Difference Between a V Star & Virago

by John Willis

Yamaha makes both the V Star and Virago motorcycles. Each is powered by a v-twin four-stroke motor. Each is a cruiser-style bike. In many ways, the two machines overlap, meaning their specifications and performance characteristics are the same, leaving many wondering why Yamaha would make two lines of similar motorcycles. The specific details cannot be compared, because they are not just two bikes; they are two entire lines of motorcycles spanning many years and many sizes. Each specific model is slightly different. But there are general differences between the two lines.

Metric Cruisers

The design of each bike can be categorized as a "metric cruiser." This is a class of bike that is Japanese, thus has metric bolts and measures and has an upright or laid-back position. The metric cruiser class motorcycles are a response to the popularity and high price of Harley Davidsons -- perhaps the most sought-after cruiser-style motorcycles, though not thought of as having Japanese reliability. The V Star and Virago designs are different types of metric cruisers.


As with Harleys, within the class of cruisers, there are many sub-classes. The design of sub-classes often reflect styles of Harley Davidsons -- either stock or modified. The V Star and Virago each reference a different kind of cruiser. The Virago references the chopper design, with its extended front forks. The V Star references some of the more classic, muscular-looking Harleys and even drag bikes. Much of this difference is purely a matter of aesthetics.


Both bikes use four-stroke v-twin engines. Viragos, however, tend to be more powerful than similar-sized V Stars. But the story isn't that simple. Viragos tend to be higher-revving, better-breathing engines that make their power towards the top of their rpm range, resulting in one kind of performance. While Viragos may make more peak horsepower at higher rpms, there is a sense of having to work for that power. V Stars, on the other hand, are designed with torque in mind. The V Star tends to make its maximum torque towards the bottom end of the rpm range. That gives the rider a leisurely sense of power: acceleration without having to work the engine too hard. This is perhaps the defining difference between the two lines.

Cams and Fuel Delivery

The reasons one engine would perform so differently than another, similar engine are cam shafts, valves and fuel delivery. These things, in combination, affect how the head(s) of the engine flow. While higher-performance engines tend to have high-flow heads, they usually equate to high performance as measured by raw acceleration. A large v-twin that produces a lot of torque at low rpms, like the V Star, has a unique kind of performance that is harder to measure. You might call it street performance. It doesn't mean the bike will accelerate as fast when pushed to the limit, but it may have more pleasing characteristics under normal use.

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