First impressions are often very telling. When you meet someone for the first time, the first impressions are often a good indication as to what sort of person they are, and whether you’ll like them or not. It’s the same with bikes. First impressions are often a good indication of how the bike is going to be on the rest of the test. And that’s how it was with the Yamaha V-Star XVS1100 Classic.
First impressions, when I’d checked it out in the showroom, were very favourable. Firstly, it looked great; especially in metallic-red, with all that shiny chrome.
Secondly, it felt comfortable. Even doing the bouncing-up-and-down test of the rear suspension held promise of something reasonably comfortable.
But all that means little. Most cruisers look impressive. And how well it rides is only determined on the road, not by bouncing on it in the showroom. Far more telling were the first impressions when I took one for a ride. And within the first kilometre from leaving the showroom it had made a great first impression! I was marveling at how good it was to ride, and how easily it steered. Even riding out the driveway gave promise of a more comfortable ride than some cruisers. Yep, first impressions were that this was going to be much better than any cruiser I’d ridden before!
IN THE DRIVEWAY
Despite the Harley-clone styling, as I said above, I reckon the V-Star looks fabulous! There’s just something about all that chrome and sparkling red paint!
On cruisers you expect everything to be big; and it is. It’s a big bike, with a big engine, big forks raked out front, a big headlight, big exhausts, and big wide handlebars. The bars are big (thick) in diameter too; which, with my long hands, suits me fine. The levers are big thick things too, which again, my hands quite like.
The seat is big. It’s also well-shaped and comfortable. My only criticism is that it holds you in one position; you can’t move around on it.
Again befitting the style of the bike, the instruments take the minimalist approach. There is a speedo (yes, it’s big too!) in the tank, and …. well, that’s about it, really. There aren’t any other gauges. There are a couple of lights – for blinkers and neutral etc – but even they seem pretty limited. I have to say that I don’t particularly like the speedo in the tank. You’ve got to look down, usually moving your head, not just eyes, to check it.
I’m not a big fan of form over function, and another example of this is the location of the ignition key – down on the right side of the frame just in front of the tank. Yes, I know you’d get used to it, and it really isn’t a problem, but …. well it’s not as convenient as having it up top is it! But it’s not just that. They’ve had to put a rather unsightly big dent in the right fork-leg so that it doesn’t hit the key on full lock. All a bit silly, really!
Another thing I had a bit of a problem with was the side-stand. Typical of cruisers, it’s long and hinges out, as much as down. But when it’s up it comes to rest tucked in under the frame and I found it a bit tricky to get the boot on it to swing it out. I guess you’d get used to it.
The riding-position is, naturally enough, very up-right; to the extent that it almost feels as if you’re leaning backwards slightly. (Shorter riders probably wouldn’t feel that). It’s comfortable, but doesn’t really suit people, like me, with dodgy backs! (See section below on “Cruisers And Ergonomics”). But the Yammie is a lot better than some! When I rode the Triumph Speedmaster, for example, this was a real problem for me, and I kept doing things to try to alleviate it – like leaning forwards and resting my feet on the exhausts and even the pillion foot-rests. After the ride my back was not in a good state at all! However on the Yammie it wasn’t so bad. I didn’t have to try re-positioning myself (apart from occasionally arching my back forwards when I thought about it), and I wasn’t feeling too much discomfort. By the end of the ride I could feel the effects of the bad posture, but my back was in much better shape than after the Speedmaster. Part of that was due to smoother roads, but mostly I’d put it down to better initial comfort, and to a much superior ride.
I mentioned the forward-controls, and once you remember that it has them (I did do the “prodding the foot down at nothing” routine a couple of times early in the ride!)they are easy to operate. The gear-lever is one of those heel-and-toe affairs that allows you to change up by clicking down with your heel. I used the heel a few times, but using the toe is easy, just pivot the foot on the big comfy foot-boards and there you go, perfectly positioned under the lever.
The bars are high and wide, and of the pull-back variety. I’m not usually a fan of this style, but these feel comfortable and very natural.
Cruisers are seldom light, and this is a fair lump of motorcycle. You feel the weight at standstill (or when manoeuvring around tight places, doing U-turns on narrow roads etc), but disappears as soon as you get moving.
OUT ON THE ROAD
Reach down and turn the key and you’re greeted with a surprisingly quiet motor. There is the unmistakable V-twin throb (interestingly, mixed in with a bit of the slight whistling type sound that characterises their air-cooled 4-cylinder in the XJR), but it’s all very subdued. There are typical big-V-twin vibes, but they’re very subdued too; and the engine smoothes out totally as soon as you get moving. It’s just enough to remind you that you’re on a cruiser; you’d miss them if they weren’t there!
I began this by talking about first impressions, and the V-Star started to impress me just going out the driveway. Firstly there was the ride. The dip, and lip of concrete, where the driveway meets the road is a good starting-point on how a bike’s going to ride (you’d need to stand up over that on a Harley Nightser!); and the Yamaha absorbed that nicely. And the turning onto the road part is telling too. Most cruisers are hard to turn, but the V-Star went exactly and easily where I pointed it. Even more impressive because at that point my feet were prodding at thin air trying to find the foot-pegs! (“Ah, yes, you silly old bloke, it’s forward controls!”). Then came a T-intersection. A 90-degree turn to the left – steering easily! Then accelerate up the road – feels good! Yep, as I said at the start, not a kilometre from the shop and I’m liking this already!
The power is good. Cruisers, it’s often said, are a lifestyle; you can’t compare them with other bikes. They’re not about speed and race-track handling, they’re about, well, laid-back cruising along. So they’re not supposed to be powerful! And Yamaha seems to have gone to considerable trouble to ensure the V-Star isn’t a powerful bike. They dropped in a big (though not by cruiser standards!) V-twin donk, but it’s as if they then said to the engineers, “Okay boys, now dumb it down; we don’t want to give them cruiser riders too much power!” So the bike runs carbies (a pair of 37mm Mikunis), rather than fuel-injection. Compression ratio is a lowly 8.3:1 and there is just a single cam operating the valves.
All pretty low-tech stuff, really. Yamaha don’t give power figures in their specs, but on-line sources suggest an output of 46kW. That’s less than most decent mid-size bikes produce. And there’s a lot of weight for that power to haul around too! Although in its favour is the fact that this is developed at comparatively low revs. Its real saving-grace though is torque. Again, Yamaha don’t say how much (85Nm is the figure I got), but they do say that the maximum is developed at just 2,500rpm. So this means that the power is concentrated in the low to mid range and is very accessible; which fits in perfectly with the cruiser style of riding.
Now, truth be told, the motor does struggle to deliver the performance that it does. But as I said, it’s a cruiser – it’s not really supposed to be quick! I never really felt that it was lacking power. Give the throttle a twist and it still gets up and goes quite well. It does feel kind of restrained in a way, but look down at that big speedo and the needle swings pretty quickly around the dial. On a couple of occasions I gave it some stick from walking speed and had the needle swinging to almost 100kph in 2nd in pretty quick time. It’s probably not too happy about revving that hard, but it does it without complaint. At the other end of the scale, it pulls away easily from low revs. With no tacho I don’t know how low, but a few times I reckon I could just about count the cylinders firing as I gently wound on the throttle; and it pulled away fine.
A good chance to try out the performance came when I was riding along a two-lane highway and came up to a car traveling at just a under 100kph. This provided an ideal opportunity to see how it performed in a top-gear roll-on overtake. I waited till the road ahead was clear, then pulled out and wound on the throttle. The bike surged forward past the tin-top. No, the acceleration certainly wasn’t brutal, perhaps not even overly quick, but it still performed the overtake very efficiently, with the big needle on 120kph when I pulled back in.
Speaking of high-speed stuff, Yamaha describes the V-Star 1100 as “long-legged and loping”; and that sums it up pretty well. It feels high-geared and cruises easily. As with any naked, the limitations come not from the engine, but from the wind. Everything starts to get pretty hectic once you’re up around 120kph. I was getting a lot of wind on my legs, which felt a bit unusual. But being up high and poking out in front, they caught the wind and it really set the jeans flapping. For a comparison I took my foot off the board and angled my leg back in a “normal” position and the wind dropped significantly. It’s not just the legs of course, the rest of the body cops the wind too. As I said, it feels a bit hectic. (A screen perhaps?).
It was a hot day when I did the test-ride, but I got no heat from the bike at all. The wind (and slim motor) helps that on the highway, but even around town there was no heat from the bike. Just another thing that adds to your enjoyment of the ride.
I mentioned that the gear-lever was easy to use. Well the actual change is very good too; smooth and slick. This again is better than you find on some cruisers. I tried a clutchless up-change and even that was smooth. Change down without matching the revs properly and the gearbox was still smooth; there were no clunks, just a chirp from the back tyre.
On the subject of transmission, the shaft-drive is excellent. There’s no jerkiness at low speed, no wobble on throttle applications; in fact, if you didn’t know it was a shaftie there’s nothing about the way it drives that would tell you.
The most impressive thing about the bike is the way it steers.The steering and handling are a revelation! This is a cruiser that loves corners! I know that sounds like a “foxymoron,” as the ladies from Fountainlakes would say, but it’s true; this cruiser loves corners! Around town the steering is light and easy and the bike just tips into corners exactly as you want it to. Out on the open road it’s still light and easy. It points into corners easily and accurately, and even responds well to counter-steering. In fact, as you point it into a corner and it starts to lean, the bike almost seems to be saying, “Hey, I’m loving this!” And so you enjoy it too! “More corners, more corners!” (What? Did I change bikes? Is this still a cruiser?).
Of course I’m not talking about balls-out sports-bike type riding; if you want to do that, go back to the showroom and get an R1. I’m talking about normal, non-hoon, easy-fun old-bloke type riding. No doubt if you tried to ride it like an R1 you’d be disappointed. And you’d also be stupid! But this is a cruiser that has sat next to an R1 in the showroom and somehow picked up the idea that going around corners can be fun. How Yamaha achieved this I have no idea. But it did.
You don’t have to worry about ground-clearance either. Forward-controls help here, of course. I’m reliably told that the foot-boards (which are hinged) are the first thing to touch. But you’d be leaning it over a fair way before that happened I reckon.
The only criticism I could make – and it’s not really a criticism – is that you do feel the effect of the cruiser-type profile of the rear tyre, as the bike kind of climbs up on the shoulder of the tyre as you tip it in. But that sensation is only slight and doesn’t bother it or put it off-line.
The other area where the V-Star impresses – and again shuns typical cruiser characteristics – is the ride. It rides very well! The front is often okay, due to long raked-out forks, but cruisers are notorious for having short-travel harsh rear suspension. Part of the reason is that style dictates that the rear suspension be twin-shock. Traditional looks are a big part of any cruiser! Alternatively, you can use a mono-shock, hide it out of view, and style the swing-arm to make it look like it has no suspension at all! Very Trad! And that’s what Yamaha has done.
According to the specs, the rear travel is 113mm. That’s a lot better than most twin-shocks provide, but not a huge amount for a monoshock. Adjustability is limited to just preload on the back.
So it’s all a bit low-tech, but somehow it seems to work well. The usual thumps up the spine that happen on a cruiser just didn’t happen on this. Okay, I didn’t try it on any seriously rough roads, but I did take it on a very narrow and patchy back road. Prior to starting the test I had intended sticking mainly to smooth roads (not wanting to upset the old back), but when it displayed a comfortable ride around town I thought I’d take it on some rougher stuff to see just how good it was. I had a particular road in mind, but instead ended up on the afore-mentioned back road (which you can see above) while looking for somewhere to take photos.
The road had the usual bumps and roughly patched pot-holes, and the Yammie traversed it in admirable comfort. The rear monoshock is fairly soft, and it soaks up the bumps very well. The downside is that it can sometimes get a bit bouncy on lager dips and humps in the road; and I suppose it would limit just how far you could push the handling. But that’s okay; I’d rather have the odd bouncy moment, and less outright cornering power, for the sake of riding in comfort.
One of the cool things about riding the V-Star is seeing your reflection in the headlight.
Reflections are a big part of owning a cruiser – like watching your reflection in the shop windows and thinking, “How cool am I!” And on this Yammie you also see your reflection in the headlight as you ride along. You look down at the big chrome light and, “Hey, there I am at the controls of this big bike!” That’s kinda cool!
I suppose there’s no better recommendation than the bloke who sells them shelling out his hard-earned dollars and buying one for his own personal ride. Well, the sales manager at David Frasers didn’t buy one himself, but he was going to! Instead, he bought the XVS1300. For him, it was a case of a good thing but better. The 1100 was a good thing, and he said he would’ve been happy with that, but the extra power of the 1300 made it more attractive – for when you needed or wanted the extra grunt; such as when carrying a pillion etc. But he’s still a big fan of the 1100.
So, the V-Star 1100 is a great bike. No, actually, for a cruiser I reckon it’s a brilliant bike! I suppose it impressed me so much because it was so much better than I expected it to be. Being a cruiser I was expecting average performance, poor ride and pretty terrible handling. But it delivered a much better performance on all counts than I expected. It’ll do the laid-back cruise thing with ease and style; but it’ll also make you smile when you punt it through corners. And it does all that without rattling your teeth out! Throw in the usual high quality of manufacture that comes from Yamaha (it does have a good quality feel to it), and this really is a good thing!
Here’s how Yamaha describes the bike. “This exquisite incarnation of glittering cruiser metal is designed to go, stop and handle with assurance while you enjoy the peace of mind of genuine Yamaha engineering. Crank your cruising experience right up to 11, with V-Star 1100.” Well, you know what? I reckon that sums it up pretty well!
As the title suggests, this is a cruiser with class. (And I mean quality-type class, not just image-type class!). But it's got more than just class; it's got things that a lot of other cruisers don't have, like a comfortable ride, and surprisingly good handling. As I said above, as a cruiser it's brilliant!
There's the usual "dumbing-down" (as I described it) applied to the engine, so power is kind of minimal, but it's adequate for the type of bike it is.
In appearance it does the usual cruiser thing of lots of fancy chrome, and I reckon it looks great. It's also pretty cool, and you feel cool riding it. I'll let you argue over the "Milwaukee or Metric" question (see below), but for me, this works much better than anything I've ridden from Milwaukee.
As Yamaha says, "Crank your cruising experience up to 11!"
Engine: 2-cylinder, 1063cc. Power: 46kW at 5750rpm. Torque: 85Nm at 2500rpm.
Fuel capacity: 17 litres.
Weight: 285kg (with fuel).
Seat height: 710mm.
Wheels / Tyres: Front: 130 X 16, Rear: 170 X 15.
Brakes: Front: Twin 298mm discs. Rear: Single 282mm disc.
Cruisers have long been an important part of Yamaha’s model line-up; and you can trace the history back through the various models of Viragos that have been very popular down through the years. The current range stretches from a couple of 250 models (one of which is the last bike to retain the old Virago moniker) to the very popular mid-size 650, a 950 version, a couple of 1100s, a 1300, and then up to the 1900cc behemoth called the Roadliner.
At each capacity level the only difference between the models is slight styling variations. From one level to the next though, there is quite a bit of variation from a technical point. Final drive is chain on the littlies, then alternates between shaft and belt on the bigger models. Engine configuration varies from carbies to fuel-injection, and 2-valve heads to 4-valves. Single-overhead cams are the order of the day, except for the biggie, which makes do with an old-fashioned OHV set-up. Some models are air-cooled, some are liquid-cooled.
Styling is, of course, a big factor with cruisers. One thing I liked about the old Viragos was that they didn’t follow the usual Harley-clone styling trend. Some might’ve looked a bit weird (I always thought the old 1100 looked like it had collapsed in the middle!), but at least they were different. Now they all follow the usual Harley-look-alike approach.
I mentioned the sales manager owning a 1300. This might make you wonder what the specific differences are between the 1100 and the 1300; apart from the obvious thing, the 200cc bigger engine. Well, that extra 200cc translates into an extra 10kW of power; partly due, no doubt, to the fact it runs fuel-injection rather than the 1100’s carbies. Down the back there is a belt-drive rather than the 1100’s shaft. One difference you notice when you sit on the 1300 is the extra weight. According to the specs it’s “only” an extra 18kg, but it feels a bit more. To me, when you sit on the 1100 it feels heavy but easy to manage, whereas the 1300 feels like the weight might be more difficult – it’s a fair lump of motorcycle to haul around! But the extra power and sophistication of fuel-injection would be good.
MILWAUKEE OR METRIC?
The XVS 1100 – and its similarly-styled siblings – look like Harleys, but come in at about half the price of the bikes that inspire their look and style. So do you go for the Milwaukee original, or the metric copy?
Well, if you’re asking the question, the answer is easy; you’d go metric! But it’s not that simple. Harleys, as it’s often said, can’t really be compared with other bikes. Because they’re more than just a motorcycle, they’re a lifestyle. There is an image, a sound, a feel, a “soul” almost, that is unique to Harley Davidson. And if you want that uniqueness that is Harley Davidson, then the Japanese alternatives pretty much pale into insignificance. They don’t have the same image and presence, the same “character” that is Harley Davidson. They’re like a photographic print of a genuine oil-painting – they look similar, but they lack the raw character of the original. So if this is you, well, you wouldn’t even consider the “pretender”!
If you’re not drawn into that exclusive world of Harley Davidson though, if you compare the bikes from a purely objective standpoint, then it’s a whole different ball-game! Harleys might be smoother now than they were, but the vibration will still rattle your teeth and anything else that’s not bolted down. The handling is meant for straight roads only; the gearboxes feel like they came out of a tractor; the ride, once they venture beyond smooth highways, varies from poor to atrocious; and even reliability sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The Japanese, by comparison, are smooth and sophisticated. They perform better as an all-round motorcycle, and they’re generally better-built, than the Milwaukee iron. If they were equal in price it’d be a no-brainer; at around half the price, well, there isn’t even a question!
So it depends on who you are and what you’re looking for. Now, I get Harleys. I really do. But for me personally, well, from what I’ve written here (and in other tests) I think you probably know where I stand.
CRUISERS AND ERGONOMICS
As I explained in my test of the Triumph Speedmaster,the typical cruiser riding-position (especially with forward-controls) is ergonomically wrong. That’s a fact. Just ask a physiotherapist.
Sitting upright with your arms and legs poking out forwards encourages your back to slump. And it places all your weight on the end of your spine. Not good! Acceleration tends to increase the bad posture; because with the bottom of your body held in place by the curvature of the seat, and the top of your body held in place by your arms outstretched to the bars, the only thing that can move is the centre of your body. So on acceleration the middle of your body tends to be thrown back, exacerbating the backwards curvature, or slump. As I said, ergonomically, this is all wrong! And for me, with my dodgy old back, there’s no way I could live with this style of bike.
But, it has to be said that many people cope quite well with seating-positions that are ergonomically wrong. For example, many lounges are very poorly designed from a strictly ergonomic point, but their owners sit on them quite comfortably. And I know that a lot of people find the feet-out-front cruiser position quite good and suffer no ill-effects at all; in fact many prefer it to the "normal" sports / sportstourer type position. So it is very much an individual thing.
Well, as of the end of 2012 / beginning 2013, nothing has changed except the paint. Yamaha do that with several of their models, they change the paint for the new model, but everything else stays the same. Paint is now what they call "Raven and Cream". That's kind of like black-and-white, or black-and-cream I suppose. I like the red of this one a lot better! Anyway, other than the colour, everything remains the same as above.
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