by Ben Goebel
A long time ago, one motorcycle might be asked to do a number of different things. It might take its owner to work every day, be trail-ridden on the weekends and get driven coast-to-coast all as a matter of course. As the 80’s progressed, motorcycle design became more specialized, more focussed and more niche-oriented. Fast-forward to today and you will find many motorcycles that do what they are designed to do extremely well, but quickly fall short if asked to deviate from their narrow design objective. The Victory Hammer-S is a motorcycle that blurs those lines. The Hammer-S is not just an eye candy chopper where function follows the next day after form. The S stands for sport.
The first thing you notice about the Hammer-S is the paint job. The white racing stripes over bright metal flake- blue paint scheme recall the 1966 Shelby AC 427 Cobra or 1979 Suzuki GS1000S Wes Cooley Replica Superbike. It says ‘fast’. The high quality paint shows off the beautifully-styled bodywork. The tank is divinely proportioned. The intersection of tank and seat is stunning in its flow and grace. The headlight is a small work of art. The swing arm is an unbelievably svelte answer as to how to hang a back tire off a bike.
From almost every angle, the Hammer-S is attractive. Even people who aren’t into bikes look at this bike and comment on how gorgeous it is. After people get over the looks, they notice the rear tire. It’s big. Really big. 250mm or 10-inches wide big. The tire on my full size truck is smaller than this. This is not a bike for introverts. This bike attracts people. Other than when crashing, in all my motorcycling life, I have never been such a focus of attention as when riding the Hammer-S. Bizarre.
The Hammer-S is powered by a 106 cu-in (1,731cc) V-twin motor. This is a 1.7-liter motor. Your car may have a smaller motor. While there is no replacement for displacement, there is definitely room for a little technology. Just ‘cuz you are following the herd, doesn’t mean you need to be agricultural about it. The Hammer-S has 4-valve heads, is fuel-injected and has self-adjusting cam chains and hydraulic lifters. The power plant pounds out close to a 100hp and twists off 113ft lbs of torque. In the chromed out world of forward controls these are big numbers. In the ever-faster world of sport bikes, these numbers are still big numbers.
Power may corrupt, but the Hammer-S is easy to ride. You have to brutally provoke it to spin the rear tire. When you turn the key, the bike makes whirring and clicking noises getting primed for start up. The FI is nicely-mapped; smooth and linear from idle to redline. With this much torque on tap literally from idle on, there is no need to rev this engine. It feels the most comfortable in the lower half of its rpm range. While the Hammer-S looks all race, it’s definitely a cruiser at heart. This doesn’t mean it can’t rip when you want it to. Unlike the furious, in-your-face acceleration of a sport bike, when throttled, the Hammer-S simply chucks you to speed. It is a very lazy, sneaky sensation of acceleration. Caned, the Hammer-S delivered 38 mpg. When I put away the cane and got out the bludgeon, it dropped to 33 mpg.
The transmission is a 6-speed unit. Sixth gear drops the engine rpm to tick-over at legal freeway speeds. The transmission does not like to be shifted at high rpm. Anyone coming to the Hammer-S from a sportier bike, will need to adjust to the different style required by the gearbox. Instead, ride the massive torque wave and shift firmly, but quickly, and get on to the next gear.
While the transmission is solid, no one will ever use the word ‘snick’ to describe it. When coming to a stop around people, I started waiting to downshift until I was stopped because the transmission is so loud. Slow speed downshifts sound like you are bashing on a metal bushel basket with a very large spoon.There was an inordinate amount of drive train lash. Is this normal, or the result of all the accumulated miles being logged by heavy-handed moto-journalists? I don’t know. The noises disappear at speed, and the drive train feels fine. With this much torque, shifting is not really necessary. And with this many gears, it’s a matter of how relaxed and lopey you want the engine to be for the given situation.
Braking is handled by three, 300mm floating rotors, pinched by two, 4-piston calipers up front, and one 2-piston unit in the back. With an almost 66-inch wheelbase and most of your weigh over the rear wheel, the rear brake does its share of the braking. Unfortunately, the back brake has very little progressive feel to it. It is either on or off. Precise modulation of the rear brake in a panic situation is probably not going to happen…
The front brakes almost make up for the snatchy rear brake. They are very easy to use to the limit, and are more than powerful enough to tie the front suspension into knots. A nice touch is the added control and sensitivity from the slightly angled brake and clutch lever blades.
So it stops and goes. How does it handle? Does it live up to its race inspired looks? Or, is it just a disguise, intended to fool the sport-oriented customer? Hammer Time. You climb into the Hammer-S. The firm, supportive saddle is well-dished to hold you in place when you drop the hammer. The tank is long and the front end is way out there. Feet are on w-a-a-y forward controls. It’s OK though because the 36-inch wide tiller-style handlebars pull back nicely to mold your body into what forms the classic, mainsail position. This body position is strangely comfortable and relaxed. It seemed like the cockpit might be little long for anyone shorter.
Release the heavy pull clutch and the bike glides effortlessly away. At slow speeds, the Hammer-S feels like it’s auto-balanced. Balancing with your feet up, at stop signs, is no trick at all. This certainly has something to do with the 10-inch rear gumball. Slow speed turning is no problem, since the Hammer-S has a very decent cornering angle before anything hard grinds. The wide bars sweep through a lot of real estate from lock to lock
Suspension duty is by a fairly stiff, single gas shock in back, and a massive, inverted cartridge front fork. The suspension feel is definitely taut. This is great for handling, but can make all but the smoothest roads into a teeth-shattering session. While the Hammer-S can cruise slowly with the best of them, its forte is fast, smooth sweepers. Its long wheelbase, raked-out geometry, and low CoG make the Hammer-S billet-solid and stable at speed.
The Hammer-S is very narrow compared to some of the mile-wide barges being sold lately. Once you get used to its handling manners, the Hammer-S is a very precise cornering tool. With the monster contact patches, the Hammer-S runs out of cornering clearance way before it runs out of traction. It does give lots of warning via the many degrees of foot peg movement, before hard grindage occurs. The trick to riding the S spiritedly (which it loves) is to conserve your lean angle. If you are trying to go in deep and turn all at once, delayed apex style, you will be in for a big, nasty surprise. Lack of cornering clearance will drive you wide into oncoming traffic or off the road.
Once you learn the parameters of its cornering capabilities, you can absolutely rail the Victory Hammer-S through corners. The big field of rubber out back sets in hard and just carves out of corners, propelled by the Infinite Well of Torque. Despite all that power, it would take quite the ham-fisted throttle input to slide the back end out, unless there is a pebble or dewy paint line under the rear contact patch. That tight, rising feeling in your stomach as your tire slides laterally goes on for what seems to be a lunar cycle as the pavement anomaly works its way across 5-plus inches of tire and finally clears the edge, regaining traction. Also, because of this concession to fashion, the front and rear track differently over surface irregularities. The narrow front might miss something, while the wide rear might hunt laterally over it. You get used to it.
So, in the end, it turns out the Victory Hammer-S is truly no poser bike. With great performance, fantastic build quality and beautiful design, the Hammer-S lives up to its looks and is an option for the sport rider who wants to back it off a notch, but is not willing to totally give up yet.
by Sev Pearman
What is styled like a 60’s muscle car, engineered for high performance and named after an 80’s MTV icon?
Stop! Hammer Time! Break it down…
This month’s cover bike is the 2009 Victory Hammer-S. Victory’s slogan is “the new American motorcycle” and for once, the marketers and engineers are on the same page. Victory builds bikes on their own terms and in their own way. It is like the difference between a stand-alone restaurant and franchised chains. If you go to a chain, you know exactly what you are going to get. It probably won’t suck, bit it won’t be anything special, either. Victory is the small restaurant run by a passionate staff that experiments with recipes and whips out new items. The Hammer-S is their special of the day.
First introduced in 2005, the Hammer was Victory’s salvo in the power cruiser war. The original Hammer boasted a 100 cubic-inch (1,634cc) motor and a 250mm rear tire; then and now, the widest tire offered on a production motorcycle. Hammer sales remained steady while Victory concentrated on the release of the Vision tourer (see MMM #100) For 2009, all Hammers receive the bigger 106 cu-in (1,731cc) 50º Freedom V-twin and other tweaks.
The Hammer-S is draped in cool, blue paint with wide, white racing stripes, as flown by American racing legend, Dan Gurney. Paint-schmaint. This bike is all about the new motor. Be sure you are seated and your tray-table is in the upright position when you whack the throttle; this bike is all about the launch. The monster 4-valve motor churns out 90.3 rear-wheel hp (@ 4,000 rpm) and 104.7 ft-lbs of torque (@ 3,750 rpm); more than enough to overcome her 714 pound wet weight.
All V-twins, with their longer stroke, generate lots of torque. Victory’s 106 engine generates enough torque that you can pull away from a stop by just slipping the clutch. Between 3,250 and 3,750 rpm, it is churning out over 100 ft-lbs of torque. Even a lobster could shift this thing.
Power is fed through a 6-speed gearbox. Ratios are well-spaced and allow for constant, steady acceleration. The Hammer is electronically neutered at 5,500 rpm (redline.) I found peak acceleration by shifting at around 3,500 rpm.
Our pre-production press unit had a notchy gearbox. MMM has ridden many Victory bikes in the past and not had this problem. It was distracting enough that I brought it to a local dealer, Warner Victory. Owner, Dean Cross, rode the tester and agreed that it needed adjusting. I wanted additional miles more than a perfect gearbox so, with his blessing, I chose to ride it, as-is.
6th gear is a true overdrive. At an indicated 70 mph, you lope along at a lazy 2,500-rpm, the engine quietly humming. At this pace, you can hear the whirr of the crank and pistons, the soft clicking of the maintenance-free hydraulic lifters and of course, the thrumming exhaust. Vibration is minimal. The Hammer-S is very comfortable at this speed. Downshifts are optional, even in overdrive. Have a desire to pass? Simply open the throttle. I was laughing maniacally in my helmet.
All the engine noises combine when riding to make a mechanical symphony. Regular readers know that MMM is down on loud bikes. Despite its throaty rumble, the Hammer passed the “E.L.T. test.” My young neighbor did not cover his ears as I came and went. Does this really meet EPA noise regs? Woo-Hoo!
After I got over the initial hit of power, I looked at the bike as a whole. Instrumentation consists of two, white-faced gauges, a few idiot lights mounted on the bars, and an overdrive light within the tach. There is no clock, no fuel gauge, and only one trip meter. The Spartan dash defines the Hammer’s purpose: you will be going short distances, and you will cover them quickly. If you want to go touring, your dealer can happily show you other models better suited for this purpose. All Hammers wear a ridiculous 250/40 R-18 rear tire on an 8.5” x 18” rear wheel. No, that is not a typo. It looks like you are riding on a pumpkin. Polished billet bling wheels have been done to death. The Hammer-S features super-cool, color-matched “X-Factor” cast-alloy wheels. The skeletal spokes reach from one side of the hub to the other side of the rim, like two interlocking talons. Despite their visual mass, they are extremely light. Victory claims they are seventeen pounds lighter than the old wheels. If you don’t think that makes a difference, lash two gallons of water to your handlebars and go for a ride. Shedding seventeen pounds of unsprung mass makes a huge difference. I don’t normally get excited about paint and such (just look at any of his bikes. Ed.) but these are the coolest wheels I have ever seen.
The massive rear wheel is part of a purposeful, butch style of the Hammer-S. Black, inverted forks carry dual 300mm discs with 4-piston calipers. There are 65.7 long, low inches between that fat rear rim and the 130/70 R-18 front. A sexy, multi-LED taillight is frenched into the bobbed rear fender. It manages to be insanely bright without looking like it was styled by a safety-crat.
Despite the ‘Toon Town rear tire, the handling of the Hammer-S is predictable. Turn-in effort is similar to other long-wheelbase customs. Once heeled over, you need to maintain bar pressure to hold your line, but that is about it. Ignore the blog whiners and go ride it. I am the first to slag on the poor handling of cruisers, but the jumbo rear tire is no death sentence.
Don’t let tire replacement scare you, either. Warner Victory quoted me $259 for the rubber, plus another $135 for installation. That’s cheaper than replacing a rear Dunlop on an 1800 Wing.
While road manners are OK, the suspension is hinky, even for a cruiser. That cool-looking inverted fork has 5.1 inches of travel and no adjustments. The rear has but 3.9 inches of travel and is adjustable for preload only. The adjuster is buried behind plumbing on both sides. Any change will require dedication and effort.
Things are fine when smooth or straight, but heel her over or add rough pavement and you get bounced about. While charging one rough corner on my way to Betty’s Pies, a square-edged bump bounced me off the foot pegs. To be fair, I was riding it harder than most riders will, but I get paid to report this stuff. Best to keep it mellow and avoid potholes.
The seat is a mixed bag. The low 26.5” seat height means that even Thomas Day can flatfoot the Hammer-S. Although the seat is supportive and comfortable, it is deeply dished and locks you in one position. In search of relief, I would slide back and ride half on the pillion pad. God help you if you have a long inseam. My other beef is that the seat has sharp, square edges that dig into your thighs when your feet are down. This much style and attitude come with a price.
The pillion pad is a horror. Passenger X sat on it for a minute, but that was it. It tapers and slopes rearward, so warn your friend to hold on tight. Best to leave the cool seat cowl on the Hammer-S and ride solo.
Fuel capacity is 4.5 gallons. The 9.4:1 compression ratio calls for 92 octane. Heavy throttle application returned 34 mpg. The highest figure I saw was 38 mpg. I’ve got a good 80 pounds on Ben, so I wonder if he saw higher numbers. Be warned: the fuel warning light is partially hidden by the trick, black handlebar. Pay attention to your 165-mile range. You don’t want to push this corpulent beast to a gas station.
What is this bike for? The Hammer-S is a tough, purposeful bulldog of a beas; a blue-and-white hooligan that chomps at the bit. While I am typically a sedate geezer of a rider, I found myself roaring from stoplight to stoplight. Dean Cross of Warner Victory reports that Hammer buyers have tended to be sport bike riders and Buell owners. Hammer buyers are not coming off other cruisers and aren’t too interested in other Victory models. Victory forged the Hammer-S for riders who no longer enjoy the dedicated riding position of a full-on sport bike, but aren’t ready to settle for anemic McBagger
Thanks to Victory for the loan of their Hammer-S. MMM would also like to thank Dean Cross and Warner Victory/Polaris in Bloomington for their help with this review. Warner can be reached at 952.884.2111 or on the web at www.warneroutdoor.com
Drop-forged: Hey man, wanna drag? High-end custom for under $20K Rear tire gets you noticed. Slag Heap: All that power comes with a price at the pump. Alleged suspension.
Wife’s First Reaction : “Sporty on top; pig on the bottom.”
By the numbers: Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam)
Total miles driven: 582 Average fuel consumption: 35.5 mpg
Selected Competition: Harley-Davidson CVO Fat Bob, Honda Fury, Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak, Suzuki Boulevard M109R, Triumph Rocket III, Yamaha Star Raider-S