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MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: V Star 950, New from the Ground Up

Entry-level or not?

By Genevieve Schmitt, Photos by Tom Riles & Nigel Kinrade
12/12/2008


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It's always exciting when a brand new motorcycle enters the picture. Say hello to Star Motorcycles V Star 950, new from the ground up -- new frame, new engine, new everything. Star is the cruiser line of bikes from Yamaha. It was inevitable we'd see this new V Star 950 hit the market. Kawasaki's Vulcan 900 was introduced in model year 2007 has been well received virtually redefining the middleweight category as bikes with engine sizes from 900cc to 1300cc. No longer does the industry view a 650cc motorcycle as a middleweight as was the case when the V Star Custom and Classic (650cc) was introduced in 1999. So if the 650 is not a middleweight, does that make it an entry-level now? It might be for some, but definitely not all riders. Actually, Yamaha is calling the 950 an entry-level model. Entry-level for whom is my question.   

The V Star 950 is being billed as an entry-level motorcycle. I am wearing an <a href="http://www.womenridersnow.com/pages/Review_Icon_Airframe_Helmet.aspx">Airframe Regal helmet from Icon</a> and the <a href="http://www.womenridersnow.com/pages/REVIEW_Scorpion_Leather_Jacket__Pants.aspx">Elektra jacket and Haley pant from Scorpion.</a>
The V Star 950 is being billed as an entry-level motorcycle. I am wearing an Airframe Regal helmet from Icon and the Elektra jacket and Haley pant from Scorpion.

According to Yamaha research, the entry-level category is now leading overall cruiser sales in total volume.
According to Yamaha research, the entry-level category is now leading overall cruiser sales in total volume.

Yamaha created the V Star 950 in response to two conclusions gleaned from the company's internal research. Number one: a resurgence of entry level riders (I would assume mostly male entry level riders) view anything under a 950cc motorcycle as too small these days (a la the V Star 650), and number two, these riders don't want the same old cruiser that's out there. They desire something new and different. Yamaha's research also indicates there is strong growth in riders who want a motorcycle in that 900 to 1300cc range, even seeing a percentage of riders "trading down" -- moving from their big engine bikes to a more economical size -- that middleweight category. Yamaha's presentation to the media never differentiated between men and women so I have to assume that these conclusions (like a resurgence of entry level riders view 950cc and under as too small) are based on mostly male riders. With that said, I test rode the V Star 950, like I always do when writing for Women Riders Now, with women riders in mind.

The bend in my knee allows me a decent amount of control over the V Star 950 when I&#39;m moving it around. For reference, I stand 5-foot 6.5-inch with a 30-inch inseam.
The bend in my knee allows me a decent amount of control over the V Star 950 when I'm moving it around. For reference, I stand 5-foot 6.5-inch with a 30-inch inseam.

I can see the V Star 950 being a new favorite among women, a bike beginners will trade up to after spending time building confidence on a 250cc or other smaller beginner bike. I see women skipping right over the 650 and going for the 950 as it offers everything the 650 does only better with newer technology in a more ergonomically friendly package. Plus, the 950 costs just $1600 more than the 650 so why not spring for a bike that's more modern in every way. The 950 should really be viewed as the next iteration of the 650, the 650 all grown up.

One might ask, then, why not just buy the V Star 1100 for just $1300 more than the 950. My answer is because the 1100 is a dated model with no major enhancements to it since it was introduced in 1999. If you want a big beefier bike, then buy the V Star 1300 priced at $10,290.  It's a completely different feeling motorcycle than the 950 in terms of ergonomics, handling and it can accommodate larger sized riders better than the 950.

This shot shows another angle on how the V Star 950 fits me.
This shot shows another angle on how the V Star 950 fits me.

Seat height on the 950, of supreme importance to most women riders, is a low 26.5 inches, an inch lower than the V Star 650 at 27.4 inches, and a tad lower than its competitor, the Vulcan 900 at 26.8 inches. The seat on the 950 is narrow in the front so those with shorter inseams won't lose precious leg length inches when sitting in the saddle or trying to move the bike around. The weight of the bike, 612 pounds, is not overtly light, but it's not extremely heavy either. The bike has a very noticeable low center of gravity so whatever weight you do feel is down low making it easier to maneuver. That said, I was not able to whip this bike around when I was doing a K-turn to back up into a parking spot. I had to be slow and methodical about it because it is "weighty," but mostly because I had to stretch my arm long when turning the bars. Definitely not a deal breaker but something to take note of if you have short arms.

You can see the reach of my left arm as I turn the bars to the right to back up the bike - just a bit of a stretch for me.
You can see the reach of my left arm as I turn the bars to the right to back up the bike - just a bit of a stretch for me.

You can get a sense of the width of the handlebars from this image.
You can get a sense of the width of the handlebars from this image.

The other woman on my test ride, Kelly Callan, who stands 5-foot-6 with a 32-inch inseam, and who sat flat-footed on the 950 struggled with backing up the 655-pound Tourer version up a slight up-hill gravel area where we pulled off. I had to give her a little push.

Here&#39;s 5-foot 6-inch Kelly Callan, copy editor for Ultimate MotorCycling magazine, whose tall, lanky frame appears to fit just right on the V Star 950 Tourer, the same bike as the base model, just outfitted with a windshield, bags and backrest.
Here's 5-foot 6-inch Kelly Callan, copy editor for Ultimate MotorCycling magazine, whose tall, lanky frame appears to fit just right on the V Star 950 Tourer, the same bike as the base model, just outfitted with a windshield, bags and backrest.

Another issue for a lot of women is being able to reach their fingers to the clutch and brake levers without moving their hand off the grip. I was able to reach the levers just fine without my hands leaving the grip, but my hands are bigger than most women. I wear size large women's gloves. To help with the reach, Yamaha designed the levers to be a bit wider than on other models. Wider gives your fingers more surface area to grab and makes the levers more comfortable when pulling in. The clutch pull was easy; no extra muscle needed there.

My gloved fingers reach the clutch lever without having to move my hand off the grip.
My gloved fingers reach the clutch lever without having to move my hand off the grip.

The Ride
The bike started right up on the brisk autumn morning of my test ride in the north Georgia mountains. No manual choke to fuss with because 942cc 60-degree V-twin engine is fuel-injected, a feature riders have come to expect on a new motorcycle these days. Fuel injection means the bike should spring to life easily on cold mornings because the fuel and air mixture adjusts electronically delivering the right amount of fuel for the climate and altitude conditions.

Coming at you, the V Star 950 has a commanding presence with its wide front end.
Coming at you, the V Star 950 has a commanding presence with its wide front end.

Unlike most Japanese cruisers that are quiet and vibration-less, the 950 lets you know you're riding a V-twin cruiser. There is a low, pulsating grunt to the engine and you can actually feel the motor beneath you pulsing, somewhat. We're not talking Milwaukee iron here. Pulsing is a good thing, in my opinion. I like "feeling" and "hearing" the motorcycle I'm riding. This gives the 950 a real cruiser feel. Yamaha did an adequate job of minimizing vibration transfer to the rider considering the engine is rigid mounted to the frame. I took special note to see if I could make out images clearly through the rearview mirrors. I can. Check. The hand grips weren't shaking. Check. The seat didn't shake. Check. The only place I felt some vibration was in the floorboards at high speeds. Good thing you can move your feet around the floorboards and rest on your heels to adjust for that if it annoys you.

Floorboards add to the comfortable ride both on the Tourer (shown) and the regular V Star.
Floorboards add to the comfortable ride both on the Tourer (shown) and the regular V Star.

It is important to note that this is a brand new engine. Yamaha didn't just take the V Star 650 and bore it up. This new engine performs cooler thanks to ceramic composite plated cylinders that dissipate heat better maximizing cooling efficiency.

As I rolled on the throttle for the first time heading out on my test ride, I noticed how light and nimble the bike felt at slow speeds maneuvering the tight S-turns of the hilly driveway out to the street. The bike felt very stable, which is confidence inspiring for new riders who sometimes get nervous handling a bike at slow speeds.

Shifting through the five-speed transmission was smooth. The shifter "clinked" naturally into each gear and finding neutral was easy, even using the heel part of the heel-toe shifter. A heel-toe shifter is often used on motorcycles outfitted with floorboards, and having floorboards on the 950 instead of foot pegs was a nice surprise. Most entry-level models, as Yamaha is calling this 950, don't have this "big bike" feature. But one of the appealing aspects of the 950 are its "big bike" features like the belt drive transmission instead of a shaft drive like what's on the V Star 650. A belt drive requires minimal maintenance, is very durable allowing for more customizing options.

The V Star 950 glided through the turns, although because the bike is low to the ground, I scraped the floorboards a few times, and I wasn't being that aggressive in my cornering. The floorboards on Star Motorcycles have a metal skid plate on the edge that takes the hit. This plate can be removed and replaced with a new one if it gets really scratched up.

Cornering is effortless on the 950. The bike leans easily into the turns.
Cornering is effortless on the 950. The bike leans easily into the turns.

Acceleration is quick. You're up to fifth gear in no time, although, I did feel a slight lag at roll-on twisting the throttle at the start of each gear. I would have liked the throttle response to be crisper. With that said, it's not like I would be doing any racing with this bike

Midsize cruisers feel like they either lumber or fly through turns. I found the 950 flew through turns and if it wasn't for the low ground clearance I would have picked up my speed and really dived into the corners. The bike feels solid and planted. That's partly due to the new double cradle steel frame that was designed for this motorcycle. Plus, the wheelbase is a manageable 66.3 inches and the rake is 32 degrees with trail being 5.7 inches, pretty standard for this size cruiser.

The front and rear suspension is dialed in just right taking bumps in the road without jarring me out of the saddle. Sometimes riding stock cruisers I have to adjust the preload on the rear shock because I'm lighter than the stock setting usually set for people weighing around 180 pounds. The link type rear shock does have a nine-position adjustable preload should you need to change the setting. It can be adjusted using a tool from the tool kit located under the seat. The rear shock provides 4.3 inches of travel, while the 41mm conventional front forks provide 5.3 inches of travel.

The brakes are what you'd expect on an "entry level" bike, one aimed at budget conscious riders. A single disc in both the front and the back bring the bike to a stop. A dual piston caliper in the front and a single piston caliper in the rear squeeze the discs to slow the bike down.

The polished wheels give the bike a custom look.
The polished wheels give the bike a custom look.

I'm not one to notice tires and wheels all that much, but the big 18-inch wheel in the front and 16-inch in the back caught my attention because they look custom with their eight stylish spokes that are powder coated black. It all adds to the sport classic design that Yamaha was going after with this bike. The front wheel wears a low profile front tire meaning you don't see a chunky fat mass of rubber up there.

Styling wise, you'll notice this Star is different from the rest. Yamaha engineers looked at what category of design was not currently being filled by existing models and discovered what they call "sport classic." The lines of the 950 give the feeling of speed or movement with a look that is simple and clean with minimalist detailing. Nothing is too big or bulbous. The sweeping fenders and combination of the chrome and black components give it a classic look.

Lean flowing lines, as opposed to big and bulbous, define the look of the V Star 950.
Lean flowing lines, as opposed to big and bulbous, define the look of the V Star 950.

Notice the flatter, slimmer fuel tank, part of that sport classic look. It holds 4.4 gallons and takes regular, not premium gas. Yamaha specs indicate the bike gets 47 mpg.
Notice the flatter, slimmer fuel tank, part of that sport classic look. It holds 4.4 gallons and takes regular, not premium gas. Yamaha specs indicate the bike gets 47 mpg.

The speedometer is all new featuring two trip meters and a clock (big bike features) accessed by a button near the handgrips so you never have to take your hand off the grip to switch or reset the trip meters.
The speedometer is all new featuring two trip meters and a clock (big bike features) accessed by a button near the handgrips so you never have to take your hand off the grip to switch or reset the trip meters.

Ergonomically, I think the V Star 950 has a lot to offer for a wide variety of sized women. First, notice the position of my butt in the seat in the photos above. It fits in the entire saddle so I was able to take advantage of the high lumbar support in the back. Normally, I have to scoot up in a seat to reach the bars. Check out my video review of the V Star 1300, which shows me drowning in the large seat.

While the saddle and seating position fit me well on the 950, two male journalists on my test ride - one 6 feet, the other 5-feet-11, mentioned they got sore butts right away because they were cramped and had no room to stretch out their legs. Having their legs in such a tight position put pressure on the back of their legs and butt. Fortunately, Star Motorcycles offers an accessory seat for taller riders, shown later in this article.

Second, the handlebars, while they're a little wide for my taste (I know some women prefer the wide style) reach all the way back to me for a comfortable position. There's no leaning in so I didn't experience a crick in my neck like I do on some bikes.

Thirdly, the floorboards allow you to adjust the position of your feet while riding if you don't like them that far forward. A floorboard gives you more flexibility in creating the perfect ergonomic seating triangle for yourself.

The Tourer
The touring version sells for $1,100 more and comes with three main accessories, a windshield, saddlebags, and backrest that if purchased separately with the base model would cost more than the price of the Tourer. Star Accessories division offers three different windshield heights. The Tourer comes with the shortest one that was right in the middle of my vision. I would have preferred it to be either lower or higher and since this was the shortest, I would opt for the next size up so I could look through it. The stock shield does not come with the quick release feature that's available on the aftermarket shield. That's the only downside to the Tourer. The accessories are bolted to the bike instead of that convenient quick release feature. You can buy a quick-release retrofit mount kit for the Tourer for the windshield and for the backrest.

The hard-sized bags on the Tourer are covered in leather and are lockable, a feature that provides peace of mind when leaving your motorcycle. For stock bags, these are quite roomy holding 11 gallons or 42 liters.

Kelly fit her purse, her riding gloves and a wide brimmed straw hat in the large saddlebag. The wide opening allows her to gently place her hat in there without squashing it. No, you can&#39;t fit a full-face helmet, but what stock saddlebags can?
Kelly fit her purse, her riding gloves and a wide brimmed straw hat in the large saddlebag. The wide opening allows her to gently place her hat in there without squashing it. No, you can't fit a full-face helmet, but what stock saddlebags can?

Make It Your Own
Star Accessories offers more than 1300 products to customize your V Star. A feature catching my eye are those quick release windshields, and combination backrest / luggage rack. They are each individually lockable so no one can steal them if you're concerned about that. You can click on the images to make them larger.

Notice the lock on the left side of the windshield that locks the quick-release windshield to the bike.
Notice the lock on the left side of the windshield that locks the quick-release windshield to the bike.

Here you can see the lock on the chrome bar for the quick-release backrest and luggage rack. You can also see the lock on the saddlebag that is a stock item on the Tourer&#39;s bags.
Here you can see the lock on the chrome bar for the quick-release backrest and luggage rack. You can also see the lock on the saddlebag that is a stock item on the Tourer's bags.

Dave Pooler, Star Motorcycles accessory coordinator, sits on a customized Tourer. Notice the fender guards, engine guards, and saddlebag rails. He&#39;s perched on a custom seat that moves his body back a few inches so he can fit comfortably on the bike.
Dave Pooler, Star Motorcycles accessory coordinator, sits on a customized Tourer. Notice the fender guards, engine guards, and saddlebag rails. He's perched on a custom seat that moves his body back a few inches so he can fit comfortably on the bike.

Here&#39;s that aftermarket seat from Star Accessories that gives Dave more legroom.
Here's that aftermarket seat from Star Accessories that gives Dave more legroom.

Specs at a Glance: 2009 Star Motorcycles V Star 950
Displacement: 952cc
Seat Height: 26.5 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.4 gallons
Weight: 612 pounds; Tourer 655 pounds
Price: $7,890; Tourer $8,990

WRN Recommendation
The V Star 950 is an ideal motorcycle for intermediate and experienced riders who want "big bike" features in an economical package. You can do a lot with this V Star and it has plenty of power to take you on long overnight trips. True blue beginners may want to think twice about buying a 950cc 600-pound plus motorcycle as their first. I still recommend starting on a small beginner bike and then trading up to this Star. All riders should sit on the bike first to make sure the ergonomic triangle fits you just right.  

Star Motorcycle Jackets for Women
Star has an extensive line of apparel for women. I'm impressed with all the offerings. You can check them out at StarMotorcycles.com/Accessories.

Lindsey is wearing the Dynasty Nylon Leather Riding jacket in white, and JoLee is wearing the men&#39;s Star King riding jacket. We didn&#39;t know it was a men&#39;s jacket at the time. It&#39;s still a cool design because it says "Star" on the back and that could be fun to wear.
Lindsey is wearing the Dynasty Nylon Leather Riding jacket in white, and JoLee is wearing the men's Star King riding jacket. We didn't know it was a men's jacket at the time. It's still a cool design because it says "Star" on the back and that could be fun to wear.

The same jackets shot from a different angle.
The same jackets shot from a different angle.

Related Articles
MOTORCYCLE REVIEW: Yamaha V Star 1300

Riding Right: Choosing Your First Bike


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Reader Comments


Presently own a Yamaha 650 Classic. Have been entertaining the prospect of obtaining a 950 Yamaha so I found your critique of the bike very informative. It was by far the most enlightening of any I have read! Much more so than any written by the men. Thank you and keep up the good work.

W.J. Rogers
NY
Friday, September 27, 2013
I'm 5 feet 3 inches and 53 years old. I haven't ridden a street bike for 10-plus years. I just purchased a 2009 950cc V Star because of this review. I looked at others but didn't feel comfortable enough on them to take them around the block.

After reading this review among others about other bikes, I trusted this information enough to travel two and a half hours to view a V Star advertised for sale.

As soon as I saw the bike I knew it was the one for me! When sitting on it my feet are firmly on the ground. I can stand it up easily. I'm weaker then I was 20 years ago but after five hours experience I can move it around reasonably well.

For now backing up a slight grade is challenging so some pre-planning is necessary when parking but I think that will improve with practice.

I crept up to 130 km on the highway without knowing as there was no vibrations or odd engine sounds at higher speeds.

The bike has been mine for two days and I can't concentrate on work. I just want to ride.

The bike is great to look at, sounds great, easy to operate around the city, smooth on the highway; just all around fun.

Great women's bike!

Rosella Boulton
Kamloops, BC, Canada
Thursday, September 05, 2013
Editor Response
Thank you for sharing your experience with this model, and how our review influenced your decision. We strive to provide the fairest review possible from a lifestyle, i.e. "real rider" point of view. We're so glad it lead you in the right direction. Best wishes with your new motorcycle.
Genevieve Schmitt
Looking at purchasing a 950 to update my better half's 535. Found Ms Schmitt's article to be extremely informative, covering all aspects of riding, whether male or female. Her understanding of what makes a bike liveable and enjoyable when the "newness" wears off has definitely put her at the forefront of motorcycle reviews articles. Keep up the good work.

Bernard Lafaut
Kimberley, BC, Canada
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Didn't know anything about this bike. My bike (2007 Honda Shadow 750 Spirit) was having issues with ethanol. I decided in Jan. that I was getting a bike with fuel injection. Found some of the local dealers were having leftover 2009 bike clearance pricing. = So I went to the local dealer with a list of bikes from their Web site. Considered the V Star 1300 but didn't like the look of the tank and headlight. So I decided on the V Star 950 Tommy Blue. Got a great deal on the bike. Got it home and my friend rode it and decided to get a leftover tourer. We love these bikes. Only issue is we both have pains between the shoulder blades. So we are adding pull-back risers to our bikes.

Maggie
Oakland, TN
Thursday, March 24, 2011
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