The Impulse V-Max Buy: Everything Happens For a Reason

2002 Yamaha V-Max
This is the 2002 V-Max as it sat by the road for sale. Thoughts of missing out on the Royal Enfield Interceptor began to fade.

The Impulse V-Max Purchase

The last Friday in May 2019 seemed likely to go down in my recent motorcycle history as a real bummer. I had just canceled my order for a 2019 Royal Enfield 650 INTerceptor. I was really looking forward to getting that bike, too.

The first ride articles about it from all sources seemed very positive and I felt good enough about the first-year build quality and features on the bike, I had already placed a $2,000 deposit on one with the glitter and dust livery back in October of last year. I had also planned to add a Slipstreamer Spitfire windshield, saddlebags and S&S Cycle slip-on silencers and high-performance intake package developed just for the Interceptor.

2002 Yamaha V-Max
This is the 2002 V-Max as it sat by the road for sale. Thoughts of missing out on the Royal Enfield Interceptor began to fade.

When I placed my order delivery timelines in the U.S. from their point of origin in India were uncertain, and, as it turned out, the glitter and dust option would not be available until August. Out of a great sense of fairness to their customers, the Royal Enfield folks (I had placed the order for mine via the dealership co-located in the corporate headquarters for Royal Enfield North America contacted me to let me know of the likely delivery timeline and offered the return of my deposit—which has been done.

Much as I wanted one of the new Royal Enfield 650cc twins that were introduced for the world market back in 2017, I just felt that waiting on one till August wasn’t in the cards. I rationalized that there’s always next year or the year after—and besides, any new-model bugs that might come up would be worked out. That said, I still hated cancelling the order.

So, later that same day, to console myself on the outcome, I took my Triumph for a ride out on CTH B in Sauk county—one of my favorite ride routes through scenic rolling Wisconsin farm country. I hadn’t gone ten miles when something happened that goes to prove that everything happens for a reason.

There on the side of the road was motorcycle with a “For Sale” sign posted in the lawn beside it. Out of idle curiosity, I pulled over for a closer look and much to my surprise was the brawny-as-a-buffalo shape of a Yamaha V-Max. There was an immediate disturbance in the Force.

V-max luggage
I felt saddlebags just didn’t fit the V-Max persona. For most day-tripping, I wanted a tail bag—one designed for the Can-Am Spyder filled the bill.

As I got a closer look, the black and silver color shifted slightly to reveal fenders and top cover of carbon fiber weave. This was no run-of-the-mill V-Max—it was a 2002 Carbon V-Max. The seat had an unusually deep curve, having been lowered in the past—a particularly attractive feature for me with my rather low personal rear axle.

An all-stainless-steel after-market four-into-two exhaust system had replaced the stock pipes somewhere along the way. LED lights and chrome drag bars with bar-end mirrors added individualistic details. It even came with a Dale Walker Holeshot frame stiffener set already in place to help this V-Max handle the high-speed twisties better.

It gleamed with only 14,700 miles on the clock and had a set of new Michelin Commander II tires like the ones we completed a long-term test on last year.

I knew I was emotionally vulnerable and on the rebound after the loss of the beloved Interceptor. I should be careful to not over-commit and rush into anything.

Then the owner and I talked for a while about it, he pointed out some of the bike’s subtle touches, including a helmet lock that actually came as standard equipment, stainless steel braided hydraulic lines, and that a Clymer V-Max shop manual, the original owner’s manual, center stand and other miscellaneous items were included. I was weakening.

Then he went for the coup-de-grace; he started the thing up. The big 1,198cc (73.1c.i.) four-stroke V-4 mill was obviously breathing with very little restriction on the outlet side. The low, staccato rumble at idle and wild bellow when revved up reminded me of my brother’s Plymouth dirt-track stock car with a 318 c.i. V-8 from back in the day.

V-Max Carbon-Fiber gas tank
Light, strong, pricey. The V-Max Carbon hood locks on with the ignition key

The bike fit me—or did I fit it? No matter. The whole bike was obviously meticulously cared for—the engine, drive line, everything was so clean I could have eaten off them. Owning a V-Max had been a long-held thought, but the right one at the right price at the right time never came along. Until that moment. On raw impulse, I pulled out my wallet: “Will eighty bucks in cash right now and the rest tomorrow in cash take down the for-sale sign?” The owner smiled and we shook on it. At last I had one of those badass V-Maxes!

Yamaha’s V-Max was the company’s 1985 roundhouse kick to the Honda VF1100S Sabre and VF1100C Magna that had been rolled out the year before. While the Sabre was configured to lend itself to conventional sport touring applications and the Magna was decidedly a power-cruiser, the V-Max design comes off as a cross between a street fighter and conventional road bike—or maybe something altogether different. And, in a neat turn of events, I already own a VF1100S Sabre—and have since 2011. Having each of them could provide for an interesting comparison.

Of course, the styling was over the top and all these years later, with that radical set of faux air-scoops up where the faux tank is, it can still kick-start a conversation. It makes me think if top fuel drag racing legend, Don Garlits ever designed a road bike, I think it might come out a lot like the V-Max.

VMAX Airbox 2002
Under the carbon fiber hood is the coolant expansion tank, fuse box and the air box.

The man at the tip of the spear in designing the V-Max was Akira Araki, General Manager of Yamaha motorcycle operations in Japan. The design team included members from the U.S. Ed Burke and John Reed. In a period interview, Araki summed up the objective of the V-Max design very bluntly, which was to have its sales debut in North America: “American Hotrod.”

Between the Honda V-4 powered bikes and the Yamaha V-4 machines such as the V-Max, it was clear that the days of the air-cooled in-line four UJM powerplant as the dominant machines were all but over. Of course, the in-line fours have continued to be very popular in the years since the V-4 fever of the 1980s, but they haven’t regained the dominant market position they had in the 1970s.

One of the innovations Yamaha rolled out with the V-Max was a way to increase power output from the intake side called “V-Boost.”

V-Boost is comprised of four intake manifolds that converge at a valve assembly consisting of twin butterfly valves. The valves separate a common intake circuit that fuels the two cylinders on each side of the engine; cylinders one and two on the left side, cylinders three and four on the right. With the valves closed, each cylinder is fueled by one carburetor, but when engine speed reaches 6,000 RPM, a servo actuator system progressively opens the butterfly valves allowing each cylinder to be fueled by two carburetors on the intake stroke. As the RPMs increase, the valve opening increases up to a maximum of 8,000 RPM when the valves reach fully open.

This nifty system is reputed to enable a net horsepower gain of about 10 percent with a minimal increase in weight and complexity. As you may imagine, it correspondingly adds to the bike’s thirst for fuel, resulting in average MPG numbers between 33 and 36 mpg, but of course, your mileage may vary as they say.

Unlike the Honda V-4s with an included angle of 90°, the Yamaha V-4 has an included angle of 70°, which makes for a more compact engine, but also loses the near-perfect primary balance that can be achieved with a 90° configuration, so the Yamaha has a gear-driven balancer; an item not necessary in the Honda design.

trumpets on VMAX
There isn’t universal agreement that deer whistles actually work to prevent collisions with deer, but as inexpensive as they are, I figure if they work even once, they more than paid for themselves.

The Honda VF1100S displaced almost exactly 100cc less than the V-Max did through the V-Max’s engine update in 2008 for the 2009 model year, when the VMAX (as it became designated at the time) went up to 1,679cc. The VF1100S displaces 1,098cc the original V-Max through the upgrade displaced 1,198cc.

The road test of the VF1100S that appeared in Cycle magazine in 1984 included the results of dyno testing. According to the tests, the VF1100S produced 101.98 corrected hp at the rear wheel. My new-to-me V-Max had been put to the test on the dyno at Motorcycle Performance in Madison, WI a few years back and put out 118.11 corrected rear-wheel horsepower. Back when I started riding, if you owned a motorcycle that could put out 100+ horsepower, you were probably a professional motorcycle racer. Today, having two in my garage that can do it while maintaining everyday easy riding status is just amazing. In any event, both bikes are more than ample for my riding needs.

Both bikes are shaft-drive but the Honda has six speeds to the Yamaha’s five. My Sabre is equipped with the optional frame-mounted fairing with panniers, but the lowers were not included with the bike and neither were the matching hard bags. Ironically, I have adapted a set of Yamaha Star semi-rigid throw-over bags to the Honda and they work very well.

The current version of the VMAX.

is fuel injected and as a result, the V-Boost technology is no longer in use. Nowadays, the monster is fed using what Yamaha calls the YCC-I and YCC-T. The Yamaha Chip Controlled Intake (YCC-I) has airhorns inside the airbox that are lifted by a servo activated at 6,650 rpm to shorten the length of the intake system from 150 mm to 52 mm.

In the Yamaha Chip Controlled Throttle (YCC-T) the throttle cables are connected to a throttle position sensor and a computer, which operates the butterfly valves, the EXUP valve in the exhaust and the other components involved, such as the igniter unit, and the YCC-I lifter unit. The YCC-T system computes the input of the sensors and calculates the best throttle position, ignition advance, EXUP valve and injection time in milliseconds.

v-max engine size
The Dale Walker Holeshot Frame Stiffener is apparently in response to long-standing frame-flex legend.

Taken together with the increase in displacement, and an 11.3:1 compression ratio, the present-day VMAX stomps out around 200 claimed hp and 123 lb/ft. torque.

So, all that background aside, how does my 2002 V-Max hold up to all the horsepower hype? Well, I don’t do track days, so I can’t say I’ve taken the V-Max anywhere near its performance red zone. And, having ridden the Honda Sabre for eight years, which can put out some pretty serious acceleration and top speed in its own right, I guess I can say I’ve learned to respect high-output bikes.

The best throttle rule I’ve found with bikes that can generate very high output very quickly is the same as dealing with an unarmed encounter with a black bear in the woods: don’t do anything sudden; be smooth and calm. Right from the outset, though, I can say the V-Max lives up to its billing as an acceleration beast when you want it to.

The deep saddle fits me well and allows my feet to be planted firmly on both sides of the bike at the same time—a thing I can’t quite do on my taller Sabre. Handling is precise, stable and easy with the V-Max with its low center of gravity and 62.6” wheelbase. The non-stock drag bars have proven more tractable and comfy than I had thought they would be. I had anticipated replacing them but now I’m not so sure.

I can’t comment on the handling difference between a bone stock V-Max of this vintage and one equipped with the Holeshot frame brace kit, not having ridden a V-Max hard in the corners without the frame brace. I’m not sure I’ve ever pushed one of my bikes of any brand or model hard enough in the corners to make a case on frame flex one way or the other. I’ve ridden some bikes that don’t seem to hold a clean line in tight corners, but in most cases, it seemed to me to be potentially the effect of too-soft suspension, road conditions, or less-than-perfect technique on my part.

No motorcycle is perfect as delivered. In the case of the V-Max, I immediately set to work perfecting it—to my view, anyway. First, I needed some cargo capacity, but somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to consider adding saddlebags. What it needed was a smallish, aerodynamic rigid tail bag. I found what I needed from Vetesnik’s Power Sports in Richland Center.

v-max horsepower 2002
Tail bag in place, the new-to-me Carbon V-Max now has room for its owner’s manual, registration & insurance docs, a home-made tool kit, my camera and more.

They are not only a Yamaha dealer, they deal in Honda, Suzuki, and BRP Can-Am products, among others. There I found a sleek tail bag that seemed like it was made for the V-Max even though it is actually made for the Can-Am Spyder. I had to add a few inches to the mounting straps, but with that done, the V-Max had a little take-along room for my road gear. The other modification: deer whistles—a must for riding around in Wisconsin’s excellent whitetail deer habitat.

True, not the kind of modifications that show much mechanical derring-do on my part, but functional improvements nonetheless.

Sometimes impulse buying of anything can prove unwise. On the other hand, this whole V-Max vs. INTerceptor thing seemed meant to be. The right bike seemed to appear in exactly the right moment. Which will it be in the long run—unwise impulse buy or happy turn of destiny? I’ll keep you posted.

V-max and Sabre
The difference in engine included V angle is easy to compare: the Honda V65 Sabre’s 90 degree engine layout vs the Yamaha’s 70 degrees. The V-Max’s lowered saddle is also evident.