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Yamaha V-Max 1200 – The Original Hooligan Bike

I remember the first time I ever really took note of a Yamaha V-Max 1200. I was still a couple years away from driving age, probably 13 or 14, but I was plotting and scheming for my first motorcycle already. 

I was at a motorcycle shop browsing the used inventory, waiting on my dad to settle up with the service department when I saw it sitting in the corner. My initial reaction was the same one that most cruisers have on me today. 

“Boring. Got anything else?”

But I kept finding myself glancing back and trying to figure out just what in the hell was going on with the two goofy-looking “chromed-out” bullhorns around the gas tank. 

And that’s when it dawned on me… goofy or not, these giant megaphones were here to herald something harrowing, and a quick look down at the rear tire confirmed my suspicions…. 

That “V” was no twin, and this cruiser was no easy rider.

History of the Yamaha V-Max 1200

Of course I would later learn that the giant “air scoops” were completely non-functional, however, the more I learned about the history of the V-Max, the more I grew to respect it. 

Built to compete with Honda’s VF1100C Magna in the newly christened “power-cruiser” niche, the Yamaha V-MAX 1200 was built around the same 1198cc V4 that powered Yamaha’s 1983 flagship touring motorcycle, the Venture Royale.

By shoehorning the Venture powerplant into a sturdy new frame, Yamaha had the makings of something beautiful, but the Venture’s 90hp motor was a far cry from the closest competition. 

So, naturally, Yamaha did what anyone setting out to build a tire-melting hotrod would do, and punched out the intake and exhaust valves, fitted aggressive camshafts, and wedged even larger carburetors between the cylinders. 

As a final coup-de-gras, Yamaha designed and implemented the now-infamous “V-Boost” system, a shared intake passageway between the front and rear cylinders that utilized a servo-motor operated butterfly valve allowing each cylinder to pull from two carbs simultaneously once the engine hit 6,000rpm, effectively supercharging each cylinder all the way up to the V-MAXs aggressive 9,000rpm redline.

When all was said and done the Yamaha V-MAX 1200 was set to dominate the power cruiser segment, running a 10-second quarter-mile and decimating the V4 Magna’s 100 horsepower by a whopping 40+ ponies, and the rest is history.

V-Max Performance

When you cruise the streets on a V-MAX 1200, you aren’t innocently looking for someone to race with, you’re trolling for fresh victims, for poor unsuspecting souls to chew up and spit out your exhaust pipes.

Paul Dean for Cycle World, May 1985

The V-Max 1200 got high marks all around from the motorcycling community during its initial testing. 

Granted, the performance bar was much lower in 1985, but 143 horsepower is 143 horsepower anyway you look at it, and the straight-line performance is still guaranteed to thrill today. 

interestingly enough the V-MAX 1200 was lauded as handling surprisingly well during its initial launch, getting high marks for stability and traction in everything but the tightest corners from Cycle World magazine. 

Fast forward 30 years and you’ll find most people are now quick to describe the big V-4’s frame flex as an absolute “widowmaker” by today’s standards, but the suspension itself isn’t to blame, as it was stiff from the factory and geared toward street performance over comfort. 

Many owners opt to address chassis flex by adding a fork brace, frame brace, or both, and continue to push the V-MAX 1200 as far as they dare in the twisties. 

Buying An Original Yamaha V-Max

The 1198cc 70-degree V-four is known to run right up to the 100k mile mark and beyond with no major issues on bikes that are well maintained and allowed to properly warm-up and pressurize before being given a proper thrashing. 

You should be confident buying a bike that has been reasonably well cared for and test rides without issue at anything under 30,000 miles, although some owners have reported needing engine maintenance around the 50-60k mark for one reason or another, so ideally you should shoot for something under the 20k mile range if you can find it for peace of mind. 

The V-MAX 1200 is well-built and low-maintenance thanks to its shaft drive and 26,000-mile recommended valve maintenance intervals. 

Some bikes experienced issues with a second gear slip on earlier first-generation models, so make sure to run 2nd gear through the rev range a few times during a test ride to make sure yours is solid. 

Although the original Yamaha V-MAX 1200 went almost entirely unchanged throughout its 20 year run from 1985-2007, some notable minor upgrades were made in 1993 (larger fork tubes, larger front brakes, 4 pot brake calipers, and a generator upgrade), so most folks shopping for a used V-MAX will want to focus on first-generation models from 1993 or later. 

V-Max 1200 Restoration

Thanks to its two-decade run and worldwide cult following, replacement parts for the V-MAX are plentiful and affordable. 

Just about every OEM part can still be found new including engine internals (at OEM part prices…), and a healthy assortment of clean second-hand parts can be found in places like eBay for much less. 

Parts bikes are a dime-a-dozen as well below the $2k mark, so if your V-MAX sat outside for a little too long and needs some cosmetic odds and ends you should have no trouble sourcing them. 

Does The V-Max 1200 Make a Good Investment?

Finding a well-cared-for Yamaha V-MAX for $2,000 or less used to be a pretty simple task. 

While they haven’t gotten outrageously expensive by any stretch, clean, lower-mileage V-MAX 1200’s seem to be creeping up in value over the past few years. 

There are always a handful available on sites like CycleTrader between the $4-5k mark, and well-preserved examples can pull $6-7k prices from enthusiasts. 

I wouldn’t expect any original Yamaha V-MAX 1200 to become a cash-cow in the next 5-10 years, but as a reliable, easy to own bike that still delivers on the thrills, the V-MAX should at least hold its value in the years to come. 

Closing Thoughts…

The V-MAX is a timeless classic in many ways. 

A true hooligan bike, and an Americanized muscle cruiser to the fullest extent of the term. 

While you’ll always be able to find fast used bikes under the $5,000 dollar mark, the Yamaha V-MAX 1200 has a timeless style of its own, an ode to the “power-first and safety-be-damned” soul of dragstrip screamers.

True, you’ll always be able to find a much more capable hooligan for the price (Speed Triple, we’re looking at you), but if muscle and cruiser style on a budget are your main concerns, you’ll still be able to smoke just about every “modern” Harley Davidson on the street for half the price and a fraction of the headache. 

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