Yamaha's unforgettable V4 bruiser
A hot rod at heart, the Yamaha V-Max is also a surprisingly good road bike, with predictable handling in the corners and a willingness to eat up the miles.
Photos by Roland Brown
Years produced: 1985-present
Claimed power: 119hp @ 9,000rpm (1985 test)
Top speed: 150mph
Engine type: 1,198cc double-overhead cam, four valves per cylinder, water-cooled 70-degree V4
Weight (dry): 271kg (596lb)
Price then: $5,299 (1985 model)
Price now: $3,500-$5,500 (1985 model)
In 1985, the brand-new 1,198cc, 70-degree V4 monster Yamaha V-Max was an unapologetic two-wheeled hot-rod. It was the undisputed king of the boulevard, and the most American bike ever to come out of Japan. Virtually unchanged 22 years later, it still may be.
The V-Max boasted unheard of road-burning acceleration, introduced Yamaha’s innovative V-Boost technology, and raised the stakes for the then-new “muscle-cruiser” category. Its looks, while jarring at the time, predated the styling of the BMW R1200C and Harley-Davidson V-Rod. From its headlight nacelle to its squared heads, V-layout and wide, low-slung wheelbase and fat tires, it’s an icon of motorcycling. It has enjoyed a rare 20-plus year production, has built a worldwide fan following with V-Max clubs from France to Japan, and still earns reverence and accolades from top motorcycle publications each model year.
This is a bike built for the moody loner. No factory repli-racer resplendent in rainbow hues … no weekend offroading with the kids. The V-Max is all about wicked attitude in spades, anti-social behavior and burning up the other guy in stoplight to stoplight races. The V-Max was a hooligan bike a decade before the term existed.
Inline out? The V4 revolution
When it was released in 1969, the air-cooled, inline-four, SOHC Honda CB750 revolutionized motorcycle design and sales, offering riders a reliable, easy to maintain bike with aggressive performance and a smoothness American V-twins and British vertical twins simply couldn’t match. Almost immediately, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Suzuki released their own inline fours. So ubiquitous was the engine style that Japanese four-cylinder bikes as a whole were labeled with the unflattering moniker “Universal Japanese Motorcycle.”
For the next decade, most large Japanese bikes retained the same engine design. But in 1982, Honda broke the lock of inlines with their 750cc V45 Sabre and Magna models, a euro-styled standard and muscular chopper-esque custom, respectively, that were both powered by liquid-cooled 90-degree V4s. This engine layout offered perfect primary balance for unbelievable smoothness as well as meaner performance. The Magna, in particular, with it’s wide mid-range and “American Custom” styling, was Japan’s most overt attempt to tap into Harley-Davidson’s American customer base, and began the era of the “muscle cruiser” that continues unabated today.
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