Informative VMAX article from the UK´s Telegraph Newspaper

Kevin Ash delivers his verdict on a Japanese superbike with a distinguished heritage and a hefty price tag



By Kevin Ash
05 Sep 2008

It has taken Yamaha 24 years, but there is finally a new VMAX. And the wait was no surprise, because the old V-Max – more respectable, with its lower case and a hyphen, was an even harder act to follow than Ducati’s 916. It was easy enough to retain the basic look, but how could you recapture that original spirit?

The ’84 V-Max was specified and styled in California, with a brief to be the meanest, hardest accelerating production bike. It did the job so well that nothing came close for a decade. It was mostly black, looked like a steroid-inflated engine with vestigial extras for attaching a rider and, famously, drag racer Jay «Peewee» Gleason completed the quarter-mile in 10 seconds on a mildly tuned one. Nothing could live with that in 1984. It was an animal: the clever V-Boost intake system fed the hungry 1,200cc V4 through a single carburettor at low revs, then a valve opened just below 7,000rpm and the cylinders could breathe through two carbs. The result was a ferocious power kick that still felt fast a decade later, in the days of Honda Fireblades and Kawasaki ZZ-R1100s… although they handled while the V-Max was a pig in corners, weaving and wobbling if you could get it to turn at all. It also had brakes that would barely stop a moped.

Did you really want that spirit recaptured? Even if you did, the 21st century wouldn’t allow Yamaha to concoct a bike with such marginal handling. Extremely fast was still an option, though, and that trait remains. The new VMAX retains the V4 configuration, but the all-new 1,679cc engine churns out 197bhp and 123lb ft of torque. That puts it level with power kings such as the Ducati Desmosedici RR and Suzuki Hayabusa, but not in front (unlike the old bike, which led the way).

Like all Japanese bikes, it’s easy enough to ride gently, with the motor purring like a contented lion. The seat is low, the gearchange light and the clutch a little heavy, but not seriously so. The fly-by-wire throttle feels slightly detached at times, but wound to the stop it’s the same as any other. The VMAX’s big difference is that it is much easier to use from a standing start. On a superbike with a high centre of gravity and short wheelbase, it’s a struggle to keep the front wheel near the ground, let alone on it, and even the lower, heavier Hayabusa can be tricky.

During the VMAX launch in San Diego, I found myself hoping traffic lights would turn red just so that I could catapult the bike at the horizon when they went green. It absolutely explodes from the line, leaving long strips of smoking rubber as it hurls you past 60mph in about 2.5 seconds. It’s not uniquely fast, but its long wheelbase and lower centre of gravity combine well with Yamaha’s traction-focused engineering efforts. No other bike goes so fast, so easily. Some of the old V-Max magic is evoked, too, in the bubbling power delivery, which has a hint of the old V-Boost kick at 7,000rpm (delivered, this time, by the variable length intake ducts switching to stubby high-power mode). Spin it to the 9,500rpm red zone and the huge rev warning light strobes away, urging you to change up before the soft rev limiter intervenes. Grabbing the next gear is easy and positive enough, and although the ratios are wide, the motor’s huge strength in depth compensates.

That’s all in a straight line, of course, although it doesn’t perform badly in corners and certainly won’t scare you. Its muscular, six-piston caliper brakes bite into 320mm discs: they’re grabby at low speeds and not especially progressive, but they stop the bike effectively, although repeated hard use induces a little fade. Importantly, that means you don’t find yourself bowling into a bend too fast, so you can give the bike the time it needs to swing over onto its line and settle down. Inevitably it’s steady rather than agile, and thanks to that long wheelbase, fat rear tyre and low-down mass, it demands lots of lean for little cornering effect. Ground clearance isn’t an issue, though. It’s just a shame the suspension isn’t better damped because a few bumps make the VMAX feel cheap-bike choppy when you’d hope for a more sophisticated ride.

At £16,120 it looks like yet another Yamaha whose sales will suffer through ambitious pricing. The Suzuki B-King is clearly a rival, but that doesn’t sell well despite being £7,000 cheaper (although it lacks the V-Max heritage and is not as well put together). As for the way the VMAX lights up its fat rear rubber so readily, if you can’t show restraint you’ll end up paying as much for tyres as you do for fuel. Be very careful not to drop the thing, too, because those distinctive intake scoops are hand-polished aluminium and, along with the titanium silencers, will be the first things to hit the ground when she goes.

But then the designer’s body language says this is only a toy. If you think you might take it on a summer tour, prepare for disappointment: the underseat tank holds a mere 3.3 gallons. Our spirited riding returned about 30mpg, so the low-fuel warning came on after just 70 miles. Even at more sedate speeds you’ll be filling up far too often and, anyway, it’s almost impossible to strap even wet weather gear on board, let alone luggage for a week – a day trip to Donington Park will tax your carrying capacity. All that power, all that money and all you can do is sprint around your local roads until you are either a) bored or b) caught. Hopefully, only the looks will be arresting – and the bike certainly turns heads.

It comes with plenty of equipment. In addition to the electronic throttle and variable intake ducts, it has shaft drive, a very smooth anti-lock braking system, those six-piston calipers, huge 52mm titanium-coated forks and a tank-mounted panel that includes fuel consumption, ambient temperature, stopwatch and countdown as well as more common information. A shame it’s so difficult to see while riding.

It’s unrealistic to expect the spirit or the reality of the iconic V-Max to have been replicated in the new bike – times have changed so much in the past quarter century. The new VMAX does a pretty good job, though: it’s unmistakably son of V-Max, it’s insanely, hilariously fast and it’s a laugh to ride. It’s just that there are a fair few flaws and it’s much too expensive. If you want one, incidentally, it has to be ordered via, although a dealer can still do that for you.

Price/availability: £16,120.

Engine/transmission: 1,679cc, liquid-cooled, 65-degree, V4 four-stroke with 16 valves; 197bhp at 9,000rpm, 123lb ft of torque at 6,500rpm. Five-speed gearbox, shaft final drive.

Performance: top speed 138mph (restricted), average fuel consumption 35mpg (est).

We like: Style, horsepower, handling.

We don’t like: Impracticality, suspension, price.

Alternatives: BMW K1200R, £9,395. Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle, £12,595. Suzuki B-King, £9,000. Suzuki Intruder M1800R, £9,149. Triumph Rocket 3, £12,120.


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