In my pursuit of motorcycling it's become obvious that I'm not typical of the folk who participate in this sport. The average American views a motorcycle as a luxury akin to personal watercraft; in my hands it is the cheapest way to get from point to point. As such I'm more concerned with economy and real-world utility rather than mountains of torque, dragging my knees, open exhausts, and handlebar tassels. With this in mind I now offer my first review of motorcycle gear, starting with my well-used 2009 Yamaha VStar 250.
As of this writing I have accumulated 4500 miles on the VStar, possibly more than most 250cc bikes see in a lifetime. My riding consists mainly of commuting on worn-out state highways with the occasional hour-long (give or take 15 minutes) ride to Northport, Pelham, or Colombiana. I've learned the hard way just how cold it has to be before riding is absolute misery and just how heavy a rain-soaked denim jacket can get. Pretty much the only thing I don't know about this bike is how many miles it'll go before the engine gives up the ghost.
At 18 horsepower and 14lb ft. of torque this engine isn't going to light up the highway, but it does have adequate power for most anything other than the interstate. Low-end torque is strong enough to make taking off on a hill very easy, a fact for which I am quite thankful when I get caught at the lights in Montevallo. At speeds below 30MPH the VStar will pull away from most traffic; it's only when approaching highway speeds does the lack of power become apparent. Even with my 5'11", 235lb. pile of manly virtue holding the bike down it will still maintain 65MPH until the road pitches upward. As is typical of air-cooled engines, this one is coldblooded and usually requires a little choke to start in cooler weather. Go ahead and let it warm up for a good 10 minutes or so on a cold day to avoid stalling. On hot days, especially when spending a lot of time in traffic, the transmission will occasionally refuse to upshift. This problem has only occurred twice and both times it corrected itself when I let the bike sit and cool for a bit. Fuel economy is usually between 65 and 75MPG, depending on weather more than anything else.
This is a cruiser so the notion of "handling" has to be taken with a grain of salt. The VStar does go around corners predictably and, by virtue of its light weight and narrow tires, is quite forgiving when you select a bad line in a corner. The pegs will grind before any other hard parts touch down but usually my boot sole would meet asphalt first. It's a better idea to take corners more slowly. The brakes are strong for a bike of this class but induce a great deal of suspension dive when applied suddenly. The forks are very softly sprung and have a seemingly long travel. As for the rear suspension, the traditional dual shocks with preload adjust leave me wishing for more fine adjustment. On the third notch the bike is more comfortable but looser in the corners; on the fourth it handles better but give me scoliosis. Seems to me a great reason to lose 20lb.
I'll be blunt: this bike is too small for me. Someone blessed with a 5'8" stature and less of spare tire would love this machine. Shoot, my 5' tall mom thinks she's on a full-size Harley when she rides it. But nearer to 6' this motorcycle can get cramped. The forward controls need to be about three inches further out. In all other aspects this bike is actually quite comfortable though. The handlebars offer good leverage and are placed neutrally, the switchgear is easy to manipulate even with thick gloves on, and the seat doesn't get uncomfortable until 45 minutes on Alabama's lunar-style highways.
For $3790 brand new it's very hard to find fault with this motorcycle. The performance is solid, maintenance is fairly simple, and the v-twin engine offers nice low rumble. Most 250cc bikes have strangeness built in out of the need to build to a price (the Honda Rebel's inability to ever find neutral eclipses most problems with the VStar) so it's surprising that the quibbles I mention are critiques rather than laments over a bad purchase. Here recently the MSRP has jumped to $4090, however, and at that price I begin to question whether this bike is worth it, especially since a Suzuki GS500F could be had for $4399 or a Royal Enfield 500 B5 for $5495.