The Yamaha XVS650, or otherwise known as the VStar 650, can be defined as an entry-level cruiser or touring bike. It has a classic cruiser style that is fairly stripped down. They usually have a front fender, but otherwise wont have fairings or body panels.
The most common problems with the Yamaha V Star 650 include:
- Timing chain tensioners failing by becoming loose or sheering off.
- Ignition system problems including faulty starters and ignition coils, making it difficult to start the motorcycle, especially when cold.
- Starting issues due to bad batteries or parasitic draining issues.
- Carburetor jets and syncing issues.
- Clutch adjustment or slipping.
When doing research on whether to buy a Yamaha V Star 650 make sure you read the list of common issues below to get a better understanding of whether this is something you feel comfortable with. No motorcycle is perfect, so just make your own best judgement.
Most Common Issues Explained
V Star 650 motorcycles are pretty popular and were produced for a number of model years. If you are interested in purchasing one, there are a few known issues to be aware of.
The V-twin engine can be sensitive to timing since there are two moving pistons and two sets of valves. There can be issues with the timing chain tensioner allowing too much slack in the chain and allowing the timing to be off. Under this condition, the engine will not start until the timing chain is repositioned and a new tensioner installed.
Ignition, or spark, issues can be related to timing issues. Likewise, timing chain issues can cause symptoms similar to no spark issues. However, issues with spark require diagnosing different components of the engine, namely the spark plugs, wires, and ignition coils.
There can be several different reasons why an engine would have issues starting. One common issue is having a bad battery. Batteries can degrade over time and especially take a hit when improperly stored. Likewise, if there is an issue with a short circuit constantly draining the battery, the life of the battery will be shortened drastically.
Along with engine operation, there is some discussion about the jets in the carburetors backing out. This can be tricky to diagnose without disassembling the carb. Symptoms of this issue include lack of power at speed and poor starting and idling.
Speaking of carburetors, it’s worth noting that the V Star models have dual carburetors, which require some tuning and syncing. The carburetors can get out of sync due to road and engine vibrations gradually loosening adjuster screws. Symptoms include poor idling and low-end power.
Clutch wear is to be expected over the life of the motorcycle and clutch slippage is fairly common. “Clutch slippage” refers to a condition in which the friction between the clutch plates is reduced and “slips” before engaging fully. Symptoms include poor acceleration in lower gears. The clutch is also sensitive to using the right transmission oil.
Aside from these issues, another aspect to take note of is the fact that these motorcycles have a driveshaft in place of a chain. This isn’t specific to Yamaha; other manufacturers use this setup. A drive shaft should be fairly reliable, but issues can arise with u-joints and the final drive gears.
What Can I Do About These Issues?
There is no “fix-all solution” for ignition and timing issues. Diagnosing requires verifying that each component is functional, which can be tedious and time-consuming, and requires some mechanical know-how.
Having a reliable source for information is critical to making repairs. Online forums are a decent way to learn, but it can be difficult to communicate specific issues. A solid source of information is a Yamaha manual for the XVS650, which is available to purchase online. You can find manuals at emanual.com, which is a great resource I use.
Concerning the timing chain tensioner, this will be a pretty involved repair for someone with minimal mechanic experience. While it is possible to do at home, extra caution should be taken when taking the engine apart. Typically, the tensioner wearing out should prevent the chain from wearing out, so only replacing the tensioner is common. However, this is a case-by-case issue and discretion should be used.
When diagnosing ignition issues, it is safe to start at the spark plugs. The condition of the spark plug is indicative how well it is operating. Check for any irregular conditions, like oil fouling, rich/lean condition, or damaged plugs. Check spark plug wires and coils and replace as needed. Advanced diagnosing will require a lot of testing and checking.
Have the carburetor cleaned as needed. This will include replacing or cleaning out jets. If you’re having performance issues, double-check jets are clean and installed correctly. Also, keep an eye on the air filter condition and replace as needed.
It is common for previous owners to install aftermarket “performance” carburetor jets. This can make performance a bit unreliable as additional tuning is required to compensate for the different jets. The safe bet is to go with OEM parts unless you are confident in your abilities.
The dual carb setup requires syncing the carburetors. Syncing refers to adjusting each carburetor’s idle to where they are “synced”. This is different than the idle adjuster, which adjusts the overall engine idle.
Adjusting is simple enough, but it requires some type of gauge, which uses a vacuum measurement to determine adjustment. There are gauges for sale online or there are ways to DIY a gauge set, which may be a bit too in depth for this article.
Solving clutch issues will be critical to maintaining rideability. Typically, if your engine rev’s up without a corresponding spike in speed, the clutch is likely slipping. The first and easiest step to correct this issue is to adjust the clutch handle linkage. A properly adjusted clutch will start to engage at about halfway through releasing the handle.
If the linkage is adjusted and you’re are still having the same symptoms, it is likely that the clutch plates will need to be replaced. Make sure this is done by a competent technician and that the correct type and amount of transmission oil are used.
The final drive will need the oil changed regularly. Again, use the right oil and look for any chunks of metal in the old oil. Drive shafts need a bit of grease regularly to prolong the life of the u-joints.
As with any bike, keep up on general maintenance to keep the bike in good condition. Before riding, give the bike a thorough inspection, looking for anything that could indicate a larger issue. Keep some spare parts and tools on hand in case of an emergency repair.
Is It Better To Buy A New Or Used One?
The V Star 650 was produced for many model years from 1998 to present, however not all model years were available in the United States. For the current model year, the 650 is not in production, but Yamaha does have a 2020 and 2021 VStar 250 available. Yamaha also offers Star touring bikes, but again not in the 650.
With so many model years there are plenty of used bikes to search through, although availability is dependent on the local market. Buying a used bike comes with its risks, but with some careful navigation, you can find a great motorcycle at a fair price.
Some things to consider when buying used:
- Never buy sight unseen. Look at the bike in person, test ride, and talk with previous owner when possible to get the best feel for the bike.
- Older model years will likely have higher mileage. With higher mileage comes a lower selling price, but it also means a greater risk of having problems.
- Taking the bike to a dealership or to a trusted mechanic to do some deeper inspection is worthwhile. Trained eyes may find things you missed and those findings could make or break a deal.
- As mentioned above, the market is geographically and demographically dependent. If you arent finding any deals in your area, you may have to travel to get a better deal.
Would I Recommend Getting One?
Overall, the V Star 650 is a solid motorcycle. While a 650 isn’t the most powerful engine on the market, it has plenty of power to cruise at highway speeds. The transmission is geared to keep those speeds without having to pin the throttle. Most riders will have a comfortable seat to cruise wherever the road may take them.
If you have never ridden a motorcycle before, this may not be the best one to start out on unless you are in a very controlled environment. While they aren’t overpowered, they do weigh over 500 pounds which can be a lot for a beginner.
If you are not a beginner but are still getting some experience under your belt, this bike could be a nice upgrade. As has been mentioned, the 650 has enough power and gearing to cruise on the highway. This opens up more possibilities as a rider to commute or explore while gaining more riding experience.
If you are a seasoned veteran of motorcycle riding, the 650 will still hold its own, but you might feel a bit underwhelmed. While there are some after-market modifications you can make to personalize the 650, if you are used to bigger bikes, this might not be the option to switch to. Of course, this is all dependent on preference.
The overall recommendation would be that the 650 is a great bike for a beginner to upgrade to. It has a great style which can be customized to fit your preference. While there are a few common issues to be aware of, and after taking careful consideration of the specific bike you’re interested in, the Yamaha V Star 650 will provide a great ride for commuting or adventuring.