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?
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“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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