2007 Power Cruisers Shootout

Mmm...Power


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Unless you've been under the proverbial rock for the last year and a half you couldn't have missed all the chatter in the mainstream media about the burgeoning motorcycle market. It seems as though motorcycles, motorcyclists and anything related to them have a bounty on them with the way articles crop up on a daily basis. And unless you were comatose under that rock you also couldn't help noting that a very large part of that media talk focused --almost to a fault-- a great deal on anything that remotely resembled a cruiser.

Although many of you might like to think that MO staffers have been living comfortably under that rock, blissfully ignorant of the world -- or at least the world of motorbikes -- around us, we would beg to differ.

Fear not intrepid reader! We've not been asleep, merely sleepy-eyed. MO has been keenly aware for a number of years as to just how important cruisers are as part of a regular motorcycle diet. As proof of such we've assembled, yet again, what we think is a good cross-section of bikes. To drill down a little further beyond the broad category of cruiser bikes, we focused our beam on what has recently become a sub-category called "power" cruisers.

Many bike makers claim that the face of the cruiser owner is getting younger. Yet he or she still craves the performance that they may have been weaned on in their early riding experiences, and they're not ready to be lumped in with the rest of the bar-hoppers.

Mmm...Power

Manufacturers have taken notice and they're aggressively seeking to win the heart of this younger --or young at heart-- cruiser rider. In order to see what all the fuss is about MO assembled five of the more prominent power cruisers --some relatively new and one very, very old-- grabbed a well-known MO reader, and headed out to the highways and byways of Southern California to play the part of a cruiser. Let's see what these things are all about, shall we?

We selected five bikes to demonstrate what we think a power cruiser is; three of Japanese origin and two with an all-American background. We plucked the Vulcan 1600 Mean Streak from Kawasaki's stable of fine beauties.

Gabe: "I can't quite see all the way back to 1985."

From Star -- Yamaha's newly branded-for-2006 line of motorcycles -- we snapped up the V-Star Midnight Warrior. Looking stateside is, quite naturally, Harley-Davidson's VRSCR Street Rod.

Not immediately recognizable to the general public as an all-American -- but this is changing quickly -- is Victory, and from them we were granted the mighty Hammer.

"But wait, that's only four! You said five were in the test, didn't you?" Indeed we did. In traditional MO fashion we thought we'd throw a monkey at the wrench, or something like that, and include a bike most wouldn't be expecting.

"We've often come to refer to this black sheep selection as our wild card."

In this instance we thought it only fitting to pay homage to the bike we think really started it all. With a deservedly strong image for over 20 years there could only be one bike to which we refer: the mighty V-Max. "The V-Max? What in the Name of Modern Motorscooters were you clowns thinking?"

This pretty much sums up Buzglyd. Nah. Not really. He's a good guy and that's why we keep him around.

What we were thinking was that we wanted to see just how well a bike that was once the definition of power, and has changed little since it first saw dealer showrooms, would stack up against bikes with such mundane features like fuel injection or inverted forks. Scoff if you must, but you'll be surprised just how well 20 year old tech stood up against the rest.

Bikes assembled and safely nestled in the MO garage, we were only left the task of finding one more rider to assist the same ol' motley crew of editors Ets-Hokin, Palaima and Brissette. If you've snooped around the feedback in just about any story and virtually every news item, you've seen his handle. Most of you know him, many of you love him and some of you even get sucked into his antagonizing, witty posts. He is the incomparable Buzglyd. Yes, that's right, a rank and file MOfo. Who better to help MO assess this very important gaggle of bikes than one of your own?

Many freeway miles were logged in this test because we know that familiar line from Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild, "Head out on the highway", is a tenet of cruisers far and wide. But because this newer faction of the cruiser world is alleged to be about more than just straight-line, brute force we took the sage advice of Buzz and added a taste of the twists.

Welcome to Hell('s Kitchen)! Open, now through Eternity...

"It's simple enough: which bike is good enough that you would shell out the price of admission to buy it with your own hard-won bread?"

Starting near Buzz's home territory, we picked up the famed Ortega Hwy. (CA State Hwy 74) in San Juan Capistrano (where the swallows come back to) and followed its serpentine, traffic-laden path as it bisects the Santa Ana mountains in California's southernmost National forest, the Cleveland National Forest. After a stop at the famed Hell's Kitchen biker bar we gradually worked our way to Lake Elsinore where we eventually picked up Interstate 15 to conclude our day with some more freeway time.

When it's all said and done, the key criteria we used to determine our individual rankings and ultimately our top choice -- as always -- is subjective. Gabe spells it out like this: "We have one standard by which we rate the motorcycles we test; which bike would our testers buy if they were to spend their own money? It's a good way of cutting through all that hemming and hawing and wishy-washy-ing about which bike is more comfortable or which gets better fuel mileage or whatever. It's simple enough: which bike is good enough that you would shell out the price of admission to buy it with your own hard-won bread? Its how we've always done it, and it gets the most interesting results."

Victory Hammer
Stop! It's Not Hammer Time.

Victory brought the Hammer on board in 2005, and with the exception of some new paint schemes the bike has changed little. But in many ways that's okay, because it's one darn fine bike. The Hammer was one of the first bikes in the Victory line to receive the 100ci Freedom motor with their six speed "true overdrive" transmission.

Although Victory has only been in the business of making motorcycles since 1998, they've done an outstanding job of paying attention to their market. In that market, style and looks are as important -- if not more so -- than any other crucial aspect of the bike. The Hammer is a testament to Victory's addressing that concern with its clean, fluid lines and muscle car stance. Just the right amount of chrome gleams around the high-quality paint job to give it that custom look that so many potential cruiser owners desire.

The small plume of dust is a good indication that the pavement is caving in to the power of the Victory and its massive rear tire.

If you take nothing else away from this bike after soaking in its impressive styling, you'll know that the Hammer is assembled with the same amount of care with which it was designed. Of the looks in general Pete said that "it's a neck and neck race between the Hammer and the Harley." Gabe gave the Hammer similar accolades, going so far as to say "the paint is flawless!"

He even discovered a fun, leisure activity when he decided to see how many "Vs" he could count in the paint scheme, although a couple of the testers thought that the tribal accents were a little passé these days. Commenting on how Victory has grown over the years Buzglyd said that they're building "show stoppers" these days. Specifically of the Hammer, he noticed that "its interesting design draws [the attention of] admirers everywhere."

"Commenting on how Victory has grown over the years Buzglyd said that they're building "show stoppers" these days."

Climbing aboard -- or rather into -- the Hammer, you can't help but continue to bask in that custom-bike sensation that Victory has so gracefully applied to the Hammer. Yet, this bike is far more ride-able and enjoyable than many of the customs that can cost as much as three times the Hammer's $16,899.00 ($17,149.00 CA model) base price.

The reach from the relatively hard seat to the wide, super shiny V- shaped (for Victory we assume) bars should be agreeable to most riders, but taller riders may feel more at home in the saddle, according to lemur-armed Gabe. As evidence of such, he commented that when he had the bike at or near full-lock the reach to the outside bar was a bit troublesome. Pete wasn't quite as concerned by this fact but he agreed. Standing a hair taller than Pete, and several feet taller than Gabe, Alfonse's radar failed to note this about the bars whatsoever.

The next items that seize the rider's attention once he or she is settled in are the classically styled and prominently displayed speedo and tach. Remarking on their quality and simplicity, Pete said that they "further add to the muscle-car vibe that the Hammer gives off." Gabe liked them too but wished the tiny LCD read-out on the speedometer gave more detail; "Where's the clock?" Another neat feature Victory gives its rider is the ability to toggle the high/low beam without actually switching from low to high. Although it doesn't say "PASS", the light switch operates just like those found on European and some Japanese brands.

Reach over to your left thigh/knee area to access the ignition, thumb the starter and all 100 cubic inches thunder to life. After you calm yourself down from the aural thrill of the exhaust you'll be pleasantly surprised at the relative lack of vibration coming from such a large, bad-ass engine. This truly is one of the strong character traits of Victory motorbikes. Snick the tranny into gear, start trolling through the parking lot and you've become an instant tough guy. You affirm this new attitude as you casually glance out of the corner of your eye, sneaking peeks at lesser mortals admiring "that biker."

Then you attempt your first turning maneuver at parking lot pace and find that the bike refuses to acknowledge you as anything other than the weekend warrior that you are. How does it do this? By failing to heed your steering command(s) and doing everything it can to keep you headed straight for that ridiculously expensive Bentley. For all the things that the Hammer does well, turning isn't one of them.

Yep, we're sorry to say that the gianormous tire that lends so much to the visceral appeal does a great disservice to the handling. With such a wide hunk of rubber, most riders will have trouble with the transition from the wide center portion to the sidewall, getting the sensation that the bike wants to "correct" and straighten up. This challenge, shall we say, is tolerable when bopping up and down city streets, but the stakes are raised when you venture into winding canyons or even the sharper freeway on/off ramp.

Will victory come in multiples of 100 for the Hammer?

The end result is that the rider has to keep a constant vigil against the Hammer's proclivities to stay on the straight and narrow by always applying countersteering pressure, lest the bike have its way.

Gabe and Alfonse had warned Buzz about such tendencies, but he retorted by saying "you don't get used to the handling, you get used to being scared."

Once the rider can accept --or not-- the untamed turning of the Hammer they can begin to appreciate all the other qualities of the bike, such as the pavement-twisting torque, or the superb transmission that accepts clutch-less upshifts with little or no complaint.

"Pete liked the gearbox so much he said it may be as good as any Japanese bike available today."

The Vulcan may not be so mean, but Buzglyd sure is.

Speaking of the transmission, after you've used the combination of 102 ft.lbs of torque and 82 hp to propel you to freeway cruising speeds, don't forget about that true overdrive in sixth gear. Click it in and watch the tachometer needle drop as the engine spins carefree and settles in around 2,900rpm at roughly 80mph. Ah...so nice, this overdrive.

If you haven't been lulled to sleep by the extremely smooth engine you'll have time to notice the stellar ride quality that the suspenders supply. Though it lacks adjustability, the front suspension is a very well-balanced piece of equipment in terms of compression and rebound damping as it does a good job of keeping the bike planted without being overly firm. The rear suspension doesn't fare quite as well. Gabe felt it to be too firm and lacking in damping, but the combination of the two make for a comfortable-enough freeway jaunt and provide just enough performance for a more spirited spin through less-than-straight paths.

Finally, when it's time to bring things to a halt, no bike did it better than the Hammer, with the world-renowned Brembo calipers reeling the fun in. Pete figured them to be the best, most powerful of the five bikes in the group, stating that "most cruisers would benefit greatly from brakes like these. More OEMs should use Brembos if they can afford to." Gabe also said that the smoothness and modulation of the brakes were very good.

So, with tarmac-melting torque, a smooth and quiet motor, premium brakes, a basically flawless transmission and visual appeal with the build quality to back it up, how does the Hammer wind up dead last? Three of our testers voted it last with Alfonse being the sole hold out -- he voted it numero uno -- which is how it wound up where it did. Citing the heavy handling caused by that massive rear rubber as the main detractor, it was hard for Buzz, Gabe and Pete to justify spending the large dollars -- it was the most expensive bike by far -- to get all the other quality components found on the Hammer.

Our test bike had a Victory 'stage I' kit that'll set you back a cool $599.00 and a super bright HID headlight costing $249.00. Taking the best case scenario -- that you live some place other than California -- the Hammer will require the investment of $17,747.00 before taxes. If Victory could just bring themselves to scale down that behemoth of a rear tire and cut the price of the bike significantly while doing it, the Hammer would surely smash the competition in this crowd. Until then, all we can do is wait.

2006 Victory Hammer
** Specifications Courtesy of Victory **
MSRP $16,899 - MSRP - CA$17,149
Engine Type 4-stroke 50° V-Twin
Cooling System Air/Oil
Displacement 100 cu in/1634cc
Bore x Stroke 101x102mm
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Valve Train Single overhead camshafts with 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic-adjusting cam chains, hydraulic lifters
Fuel System Electronic Fuel Injection with 44mm throttle bodies
Fuel Capacity 4.5/17.0 U.S. gallons/liters
Exhaust Staggered slash-cut dual exhaust with common volume
Oil Capacity 5.0qts/4.75ltr
Charging System 38 amps max output
Battery 12 volts/18 amp hours
Primary Drive Gear drive with torque compensator
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed Overdrive constant mesh
Final Drive Carbon Fiber Reinforced Belt
Brakes Front Brake Dual 300mm floating rotor with 4-piston caliper
Rear Brake 300mm floating rotor with 2-piston caliper
Dimensions
Length 92.7/2355 in/mm
Wheelbase 65.7/1668.8 in/mm
Seat Height 26.4/669.3 in/mm
Ground Clearance 5.8/148 in/mm
Rake/Trail 32.9°/5.57/141.5 in/mm
*Claimed* Dry Weight 657/298 lbs/kg
*Claimed* GVWR 1165/528 lbs/kg
Suspension
Front Suspension Inverted cartridge telescopic fork, 43mm fork tube, 5.1in/130mm travel
Rear Suspension Single, mono-tube gas, forged and cast aluminum with rising rate linkage swing-arm, 3.9in/100mm travel, preload adjustable spring
Tires
Front Wheel 18x3.0in
Rear Wheel 18x8.5in
Front Tire 130/70R18 Dunlop Elite 3
Rear Tire 250 40-R18 Dunlop Elite 3
Colors
Solid Colors Black, Indy Red, Supersonic Blue
Multiple Colors Flame Yellow with Tribal Tattoo, Nuclear Sunset with Tribal Tattoo
*All specs are for standard Victory Models. Specs may change with the addition of custom order options. Seat height reflects 180 lb. operator weight. Prices listed are MSRP for stock solid black model. California Models pricing will require additional fee for fuel emissions canister. Alternate paint options or additional options may increase price. Victory reserves the right to change specifications at any time without incurring obligation. Prices exclude dealer setup, shipping, taxes, title and licensing and are subject to change. Dealer prices may vary.

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