Japanese Muscle: Yamaha Vmax used review

In 1985 Yamaha launched an unashamed brute of a bike. Born on the drag strip the V-Max was a mass of metal and chrome which instantly drew a cult following. Now, 23 years on, does the old master still command any respect?

Posted: 26 October 2010
by Jon Urry

Click to read: Yamaha Vmax owners reviewsYamaha Vmax specs and to see the Yamaha Vmax image gallery.

“It’s like a 140bhp shopping trolley, totally lethal, have a good time.” These were the parting words from the DK salesman as he handed over the Vmax’s key, not exactly words that instilled me with confidence. But there again, this is a 23-year-old bike, how nasty could it really be? About three hours later I was heading for a hedge, eyes as big as saucers, while below me the Vmax wobbled and weaved as the chassis attempted to untie itself from the knot its suspension had wound itself into.

I was only eight when the original Vmax was launched, so I missed out on all the hype surrounding it. At the time I was more concerned about the imminent unveiling of an Optimus Prime Transformer than a 145bhp muscle bike. Over the subsequent years the name has come up in conversation, but because it’s no longer made I’ve never found a reason to ride one. But, with the arrival of Yamaha’s new Vmax, now seemed like the perfect excuse.

Usually with second hand bikes, especially ones this old, getting your hands on a good condition used model is a nightmare. Not so with the Vmax. A call to DK Motorcycles in Stoke and sales manager Garry Mackay surprised me by saying he had just registered a brand new Vmax on a 2008 plate and had some excellent second hand examples. Despite the bike being discontinued in Europe in 2004, the US market kept demanding Yamaha make the bike right up until 2007, so brand new examples are still available on import. But at what cost? A brand new one will set you back £7,199 while the bike I was set to ride, a 2000 model, would be closer to £5,000. That’s not that far off its retail price of £7,239. How come?

“My three best-selling second hand bikes are Hayabusa, R6 and Vmax,” Garry told me, “If I could get 10 new Vmaxs in tomorrow I’d sell them all by next week. They have a huge cult following.”

Wheeling the bike out of the showroom and into the sunlight I got my first chance to really poke around a Vmax. It’s still a good-looking bike, mean and aggressive with the huge engine dominating its style. The monstrous, yet somehow only 1198cc, V4 is styled for show with the whole motor painted black then polished to a mirror finish on a the edges of the engine fins, cam covers and cases to create the look. Contrast is the key to the Vmax’s style. If it isn’t black it’s polished chrome, accentuating the bike’s features and lines. Which is why I assumed that the fake carbon petrol tank cover and rear mudguard on this model were aftermarket additions. Not so, late in its life Yamaha actually produced the bike with this slightly tacky look. But this is a bike from a different age, in the late ‘90s carbon-effect was all the rage.

Turning the key in the ignition the Vmax whirrs from deep inside. If you have ridden any Yamaha with a YPVS sticker on it you will know this sound. It’s the sound of power valves priming. Early European bikes never made this noise as, bizarrely, Yamaha Europe took the decision not to enable the V-Boost system until 1996, neutering the bike to 95bhp rather than the claimed boost-assisted 145bhp. The bikes were easily modified, but this short-sightedness by Yamaha Europe spawned a huge influx of US import bikes and second hand V-Boost kits in to Britain. A story that echoes most of the Vmax’s life in the UK. It took six years from its original launch in 1985 until the Vmax went on official sale in the UK, and a further five until it was full power. But staggeringly the bike still sold. Imagine trying to punt off an 11 year-old FireBlade today, you wouldn’t stand a chance. But the Vmax is no ordinary bike.

Continue the Yamaha Vmax used review


The Vmax has four carbs, one for each cylinder. The problem is that they are very small, which is better for low down power, not high rpm. Below 6,000rpm they feed each cylinder as normal, but at 6,000rpm things change. A solenoid moves a butterfly flap that effectively links up the pairs of carbs. So, rather than be fed fuel and air by one carb, each cylinder is fed by two, effectively doubling (well, actually a bit less) the amount of fuel dumped into the motor. More fuel equals more power. Simple.

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Discuss this story

I have owned a 1988 Vmax for well over 10 years,and i think the author of this article cannot ride a bike to save his life. Yes the bike does have serious issues, such as needing frame reinforcement and some decent brakes, but it is no where near as bad as the author makes out, i get mine round bends on the edge of the tyres without any wobbles, if a wobble starts the biggest mistake is to ease off on the throttle, because she then drifts, you ride through the wobbles, it takes some getting used to but works!! The comment about them in the wet, is abit drama queenish, Vmaxs dont handle well on Bridgestone or Dunlop tyres, i use Avon Venoms and found they are the best for my style of riding,any shaft drive if you are not used to them can lock up the back wheel if you change down to quick, which i suspect is what happened to the author. If you are going to get reviews on used bikes at least find someone that can ride and is not afraid of the machine, sincerely, P. Sutton

Posted: 09/10/2011 at 19:58

this is my bike. i love it and never think of changing it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gpbkv3cpyRA i swallow gsrx 1000 0-400

Posted: 29/01/2012 at 05:50

I bought the 88, Canadian import,Yamaha Blue, Nov 2011, 24,000M in Sydney Australia. (from a Suzuki dealer that did not know what it was.) Cost $5k (less than an old Italian scooter) Bike now has 39,000M Call it 24,000k this year, almost all highway. I agree with George. Do not believe this review! I had the bike to 220k, ridden 26 hours with small breaks, (Cairns to Byron), and never did the bike get a wobble. I don't throw it hard around corners, but have 10 mil chicken strips, so let us not get to precious about handling. There is a trick. Lean well forward in to your turn, do not put weight on the back. They are a bit light up front. My bike is stock standard, and had dyno at 137hp. All I have spent is 50 bucks for a slave cylinder kit, and oil/filter changes. Still on same tyres. The bike gives reliability new meaning. If you can find a better bike for touring for 5k tell me please, and do not believe everything you read from these pussy footing reviewers.

They have provided great reviews for some of the worst shopping trolleys I have ridden, and there are some really bad bikes out there for 5 times what my bike cost me, bikes that scrape at the first sign of a bend, bikes that rev out at 4000 rpm, bikes that wobble off their stands they vibrate so much, and bikes that feel like your riding a submarine on small tubeless wheels, but they all get great review when they are new, thanks to the review industry.

Find a vmax that has not been touched, and try to trash it. The bike will win, and you will just grin. These are one of the most over-engineered, tough, reliable, every day ride/tour bikes I have ever ridden, and I sell bikes. I can ride a different second hand bike home every day, and I just ride my bike to work. Harley, Grisso, Suzi and Kawi, the fat Buell, none have a model with a motor that compares to this motor until you get to and expensive Ducati. See what 5k gets you in a second hand ducati.

Happy to discuss the above with anyone serious about buying these bikes. steelydanfloyd@yahoo.com


Posted: 17/10/2012 at 01:52

How could a v/max not command respect? are we all such better riders these days? They were powerful then and they are powerful now,dream on if you think you could tame it overnight! I think its not really a question of how badly they handled, cos they didnt, its a question of how close to the limit they went, and how soon a corner appeared , which should have been easy....But...Anyway, you ignored a basic too, when ignition is switched on 3 little buzzes happen..if they dont its a restricted one..of which there were plenty..dont like the variable electric reserve, and they are heavy to push!!I gather the engine is a v4 powerboat winning thing,...not relevant but another pub fact for you!!

Posted: 24/11/2012 at 16:42

Toally innacurate road test. I have had a couple of Vmax's in the past and never had a wobble or weave. Granted i am no scratcher and rode them within their limits, so either the bike on test needed an overhaul or it's an attempt to perpetuate the myth that this bike is lethal.

Posted: 19/06/2013 at 09:35

I am as always amused at reviews. Whether the reviewer is a motorcyclist or a journalist who rides a bike makes a difference.

The VMax is a big lump, it has brakes that are are a bit wooden, that's the fault of too smaller a bore in the master cylinder. No need to fit new calipers just a better master cylinder off an FJR.

The power is very progressive the fabled jump doesn't really wrench no more than any large four-stroke coming on cam. You can pull away snatch free in top from 20 mph it's like a twist and go scooter in that mode or you can use the gears and surprise people on the plastic fantastic.

They handle far better than they should ever do, even better when fitted with a 17" back wheel and a radial. The stock Bridgestone isn't the best but when pumped up to Avon's recommended pressures it stop the blancmange feeling. They will outdrag anything up to the legal limit.

In terms of the "shaft causing lock ups" myth I have 5 bikes with shaft drives and have owned several others, the amount of play in the drive is little different to a chain. I have never had problems with shafties. The only time I ever locked up a rear wheel was when I thought I was changing up into third on a friend's Bonnie, turned out it was first.

Your reviewer forgot to mention the reason for all the oomph is the very low gearing I haven't ridden many bikes that over rev in top.

Posted: 28/05/2015 at 09:44

OK... old thread but...

"it takes some getting used to but works"

"There is a trick. Lean well forward in to your turn, do not put weight on the back. They are a bit light up front"

"Yes the bike does have serious issues, such as needing frame reinforcement and some decent brakes"

"Vmaxs dont handle well on Bridgestone or Dunlop tyres", "The stock Bridgestone isn't the best"

"They handle far better than they should ever do, even better when fitted with a 17" back wheel and a radial"

"it has brakes that are are a bit wooden, that's the fault of too smaller a bore in the master cylinder. No need to fit new calipers just a better master cylinder off an FJR."

These comments do not paint a picture of a sorted bike or a "pussyfooting reviewer" especially if he had a bike without any of the mods you've mentioned & had not had "time to get used to it" & learn the "tricks" needed. He had it for a day & gave his honest opinion... the criticism should be that he needed to get all of the mods you recommend done & spend a lot longer getting used to it... a criticism that could be leveled at any negative review.

... & if someone's managing 24,000... km or miles... on original tyres with a 145bhp 286kg bike, their idea of motorcycling is different to mine.

Posted: 28/05/2015 at 11:33

I just bought an '89 yesterday. Never even ridden one before. Just fancied a change. Being delivered next week. Proper excited. Who gives a damn about it's flaws? Ride it accordingly I say. It is what it is, and that is awesome. I mean just look at it for f**ks sake, it's a thing of beauty. ;-)

Posted: 05/12/2015 at 10:37

I have owned an 88 since new. That alone should tell you something.

This bike commands attention where ever I go. Whether I stop for gas or a snack, it takes me a good half hour to get back in the saddle again. It literally gathers a crowd and gets as much attention as a celebrity. Even hardcore Harley riders. Even though I have aged substantially, this bike is timeless. A veritable "chick magnet". (Thank God for my helmet.) This is an indestructible machine and I have never given trading or selling it a thought.I give this bike a 9.5 out of 10. As for that reviewer, this is not a bike for beginners or the faint of heart. This is a man's motorcycle and demands respect of its riders. Do us all a favour and stick to scooters and mopeds.




Posted: 14/01/2016 at 21:10

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