Back in the day when Mel Gibson was announcing his presence with the now cult flick, the king of the road for many a year was the Kawasaki Z1000. The 80s changed all that. Enter Yamahas V-Max. With drag racing gaining popularity, the fortuitous history of the V-Max is now part of folklore. The piano maker just went heavy metal, with a vengeance. Move over Van Halen. The other V is tapping at your doorstep.
Little did Aaraki-san (Project leader of the V-Max back in 1984, a design which underwent little changes in 20 years of production!) know that witnessing a bridge race on the Mississippi where adrenaline junkies went hell for rubber down a straight stretch that one day he would be able to not just fulfil his aim of building the ultimate straight line rocket but also see it last and outlast a lot of its competitors and still go strong for a second coming.
We visit the power cruiser that started the bruiser trend. I used to think the Z1000 handled like a dragon in heat, that notion changed after attempting a 60mph sharpish corner on the V-Max. There is something about these old missiles, point and shoot. Dont turn, just hang on and enjoy the ride. More on that later!
The design team led by Araki-san spent a month in isolation with a goal in mind. To create a machine whos only aim was to decimate anything in a straight line. To say that that goal was achieved is an understatement, just try out-accelerating one on any of the current plastic litres and watch how a 20 year old all metal, sorry, all mental muscle hauls its 300kgs alongside your plastic ass inline 4. Making you feel like a little child who’s just been taught that papa has speed, and muscle too. Cant argue much with that.
Yamaha at the time of The Max wasn’t setting award winning sales pitches and their Venture Royal was a capable bike but it was no Goldwing. What do you do? Take that formidable engine, tweak it to a 130hp, give it a 110 Nm of torque to go with a shorter than cruiser standard wheelbase (1590 mm) and for good measure, add something called V-Boost. Sounds good, V-Boost, works fine too. Little too fine. It takes a carefully practised throttle hand to both not lay down burnt rubber everywhere, or to lay it down anyway. A system which essentially opens butterfly valves in the intake manifold from 5000 rpm on to match the speeds sent by the ignition system (read by a black box which sends a computed signal to a servo motor which then pulls the wire opening the valves..) has been responsible for revolutionising the concept of motorcycling. Big, Heavy, Fast, Unsafe, much like the sports bikes of its time, but also, as comfortable as a motorcycle can get, unlike the sports bikes of its time. The only thing stopping you from a 100 mile sojourn at the drop of a hat was the crazily thirsty mill. Thank god gentlemens agreements weren’t in existence back in the 80s!
So we hop on to the 1st gen V-Max, partly due to nostalgia, partly to sample how different it is from its current counterpart. The faux scoops still look the part, and the bike still has what it takes to scare someone shitless, but there is something charming about the 1st gen V-Max, perhaps its the all metal look with little plastic where needed, perhaps its that round headlight which barely lit up the road for the speeds it was capable of, perhaps it was more muscle and testosterone than the current offering, or perhaps we are taking nostalgia too far.
Turn the key and flick the kill switch and you hear the distinctive drone of the fuel pump, take note, it’s a warning sign for things to come for those unprepared or those underestimating the power of the V-Max. Thumb the starter and the giant 1200cc V-4 comes to life with a pitter patter that growls to remind you of its thirst for speed and gasoline. No potato-potato this, sample some of the many videos on youtube to hear the din it generates with the right exhaust!
So you plonk it to first and feel your arms ache as you turn it out onto the road because you’ve just gotten off from a much lighter sports bike and onto this behemoth. The weight ceases to be an issue soon enough as it is rock stable with the best C of G I have experienced on a motorcycle. You accelerate, 2000rpm, 3000, 4000, ok, this is nice, smooth, comfortable, they should make more bikes like this, then 5000, 6000, 7000, 8000..beam me up scotty! They SHOULD make more bikes like this! Gut wrenching is an often abused term which one bandies around but it fits the Max to the bill and one is thankful to the step seat which holds the now scared backside in place whilst hauling its tankish frame forward at a rate which would send shivers down a Blackbirds spine! It also helps that the bars allow for a bit of forward movement to HOLD ON DOROTHY! Kansas and a lot of other states just went bye bye.
You shift into second and stay in the power band and release again, same result, third, same story, then you brake, and this is where we tell you a little secret. The V-Max doesn’t like to slow down (to go with hating to corner), while we can live with that, it is certainly amusing to have a motorcycle with this kind of crazy acceleration which neither stops at will, nor carves a corner. So you plan to move near a drag strip. But wait, one doesn’t have to unleash it perennially, should you choose to potter about town at a decent clip, the V-Max is a very manageable motorcycle, with tonnes of charisma (halt at a stop light and look around to know what I mean) and immense road presence. And if the ignorant point out and say “Look ma, Harley!”, just twist the throttle and play with the clutch, what happens next to go with the smoking rubber will ensure you clear any doubts that this is a devil blessed V-4, and not just a cruiser.
When riding a V-Max you will make a lot of friends at the fuel stations, partly because it gives you about 8 kms to the litre, and partly because you have to perform a little magicians trick to get to the fuel tank. Smile as you see the amazed looks of those around as you slide the stand, get off the bike, go around to the back unhook the lock under the seat with your thumbs to flip open the step and then get to where the fuel cap is. I have lost count of the number of guys who peeped into the abyss(?) under the seat trying to find pandoras box where there is storage just about enough for papers, a pair of gloves, and of course the fuel tank.
All in all its a heady rush, a feeling of general bemusement, an exhilarating drama enfolding right in front of your eyes everytime you whip the throttle open yet offering one of the most comfortable rides possible when going slow. Just don’t keep it in the powerband at high speed and approach a corner wanting to slide those pegs at full lean because humans generally cannot wrestle and beat a blue whale. You may live to tell the tale, but the wet seat will tell its own story.
In todays age of motorcycles factory fitted with too much plastic, ABS, Traction control, drive modes etc, one wonders where to place the 1st gen V-Max. No where on earth fits it right because it has lived its life and done its job. If there is a motorcycle heaven out there for bikes which share these characteristics, you will find the Kawasaki Z1000 and Yamaha V-Max playing Thor and Hercules to the other also-rans.
Road test review written by Mad Max aka Mayur Mukherjee