Victory Hammer S

By Kevin Ash - 27/08/2011

It‘s not often that I find myself having to explain exactly who a motorcycle company is.

Most are long established, compared with the car world there aren‘t that many, and people interested in bikes tend to be knowledgeable about the subject anyway.

But I knew I‘d best spend some time introducing Victory after I arrived at Honda‘s press bike workshop on the 2010 Hammer S. The mechanic was impressed: “That‘s a nice bike! But who‘s Victory, never heard of ‘em...”

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Victory has been producing motorcycles from its plant in Minnesota, USA, for a dozen years, aiming to take on Harley-Davidson - or rather, grab a small slice of Harley‘s huge market in the States - by building its own kinds of cruisers. At first these were generically styled, with Victory‘s added value being better performance than equivalent Harleys, including braking, engine and handling.

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What was also noticeable was how well built and quirk-free the bikes were, and if that was unexpected from a new company it shouldn‘t have been. Victory is a division of the near 60-year old Polaris Group, which boasts annual sales of around £1 billion of various powered products including snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and personal watercraft. So even at Victory‘s inception, Polaris already knew a great deal about building vehicles and it had the financial clout to fund this new venture properly.

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It took a few more years for Victory to find its own design path, but now it has, in two ways. First, its bikes are very cleanly and elegantly styled, with great attention to detai. Secondly, they are beautifully made, so much so that the company repeatedly wins the vigorous and highly respected US J D Power consumer surveys for owner satisfaction.

All of this is reflected in the Hammer S. The bike is Victory‘s take on the performance cruiser, pitching it to some degree against bikes like the Harley‘s V-Rod Muscle, although the Minnesota machine retains more traditional cruiser style than the Harley. What strikes you immediately is the sheer presence of the bike, defined by its uninterrupted, long sweeping lines. There‘s a refreshing lack of clutter, just large, simple and pleasing shapes, finished off by a delectable paint finish, a sort of silk white on our test bike that even feels as well as looks good. In short, it‘s knockout visually!

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The air of muscle is underlined by the huge rear tyre, at 250mm wide, fatter than many high performance sports cars and the largest on any production motorcycle - the rear view is utterly dominated by the expanse of rubber.

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Cruisers need to feel good too, always a Harley strength, and the Hammer S doesn‘t disappoint. The motor fires up to a laid back chugging idle, then shudders under its own power when you twist the grip and pull away. The sound is deep and clean and the acceleration surprisingly strong. The engine is all about lazy, low revving urge rather than exciteable howling power, and it‘s so relaxed it covers ground with deceptive speed.

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I became confident enough to attempt an 800 mile (1300km) round trip in two days on the Hammer S, and it proved comfortable as well as effortless. Note this kind of thing quickly eats into the silly-short 2,500 mile service intervals, but fuel costs less than you‘d expect: the big 1731cc V-twin motor returned a healthy 48mpg (17.0km/l, 5.9l/100km, 40.0mpg US) even at high motorway speeds. Thanks to the 3.75 gallon (17 litre, 4.5 gallon US) tank, this means it‘ll run for 180 miles (290km) to empty. In practice, the low warning light flickered on at around 150 miles (240km), plenty for covering distance on this kind of bike, but its little orange glow is difficult to see in sunlight, so keep an eye on the trip too.

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The suspension is short travel and crude feeling, although better than some cruisers, while the brakes are adequate rather than inspiring, but the dominant sensation from the chassis is the way the bike needs to be pulled over to ludicrous angles of lean to get around the mildest turn. This is a consequence of the stretched out wheelbase and ultra wide tyre, and while it‘s okay at speed, tight turns are disconcerting and demand practice.

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The Hammer S is a hugely impressive motorcycle with an air of solidity and design thoroughness that fully justifies not only its price but stepping away from the Harley safe option to something still rare and different. If Victory keeps building bikes like this, they won‘t be rare for much longer.

Victory Hammer S specs:

Price: £13,695.

Available: now

Engine: 50-degree V-twin, air/oil-cooled, overhead cam, 1731cc

Power: 89bhp (90PS, 81kW) @ 5,000rpm

Torque: 103lb.ft (14.2kgm, 140Nm) @ 4,000rpm

Economy: 48mpg (17.0km/l, 5.9l/100km, 40.0mpg US) average

Tank/Range: 3.75 gallons (17 litres, 4.5 gallon US)/180 miles (290km)

Transmission: Six gears, wet multiplate clutch, belt final drive

Chassis: Tubular steel cradle

Seat height: 26.5in (673mm)

Wheelbase: 65.7in (1669mm)

Rake/trail: 32.7 °/5.5in (140mm)

Weight: 672lb (305kg) (dry)

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