no internal counter-balancers are used but I found vibration was minimal and non-intrusive – just enough gets through so you feel you’re on a functioning motorcycle and not an electrical appliance.
Many entry level cruisers are so underpowered, they wouldn’t pull the cheese off a pizza but I found the V-Star 950 more than adequate for a day cruise. Power is good but not overwhelming as the engine makes maximum torque at a user-friendly 3,000 rpm.
The transmission ratios seem well-matched to the torque and fifth gear is definitely an overdrive as, loping along at an indicated 120 km/h, the motor didn’t sound stressed or feel out of breath.
Final drive is by belt – popular because of its low maintenance and cleanliness (no greasy mess on wheel rims and swingarm), not to mention being lighter and less complex than a typical shaft drive system.
Checking in at 278 kg (612 lbs) full of fluids, the 950 is about the same as the V-Star 1100 – not a featherweight, but then not overly porky either.
The front forks are non-adjustable 41mm conventional units with 135 mm of travel, while the single rear shock is adjustable for preload only and offers 110 mm of travel.
The single 320 mm front disc with twin piston calipers was up to the task and I experienced zero fade, pretty good feel and feedback with adequate stopping power.
Most owners won’t need any more stopping power than this and the single disc offers a huge reduction in unsprung weight, which improves handling. Optimum stopping (like most cruisers) will require a combination of front and rear brake.
Those lacking inseam will also find the 950’s low, low 675mm (26.5 inch) seat height wonderful, but us tall guys – not so much. The seat is narrow at the front so shorter riders can get both feet flat on the ground, but there’s just not enough support for longer and wider thighs after an hour or so in the saddle.
I started squirming at about the two-hour mark and after the lunch break, tried one with Yamaha’s optional “Two-up Touring Seats” and found it offered much more support for my lanky frame – a useful upgrade for the height-blessed.
All the controls; clutch, throttle, brakes and gearshifter have a very light action – again, showing the 950 is geared towards newer or female riders.
Georgia on my mind
Considering the area is only a couple of hours from Deal’s Gap, the roads around Clayton are equally impressive as most of them snake their way around the mountains. No snow-capped peaks but the highest point in the state of Georgia is close by and it rises to 1,459 meters (4,784 feet).
No matter how twisty it got (and there were many stretches of switchbacks with a 25 mph warning limit), the V-Star 950 exhibited very light and neutral steering (despite a wheelbase of 1,685 mm), and it took me a while to get used to how quick it turned in. It’s also very stable – a trait that will be especially appreciated by new and smaller riders.
Yes, I was constantly dragging the easily-replaceable floorboard feelers through the turns but on those types of roads, I just can’t seem to dial back the “sport-o-meter.” Anyway, most cruiser riders don’t place “ground clearance” way up on their list of desirable characteristics.
I’d really like to mention how the 950’s suspension worked over bumps but sadly, after a full day on northern Georgia roads, I couldn’t find any. No bumps, potholes, cracks or heaves – heck I would’ve settled for a pavement imperfection. I got so desperate that I started riding over those reflective dots they use on the centerline trying to get the suspension to react.
Yamaha claims close to 5L/100km fuel consumption, which may be a bit optimistic and realistically, you should expect about 300 km to each 17-liter tank.
I’m a huge fan of middleweights, whether it’s sportbikes, standards or cruisers and think that Yamaha’s V-Star 950 will not only attract new riders but also more experienced riders tired of manhandling gargantuan 1800cc-and-up behemoths.
The V-Star 950 brings big bike looks and easy handling to the middleweight cruiser party at an entry-level price.
And if you’re ever riding on those baby-bottom smooth roads of northern Georgia and see an odd-looking banjo player sitting on a porch, best not to stop and ask directions.
$9049.00 ($10,599.00 for touring version)
|four-stroke SOHC 60 degree v-twin, air-cooled|
(crank – claimed)
56.7 ft-lb @3000 rpm
|Five speed, Belt drive|
|Single 320 mm disc with dual-piston|
|Single 298 mm disc with dual-piston|
|675 mm (26.6 “)|
|1,685 mm (66.3 “)|
|278 kg (611.6 lb)|
|Deep Metallic Red|
Metallic Purplish Blue