Somehow the social process makes us chase
things that are bigger, because for some reason we perceive them as better.
Maybe it's an American thing, since riders in other parts of the world
cherish their modest-size motorcycles. Think about it. Should it really be
about size, or satisfaction?
Yamaha's fresh-from-the-ground-up V-Star 1100
is a bold new entry in the middleweight market. It stands next to the
venerable Virago 1100 in relative size and equipment. Both utilize a 1063cc,
air-cooled, single overhead-cam, two-valves-per-cylinder V-twin engine with
dual carbs, wide-ratio five-speed transmission and shaft final drive. The
similarities end there, however. The new V-Star represents an entirely
different perspective. For example, many people think the faithful Virago is
ugly -- virtually everyone will agree the new V-Star is not.
The V-Star 1100 follows the same concept as
the very popular V-Star 650. As our 1998 Cruiser of the Year, the
entry-level V-Star Classic won high marks for value, visual appeal and
overall package performance. Both 650s, released in 1998, retail for well
under $6000. It's no wonder they are their manufacturer's best-selling
cruisers. Yamaha has now created an affordable and thoroughly worthy option
for those yearning for something a bit more substantial, but not too costly.
The V-Star 1100 will retail for a suggested $7799, right at the bottom of
the 1100-class price range.
Yamaha's attempt to overShadow the
competition is well-executed. All of the models in the Star cruiser series
feature a striking visual balance and keen exhaust note. The V-Star 1100's
long, low stance, consolidated components and rounded edges integrate in a
flowing visual effect. If worthiness were based on beauty alone, this new
V-Star would be runner-up only to Honda's Shadow Aero ($9700). We love the
drag bars, spoked wheels and pert bobtail rear fender. And the hidden
monoshock leaves the V-Star looking clean and hard in the tail. There's
always more than meets the eye, though, and the new Yamaha is up to the
challenge in that area too. In terms of performance, the V-twin-powered
V-Star 1100 is, alas, easily outrun by its fraternal twin, the Virago --
reigning King of Performance in the 1100 class. The Honda Shadow Aero, A.C.E.
and Spirit are left behind in that order, when it comes to acceleration and
Power is delivered evenly and efficiently
through the rpm range, with enough torque at low rpm to let you start in
second gear. Throttle response provided by the two Mikuni carbs is smooth
It almost seems as though the "V" in "V-twin"
also stands for "Vibration," and the V-Star does exude fairly intrusive
engine feedback. There's only a faint oscillation at lower rpm felt through
the pegs, grips and fuel tank (if your knees contact it). At highway speeds
the vibration becomes more vigorous and radiates through the chassis and up
through the seat as well. If, for some silly reason, you're cruising above
suggested freeway speeds and roll on additional throttle, you'll feel like
you put a quarter in a "magic fingers" mattress. But regardless of the price
you pay in pulse, the power is there -- and there always seems to be a
little left in reserve.
Yamaha uses a double-cradle frame in the
V-Stars and draws out the chassis length for a long, low look. Overall
length is a hearty 94.6 inches and the wheelbase measures 64.5 inches. It's
no longer than its smaller displacement stablemates -- the 650 Classic and
Custom -- but then all of the V-Stars are stretched to big-bore proportions.
The seat height on the 1100 is a friendly 27.0 inches, allowing new riders
and those short in the inseam, to keep their feet firmly planted on the
ground. We enlisted a 5-foot-5 rider to sit on the V-Star and she could
easily touch the ground, with both feet. While the low seat works to the
advantage of some, it is likely to be an irritant for those with more
spindly legs. The 1100 weighs in at 616 pounds with the tank full, falling
right in the middle of the typical range for 1100s.
The seating position puts the rider in a bit
of a stretch, but those of average proportions found it inviting and not
exaggerated to the point of discomfort. One point of contention, however, is
the protruding air-cleaner steals legroom. The footpegs are set fairly far
forward, so taking the weight off your bum requires shifting your feet to
the passenger pegs. Unfortunately, the rear pegs are mounted very high in
order to stay in relation to the stepped passenger seat, so keeping your
feet on them bends the legs in a manner only small children are capable of
The seat itself is comfortable, and after
1700 miles of testing we don't have any major complaints about its
cushioning ability. Those with more substantial seats of their own wished
for a bit more width. The forward edge of the passenger pad can feel
confining to some riders and can become especially irritating when you
factor in vibration. The passenger seat is easily removed with a single
bolt, and its bracket can be removed separately for a finished look. You may
as well do this immediately because no one is going to want to ride with you
unless you install a custom passenger seat. The pillion on the V-Star feels
about as comfortable as squatting on a vibrating loaf of day-old French
bread. The rider's ergonomics are comfortable with the drag-style bars set
low but graduating rearward. The low bars provide good steering feel with a
nice degree of leverage.
Steering the V-Star 1100 doesn't require
exertion and the bike hooks up and travels solidly and smoothly in every
cornering situation, from parking-lot maneuvers to high-speed sweepers.
However, cornering clearance significantly limits lean angle.
Some might find fault with the rear
suspension as well. It leans toward harsh. Set at factory specs and
unloaded, the bike occasionally wants to skip across the pavement in hard
cornering, which can be disconcerting if you're trailing sparks off the
footpeg. On the highway the effect is jarring -- but remember, there's
probably one dentist for every 10 potholes in this country.
The rear monocross single shock is
preload-adjustable and can be accessed by removing the seat and a plastic
fender port cover. Setting it full-soft makes only a minimal difference.
Lighter riders felt that it looked and acted like a hardtail. The front
telescopic fork feels solid, yet obedient in contrast.
The V-Star drivetrain is smooth and easy to
manipulate. The five-speed transmission worked flawlessly and the
well-staged gear ratios were appreciated. The 1100 employs large double
discs on the front and a single disc on the rear. We noted plenty of
stopping power and no fade.
Handlebar controls are easy to access and the
low bar provides a nice visual frame for the tank-mounted gauges. The
nostalgic speedometer numbers carry the vintage flavor down to detail. It's
always a compromise when you have to take your eyes off the road to check
speed, mileage or indicator lights; we'd add a tripmeter and a clock to the
LCD odometer display. And as a conclusive touch on otherwise well-done
aesthetics, we'd like to see the unit's three mounting bolts further
finished or capped flush to the casing.
Our test unit started showing us an oil
warning light with only 250 miles on the odometer. Hayward Kawasaki-Yamaha,
in Northern California, tracked the problem to a faulty oil-sender switch.
The V-Star is eager to start and quick to
idle. The tone emitting from the dual exhaust is pleasing to the ear,
although it's forced to compete with a good amount of top-end noise.
Brasfield, who rode the bike at the European press introduction, didn't
remember hearing such valve clatter.
Mirrors on the V-Star are stylishly small and
teardrop-shaped. They fit the visual format of the bike, but because the
small viewing area is coupled with prevalent vibration in the bar, the
mirrors work for placement of objects only. The other fundamental feature
suffering on the V-Star is the headlight's ability to illuminate the road at
night. The halogen lamp casts a rectangular beam that lights the side angles
nicely but it doesn't travel very far on the road ahead. And when you're
leaned into a corner, the beam doesn't cover an overall surface area large
enough to be comforting. You must apply the high beam more often than
vehicles in the vicinity appreciate.
We've spent more than one 400-mile day on the
new 1100 and found it to be pleasingly tripworthy. The 4.3-gallon fuel tank
permitted the V-Star to travel for 110 miles regularly before asking for
reserve, which offers more than a gallon before the engine goes silent.
Packing on the V-Star was a bit of a
challenge since the fender is high and the rear wheel is mostly exposed. If
you're going to use soft saddlebags you'll need to install saddlebag guards
to keep them from contacting the tire. Securing bungee cords was another
challenge since everything is so tightly integrated within the frame.
Like the other bikes in the V-Star lineup,
the 1100's overall performance package is more than worth the asking price.
Even if nothing else seems to set it apart from its competition, the price
point surely does. It may not deliver the grunt of Yamaha's 1600cc pushrod
V-twin Road Star or approach the Royal Star in visual refinements, but the
V-Star 1100 is an extremely well-balanced, middle-of-the-road motorcycle. In
our opinion, it's the best package being offered in the 1100 class this
High Points: Great price, good looks, solid power.
Low Points: Stiff suspension, vibration, poor passenger
accommodations, ineffective headlight and mirrors.
First Changes: Brighter headlight bulb, new seat if carrying
me your poor, your vertically challenged, your power-hungry masses. Let them
yearn for cruisers with clean lines and slinky paint jobs. They shall also
demand fistfuls of stopping power, and a manageable handlebar instead of
wheelbarrow grips. Gather them all and point them in the direction of
Yamaha's V-Star 1100.
You'd call it a middleweight at first blush.
It's long and low, and not a bad-looking scoot at that. A narrowish bar and
way-low seat height ensure comfort and confidence for those closer to the
ground. The handling is light and responsive and the power is much beefier
than you'd expect; even though it's an 1100, its low, crouched stance gives
the illusion of a much smaller powerplant. The brakes are solid -- double
discs up front with plenty of grab on the wheel and none of the usual brake
fade. Requisitely smooth throttle response, good low-end grunt and a fairly
comfortable (did we already say "low"?) seating position round out the basic
Another thing that'll grab you is the price
-- for 7800 bones, you're getting a solid middleweight you won't grow out of
in a few years, and -- it shore is purty. Love it or hate it, that
distinctive gold metalflake two-tone paint scheme will turn your retinas
inside out. People notice these things.
Such a deal! 1100cc of middleweight magic for
less than eight grand. You can cruise in style without having to sacrifice
your lavish gourmet dinners. Lemme jes dust off the ol' checkbook here
E-mail your McDonald's coupons to Cherney
Jamie Elvidge: Boy, this bike gets the looks. In the two weeks I had it I hardly parked
once without someone reminding me how pretty it was. It's quite a catch for
the cash and it offers enough performance to back up the visual attitude. I
think it raises the bar in the 1100 class and I'd be the first to recommend
it, especially to a competent beginning rider. It is well-mannered and
physically manageable, yet it won't leave you hemming and hawing in a year.
It's a great package, and the silver-and-gold paint combination is striking.
But if I could just ride and never have to
actually look at my bike, I'd be likely to opt for the Virago 1100. It might
have missed out on the pretty pills, but it has the power and handling
characteristics I appreciate. On the other hand, if I looked at my
motorcycle more than I rode it, Honda's Shadow Aero 1100 would be my pick.
Luckily, in the real world, we get to do a lot of both -- and the newest
V-Star is poised in the balance.
When Elvidge doesn't have V-Stars in her
eyes she's reading e-mail at:
Art Friedman: Virago lovers, I feel your pain. This upstart threatens the future of your
venerable 1100 V-twin. And why? Because it's fashionable this week? Because
somebody decided that new is better?
Brasfield, who had attended the V-Star intro,
wondered if I'd still prefer the Virago -- which has been one of my favorite
twins for a long time. Having seen the photos and heard from him what it was
like, I was pretty sure I'd surprise him and like the V-Star more.
Sorry. I still prefer the Virago by the
smallest of margins. I expect the V-Star, with its sleek good looks, to
outsell its stablemate severalfold this year, even though the new bike got a
late start. But I think I'd stay with the faster, smoother, and -- for me --
more comfortable Virago, and also get the centerstand, tachometer and other
features. I score the Star slightly higher for saddle and suspension but the
Virago feels like it was built for my dimensions and riding style. Yes, the
V-Star is prettier, but it still has a surprising number of warts when you
look at it up close. It definitely has the nicer profile, though.
That is actually one of the problems. If I
bought the Virago, I'd be sorry that the V-Star is slower. It would be nice
if it was a little faster, so it could stay where I could look at those
pretty lines rather than just a shimmering dot receding from my rearview