Power play – Yamaha VMAX

Icon is an overused word, but the Yamaha VMAX comes as close as anything on two wheels to deserving that description, writes Jane Omorogbe


A QUARTER of a century – that’s how long we have waited for the second-generation Yamaha VMAX. The original was known for having rocket-like power that was as mismatched to the bike’s handling as Lisa Marie Presley was to Michael Jackson.


Times change and bikes evolve, so while this new monster bears all the hallmarks of its infamous heritage, it’s a totally new machine. But that doesn’t make it any less bonkers.


The sudden explosion of power as you wind the throttle back can only be likened to those fairground catapults that turn you into a human projectile. The rear is fat, the wheelbase is long and the bike carries its centre of gravity lower than a snake. Even with 123lb/ft of torque, you’re likely to see Wigan lift the Premiership title before you’ll see the front wheel rise.


It’s all about laying the power down with a knockout rip of a punch. The engine is an all-new 1,679cc V4 with that massive torque punch and 197bhp at 9,000rpm. That’s a lot of power – the same as Ducati’s £42,000 Desmosedici RR – so expect the rubber to suck in cat’s-eyes and spit them out behind like bitter lemon pips. You’re also likely to need a couple of new rear tyres every year.


Nothing feels quite like this; it’s ludicrous, hilarious – and expensive.


But let’s pretend for a moment that you do have a spare 16 grand burning a hole in your pocket and that you do want a head-turning beast of a bike to administer your weekend shot of adrenaline or make you laugh until your cheeks hurt, or massage your ego. If that’s the case, the VMAX has been built especially for you.


Let’s not pretend that the bike will carve through the countryside quite as successfully as it does in a straight line. However, it is fairly capable, and more so than you would expect given its sheer size. For slow-speed work – even U-turns – the bike feels steady and the steering lock is fairly good.


At a faster pace, you’ll need to take command of the wide bars. Work with the bike’s natural balance and the VMAX will happily fall through bends, although keeping it leaned over on rough surfaces at speed (which you will be) challenges the bike’s suspension.


I hit a rut several times and felt my rear lose contact with the bike’s. The obvious solution would be to slow down. But, somehow, that’s never the most attractive course of action. So I hooked my knees under the 15-litre tank’s protruding lips (the capacity of which suggests this bike is more suited to short, adrenalin-packed mini trips than longer adventures) and took a more authoritative stance. If you can avoid potholes and bumps, the bike handles well enough to explore the ample ground clearance before charging full steam ahead once more.


Speed – there I go again. Perhaps it would be best to join a «run what you brung» club because I can’t see how on Earth you could own a bike like this and not let it off the leash once in a while. The top speed is capped at 137mph, but you’ll still get through a quarter-mile run with your head held high. Not only is it fast in a straight line, it’s steady, too, and even waggling the bars does little to unsettle it.


At some time, you may want to slow down or, dare I suggest, stop pummelling your internal organs. Thankfully, the anchors do a respectable job of hauling the 310kg motorised monster to a standstill.


As luck would have it, my ride consisted of a trip around Bedfordshire’s countryside and a few laps of the Autodrome. Hooking the bike out of a first-gear corner on track, an instructor on a Yamaha R6 slipped into my peripheral vision. No way would I gift the pass to him; he’d have to work for it.


I wrestled the VMAX upright and snapped the throttle back, tucking down as the supersports bike failed dismally to compete with my maxed-out missile until we got to the corner.


With the turn rushing towards me with alarming speed, I shut the throttle, squeezed the right lever and scrubbed just enough speed to slice through the right-hander, kissing the rumble strip raggedly on the way out.


The R6 had, meanwhile, comprehensively out-braked me, kissed the apex and was now nowhere in sight. Back in the pits, the instructor sought me out.


«My God, that thing’s fast,» he said.


He had a charged look in his eyes – the one that victims have in the X Files when they can’t quite believe what they have just witnessed. He wasn’t the only one.


Model: Yamaha VMAX, £16,120

Engine: Liquid-cooled, 65-degree V4 of 1,679cc, producing 197bhp at 9,000rpm and 123lb/ft at 6,500rpm

Transmission: Shaft drive through five-speed gearbox

Dry weight: 310kg

Seat height: 775mm

Fuel capacity: 15 litres

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