Niche Dweller

Most modern power cruisers distinguish themselves by the size of their prize. Honda and Suzuki extol the volumetric virtues of their V-twins ad nauseum, and, indeed, their liquid-cooled engines are impressive musclemen that deliver sportbike-worthy horsepower and mean, thumpy torque. Even Harley-Davidson's flag-waving V-Rod is equipped with a brutish, liquid-cooled, Porsche-designed powerplant … et tu, Brute? Whatever happened to the traditional, all-American power cruiser?

RIDING STYLE: Helmet: Victory High Roller. Sunglasses: Black Flys Lucky Fly. Jacket: Victory Boss. Gloves: AGV Sport Force. Pants: Vanson Technical Sport Rider. Boots: Gaerne GR-S. (Click image to enlarge)

For an alternative to a genre gone mad with technology, consider the Victory Hammer S, a purist throwback offering in a crowded field of laid-back, high-speed rides. Its 100 cu in V-twin is air-cooled, a decidedly old world approach in an era where gadgetry threatens character, that all-important x-factor. Orthodox, but not quite reactionary, the Victory-built mill concedes four valves per cylinder and electronic fuel injection, adding elements of efficiency to its otherwise uncluttered, radiator-free engine.

Styling is a blend of retro and modern, and the limited edition “S” variant offers red on black paintwork and a blacked out engine, inverted forks, handlebars, mirrors, and gauges. Red wheels powdercoated by Performance Machine integrate smoothly with the bike's flowing lines, while twin staggered chrome exhaust pipes contrast the otherwise non-bling components. The arced headlight shroud and lush teardrop tank veer towards retro, while the flush, integrated taillight blends seamlessly with the fender, countering with a more modern feel at the rear of the bike. The slick rear fender bulges around wide, 250mm rubber specially designed by Dunlop, and the instrumentation assembly is chromed. (Click image to enlarge)

The Hammer S is fairly intuitive to ride, in spite of its hulking rear tire and feet-forward ergonomics. Thanks to a relatively low seat that sits close to the engine, mass is reasonably centralized. Handling is above average for a power cruiser, and turn-in has been improved for 2007. Though turn-in feels diff-erent enough to have been instigated by altered suspension geometry, the solution was a simple one—the handlebars were reconfigured, resulting in better leverage and more control of the bike's front end. A thin 130mm front tire changes direction easily, and the bike—which is lighter than the Honda and Suzuki, but a touch more portly than the Hog—acts as one would expect a bike with a dry weight of 657 lbs to behave.

The suspension does not offer much travel, and dampening is rather firm, though the bumps are not harshly transmitted until road conditions deter-iorate significantly. Lean angles must be managed judiciously, as footpegs scrape during tight turns. Not surprisingly, the lack of a fairing allows for ample wind buffeting, though the handlebars feel close enough to avoid the annoying “sail in the wind” sensation. (Click image to enlarge)

In keeping with the American cruiser paradigm, the lower end of the Hammer S powerband is rife with torque, peaking just past the 2,400-rpm mark. Twist the throttle, and thrust rolls on smoothly, accumulating revs steadily to the 5,500 rpm redline. While the Suzuki M109R boasts Gixxer-inspired reviness that redlines 2,000 rpm higher than the Hammer S, Victory has adhered to a traditional vision of the cruiser, which begs for heavy throttle at low engine speeds, producing a tug of thrust more usable in short bursts of real-world riding, rather than interstate-scorching, high-speed cannonballs.

Incidentally, there really is no correct answer here; extra velocity is always a thing of beauty, no matter how the power curve arcs. Connoisseurs of speed and its perceived signifier, sound, ought to opt for the Stage 1 slip on exhaust kit, which adds a bit more horsepower and a lot more decibels.Shifting the 6-speed is somewhat notchy, but sure; the Victory Kingpin Touring, its more sensible cousin, produces more buttery shift action. Firm, but not shockingly powerful stops are produced by dual 300mm floating rotor 4-piston Brembo brakes, and the 2-piston rear brake offers limited doses of additional decelerative force before locking up in futility.

Riding posture is neither ready nor cartoonishly reclined, and the handlebars are well positioned for long rides. While the seat features a small lip at the rear that keeps the rider in place during hard acceleration, its presence must be consciously avoided during extended rides, as it can easily become an irritant and force the rider to scoot forward.

At the end of the day, the Victory Hammer S fulfills its mission of creating its own niche in the already niche-oriented power cruiser market. With nods to traditional styling and adherence to air-cooled technology, the bike keeps one foot in the company's winning formula of appeasing traditionalists, while adding a touch modernity. Don't let the vintage Victory logo fool you; this bike hangs with the hot rods, pounding the road with an urgency that befits its namesake.


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