The Yamaha Vmax is the motorcycle equivalent of Chuck Norris on a kicking spree - it won't let up till you can take no more. When launched in 1985, the VMax created a storm of garguantuan proportions in the motorcycle world. Here was a bike that thrived in the thrill of going in any direction you might point it, as long as it was straight ahead. Judging from that fact alone, it's no wonder really that the VMax was designed and consequently first launched in the US of A, the only place in the world where the roads don't ever take a turn. So if you've missed an exit on the US superslab, you'll just have to ride straight ahead, cut through Russia, then come back to where you had begun and have another go.
Motorcyclists love the twisties, but the VMax rider will have none of that. He'll pulverise every crotch rocket in the race to the next stop light. He wants his shots of thrust straight up, just like that. And he wants them in the largest quantities possible. This was the motorcycle for the megalomaniac, the only thing on two wheels that could satisfy that heady feeling which only commanding near-limitless power can bring. They used to say, with much awe and respect, that the rear tyres on the Vmax 'led short but exciting lives'. In a plume of smoke, those tyres reached up to the Gods and yes, they were amply pleased. Yamaha was on to something - the Vmax, when launched, was something that couldn't quite fit into motorcycle genres of the time. Cruiser? Er, no. Sports bike? Nope again. Adventure/trailee? Not by a stretch. This was the bike that was the Mopar Challenger of the bike world. And a new breed of motorcycle was born - the muscle bike. There are two known ways of making you experience the exhilaration of acceleration, the sheer kick of being shot out of a cannon. The first method is to use a relatively puny engine and employ some crafty tricks like hiding the bike behind a veil of aerodynamic body work. But the second one's more, how do I say it, direct. Just get shot out of a cannon! Simple. Talk to any bloke lucky enough have serenaded the Vmax, and he'll speak of vicious spinal whiplash when the throttle was wrung, and paralytic-like conditions brought about by scary handling as soon as the straight began to curve. Yamaha had created a rocket ship of an engine and seemingly had a good laugh when they fitted it onto a roller skate. The dark humour of the eighties, I tell you.
A twin shock rear end and two spaghetti thin forks at the front end didn't improve matters for the VMax rider. As if that wasn't enough, the Yamaha's wheezy brakes and tyre technology (despite having the thickest rear tyre fitted on any production motorcycle of the time) couldn't quite keep up with the barrage of the 143 horses pouring out from the transverse V-4, 16 valve, DOHC motor. But just like the Japanese puffer fish, the VMax had plenty of takers willing to enthusiastically lap up potential termination. Its tendency to obliterate had made it a delicacy. And a legend. The Vmax was an icon, and as with all things of this nature, sequels hardly ever live up to the original, or so you'd think. When you start up the 2010 VMAX (yes, this one's in all-caps), you just know it's not the one that mother dearest warned you about. This bike's muted, as if Yamaha sent it to a good finishing school in, er, France. It's gentle sounding and you could let it idle near your baby all day and all the kid will do is drool in his sleep. That's all part of this Yamaha's game. It's calm, propped on the stand, just like a ticking time-bomb.
Have the misfortune of whacking open that throttle without caution, and you're going to land on your butt. That's if you're lucky to land at all. Sure, you can ride this Yamaha around like a puny moped, but you need to know how to keep that throttle-friendly right wrist in check. And this is why I say this. Having lived with the original Vmax for a week (long story, best kept for later), I was eager to see how this new namesake responds to some good whacking of the accelerator.
That's when this V4 bared its fangs. Far from being the pussycat that it seemed till now, it leapt up, violently pushed my rear end to the furthermost portion of the seat and flung my organs into the back of my ribcage. Beads of sweat trickled down my brow, stinging my eyes as they coped to judge distance and scan for obstacles on the road, all of this at warp speed. Fear turned to pure panic as a cab, its driver oblivious to what was coming at him, took a U-turn and lumbered along in the middle of the road. I swept around the right of the shabby black and yellow lump of metal and got back right in the lane I was in - all this in the blink of an eye. Holy flipping jack rabbits! This thing was actually agile! Far cry from the old 'Max, that's for sure. Here's why. Compared to the double-cradle steel tube setup of the first Vmax, this one's light years ahead. Gone is the old frame that was as firm as jelly. Now, the new VMAX boasts of an all new cast aluminium frame that utilizes the engine as a stressed member. The pokey twin shocks have been given the boot, and a fully adjustable monoshock does sterling duty, springing on a cast aluminium swingarm at the rear. Jittery braking is a thing of the past, with top spec callipers biting onto a duo of 320 mm wave discs at the front and a lone 298 mm disc at the rear. For those who want even more kid-glove reassuring, there's ABS available too.
Those in pursuit of a land speed record ought to get something with clothes and not a naked brute like the VMAX. With an electronically-limited top whack of 220 kph, the VMAX is no match for supersports machines that would easily grab the award for the loftiest speed. But the reason behind the VMAX is not pinnacle velocity but how insanely you get to that figure. Er, wait a minute. Did I just mention something that sounded like 'electronically limited'? Yes, I did. But that's no reason to fret, really. Yamaha has been kind enough to arrange for a more accommodating nanny who refuses to play spoil sport when you rev the motor into the red in every gear. The system will restrict top speed in the final gear alone, but when it senses you're on the boil and intending to whip the motorcycle raw, the limit is lifted to about 230 kph. Here's a big thank you going out to Yamaha for being so considerate – now get rid of the limiter already! The VMAX's motor has grown in size, the 65-degree V4 now displacing a heavy 1679cc (up from the 1198cc of its predecessor) and producing a phenomenal 197 horses with 17 kgm of sheer fling. How it does all of this is through some cool gadget trickery. Called the YCC-I, this system employs a chip-controlled intake that varies the dimensions of the intake funnels from 54 mm right up to 150 mm, with the transition happening from 6650 rpm onwards. Fuel injection makes the intricate and time-consuming process of balancing the carbs a distant memory. Throttle-by-wire delivers the spine-snapping power more smoothly and more instantly, while a 5-speed gearbox puts down all that shove to the rear 200/50-R18 76V tyre through a shaft drive. Yes, it's always been about pure distilled power with the VMAX and the good news is that it still continues to be just that.
The best part is that Yamaha has made all this beef now well within reach. Sure, it will cost you Rs 20 lakh ex-showroom, Mumbai, but still, its available on Indian shores. This is a motorcycle that deserves severe respect because despite its seemingly child-proofed edges, let your guard down even momentarily and Mr Max will kick you real hard where it hurts the most. So even if your bank balance can handle it, you have to remember that with great power comes even greater responsibility. But Chuck Norris already knew that. MOTODATA
Displacement: 1679cc, liquid-cooled, 65-degree V-4
Max power: 197 bhp@9000 rpm
Max torque: 17 kgm@6500 rpm
Type: Cast aluminium diamond-shaped frame
Brakes: 320 mm twin discs (f), 298 mm disc (r)
Suspension: 52 mm telescopic cartridge forks (f), link-type with preload, compression and rebound adjustable remote reservoir monoshock(r)
Tyres: 120/70 R18-59V (f), 200/50 R18-76V (r)
L/W/H (mm): 2395/820/1190
Wheelbase: 1700 mm
Dry weight: 310 kg
Fuel tank: NA
Rs 20 lakh, ex-showroom, Mumbai