How can two vehicles be so inherently similar yet so entirely different? It’s hard to figure. But the Triumph Rocket III Roadster and the Yamaha Star VMax are exactly that. On one hand, they’re both big, long, unfaired, ultra-heavy, über-powerful asphalt shredders. On the other hand, one’s a north-south inline-Triple, the other an east-west V-Four. The lighter one with the smaller engine is priced just $500 short of 20 Grand, while the bigger one with the monster motor is only a buck shy of $14,000. One looks like an exercise in old-school motorcycle design, the other like a prop from a Transformer movie.Still, they invite comparison, because there’s nothing else like them on the road. They’re not cruisers, tourers, sport-tourers or sportbikes. They’re two big, badass hot-rods, each boasting its own way of doing the same job: pulling your arms out of their sockets while pushing your eyeballs farther into theirs.
In raw acceleration, the VMax wins hands-down, doing 0-60 mph in just 2.5 seconds and torching the quarter-mile in 10.11 seconds at 137 mph. The Triumph managed only an 11.48/115-mph quarter and a 0-60 time of 3.3 seconds. Mr. Max’s top speed is electronically limited to 138 mph, but he still topped the Roadster by 15 mph in that category.
Things changed a bit on the CW dyno where the end result was a split decision. The Max slaughtered the Rocket in peak hp, 174 at 9000 rpm to 120 at 5300; but the Triumph did the deed in torque, managing 140 ft.-lb. at 3200 rpm as opposed to 113 at 6600 for the Star.
Out in the real world, however, any differences between the two are not so dramatic. Both are ergonomically spacious and comfortable, although the VMax’s rear suspension delivers a ride that’s noticeably smoother than that of the Triumph. Both handle, steer and corner exceptionally well for such big lumps, with neither holding a meaningful advantage in cornering clearance. You might be able to rail through the twisties a little faster on the Star, but not enough so to leave the Triumph for dead. The seat heights are similar, the Yamaha’s measuring half an inch lower. The Rocket’s 34 mpg average fuel mileage blows the VMax’s 27 into the weeds, as does its 215-mile average fuel range, doubling the scant 107 allowed by the Star’s 4.0-gallon tank.
But these two are about engine performance, not gas mileage, and each goes about delivering that quality in its own way. The Yamaha has a much revvier motor that also pumps out more torque than anything else on two wheels—except the Triumph, of course, which effectively is a two-wheel torque factory. Thus, the VMax emerges as the superior stoplight racer, a thrill a minute for riders who love to zing up through the gears, reveling in the soulful howl of a big V-Four. The Triumph is no slouch in the g-force acceleration department, either, but doles it out in an easier, more laid-back manner, asking only that its operator twist that little black thing on the end of the right handlebar. Gearshift? What gearshift? The VMax is about the sound and the fury; the Roadster is quieter and lower-revving, a Stealth fighter in a world of rowdy hot-rods.
It’s hard to imagine anyone standing in a Yamaha-Triumph dealership between a VMax and a Roadster trying to decide which one to buy. Yeah, they’re the same in intent, but they’re so different in execution, appearance and character that potential buyers will likely be polarized from their first glance.
From a bang-for-the-buck standpoint, though, it’s hard to beat the Roadster. But from an “I can beat you to the next light” perspective, the VMax is the Real Deal.