2005 Victory Hammer - Time Hammer

Even if you don't track the sales of individual motorcycles, cruiser enthusiasts need only look at the new models making their way to the market for 2005 to deduce the health of this class. The 2005 Victory Hammer offers a prime example. Any time a manufacturer designs a bike specifically to lure riders not traditionally part of the existing market segment, you know the market has got to be pretty good. Developing a new motorcycle costs too much money to approach willy-nilly, so a new model directed at a group other than the typical cruiser-faithful says the company is bullish on the state of the market.

Victory has a history of looking at the long term when it comes to creating motorcycles. Only in its seventh year of operation, Victory understands how long it can take for a motorcycle line to take off, largely thanks to the 50-year history of its parent company, Polaris Industries. (Just look at the postmortems of Excelsior-Henderson and Indian Motorcycles published in previous issues of Motorcycle Cruiser to learn how simply bringing a competent motorcycle to market is just the first hump a fledgling manufacturer must surmount. The second challenge, often the backbreaker, is the crushing debt acquired while producing the first bikes.) Polaris' deep pockets and Victory's understanding of where it can/will fit into the cruiser market have enabled Victory to create an established line of motorcycles. Now, rather than designing a bike consumer research predicts will be the core of the cruiser market's desires, as the company did with the Vegas, Victory has released a bike designed for a niche within the cruiser market.

The riders Victory hopes to snare with the Hammer tend to be between the ages of 35 and 45 (though not exclusively) and have been involved in riding bikes other than cruisers-even (gasp!) sportbikes. These riders don't want what they might term "an old guy's bike." Traditional or classic styling, whatever you want to call the inspiration of many OE cruisers, doesn't appeal to them. Instead, they want something with an aggressive look that makes a statement. They also want the performance to back up the attitude.

While several manufacturers build power cruisers-some have been around for quite a while, as the comparison in the April 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser will attest-Victory didn't just look to the OEMs for cues when penning the Hammer. The engineers considered what was popular in the aftermarket and custom bike world. The trend toward the "pro street" look-big rear tires and abbreviated rear fenders-has recently garnered much attention. Once the designers had the broad strokes of the Hammer laid out (a fat rear tire, six-speed overdrive transmission, power cruiser), they had to refine their vision to the level people expect from an OEM. This was the crucial step where the Hammer idea could gather speed or fizzle, and is what separates customs from mass-produced bikes.

Putting lengthy lead-in time aside, the Hammer is still all about its freakin' huge rear tire. The 8.5-inch-wide wheel required to hold the 250mm tire is wider than those on many cars. While maintaining the basic steering geometry, the chassis is an all-new affair. The swingarm had to be adjusted to accommodate the monster Dunlop. The 10mm-narrower engine allowed the frame rails and footpegs to be relocated for more ground clearance. A 43mm inverted telescopic fork rakes out to 32.9 degrees (0.1 degrees more than the Kingpin and 0.2 degrees less than the Vegas). While the Hammer's wheelbase is 0.1 inches longer than any other Victory, the bike looks smaller than most of its siblings. The impression is supported by the Hammer's 92.7-inch overall length-3.6 or 6.4 inches shorter, depending on which Victory model it is compared to. (Big fenders can add a lot to the bike's size. Just look at the Kingpin.) The low-profile rear tire also appears quite slender from the side, slimming the Hammer's profile even more.

The Hammer's style is, perhaps, the most integrated of any Victory to date. From the small front fender to the color-matched headlight shell to the swept-back bar, the Hammer's shape causes your eyes to naturally trace its lines from front to rear. As with recent Victories, the tank sculpts itself around-almost into-the seat for a seamless integration between rider and bike. Unlike any other Victory, though, the Hammer features a color-matched pillion cover similar to those found on sportbikes. The rear fender is also unusually shaped, with the lower edge forming a straight line from the side panel, under the frame rail to the sportbike-inspired bobbed rear fender. The attention to detail doesn't end with the bodywork. The engine is subtly restyled, too. The only warts on the whole package are the stamped steel rear axle adjusters and the charcoal canister under the left side of the swingarm on California models. Consider Victory's $70 chromed billet axle adjuster covers part of the price of admission to the Hammer club.

Since the Hammer will be part of the power cruiser class, Victory decided the standard 92-cubic-inch engine wasn't beefy enough. While they could have simply installed a set of larger jugs to bump up displacement, the engineers took this opportunity to further refine the Freedom engine. New heads escort combustibles into and out of the 4mm-larger 101mm cylinder bore. The 102mm stroke remains the same. The resulting power delivery of the Freedom 100/6 is a 10 percent increase in peak horsepower and a 22 percent jump in torque. Since research showed Victory owners prefer to ride the torque of an engine instead of spinning it up to redline, the 100/6's fuel maps and cams were massaged to give the most bang to the torque curve.

According to Victory, the oil sump was narrowed 10mm largely due to press feedback about cornering clearance. The smaller sump also carries a quart less oil. The six-speed transmission is a big deal. The first five gear ratios remain unchanged from the 92-inch Freedom engine. Fifth gear is a 1:1 direct drive ratio, while the new sixth gear is a true overdrive with a 0.864:1 ratio for a 13.6 percent reduction. At 75 mph, that equates to a 450-rpm drop-enough to satisfy Victory riders who wanted the engine to settle down at highway speeds. The new cam drive with a silent timing chain coupled with hydraulic lifters and a hydraulic cam drive tensioner were designed to lessen the engine's mechanical noise. Helical-cut primary gears will also help keep unnecessary sound from the ears of riders.

Victory worked closely with Dunlop to create the 250/40 R18 Elite 3 tire that is the centerpiece of the Hammer. Since fat-tired custom cruisers sometimes struggle to do more than go in a straight line, much of the bike's development was directed at tire profile and handling. The goal for the final production model was balance. As with the engine's power delivery, the Hammer was meant to excel in a variety of situations rather than dominating just one.

One place where the Hammer will take no prisoners is its color palette. Victory chose attention-getting, aggressive colors to make the bike stand out-and attract riders of other classes of brightly colored bikes. The standard colors are black, Cosmic Sunburst (which bears a striking, though candy-colored, resemblance to Art Friedman's signature orange helmet), Flame Yellow, Indy Red and the custom-order-only color, Toxic Green. Both the red and green bikes can also receive a tribal tattoo pattern.

Riding the Hammer is not to be missed. First, the seating position is open and relaxed. The engine starts willingly (though some preproduction starter motors had problems on the press intro) and idles with that characteristic Victory sound. The clutch lever requires a slightly stronger pull than previous Victories, but not tremendously so. The acceleration is strong, and like many bikes that have fairly flat torque curves, you don't have to spin the engine to its limits to make good time. The fuel injection is almost flawless, with no glitches or hiccups. Sixth gear drops the rpm to 2500 at 70 mph. Spin the engine higher and vibration becomes noticeable-but not bothersome-in the handlebar at around 3000 rpm. Higher up in the rev range, say near 4000 rpm, the vibration does begin to intrude in a way I don't remember experiencing on the Kingpin.

The big surprise is how the Hammer handles. While it does feel different from a bike with a more traditional tire profile, the bike turns in and changes lines mid-corner with ease. The wide rear tire has a slight tendency to self-center as the bike stands up. When cornering, a small constant input is required to help the Hammer hold its line. However, this in no way limits the bike, and after a few getting-acquainted miles, I felt comfortable in almost any cornering situation. Although I didn't notice this, one rider, whose opinion I respect, said he felt the Hammer sometimes tried to stand up a little when encountering bumps midcorner. This could be a symptom of the wide rear tire. The suspension works well, but I did detect some harshness over sharp-edged bumps in the rear (probably due to the lessened absorption capacity of the low-profile tire).

The improved ground clearance is a welcome change. Flexible parts touch first on both sides, giving riders some warning before hard parts cause any havoc. On the right side, a bolt securing the muffler grinds next. Riders who have experienced the abrupt ground contact of previous Victories will probably ask for the new, narrower engine on other models after they get a chance to sample it on the Hammer. The four-piston calipers acting on dual discs in the front give the Hammer ample, easy-to-modulate stopping power. The rear disc is the same 300mm as the front pairing, but it doesn't feel overpowered thanks to the tire's prodigious grip.

The seat is one place I feel the Hammer hasn't improved over previous Victories. While the padding is soft, the seat curves up in a way that becomes uncomfortable after 100 miles or so. The pillion cover is a clever design that is held in place by pins in rubber grommets. Unfortunately, when the cover is off and nobody's butt is covering the pillion, the grommets make the seat appear unfinished. Hopefully some snazzy covers are in the works.

In my one-day ride on the Hammer, Victory appears to have met its goal of producing a balanced bike that oozes performance and badassedness. That attitude has a cost, though. The MSRP for the Hammer starts at $16,499, making it the most expensive non-Arlen Ness Signature Series Victory. The Hammer won't appeal to all cruiser enthusiasts. Victory never intended it to. Instead, the company has created what it believes will be a niche product-but one ahead of the curve in cruiser tastes. Let's just say the Hammer is trying to create a style that differentiates it from the other members of the power cruiser class. When you consider how Victory has carved a space for itself between Harley-Davidson and the import cruisers as the new American motorcycle company, this role may be one for which Victory is well-suited.

Specifications
2005 Victory Hammer

Suggested base price: $16,499
Engine type: Air/oil-cooled, 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: Four valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 100 cu. in. (1634cc), 101 x
102mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Fuel system: EFI, 42mm throttle bodies
Transmission: Six-speed overdrive, constant mesh
Final drive: Belt
Wheels: Cast, 18 x 3.0 in. front, 18 x 8.5 in. rear
Front tire: 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite 3
Rear tire: 250740R18 Dunlop Elite 3
Front brake: 2, 300mm discs, 4-piston dual-action calipers
Rear brake: 300mm disc, 4-piston dual-action caliper
Front suspension: Inverted cartridge 43mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single, monotube gas shock, 3.9 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.