Radial Tire Wheel Options

Accommodating Radial Tires

by Ken Sutton - 2000

BBR Wheel w/ Metzler ME-Z4
tire on Ken's Y2K Vmax

The V-Max is a great straight-line torque monster. Why would anyone want to turn it into something it is not; namely a sportbike? This was the question posed by one of the members on the Internet tech list recently.

No question about it, the V-Max is the undisputed stoplight-to-stoplight champion. Neck-snapping low-end torque, along with the rush of V-Boost is what attracted many of us to this wonderful machine. As I pondered this member’s question about leaving well enough alone, I thought of similar questions in history. Q: "Why climb Mount Everest?" A: Because it is there." Q: "Why do you rob banks?" A: "Because that’s where the money is." Q: "Why try and turn a V-Max into a sportbike?" A: "Because it can be done."

The V-Max’s reputation as a poor handling, heavy, creaky motorcycle is absolutely true by today’s sportbike standards. That’s not to say that just because the engineers at Yamaha haven’t updated the V-Max with today’s latest design technology, we have to live with the poor handling characteristics that predominate the conventional thinking about our beloved bike. No, through the garage engineering of many VMOA members, many of whom are engineers themselves, there is a wealth of information about modifications and upgrades to the V-Max that bring its handling out from the shadows of the past.

I accept the notion that if you want the ultimate canyon carving, track-day road course marvels you can more easily obtain your thrills on the latest CBR or GSX-R. If you are like me, you don’t have un-law-enforced canyons to carve or race courses to ride on a daily basis. Therefore, today’s plastic-bike alternatives to the V-Max, although producing tremendous advantages in handling the twisties, only reach our levels of torque after first reaching engine revs well beyond our redline. Sure, their top-end speed is blisteringly fast but who has two miles of un-law-enforced road to get them up to these speeds? So I came to the conclusion that the V-Max is a far more practical bike to meet my daily throttle-blipping needs. It has indeed proven itself to be the stoplight-to-stoplight champ.

However, I also need to turn from time to time. I want to feel comfortable that I can take that high-speed sweeping onramp and end up in traffic at a reasonable speed to merge. Beyond that, can the V-Max be transformed to handle modest curves that can still take advantage of its V-Boost in the midrange? This is the question I asked myself. What follows is a multi-part story about my quest to answer this question.

Part 1: Radial Tires

After I came to the conclusion that the ultimate streetbike would be the V-Max engine on a GSX-R frame, I tried to organize the most effective way to obtain this goal. Obviously there would be no way to put a V-Max engine in one of today’s modern sportbikes. It did however seem reasonable to apply today’s handling technology to a V-Max. Many V-Max owners have already done this and it is to my advantage that they have been willing to share their experiences with other V-Max owners like myself. My V-Max is a product of the research done by a host of very talented V-Max enthusiasts that rarely asked the question "why" but rather worked diligently to discover "how".

After talking to many of these V-Max re-engineers and reading everything I could get my hands on regarding the V-Max and the modifications that could be done to it, a common theme emerged that the single best modification that could be done to enhance the bike’s handling would be achieved by replacing the old-technology bias ply tires with radials. To justify their contention I tried to remember the last time a major automobile manufacturer sold a car with bias ply tires. The best I can remember it was nearly 30 years ago. When was the last time a GP champion won on bias tires? Ok, I’m sold. Radial tires are to motorcycle handling what aluminum was to aircraft manufacturing. A tire change seems like it should be a simple R&R process.

Unfortunately for us the kind folks over at Yamaha did their best to keep us on yesterday’s rubber technology. Although our front wheel is 18" in diameter and can be easily refitted with a radial tire our rear wheel is 15" in diameter and our friends in Ohio, Japan and elsewhere have yet to build a 15" radial tire. No, there just isn’t a demand for this odd size tire. Any thoughts of putting radials on a V-Max must start with considering a replacement for our odd sized rear wheel.

I scoured the earth searching for the best rear wheel for my V-Max. What I found is that there are several choices and what’s right for you is likely more a matter of taste and time rather than science.

After considering these and several other alternatives, I determined what I considered to be the right rear wheel for my V-Max. I ended up purchasing a rear wheel from BBR Tuning in Paris, France. BBR offers a GSX-R rear wheel already mated to a V-Max hub. There is no need to ship them donor wheels. They usually have these wheels on the shelf, ready to ship. I must say however, that I was a little bit intimidated calling BBR the first time. I don’t speak a lick of French and I was afraid this was going to make dealing with them difficult. I was pleasantly surprised when I finally made the call. The proprietor is a man named Jean-Paul Balboni. Jean-Paul will answer your e-mails, but prefers to speak on the phone as he tells me he speaks English better than he can write. Actually, he probably speaks English better than I do! It was a relatively simple transaction. Jean-Paul asked that I wire-transfer $600 US to his bank in Paris, and once it arrived, he would send me the wheel. I was a little apprehensive sending him the money this way, and the fact that there would be no retribution if I weren’t satisfied didn’t add to my sense of well being in this transaction. But my fears were all unfounded. I sent the money and a week later I had the wheel. It was expertly machined and polished; a real thing of beauty. The best part, the easy installation of this wheel, was yet to come.

I pulled out my Yamaha service manual and followed the steps to remove the stock rear wheel. This took all of about five minutes. Once that was done I removed the stock rear rotor and reinstalled it on the BBR wheel. (Remember to use a little loctite on the threads of the rotor’s bolts to keep them secure.) I then removed a retainer clip and hub from the left side of the stock wheel and reinstalled them on the BBR wheel. Next, I took the BBR wheel and a new Metzler ME-Z4 180-55-R17 rear tire to my local Yamaha dealer where they mounted it and balanced the wheel. Once home, the installation of the BBR wheel took all of about five more minutes. They sent along a custom machined, polished spacer that is used on the right side of the wheel in lieu of the stock washer. Fitting it all together was a snap and everything fit perfectly. I still have well over a half-inch clearance on the stock swing-arm. Start to finish, not including the time to get the tire mounted and the wheel balanced, the whole process took less than 15 minutes. This really is a very easy and straightforward modification. You retain your stock rotor & caliper with no special brackets or other modifications required.

Now, if all you want to do is get up and running on radials, certainly one of the most cost effective and easiest ways to do it would be to get a BBR rear wheel like I did and replace your 18" bias ply front tire with an 18" radial. This can be done for about $800. Be sure to break in the tires a bit before you try and take that sweeper at 100+ mph, and always be sure to let the tires warm up before pushing them to their limit. Also, make sure that you always run similar tires both front and back. Never run a bias ply tire on one wheel and a radial on the other or I can tell you from experience that this will destroy the handling of the V-Max that you are working to enhance. Whatever wheels you end up with after you follow these steps, you will be amazed at the difference in handling you will experience.

If you want to take this a step farther, you can replace your front end with a sportbike front end that will include a 17" front wheel. Stay tuned for next time when I discuss this modification that I did to my V-Max in conjunction with replacing the rear wheel.


Source: UFO Cycles; www.ufocycles.com; (216) 631-3883; Jon Cornell

Product: A variety of 17" front and rear wheel styles that are direct bolt-on replacements.

Cost: Approximately $2200/set

Comment: Jon offers a large inventory of V-Max replacement parts, including a large variety of unique styles of custom 17" wheels. Jon’s wheels provide one of the most efficient ways to replace both front and rear stock wheels with 17" wheels. These truly are show-quality wheels!

Source: BBR Engineering; www.bbr-smpp.com; 011-39880926; Jean-Paul Barboni

Product: GSX-R 17" rear wheel mated to a V-Max hub

Cost: Approximately $600 (rear only)

Comment: Call Jean-Paul to arrange for payment and a week later you’ll receive a polished GSX-R rear wheel that will fit your V-Max. The quickest and easiest way to get up and running on radial tires. Jean-Paul reports that he will be offering a 17" front wheel for the stock V-Max front-end in 2001.

Source: Kosman Racing; www.kosmanracing.com; (707) 837-0127; Sandy Kosman

Product: A re-machined stock V-Max Rear Wheel

Cost: Approximately $550 (rear only)

Comment: Send Sandy your stock rear V-Max wheel and he will remachine it to fit a 17" radial tire. Spring 2001 Sandy will be offering a 17" matching front wheel for approximately $600. If you like the stock V-Max wheel’s looks, this might be the right alternative for you.

Source: Fischer Wheel; www.fischer-fcw.com/index.html; 011-4922361262; Frank

Product: A unique set of stylized 17" V-Max wheels

Cost: Approximately $2200/set

Comment: Located in Germany; A high-end show wheel.

Source: MEK; www.vmax-mek.com/reifen_us.htm; 011-02151-700-333

Product: High-end 17" front and rear wheels

Cost: Approximately $2600/set

Comment: Located in Germany, MEK offers a few sets of very high-end show quality wheels. Fewer styles offered than UFO, but similar high-end quality.

Source: Superbike Racing; www.superbikeracing.com; (912) 242-0666; Andrew

Product: Dymag Wheels

Cost: Approximately $1800/set

Comment: Dymag wheels are used on many racing bikes and Indy cars. They are the ultimate lightweight 17" racing wheel. However, these wheels are exclusively imported to the United States from England through Superbike Racing. Some members have reported difficulties obtaining these wheels. Dymag wheels do not come with a polished finish, but are powder coated in a variety of colors.