When the all-new 1985 Yamaha V-Max VMX1200 was rolled out, many hailed it as the ascendant king of the power cruiser class—or the hypercruiser class, if you like.
Owners of the Honda V65 Sabre and Magna introduced a year earlier would strongly differ with that characterization. After all, the Honda V4 had six speeds to the Yamaha’s five, it didn’t require a gear-driven counterbalancer, which the Yamaha had to stanch vibration from its 70-degree V4, and you could get a frame-mounted fairing for the Sabre model.
Either way, both bikes had much to recommend to riders who wanted smooth sophistication with a bare-knuckle punch when required. We looked at how the V-Max and V65 Sabre compare—and differ—a while back. Turns out, there were more differences than similarities, so it left us thinking they weren’t in direct competition for the same riders as one might think.
How I came to have a 2002 Yamaha V-Max is a story in itself. In 2018, I had put money down on a brand-new Royal Enfield 650 INT. By early 2019, the delivery date of the bikes with the Glitter and Dust (chrome) tank was indefinitely delayed. I was offered the option of continuing to wait or get my deposit back. With some regret, I took the latter option.
Soon after, I found a bike for sale at the roadside—the bike that would be my 2002 Yamaha V-Max. My V-Max purchase was an impulse buy, and I promised then to let you know if it worked out, so here goes.
Since I got this V-Max, I’ve come to realize it has a vast range of capabilities. While it can deliver brutal acceleration on-demand unlike any bike I’ve ever ridden, it is also easy to putter along on back roads all day at 45 or 50 mph and able to lug from near walking pace up to highway speed without working every gear in the box.
To that extent, the V-Max is at once mechanically sophisticated and simple to ride. Want to pull some serious acceleration without even having to downshift? No problem.
This particular 2002 Yamaha V-Max is not bone stock. Morley frame stiffeners and a deep-dish lower seat have been added. It has a UFO fork brace, and drag bars with bar-end mirrors replaced the stock items. The center stand is gone, and an adjustable side stand has been added. LED turn signals replaced the stock items. A Nelson-Rigg expandable tank bag has been adapted for use as a tail bag, while a vintage leather fork bag helps with tools and other items.
Its liquid-cooled DOHC V4 has been fettled by Motorcycle Performance in Madison, Wisc. A UFO 4-into-2 high-performance exhaust system is part of the package, and the V-Boost system has been reset to engage at 4750 rpm instead of 6000. The Motorcycle Performance Dynojet report for the bike after tuning and mods shows 118 corrected rear-wheel horsepower.
Some may say, “Wait a minute! Those bikes put out 145 horsepower bone stock!” Well, no. That number is unlikely, even at the crankshaft (aka brake horsepower). The 145-horsepower number most likely had its origins in the marketing department, not engineering. The V-Max test in the May 1985 issue of Cycle World magazine reported that Yamaha claimed 143 horsepower for the engine, presumably at the crank. That test did not include chassis dyno (corrected rear-wheel horsepower) or crankshaft horsepower data.
Larry Webb of PDQ Motorcycle Developments, known for high-output V-Max work, was clear on this point. Webb was quoted by Visordown in January 1993 as saying, “There’s a lot of hype around the V-Max engine, and a lot of rubbish. Yamaha claimed 145 BHP, but a stock bike will make 110 HP at the wheel, but you can tune them.”
Of course, the hype over the V-Max’s power and performance was not entirely unwarranted. In that same issue of Cycle World, a V-Max was flogged at the drag strip with two professional riders, and the stock production model achieved a jaw-dropping quarter-mile top speed of 128.75 mph! The article proclaimed the V-Max achieved “the fastest quarter-mile time ever run by a production bike: 10.32 seconds.” ’Nuff said.
Knowing that my particular V-Max has had the V-Boost feature reset to deploy at 4750 rpm instead of the 6000 rpm factory setting makes being aware of throttle management a little more critical. Exiting corners in third gear with the revs already up makes the thing want to launch pretty hard.
Township roads hereabouts can have fine sand and gravel on the blacktop in the corners from combines and other huge farm machines whose wheels tend to drop off the inside edge of the pavement in corners and kick that stuff onto the pavement. That makes cornering potentially sketchy under the best of circumstances, and having a motorcycle that wants to lift the front tire and spin the rear on exit, even more so. As a result, I mind the throttle to make both entry and exit smooth and even.
Like many motorcycles with mega-motors, the stock V-Max rarely earned much praise for handling in anything but a straight line. On my bike, some of the potential sources of handling problems have been dealt with. The forks have been bolstered with a UFO fork brace, and frame flex has been addressed by the installation of Morley frame stiffeners. Michelin Commander II tires provide traction.
I have no experience jamming an original-equipment V-Max into high-speed corners, so I don’t have a basis for comparison with mine. However, I can say sending my V-Max into corners at brisk speeds can be done with no wobble, oscillation, or loss of line. Cornering clearance is more than adequate for my style of riding—no knee-dragging here. Hard braking is stable and predictable, whether in a straight line or cornering.
Some period reviews of the Yamaha V-Max gave only faint praise to the brakes. Perhaps on a closed course on a track day, where the V-Max is pushed hard into corner after corner, they may not match what some superbikes can deliver in deceleration. Otherwise, this V-Max stops just fine. The progressive stopping power from the front 298mm discs; the 282mm rear disc is equally predictable, with no tendency to lock.
In the years I’ve owned the V-Max, about the only foible I’ve encountered is the difficulty getting the bike to shift into neutral when stopped. It’s easier if I shift into neutral while still moving. Otherwise, shifting is smooth and positive.
The only improvement I would like for the five-speed transmission is a sixth-speed overdrive, as was done on the Honda V65. The V-Max’s V4 has plenty of torque to use an overdrive without necessitating a lot of downshifting on hills or for high-speed passing throttle roll-on. A higher gear would have helped with gas mileage.
The day I sat down to start this article, I did a fuel consumption check and found that in just routine city/highway riding—no V-Boost engaging hard runs—my V-Max managed only 35 mpg. That is on par with period road tests that considered fuel economy after the reviewers recovered from hyperventilating at the drag strip. But heck, my Buick Encore can do that on the highway!
Of course, a six-speed gearbox would have added to the already somewhat bulky weight of the machine, which in stock form is over 600 pounds with the four-gallon tank filled. Given a choice between higher mpg and lower ET at the strip, I’d have taken lower fuel bills.
While locating the gas tank under the seat is a great way to lower the bike’s center of gravity, I still can’t help but feel the procedure at the gas pump is a little weird. People sometimes stop and stare when I’m bent over the back of the bike, reaching down to find the lever near the top of each shock mount. The two levers must be pushed ahead simultaneously to make the mid-section of the three-piece saddle pop up to allow access to the locking gas cap. Their curiosity is piqued when they observe me shoving the gas filler nozzle into the cavity under the seat. It works fine, but it’s just weird.
Riding the Yamaha V-Max has proven the bike is easy to get along with in virtually any situation. Living with it long-term is just about as effortless, with only minor exceptions. For example, servicing the air filter proved to be quick and easy but changing the V-Max's battery—well, that is something else.
As its name implies, the V-Max was built for maximum performance. Even to this day, a 20-year-old example can probably still outperform the riding capabilities of many casual riders—myself included. With performance modifications, such as those in my example, that becomes even more likely.
Still, my 2022 Yamaha V-Max proves that high performance can be built into a well-mannered, easy-to-ride package that holds up over time.
Gary Ilminen Custom 2002 Yamaha V-Max Specs
- Type: 70-degree V4 w/ gear-driven counterbalancer
- Displacement: 1198cc
- Bore x stroke: 76 x 66mm:
- Corrected rear-wheel maximum power: 118 horsepower @ 8000 rpm (Motorcycle Performance Dynojet)
- Compression ratio: 10.5:1
- Valvetrain: DOHC; 4vpc
- Fueling: Four 35mm Mikuni downdraft-type carburetors w/ V-Boost
- Ignition: CDI
- Exhaust system: UFO [tuned 4-into-2]
- Cooling: Liquid
- Transmission: 5-speed
- Clutch: Hydraulically actuated diaphragm-type
- Final drive: Shaft
- Chassis: Double-cradle w/ Morley frame braces
- Front suspension; travel: Air-adjustable KYB 40mm fork w/ UFO fork brace; 5.5 inches
- Rear suspension; travel: Rebound damping and spring-preload adjustable KYB shocks; 3.3 inches
- Tires: Michelin Commander II (current)
- Front tire: 110/90 x 18
- Rear tire: 150/90 x 15
- Brakes Front: 298mm disc w w/ 2-piston calipers
- Brakes Rear: 282mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
- Wheelbase: 65.6 inches
- Rake: 29 degrees
- Trail: 4.7 inches
- Seat height: 30.1 inches (lowered seat height: 28 inches)
- Claimed dry weight: 578 pounds
- Current average fuel consumption: 36 mpg in normal riding conditions
- Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gallons
- Carbon fiber bodywork and fender
- Bar-end mirrors
- Drag bars
- Stainless-steel braided hydraulic lines
- Michelin Commander II tires
- Adjustable sidestand
- LED taillight and rear turn signals