Motorcycle Road Test: 2005 Victory Hammer

The 2005 Victory Hammer.

You've heard it all before: Americans believe bigger is always better. This attitude led to the relentless engine-displacement creep we've winessed over the last several years. With the advent of Triumph's 2.3-liter engine crushing the competition, manufacturers were forced to look elsewhere for places to one-up one another. Victory Motorcycles has always, to its credit, marched to a different drummer. When the development folks put their collective heads together on how to improve their motorcycle line, they looked beyond the ever-more-massive engine to the aftermarket to see what modifications were popular with bike owners. Being an American manufacturer led Victory, naturally, to take a gander at what that other big American marque's aficionados had grafted to their bikes. Two things caught the company's attention: The pro-street style cruiser with a massive rear tire and stretched-out profile currently in vogue and the aftermarket six-speed transmissions mounted on domestic V-twins. Perhaps this was an opening for an industrious OEM?

Whatever route Victory took to create the Hammer, it was clearly influenced by the custom market as interpreted by a major manufacturer. Customizers are willing to endure the compromises of everyday rideability inherent in bringing their vision to life, but manufacturers have to do the development to make it work in a variety of circumstances.

In the grand scheme of things, simply adding a sixth cog to the gearbox must have been a tempting change to the already refined Freedom V92 engine. Instead, Victory threw in several improvements, making the Freedom 100/6 an all-new engine. First, the displacement bumped eight cubic inches to 100 cubic inches. While a "mere" 1634cc may not sound that impressive to jaded spec-sheet jockeys, it would have been considered pretty dang big a couple of years ago. The enlarged 101mm bore and unchanged 102mm stroke account for the increased cylinder capacity. Compression gets bumped to 9.7:1. The 100/6 engine retains the 92-incher's air- and oil-cooled status as well as the SOHC, four valves per cylinder and hydraulic valve adjusters. The cams were shaped to broaden the torque curve. Spinning those cams are new, quieter, hydraulically adjusted cam chains. A 10mm-narrower crankcase and smaller sump drop oil capacity to five quarts and allow the chassis to narrow a bit. Fuel-mixing duties are handled by a pair of 44mm throttle bodies and new EFI fuel maps tuned with torque in mind.

The new transmission retains the same ratios for the first five gears as the previous Freedom engine's. Departing from the 1:1 ratio on the fifth cog, sixth gear is a true overdrive with a 0.864:1 ratio. Those who still remember high-school math will realize this translates into a 13.6 percent reduction in rpm, resulting in a drop of 450 rpm at 75 mph. So you can expect the engine to spin at around 2900 rpm at 80 mph. Sounds like a nice, loping pace, doesn't it?

The quality of Victory's transmissions has improved exponentially since their introduction. Long-term Motorcycle Cruiser readers will, no doubt, remember Art Friedman's description of gear changes sounding "like someone hit the crankcase with a hammer" (December 1998). Well, that awful noise and excessive lash are long gone into the annals of Victorys past.

The Hammer's style will thrill some riders and offend others. According to Victory, it was inspired by other motorcycle classes—including sportbikes—so cruiser traditionalists need not apply. Regardless, you have to admire Victory's devotion to detail, starting with an attention-getting color palette and a color-matched headlight shell. A V-shaped handlebar draws the pilot's eyes to the instrument cluster that features both a speedometer and tachometer. The six warning lights are embedded in a chromed panel on the triple clamp. The high-beam switch has a flash function, allowing you to quickly cycle the light to attract attention. The seamless, sculpted tank wraps around the leading edge of the seat while a seat cowl covers the pillion, giving the bike a solo seat appearance. Cleverly, removing the seat cowl is as easy as pulling three pins out of rubber grommets. Similarly, removing the entire seat only involves removing the Allen bolts hidden behind those grommets. The taillight is frenched into a chopped rear fender. In fact, the bodywork's lines appear as a unified series of curves from the tank's leading edge to the fender's rear. The Hammer looks aggressive, even if you can't see its monster rear tire.

And then there's the massive rubber. The Hammer is the first production motorcycle to sport a 250-series rear tire. Why did Victory want to tackle the challenge of such huge skin? Just take a look at the Hammer from behind or—even better—from slightly to the right side of the rear. The thing is 10 inches wide, putting many car tires to shame! The Hammer's bright colors may get people to look at you when you pull into your favorite watering hole, but the otherworldly rear tire will make them walk over mouths agape. If you don't like attention, this isn't the bike for you. However, fitting a tire of this magnitude to a bike can't help but affect how it works in the real world. How well Victory civilized the...uh...unique handling characteristics of the American-sized carcass is the real story of the Hammer.

Riding the bike will tickle your sensors in unusual ways—at least until you are accustomed to it. The first turn out of the parking lot is an eye-opener. Something feels funny. The bike doesn't respond as nimbly as a more traditionally shod cruiser would at low speeds, and it feels like it wants to go straight. Press on a bit and you'll realize the Hammer simply needs a firmer hand at low speeds. If you have the room, ride some circles in the lot to see that it turns just fine—but with more effort and a different sensation.

Out on the boulevard, much of this sensation disappears. The Hammer is more responsive to handlebar inputs once above walking speeds. You may notice the bike's tendency to self-center on the wide rear tire after a maneuver such as a lane change, but it feels more like what you're used to. The strange feelings will return, however, once you move onto some more moderate turns. When the rear tire's contact patch is on the flatter portion of the tire, its tendency to self-center remains pretty much the same as when the bike is straight up and down. Moving onto the transition to the sharply curved sidewall initially exacerbates the feeling of wanting to continue in a straight line. While the Hammer needs to have slight pressure on the inside grip to maintain its line in turns, the pressure required is greater at this transition point. Lean the bike over farther onto the sidewall and the pressure required to hold the Hammer on line lessens but doesn't completely vanish.

The second cornering component of the Hammer that'll mess with your gyros is the wide rear tire, which actually raises the rear ride height as the bike leans over onto the sidewall. When you first start riding this fat 250 rear tire, you'll think something isn't right. If you've ever been on a train at a stop in the station when the train next to you begins to move unexpectedly, you've already experienced this kind of sensory disconnect. Your eyes (particularly your peripheral vision) tell you your train has begun to move, but your seat sensor says it hasn't, leading to a moment of vertigo as your brain sorts the signals to see which is right. With the Hammer, your hands say, "OK, I told this bike to turn," while your butt says, "Hey, what's going on back here?" Just give the bike its steering inputs and it'll go where you tell it to. After a while you'll learn how to process the new information. Cornering will again become second nature, requiring as little thought as a more traditionally shod cruiser—only with that slight, constant countersteering required to hold the bike on line. Changing lines midcorner is no problem, but you shouldn't be surprised to see the Hammer widens its line easier than it tightens it.

Victory spent much of the Hammer's development time working with Dunlop on the massive 250/40ZR18 Elite 3 rear tire's design. While all motorcycles depend on air pressure to maintain tire profiles, the Hammer, with its unique cornering requirements, is even more susceptible to the vagaries of underinflation. During our testing, this became apparent when two riders complained the bike wouldn't turn and required a heavy hand to steer—so heavy, in fact, it often led to overcorrecting. While healthy debate about bikes is common at Motorcycle Cruiser, we rarely have such marked differences in opinion on a bike's handling. A day later, the culprit, a four-inch nail in the rear tire, was found. Since the pressure wasn't tested before the nail was removed, we don't know if the pressure dropped a few pounds or not, but we suspect as much. (Victory acknowledges the Hammer is sensitive to tire pressure and recommends 36 psi and 38 psi front and rear, respectively.) Another potential contributing factor to the questionable handling could have been that the bike had been ridden to the West Coast, and consequently had a fair number of interstate miles on the center of its rubber. Which begs the question, how does the Hammer behave as the carefully designed tire profile is altered by the tire's center wear? Unfortunately, our limited time with the bike prevented us from gathering a definitive answer. A few days riding in the rain did tell us something, though. The Hammer works great in the wet until you try to lean it over more than a moderate amount. At that point, the tire begins to squirm on the wet pavement, sapping even the hardiest rider's confidence. While the bike never did anything evil, it certainly felt on the brink on more than once.

The nail in the tire led us to one unexpected discovery. Most motorcycle dealerships refused to change the tire, saying it was simply too big. Car tire stores refused to change the tire because it was—gasp!—for a motorcycle. Our local Victory dealer said he was too short-handed (between Christmas and New Year's) to change the tire for a week—or more! Finally, we were able to find a company that deals exclusively with motorcycle tires and was clearly excited to work with a new-model wheel. MC Tire Works (818/893-7806) in North Hills, California, had us walking out the door with new rubber mounted on the wheel in just 20 minutes. So if you own a Hammer and don't live near a Victory dealer (or one who believes in customer service), you may need to overcome some trepidation on the part of the tire technician when it comes time to swap rubber. When considering how the non-rubber parts of the Hammer function, you won't find any negative surprises. The engine's larger displacement is indeed noticeable. The Hammer launches with enough authority to have you bumping the rev limiter in the first two gears if you're not ready. The power builds linearly all the way to the rev limiter. The clutch has a hefty pull that seems more formidable than previous Victorys. Traveling in stop-and-go traffic will build up your left forearm in a hurry. The clutch engagement is easy to modulate—even when leaving a black rubber mark from an aggressive launch. Shifting is on par with most cruisers. The transmission engages solidly with nary a missed gear change and minimal lash.

Even with more poop, the engine retains that Victory sound we've been fond of since we rode one cross-country in 1998. The folks at Victory know a little secret about how to give us an inspiring, throaty engine note and still keep the EPA enforcers happy: carefully tuned intake honk is quite pleasant to the rider's ears but won't frighten the horses. While the power delivery is better than previous Freedom engines', we think it is comparable with other V-twins in its displacement class. Unfortunately, direct comparison of dragstrip times won't help determine this since the Hammer was forced to run into a 15-mph headwind. The 12.98-second ET at 99.7 mph sounds pretty impressive, given the conditions. Vibration isn't an issue with the engine throughout most of the rev range. In the true overdrive sixth gear at 80-mph highway cruising, the tachometer only reads 2800 rpm. At this speed, all the parts the rider touches are vibration-free. You can rack up a ton of miles this way. While passing slower traffic is possible (thanks to bottom-end grunt), we found a quick downshift to fifth made the process much quicker. The EFI lacks any glitches to interfere with enjoying the ride. The only place where you might notice a little snatchiness is at walking speeds at idle, but feathering the clutch makes low-speed maneuvers a snap.

If you're planning on making U-turns in parking lots, the reach to the outboard grip at full turning lock is formidable. One tester noted that despite the spiffy V in the bar, he was hunching forward to reach what was otherwise a drag-style bar. The seat was another place where opinions split. While most testers felt it was either a bit too firm, the wrong shape or both, one said it was perfect for his fanny. The Hammer's riding position is the standard cruiser feet-forward profile. However, the Hammer is less limited in ground clearance than previous Victorys. While the two degrees of additional lean may not sound like much, it translates into more fun when you leave the city. The first parts to touch down are now all flexible and offer a fair amount of warning before hard parts try to upset the chassis.

HIGHS & LOWS
High Points
* Massive rear tire matches custom-bike style * Six-speed overdrive reduces crusing rpm * Unique, clean, style

Low Points * Non-traditional handling irritates some riders * Skittish cornering when the road is wet * No built-in fork lock

First Changes * Different, more comfortable seat * Cover those ugly drive-belt adjusters on the swingarm

The suspension betrays the Hammer's power-cruiser intent. The overall feel is sporty stiff but not harsh. However, that stiffness can cause the bike to feel less than planted on the pavement when leaned over in a bumpy corner. Solitary bumps make the Hammer want to stand up. The minimal shock absorption of the low-profile rear tire coupled with the contact patch's offset from the tire's (and thus the bike's) centerline likely contribute to this. While the behavior can be unsettling the first few times, as your familiarity with the bike increases you begin to anticipate the bump effect. Testers were split on this personality trait, with some not minding and others outright annoyed by it.

The staff was unanimous, however, on the brakes. With four-piston Brembo calipers squeezing 300mm floating discs up front, the Hammer has more than enough tractable power to stop the big bike. The two-piston Brembo on the rear is easy to modulate for maximum power without locking the wheel. We sure wish more manufacturers would put braided steel lines on their bikes. They not only look nice, but they also increase braking performance.

After our time with the Hammer, we're divided on whether we prefer it to other V-twin power cruisers. This seems to fall precisely into Victory's own market assessment. Not everyone will be attracted to the non-traditional styling, while those who want something truly different will like the way the bold shape and colors stand out. Similarly, not everyone will like the way the wide rear tire makes the bike handle. Others will find it to be something different. The $16,499 price of admission will also make this bike appeal to an exclusive crowd. Nobody will be able to ignore the in-your-face styling of the complete package and Victory's attention to detail. The Hammer has an attitude like no other cruiser, which is bound to win it a loyal following.

SPECIFICATIONS
2005 Victory Hammer

Designation: Hammer
Suggested base price: $16,499
Standard colors: Black, Cosmic Sunburst, Flame Yellow, Indy Red
Extra-cost colors: Indy Red with Tribal Tattoo, Toxic Green, Toxic Green with Tribal Tattoo

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air/oil-cooled, 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, two intake, two exhaust per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 100 cu. in. (1634cc), 101 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Carburetion: EFI, 44mm throttle bodies
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet, multi-plate clutch, six-speed overdrive
Final drive: Belt

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 714 lbs.
GVWR: 1165 lb.
Seat height: 26.4 in.
Wheelbase: 65.7 in.
Overall length: 92.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 32.9o/5.57 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy, six spoke, 18 x 3.0 in. front, 18 x 8.5 in. rear
Front tire: 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite 3, tubeless radial
Rear tire: 250/40R18 Dunlop Elite 3, tubeless radial
Front suspension: Inverted cartridge 43mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, adjustable for preload, 3.9 in. travel
Front brake: 2, 300mm discs, 4-piston dual-action calipers
Rear brake: 300mm disc, 2-piston single-action caliper
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.
Handlebar width: 35.4 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Battery: 12v, 14 AH
Forward lighting: Seven-inch headlight, dual bulbs (one high beam, one low beam)
Taillight: Single-bulb taillight, license plate
Instruments: Electronic speedometer, tachometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, lights for engine, low fuel, high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 34 to40 mpg (37.8 avg.)
Average range: 170 miles
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 71.4 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.98 second @ 99.7 mph

RIDING POSITIONS

Art Friedman: It seems like just a couple of years ago we were riding that first dowdy V92C across the country. You could park that bike—the first running example of a new company's product anybody had seen—prominently in a motorcyclist-rich environment and virtually nobody would notice it.

Things have changed. The Hammer nails the performance V-twin look and draws every eye around. The closer it gets, the more people ooh and aah. The stylists deserve a hearty round of applause for this bike, which is a great ego vehicle.

It's not too bad as a transportation vehicle, either. Motorcyclists will talk about the wide rear wheel, but it compromises the bike's handling qualities, making it reluctant to bank into corners. For the kind of riding I like to do, I'd rather have a narrower tire and give up some of the curbside acclaim. But otherwise the Hammer is a nice bike to really ride.

Victory's engines have been impressive from that first bike we rode seven years ago, and the 100/6 extends its appeal. There are bigger V-twins out there, but I think this one offers the best all-around performance, even if it is a bit long in the cylinders. It's not in the actual muscle-bike class, but as a cruiser with an extra handful of beans, it fills the bill.

Naturally, Victory won't say what plans it has for the engine-transmission combo, but I'd like to see it in a touring-oriented machine.

**Andrew Cherney: **If the marketing folks at Victory were smart they'd make sure the Hammer got a backing role in the next Hollywood action flick. Stallone could ride it and Disney could produce the animation, because the Hammer screams "cartoon." Those zany oval turn signals. The tricky frenched-in taillight. For God's sake, that elephantine rear tire. Mickey D's could stock a rubber Hammer watch in their Happy Meals, with nails for the hands.

And the Hammer is just a hoot to ride. An instant throttle rip, hardcore braking power and that slick sixth-gear overdrive allow for real-world exploits to unfold, not just cartoon fantasy ones. When it comes down to more pedestrian concerns such as ergonomics and handling, though, the Hammer hits where it hurts. I had to stretch to reach that nearly drag-style bar and wave my toes around before locating the footpegs, and sticking it in a turn meant fighting a doubly harsh combo of wide- and low-profile rubber. But for braggin' rights and stupid fun? Oh yeah, I'd want a Hammer to swing...

**Evans Brasfield: **Every time I throw a leg over the Hammer, I'm amazed by how much I love this new motorcycle from Victory. I haven't lusted this much for a test bike in--well...ever. In fact, only the skittishness of the rear tire in the wet prevented me from giving this bike my first five-star rating. The looks excite me, the fit and finish wow me, and the performance--even the handling--makes me want to ride for days.

Brasfield's first book, _101 Sportbike Performance Projects, is now available in stores, and he is writing a book on cruiser performance modifications for release later this year. Contact him at www.evansbrasfield.com._

**Jamie Elvidge: **If I had a Hammer...I'd smile in the morning, burn rubber in the evening. You get the picture. I'm on the Love It column with this new Victory. I'd returned home from a ride in South Africa right as the Victory was about to leave our shop, so I only had a few hours with the new player. I'd heard the testers bantering about the bike's weird handling and couldn't wait to feel it for myself. It wasn't as strange to ride as I'd expected after listening to the chatter, and you'd probably think it less crazy than we've made it sound in this test. It is different, and it is disconcerting if you don't understand or expect it, hence the reason we've gone on and on. Stylewise, only the ass-end of this bike gets me going. The rest of the look is a non-event for me, though fit and finish are sweet. It rips down the road, there's no disputing that, and it stops like a fighter plane on hook. Overall, I think it's an amazing and historic move for Victory. Now counted as a powerful and consistent American motorcycle manufacturer, Polaris is finally in a position to go out on a limb. To make a real original. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of one wild ride.

_Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com. For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

Photography by Kevin Wing
With its distinctive taillight and rear fender and massive tire, the Hammer is readily identifiable from the rear.
Previously seen only on sportbikes, the passenger-seat cowl (which is removed in this photo) is unique among cruisers. With the cowl removed, the pillion saddle offers a decent perch for a passenger. Because of their excellent functionality, the ugly rubber grommets used to mount the cowl bothered us less with time.
Brembo four-piston calipers manhandle 300mm discs for impressive stopping power. The six-spoke wheels look nice, too.
The only truly ugly parts on the Hammer are the belt adjusters and the charcoal canister. Do yourself a favor and buy the billet adjuster covers. The canister won't be such an easy fix.
Details, details: Victory's fit and finish are top-notch. The tank wraps around the seat with a uniform gap. The frenched taillight gives the rear fender a seamless quality.