Steve Bond heads down to California to check out Yamaha’s new V-Max. Does the new Max have what it takes to replace the old?
“Big hat, no cattle,” is a phrase you hear in Texas to describe someone or something that’s all show but no substance. A poser, perhaps.
After riding Yamaha’s 2009 V-Max, I think even the most cynical of Texans would admit that it’s “Big hat … and freaking herds of the largest, meanest cattle you’ll ever see.”
Mr. Max has been kicking sand in everyone’s face since 1984, with over 100,000 sold worldwide during its 23 year reign.
You wanna mess with Max? Hit him quick and run for the twisties, because if you stay on a straight stretch of road, you’ll be sitting there with your underwear pulled up over your head, wondering what the hell just happened.
Old Max was fast – Top Gun of the era for sure. Old Max had 133 horsepower. New Max has 197 – up 48 percent. Old Max had 87 ft lbs of torque. New Max pumps 122. Old Max was big. New Max is bigger. And much, much better in every way.
It’s still a V4 but now displaces a healthy 1679cc (displacement is way up but the motor is smaller, physically), has an 11.3:1 compression ratio, DOHC, four valves per, is fuel injected and has all the trick Yamaha electronics including variable intake trumpets and electronic throttle control.
More technical details can be found on the Yamaha website, including factoids on the carburized rods, forged pistons and much more, so if you want to immerse yourself in tedious minutiae, feel free to look it up.
The fake, brushed aluminum intake scoops, a trademark styling feature of Old Max, are replaced with hand-polished functional ones. V-Boost, the traditional kick in the pants at 6,500 rpm, is gone, replaced by huge, linear horsepower from idle to redline. Trust me, you won’t miss it.
Suffice to say that all the substantial technical resources of Yamaha engineering were brought into play and New Max isn’t just a honkin’ big motor – it’s a completely balanced package. A lot of work went into weight savings in key areas to get the weight distribution just right. But, with a curb weight of 310 kg (that’s 682 lb) full of gas and oil, it’s still no lightweight.
Said honkin’ big motor is used as a stressed member of the all new cast aluminum frame and swingarm. Out back is a link-type single shock with 110 mm of travel and handy remote adjusters for preload as well as compression and rebound damping.
The forks are huge, 52 mm fully adjustable units featuring 120 mm of travel, two-piece outer tubes and a nitride coating for reduced stiction. Max rolls on 18-inch wheels and the 200-section rear tire is a specially designed BT028 Bridgestone unit, while the front is a 120.
EYES ON THE ROAD
Climbing aboard, there’s an easy reach to the bars; you feel as if you’re sitting in the bike, rather than on it. The seat itself is actually quite comfortable and the built-in backrest isn’t just a styling gimmick, it comes in handy preventing Monsieur from catapulting himself right off the back of the motorcycle when the throttle is vigorously applied.
As for passenger accommodations, well … with no grab handles and the rearward sloping pillion seat, after spirited acceleration, it’s probably wise to check and see if Madame is still there.
Push in the special key, turn to the right and you hear a couple of odd “chirps” (much like the dinosaurs that ate Newman in the first Jurassic Park movie) as the fuel injection primes. Hit the starter button and Max bursts into life sounding for all the world like a big V-8 with cams and outsider mufflers.
Once underway, a restrained right wrist is the order of the day because you can light up the rear tire very easily (without even touching the clutch lever) in first gear. Or second. Even from 1500 rpm in fifth, the Max will pull away cleanly, with no protesting or lurching.
Front and centre is the huge tachometer with the almost-as-large shift light at two o’clock. The light itself isn’t actually all that visible in bright sunlight when you hit redline (which must be experienced to be believed), but that’s pretty rarified air and you won’t be there that often.
Yamaha have also included an auxiliary cluster perched on the faux tank, which contains information such as fuel gauge, engine temperature and gear position indicator but can also display the intake air temperature, throttle opening angle, current fuel consumption and a stop-watch.
Problem is that you have to make a concerted effort to take your eyes off the road to check this display and with the way Max gains speed, the road gets awfully narrow in a hurry.
COPING WITH THE LOAD
Physically, it’s a big motorcycle (not many bikes make me look average-sized), but it handles way better than any 700 pound motorcycle should. Low-speed manoeuvrability is excellent with lots of steering lock and most of the weight carried down low.
Old Max’s handling was always a bit dicey, what with the spindly forks and all, and New Max is a huge improvement. Yeah, when hustling it around the mountain roads east of San Diego, you know it’s a bit of a bus, but it’s still manageable – just keep it in the back of your mind that weight times velocity equals a pretty big hole punched in the scenery.
Coming down the back side of the mountain, the road got narrower, the grade steeper and the switchbacks more pronounced. Rocketing into the downhill hairpins, after a mile or so of the same, the front brake got a bit mushy. Not surprising really – even though Max has sportbike braking with dual 320 mm rotors gripped by six-piston calipers, it is a hefty machine and when at speed, requires a lot of stopping.
Max reacts reasonably well to trail braking – it definitely aids turn-in when the forks compress going in, but said braking is better done before the apex. Apply a bit of front once you’re into the corner, and the bike wants to stand up.
Initially I thought maybe “my” Max had been dropped as it steered a bit odd in right turns. It felt as if either a fork tube was slightly bent or the suspension was fully maladjusted – something I’ve experienced before when some hamfisted, quasi-journalist doofus decides to “set up” the suspension, only to totally screw it all up.
After the lunch break, I liberated a different Max and it was much, much better, so I’ll blame that issue on doofusness. We finished the day with a nice, relaxed ride down coastal road 101 back towards San Diego.
After an hour or so of burbling through coastal towns and beaches, I had a revelation – Max is probably the nicest “power cruiser” available to just ride around on. The seat is comfortable, the pegs are below your hips and the bars allow a nice, relaxed seating position.
THE COST OF MUSCLE
Worldwide, Yamaha will produce just 2,500 Maxes in 2009. Canada is expected to get between 200 and 250 units and half of those are already pre-sold at the no-haggle, no-chance-of-a-discount $21,999. You can order any colour so long as it’s black and all Max owners will get a personalized engraved plate that fits above the swingarm pivot.
The V Max is a quarter-mile devouring, asphalt-ripping weapon that’ll give you bragging rights in any Top Gun macho contest you’d care to administer. At the same time, it’ll function acceptably as a daily rider, as long as you’re on first name basis with the local gas station jockey and tire guy.
As for the other “power” cruisers, Max has once again kicked sand in their face and run off with all their cattle. And their hats aren’t all that big either.