2011 Yamaha V-Star 950
Let's face it, most cruisers are just way too big. Does anyone really need two 55 cubic inch cylinders powering a single human being down a highway? Sometimes it seems that the whole essence of modern cruisering is to thump your way through town to show that you're king of the castle and the epitome of cool. That's fine since it's obvious some people need the validation on the street from total strangers. However, if you happen to be a motorcycle rider who appreciates the retro metric cruiser look but don't need to wrestle ungainly bulk around powered by Buick Estate Station Wagon sized pistons, there are precious few choices. The competition is only the Honda 750 Shadow series, the slightly bigger Suzuki 800 Boulevards, and the somewhat bigger Kawasaki 900 Vulcans. The 2011 Yamaha V-Star 950 thus is the king of the class castle itself, and merits a close look by anyone interested in a midsized metric cruiser.
Although motorcycle manufacturers are wont to round up their displacements to fit various pre-conceived classes Yamaha resisted this temptation with the 942cc, four-valve, SOHC, V-Twin power plant. Too big to be a 900 and too small for a one-liter nomenclature, the V-Star became a 950, possibly only to differentiate it from the Vulcan.
The V-Star 950 is certainly class-leading in most respects. The seat height is a righteously low 26.6 inches. The five speed tranny has been totally redesigned for 2011 to better match the engine's impressive torque curve. The engine itself is so well engineered that it's one of the few V-twins that does not feature a counterbalancer. Surprisingly, it's also the only metric cruiser in the class that is air cooled and thus lacks the bulk, weight, and complexity of the water cooling systems found on the competing models.
The styling overall is fairly typical of metric cruisers, but there are some styling anomalies that can't simply be overlooked. For some reason Yamaha has chosen to leave a gaping opening behind the triple clamp. Certainly the inspiration was taken from the old Ironhead Sportsters where the peanut tank was set far back from the tree, but in this iteration it just looks like the front end is only connected to the rest of the bike by an oversize rubber band. The left side cantilever, swingarm and belt cover assembly looks like a left over prop from a Frankenstein movie. The ludicrously disproportionately small sidecover doesn't seem to have the Star logo set straight. The purple psychedelic dust wafting along the tank and rear fender looks like the owner was experimenting with his first airbrush kit. While you're hallucinating the body color headlight shell brings back nightmares of the 1968 Yamaha YDS5E. All in all a B for styling effort and a D- for execution.
The 2011 Yamaha V-Star 950 is very close to the best metric mid-cruiser around. With a bit of inspired tweaking, the 2011 model could easily be #1.
2011 Yamaha V-Star 950 At A Glance
Base MSRP: $10,999
Engine Displacement: 942 cc
Engine Type: 4-stroke, air-cooled, SOHC, 8-valve, 60 degree, V-twin
Bore & Stroke: 85 x 83mm
Ignition Type: TCI / Electric
Compression Ratio: 9:1
Transmission Type: 5 speed
Final Drive Type: Belt
Front Tire: 130/70 x 18
Rear Tire: 170/70 x 16
Wheelbase: 1,685mm (66.3")
Saddle Height: 675mm (26.6")
Curb Dry Weight: 278kg (611.6lb)
Fuel Capacity (US): 16.7 litres
* Specs/pix apply to 2010 model, updates as released