Mid-Sized Crisis – The 2009 V-Star 950

Story by Neale Bayly// Photos by Tom Riles
March 1 2009

I have to admit to being a little confused at the start of the new V-Star 950 introduction in Georgia recently. With a spec sheet that lists the dry weight at over 600 pounds and an engine capacity just below 1,000 cc, Star’s posturing of their new cruiser as “entry level” didn’t seem right. Then, when I looked at the bike in the flesh, it certainly didn’t appear to be a small, entry-level machine either. Thinking it more mid to upper size, this perception was immediately shot down when I got on the bike for the first time.

With a super low 675 mm (26.6 inch) seat height and a wide set of handlebars that you don’t need to lean forward to reach, it couldn’t have been easier to lift the bike off of the side stand. With a feather light throttle, a light easy-pull clutch, and slick, precise gear change operation, pulling out of the hotel parking lot and on the highway quickly let me know how easy the new V-Star was going to ride. The motor pulled smoothly and progressively, and the chassis felt tight and composed, all attributes that will certainly make a newer rider more confident and comfortable.

Spinning along under a canopy of colour from the fall foliage, I ran the engine up and down through the rev range in the lower gears to see what power characteristics it exhibited. Using an air-cooled, 60-degree V-twin that displaces 942 cc, this all-new engine has four valves per cylinder that are opened and closed by a single overhead camshaft. Forged 85 mm aluminum pistons run in ceramic 83 mm bores, which allow the Star’s engine to dissipate heat faster and give increased durability. These are attached by their respective connecting rods to a single pin crankshaft for that big twin feel and allow the 950 a healthy dose of character. Casting my mind back to the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 intro, this was something that was missing on the Vulcan, and it certainly gives the V-Star more of that “big bike” feeling. The engine provided strong, steady power that continued to build until the rev limiter rudely interrupts the progress. The new V-Star 950 isn’t going to be winning any dyno shootouts, but it makes plenty of power for the real world. Peak torque is being quoted as 56.7 foot-pounds at 3,500 rpm and that power is delivered to the rear wheel through a five-speed transmission and belt drive. The belt drive allows for more customizing options, as well as being clean, quiet and efficient.

Gas and air make their way into the cylinders via a Mikuni fuel injection system. A side draft dual throttle body uses two 35 mm bores with their own injectors, and the throttle response is excellent. On or off the gas, things are as smooth as can be, and I couldn’t find fault with the system all day. Dealing with the burned remains, a regulation 2-into-1 style exhaust system exits on the right hand side of the bike. With a dual expansion chamber muffler and a single element catalytic converter, it still manages to give a pleasant rumble as you are riding.

The engine is rigidly mounted in a new double-cradle steel frame. This holds a set of 41 mm forks up front and a single, link-type rear shock in the rear. With 32-degrees of rake and 145 mm of trail, the V-Star 950 handles extremely well and exhibits a tight, almost nimble feel when the road gets twisty. Like all cruisers, it is somewhat of a letdown by limited ground clearance, and the Yamaha employees were quick to tell us most cruiser riders don’t spend a lot of time grinding the floorboards when they ride. As modest as the lean angles seemed to be and as easy as the bike is to negotiate in the turns, more clearance would seem to make sense to me, especially considering that when adding the extra weight of a passenger and luggage is going to further limit ground clearance.

Without going to these limits though, the ride quality is superb, the broad seat is comfortable and the floorboards perfectly positioned to not make it a stretch for your legs to reach the controls. The heel/toe shifter is a breeze to use, and you don’t consciously have to lift your foot up to use the rear brake. This is a strong addition to the single disc brake up front, and like all Yamaha cruisers they perform well. Using a single 298 mm disc in the back, a relatively low-tech single piston caliper pushes one pad and pulls the other onto the disc. Up front the disc diameter is a healthy 320mm, and a dual piston/pin slide style caliper is used. Of course, the front fork is softly sprung so you want to be as early and progressive as possible during braking manoeuvres, but there are no surprises if you are a regular cruiser rider.

The whole Star line is one of the most stylish in the cruiser world to me. Maybe with sport bikes being more my thing, I like the more modern sporty look, and the wheels certainly fit this bill. Using an all-new 8-spoke cast aluminum 18-inch wheel up front and a wide, but not ridiculous, 16-inch wheel in the rear, the V-Star comes fitted with either Dunlop or Bridgestone tires with an attractive low profile look. These more sensibly sized wheels and tires certainly aid the bike’s tight, responsive handling and get full marks from me for both looks and performance.

Making a strong visual statement, the V-Star 950 is impressive just sitting still and takes styling cues from the 1927 Bugatti Type 38A Roadster. This was a slim, lightweight minimalist sport car and Yamaha has certainly achieved this look with the new 950. They call it “sport classic styling” and it seems to be a perfect mix of traditional and modern blended together for their own unique look. The 16.7 litre (3.7 litres of which is held in reserve) teardrop style gas tank is very slim and features attractive chrome accent flairs on the side. It also contains a traditional, centrally located speedometer housed in a chrome nacelle that sits on top of the fuel tank’s deep lustre paint. All the normal warning lights and features are found to the side of the large speedometer face that uses nice, easy to read white numbers, so speed can be monitored easily on the go. The chrome accents on the side of the fuel tank blend with similar accents on the rear fender, which, like the front fender, is made from steel to make it easier for customers to paint or modify.

As one of the key points about all Yamaha motorcycles, the options for personalizing are many. A chat with the company’s aftermarket guy, Dave Pooler, revealed there are over 80 custom items already available. These include the new quickly detachable windshield and back rest. Released in a couple of seconds, the three-piece quick release system is very easy to use, and both windshield and backrest are lockable when you leave the bike. These come as standard on the new V Star 950 Tourer along with a set of leather-covered hard-shell side bags. Capable of holding 41.6 litres of luggage, these hard bags are key matched, fully lockable and are available as an accessory for the standard V-Star.

While I might have been a tad confused at the start of my ride, the picture seemed completely clear by the end of the day. Priced right at $9,999 for the V-Star 950 and $11,999 for the V-Star 950 Tourer, this is a whole lot of motorcycle at a very reasonable cost. Coming with a host of chrome accents, superb paint, and excellent quality finish, budget or entry level are not words that make their way into the look or feel of the bike. And really aren’t terms that should be too rigidly applied to the 950 either, as it is ready to be enjoyed by anyone looking for a slick, stylish cruiser that is easy to handle and a blast to ride.

Go to www.yamaha-motor.ca for more information.

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