A Mid-Displacement Classic Cruiser

Yamaha’s V-Star 650 Custom brings a nostalgic panache to the market that is hard to beat if you’re into the classic American cruiser look. A 40 cubic-inch V-twin powers the V-Star with 37.6 pounds o’ grunt on tap and a configuration that accentuates the vibe that the designers were going for. The factory goes for broke with laced wheels and a faux-rigid frame to go with a truly antiquated rear drum brake. There are plenty of these rides out there with the hardtail-look, so let’s take a gander at Yamaha’s little mid-size cruiser.

Continue reading for my review of the Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom.

  • 2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom
  • Year:
    2014- 2016
  • Make:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    V-Twin
  • Displacement:
    649 cc
  • Price:
    6990
  • Price:

Design

2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom
- image 734415
All fairly sleek and clean with that unmistakable frame geometry that screams “rigid.”

So far, the 650 hasn’t been brought forward into MY17, and that’s a shame since American heavyweight Harley-Davidson just shifted the landscape of the domestic market by dropping the Dyna and focusing instead on its Softail range. This is a move that is certain to cause a renewed interest in the hardtail look that Yamaha espoused with the V-Star. There’s no delicate way around it, so I’ll just go ahead and say it out loud; the V-Star looks an awful lot like the Harley Softail, and if imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery then Harley ought to be flattered half to death.

And, why not? It’s a popular look that ties directly into models from the ’50s and a multitude of custom projects since then. The blackout treatment on the fork sliders and headlight can reinforce the custom connection, and I’m proud to see laced wheels with blackout rims for a real old-school look to go with the dated frame geometry.

A chrome instrument panel rides on the tank that, unfortunately, is of the old flange variety, and I don’t mean “old” in any sort of positive way. It doesn’t enhance the dated look of the bike, but instead just seems to have an overall cheapening effect. Sorry guys, but it’s true. The tank gives way to a deep-scoop saddle that cups and supports the rider quite nicely, but the low-profile pillion area leaves me with the impression that passengers are less than completely welcome.

A bobbed rear fender makes another custom connection with blackout struts, and it leaves an unimpeded view of the triangular swingarm that makes the whole illusion work. All fairly sleek and clean with that unmistakable frame geometry that screams “rigid.”

Chassis

2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom Exterior
- image 532821
A central pivot shaft and hidden shock gives the 650 Custom a modern ride that belies its dated looks.

Tubular-steel members make up the double-downtube/double-cradle chassis that mimics the lines of the old hardtails. The fall of the upper lines seem to meet the plane of the lower rails at the rear axle, but that’s an optical trick, there’s a central pivot shaft and hidden shock that gives the Custom a modern ride that belies its dated looks.

Blackout triple clamps hold the 41 mm front forks out at 35 degrees of rake and a 5.7-inch trail on a 63.4-inch wheelbase for a ride that’s stable in the straights if not entirely eager in the corners. Oh well, that’s the price you pay for a cool kicked-out front end, and this bike is nothing if not all about the look, so some of that is to be expected.

Another such compromise can be found at the rear suspension in the 3.4 inches of suspension travel that makes possible the low 27.4-inch seat height. That’s plenty low for most and is very confidence-inspiring when you’re stopped at a light or Fred Flintstoning the thing around a parking lot, but this too comes with a trade off.

Forward controls can be a little intimidating, and shorter riders may never be completely comfortable at highway speeds as the wind pressure tries to push your feet back and off the pegs. A 298 mm disc and hydraulic anchor slows the front wheel, but Yamaha sticks to its guns (still) with a 200 mm drum and mechanically-actuated brake out back. Sure, it’s classic looking, but there’s a reason disc brakes replaced the old drums. Know what I mean?

Suspension / Front: 41mm telescopic fork; 5.5-in travel
Suspension / Rear: Single shock, adjustable preload; 3.4-in travel
Brakes / Front: Hydraulic disc, 298mm
Brakes / Rear: 200mm drum
Tires / Front: 100/90-19
Tires / Rear: 170/80-15

Drivetrain

2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom
- image 731645
The V-Star 650 Custom isn't exactly what you would call a stoplight burner. However, it is manageable power with a predictable delivery; just right as an entry-level ride for someone looking to get into a cruiser.

Yamaha’s choice of engine was just right. I’ve seen some half-hearted attempts to make an American-looking bike that were ultimately doomed by a ridiculous parallel-twin or something equally out of place. Although the geometry is a bit wide at 70 degrees, the V-twin look is driven home by polished cooling-fin edges on the blacked-out engine, and it does add to the overall panache quite a bit. The mill remains carbureted and air-cooled for simplified maintenance and lighter weight.

An 81 mm bore and 63 mm stroke gives the plant a decidedly oversquare layout and a mild 9-to-1 compression ratio with an overall displacement of 649 cc. Power output is something around 37 pound-feet of torque at three grand, depending on whose dyno you ask, so at just over 500-pounds wet, the V-Star isn’t exactly what you would call a stoplight burner. However, it is manageable power with a predictable delivery; just right as an entry-level ride for someone looking to get into larger cruisers at some point in the foreseeable future.

Engine: 40-cubic-inch (649cc) air-cooled SOHC 70° V-twin; 4 valves
Bore x Stroke: 81.0mm x 63.0mm
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Fuel Delivery: Dual 28mm Mikuni® CV carburetors
Ignition: TCI: Transistor Controlled Ignition
Transmission: 5-speed; multiplate wet clutch

Pricing

2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom
- image 734412
MSRP on the V-Star 650 Custom was $6,990, well within the entry-level bracket and a good price for what you get especially if you're into the look of the Softails but are loathe to pay the Harley price.

The last published MSRP for a U.S. V-Star 650 Custom model was $6,990, well within the entry-level bracket and a good price for what you get especially if you’re into the look of the Softails but are loathe to pay the Harley price. Yamaha offered a one year limited factory warranty.

Warranty: 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)
Colors:
2014: Liquid Silver
2015: Raven
2016: Electric White
Price: $6,990

Competitors

2014 - 2016 Yamaha V-Star 650 Custom
- image 731646
2015 - 2018 Honda Shadow Aero / Shadow Phantom
- image 662185
Frame construction is similar if one ignores the rear ends, and the Phantom's steering numbers of 34-degrees and 6.3-inches of trail fall very close to those of the V-Star.

There are a handful of potential rivals for the V-Star 650 but it’s been a while since I’ve shown the Honda Shadow some love, and since the Dyna line that clearly influenced the Shadow’s design is no longer in production, I figured why not.

The Phantom variant comes with liberal blackout treatment from front to rear that snuffs out almost all the chrome, but it cuts the same sort of figure in profile with a tank-mount instrument console and deep-scoop saddle. Not quite bobbed, the Shadow’s rear fender runs with a clipped appearance that steers the rear end into custom country.

Front fork skirts give the 41 mm stems on the Honda a definite beefiness that the V-Star lacks, but comes with the same level of adjustability, which is to say none. The V-Star doesn’t go for the faux-rigid Softail look, but carries a standard, yoke-style swingarm and external, coil-over springs to articulate for the rear wheel.

Frame construction is similar if one ignores the rear ends, and the Phantom’s steering numbers of 34-degrees and 6.3-inches of trail fall very close to those of the Yammy. The Phantom’s engine geometry is closer to the American standard (45-degrees) at 52-degrees, and Honda packs in a few extra cubes with a total of 745 cc. That size difference gives the Red Riders a leg up with 47.9 pound-feet of torque versus 37 pounds o’ twist from the V-Star. Naturally, that power boost brings with it a concurrent price tag boost that drives the Phantom up to $7,699; almost another grand more than the V-Star.

He Said

“I hope Yamaha is just taking a hiatus from the U.S. market due to tariffs or some temporary situation, because the shift to Softails as H-D’s only Big-Twin cruisers will surely bring newfound attention to all of the similarly-shaped rides. If nothing else, the V-Star can make a dandy Softail Breakout trainer. Wink, nudge.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "The trend to go smaller in engine size would make the V-Star 650 a viable option for someone looking for a nice cruiser that isn’t intimidating and won’t get you into too much trouble. I can tap my own knowledge to tell you that it has quite enough oomph for two-up riding, but if you’re quite tall (so not my problem), you might feel a bit cramped."

Specifications

Engine:
Engine Type: 40-cubic-inch (649cc) air-cooled SOHC 70° V-twin; 4 valves
Bore x Stroke: 81.0mm x 63.0mm
Compression Ratio: 9.0:1
Fuel Delivery: Dual 28mm Mikuni® CV carburetors
Ignition: TCI: Transistor Controlled Ignition
Transmission: 5-speed; multiplate wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Chassis:
Suspension / Front: 41mm telescopic fork; 5.5-in travel
Suspension / Rear: Single shock, adjustable preload; 3.4-in travel
Brakes / Front: Hydraulic disc, 298mm
Brakes / Rear: 200mm drum
Tires / Front: 100/90-19
Tires / Rear: 170/80-15
Dimensions:
L x W x H: 92.1 in x 34.6 in x 42.3 in
Seat Height: 27.4 in
Wheelbase: 63.4 in
Rake (Caster Angle): n/a
Trail: n/a
Maximum Ground Clearance: 5.5 in
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal
Fuel Economy: 49 mpg
Wet Weight: 514 lb / CA model 518 lb
Warranty: 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)
Colors:
2014: Liquid Silver
2015: Raven
2016: Electric White
Price: $6,990

References

2015 - 2018 Honda Shadow Aero / Shadow Phantom
- image 731285

See our review of the Honda Shadow Phantom.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: yamaha-motor.com, powersports.honda.com

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