A bigger brother to the Drag Star, the V-Star – as it’s named in the USA – is a highly competent cruiser with superb levels of rider comfort.
Pillion accommodation isn´t that great, but the XVS1100 offers the solo biker a truly easygoing experience each time they turn the ignition key.
With a low maintenance shaft drive, good brakes, plus a loping V-twin engine designed for steady travel all day long at 70-80mph, the XVS1100 is one of those bikes which simply gets on with the job. It leaves the posing to you..
Roland Brown was surprised at the joy XVS1100 Drag Star gave him during a 1998 road test in the South of France. A cruiser fine for posing around town, he unexpectedly found it also performed remarkably well when ridden more aggressively.
The headline of Yamaha’s press launch information sheet had read ’Cruising Is Now More Fun’, but right now I wasn’t so sure. Heading back to our base at Juan-les-Pins in the south of France, I’d taken a wrong turning as thunder clouds gathered ominously overhead. Shortly afterwards I found myself riding into a storm, gripping the new 1100 Drag Star’s high, wide bars tightly as my jeans-clad legs got soaked on the forward-set footpegs.
Most cruiser riders don’t do much riding in the rain (all that chrome to keep polished, see) but the Drag Star handled the downpour without missing a beat. And when the rain stopped and the twisty Alpine roads dried, the Yamaha was ace. It rumbled along the straights between one steep hairpin bend and the next, before scratching round with an enthusiasm that had more in common with the classic bike-race movie On Any Sunday than with Easy Rider.
You wouldn’t expect most big cruisers to encourage such behaviour, but the XVS1100 Drag Star is indeed capable of making a twisty road fun in a way that few cruisers could match. This bike, which was created by combining the styling and chassis layout of the 650 Drag Star with an updated V-twin engine from the long-running Virago 1100, is long, low-slung and very much a cruiser. But a day in the French mountains proved that it’s also a pretty capable all-round bike.
It’s a shame that a little more imagination couldn’t have been used in the big Drag Star’s design, because its similarity to the 650cc model, not to mention countless Harleys, means it looks a bit ordinary despite the gleaming chrome and generally high standard of finish. The XVS1100’s pulled-back handlebars, teardrop tank (complete with instruments in the top) and stepped seat are all too familiar, and the big aircooled V-twin engine even has a round air-filter cover and shotgun pipes for the ironically named ’authentic’ look.
The Virago’s 1063cc aircooled, sohc 75-degree V-twin motor was given a variety of tweaks, many of them to improve output at very low revs. Reprofiled camshafts, a new airbox feeding the 37mm carbs, and a revised twin-pipe exhaust system combine to increase torque output below 2750rpm, most notably at just 2000rpm where there’s a ten per cent gain. Above 3000rpm there’s little change, and the power curve drops away sharply after reaching a maximum of 62bhp at 5750rpm.
Other new internals include forged pistons for less weight and extra strength, friction-reducing chrome composite-plated cylinder bores, and stronger carbonised conrods. Thicker crankcases and a new-design camchain reduce mechanical noise. As with the smaller Drag Star, final drive is by exposed shaft.
Chassis is a fairly conventional blend of new twin-tube steel frame, non-adjustable raked-out forks, hardtail-look vertical monoshock, wire wheels and twin front discs. And the Drag Star’s dimensions are also designed to enhance the American feel. Its wheelbase is a huge 1640mm, 115mm longer than the Virago’s, and the new bike’s seat is 25mm lower at just 690mm off the ground.
Placing both feet flat on the ground was therefore a doddle even for the shortest rider on the launch, but I’ll admit to being one of several testers who spent several minutes wondering where to put the ignition key before eventually finding the lock to the right of the steering head. The big bike felt very long but well-balanced as I fired up the motor with a gentle thud from the twin pipes, and headed off, sitting bolt upright with feet well forward and arms raised up to the high, pull-back bars.
The engine’s generous low-rev torque was obvious straight away, and helped make the Yam very easy to ride. Winding open the throttle almost from tickover sent the bike surging forward with a pleasant V-twin feel. Acceleration was pretty reasonable until about 75mph was showing on the big white-faced speedometer. The broad power delivery meant that it was best to short-shift though the five-speed gearbox, which worked pretty smoothly thanks partly to a redesigned shift mechanism.
This bike also has slightly taller overall gearing than the Virago, and cruised happily at an indicated 75mph without too much vibration. Above that speed shaking became increasingly noticeable through the seat and footpegs, adding to the discomfort of the windblown riding position. Flat-out the Drag Star rumbled up to just over a ton given a long enough run-up, and would probably manage a genuine 110mph, but I doubt whether many owners will bother.
If its engine performance is designed primarily for gentle cruising, the same is true of the long, laid-back chassis but happily the Drag Star performs surprisingly well when it’s ridden in a more aggressive fashion too. At 261kg the Yam is a heavy bike, as well as a big one, but most of its weight is carried low and its chassis puts it in a different handling class to many big cruisers.
Inevitably the Yamaha felt pretty cumbersome at times on the twisty mountain roads above Grasse, and scraped its folding footpegs pretty early in the bends. But in most respects the Yamaha was excellent, and even though its front wheel seemed to reach the endless hairpin bends several seconds before the rest of the bike, the XVS always scratched round easily given a haul on the wide handlebars.
Its suspension coped well with the variety of speeds and road surfaces, too, remaining well-controlled over bumps although it had also given a comfortable ride at a more gentle pace. (Whether a passenger perched on the small detachable pillion seat would agree is another matter.) The 41mm front forks and redesigned yokes proved strong enough to cope with the bike’s weight. And the rear shock, which gives more wheel travel than its Virago equivalent, was also fairly well damped.
Equally importantly, the front-brake set-up of 298mm discs with twin-pot calipers, backed up by a single rear disc, proved powerful and refused to fade even when repeatedly used hard into a series of downhill hairpins. The only parts of the chassis that didn’t inspire confidence at all times were the fat Dunlop tyres, which were fine in the dry but slid around a fair bit in the wet, particularly on white lines.
Despite that the Drag Star was easy to ride even in the wet, and once the rain stopped and the roads (and my jeans) dried out it was so much fun that when I got back to Juan-les-Pins I was tempted to turn round and head back up into the hills. Given that the Yamaha is equally capable of playing its more conventional role, by being ridden slowly through town or parked for a spot of posing, I guess that makes it a worthy addition to the cruiser ranks.
Get Yamaha motorcycle insurance for the yamaha dragstar 1100.
Engine Air-cooled four-stroke V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 62bhp at 5750rpm
Compression ratio 8.3:1
Transmission Five speed, shaft final drive
Front tyre 110/90 x 18in Dunlop K555
Rear tyre 170/80 x 15in Dunlop K555
Front wheel 18in, wire spoked
Rear wheel 15in, wire spoked
Front suspension 41mm telescopic, 140mm wheel travel
Rear suspension Monocross single shock, 113mm wheel travel, adjustment for preload
Front brake twin-piston calipers, twin 298mm discs
Rear brake single 282mm disc
Top speed 110 mph
Fuel capacity 17 litres