Riding a motorcycle is cool. We all know that to be true. But riding a motorcycle that truly turns heads, that adds a whole new dimension to the feeling. Blasting down the highway somewhere outside of Minneapolis on Victory's '06 Hammer, I'm noticing the looks. Yep, they're coming hot and heavy, and I'm loving it. Sure, it's a neat sensation, but I'm certainly not what's commanding their attention. It's definitely the bike and, oh my, what a bike it is.
When the folks at Victory Motorcycles called and invited us to attend a press event for the unveiling of their '06 model line, there wasn't much hesitation in issuing an affirmative reply. Having ridden last year's impressive Kingpin, I know this group is capable of pounding out a great ride, but the opportunity to check out the whole fleet, well that's a no-brainer. Add to that the fact that they want to show us around their corporate headquarters in Medina, Minnesota, and their new, ultra-modern R&D facility in the nearby town of Wyoming and it looks like I'm headed north.
The first night in Medina, we attend a little meet and greet with Victory's designers and engineers, all of whom are extremely open, friendly, and more than a little excited about the direction their company is headed. They then escort us upstairs to the design center where all the new and cutting edge ideas for the Victory and the ATV and snowmobile divisions of parent company Polaris are hatched. Hmm, a peek inside the mind of a major power sport manufacturer, this should be very interesting. Well, if you think the spotless white walls of a big empty room are compelling, you'd love this place - they had hidden everything. It's a great facility for the designers and engineers to dream up the next big thing, but they're not about to leave any plans detailing the future lying around. Suffice it to say, they did drop some hints about some of the interesting projects in the hopper. We'll keep you posted.
The next morning we gather at the headquarters for the day's ride and find several examples of each model in Victory's line waiting for us. We jockey for position amid the Vegas, Kingpin, Vegas 8-Ball, Hammer, Touring Cruiser, the all new Vegas Jackpot, and even the limited edition, 2006-only, Cory Ness custom Jackpot. I immediately jump aboard the familiar Kingpin Deluxe. It's a cloudy September morning in Minnesota and that fairing looks pretty good to me.
We start out with a quick 30-minute ride to the company's brand new Wyoming, Minnesota, R&D facility, and this highway jaunt is a great opportunity for me to get acquainted with the new Freedom® 100/6 drive-train. This 100cu-in (1634cc) is matched with a six-speed transmission featuring a true overdrive, and the difference in pull from last year's Kingpin is quite noticeable as is the enhanced smoothness of the ride, thanks to the extra cog. I can't wait to try this combo on one of those sportier models.
Once in Wyoming, we're treated to a hearty lunch and a tour of The New American Motorcycle™ company's state of the art, $ 35.5 million, environmentally friendly R&D facility. It's obvious Victory is very serious about strengthening their share in the motorcycle market: the place is a veritable power-sport engineer's playground with all the proper toys to ensure that future Polaris/Victory products measure up to company and the consumer standards. Again, sorry to say, all the tasty stuff that us journalist types drool over had been covered up or socked away in the back room. Rats!
After the tour, it's time to ride. I grab a Vegas Jackpot and am immediately impressed with what this bike has to offer on all fronts. So much so that taking one home to NC for an extended evaluation is in the works. More on that later.
But the machine that's really catching my eye is the Hammer. The insanely fat 250mm ham on the rear wheel, coupled with the aptly named "Nuclear Sunset" paint scheme offset with tribal tattoo graphics is a striking combination. Designed to appeal to the rider looking for the sportier side of the cruiser genre, this Hammer really hits the nail on the head, and I'm quickly attracted by its more eager stance, compared with the style-conscious Jackpot. I reach for the V-shaped handlebars, inviting me forward into a more aggressive riding posture than they do on the Jackpot, and once under way, there's a definite difference in the feelings these machines inspire. The super-wide rear tire does grace both machines, but the Hammer's front side 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite tracks through the corners and over questionable surfaces with much greater prowess than the Jackpot's skinny 80 90/21 Dunlop Cruisemax. The somewhat odd handling characteristics of both rides, compliments of that big 250, are strange at first but become quite fun once you get the hang of it.
The Hammer's burlier attitude doesn't stop at the tires. The inverted 43mm fork feels stiffer and thus gives a better feel for the road. The front brakes feature twin 300mm discs, compared to the Jackpot's single rotor, along with four pot Brembo calipers all the way around. These binders easily and effectively haul the Hammer in - a good thing considering the fact that the fore-mentioned Freedom™ 100/6 is also responsible for scooting this bad boy around. The electronically fuel injected, overhead cam V-twin, sporting four valves per side, just begs to be throttled. And knowing the raw-boned tone that emanates from the exhaust pipes, I'm finding it irresistible to grab a handful every now and again just to give my ears a little treat.
The overall ride is quite impressive. Of course there's no wind protection, so those freeway runs would get a bit fatiguing, but while tooling around town and through the twists, I never even noticed. From a touring perspective, this bike definitely has potential. The firm seat and laid back riding style seem up to the task of lending themselves to long hauls in the saddle. A quick glance through Victory's website indicates that there are bags and windshields available to tone this brute down a hair for lengthier distance duties.
Perhaps the best part of riding the Hammer is the attention it draws. The paint, chrome, and of course that fatty rear skin all scream custom - and this baby's coming at you this way right out of the box! Dicing through traffic heading back to Medina, the bike is getting a disproportionately high number of admiring looks. That's never a bad thing. The Hammer strikes me as the type of machine that will easily handle any mood you're in. Feeling laid back? No problem, the torque monster twin can tackle thumping around cruiser style like a champ. Feeling frisky? Twist away; she's got loads to spare.
If you're looking to make that transition from a sportier bike to something more cruiser oriented but don't want to sacrifice the performance you're accustomed to, Victory feels the Hammer is the bike for you. I can't disagree. They're probably on to something there. And noting the investment that parent company Polaris has made in Victory is reassurance enough that these guys are for real - they're going to be around for the long haul. Keep in mind, though, I'm only talking about one afternoon's worth of seat time. But as best I can tell, the Hammer looks great, sounds great, handles remarkably well, rides comfortably, and is a bona-fide head turner. All of those qualities indicate a winner.
+ style, burly power, transmission, brakes
- odd handling, wind protection
Distributor Polaris Industries
Engine V-twin, OHC, 8-valve
Displacement 100ci (1634cc)
Bore x Stroke 101 x 102mm
Transmission six-speed overdrive
Frame steel double downtube
Front Suspension 43mm inverted fork 5.1in travel
Rear Suspension Single shock link type 3.9in travel
Rake/Trail 32.9°/5.57in (141.5mm)
Brakes front/rear twin four piston calipers, 300mm discs two piston caliper, 300mm disc
Tires front/rear 130/70 x 18, 250/40 x 18
Dry Weight 657lb (298kg)
Wheelbase 65.7in (1669mm)
Seat height 26.4in (669mm)
Fuel Capacity 4.5gal (17l)
Fuel Consumption n/a
Colors Black, Indy Red, Supersonic Blue,Flame Yellow/Tribal Tattoo, Nuclear Sunset/Tribal Tattoo
MSRP $ 16,899