2012 Victory Hard-Ball Review [Video]
The new bagger/bobber makes a quartet of Ball models for Victory
Victory’s got Balls. Four of them including the new 2012 Hard-Ball, the Vegas 8-Ball, Hammer 8-Ball and High-Ball. Unlike the nakedness of Victory’s other Balls, the new Hard-Ball is protected by highway bars, adorned with 21 gallons of hard saddlebag storage and sheathed in the blackest of matte-black paint. Victory classifies the Hard-Ball as a Tourer, and with the optional windscreen installed it’s a befitting description.
In spite of sharing a similar namesake with its High-Ball cousin, the new Hard-Ball is an amalgam of Victory’s Cross Roads ($16,000) and High-Ball ($13,500), so you might assume the Hard-Ball would seemingly share the Cross Roads’ MSRP. Yet the new Ball actually wears a Cross Country (with color-matched touring fairing with embedded stereo system) price tag, making the $3,000 price bump to $19,000 a ballsy asking price for a perceivable benefit only in style. It’s identical to the Cross Roads in every respect except for its ape-hanger handlebars, spoke wheels, wider front wheel (18 x 3.5 vs. 18 x 3.0) and heavier dry weight (758 lbs vs 745 lbs).
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For anyone willing to overlook the pricing impropriety and go for a test ride, the Victory Hard-Ball will impress a rider with superlative cruiser performance. The Hard-Ball will reward its rider by adeptly executing multiple functions from local waterhole hopping to mild touring either solo or two-up.
Kudos to Victory for having the balls to introduce the High-Ball and follow that model with the Hard-Ball. In the realm of rebellious bikerdom, ape-hangers are equal to chopped front ends when it comes to motorcycling non-conformity.
Although the maximum available height of the apes is deemed illegal in some states, Victory bypasses the problem by making the handlebars height-adjustable. The alteration also benefits riders whose stature doesn’t allow a comfortable or safe reach to the sky-scraper positioning. Once an arrangement is chosen, it’s best left permanent as the process involves adjusting levers and switchgear. We didn’t bother lowering the bars because it seems an atrocity to diminish the Hard-Ball’s most identifying f**k-you attribute.
Besides the hardship of rolling the Hard-Ball’s nearly 800-pound wet weight to and fro in the garage, where the tall, narrow bars provide no leverage whatsoever — ditto that during slow, parking lot maneuvers — the Hard-Ball handles commendably well at speeds above 20 mph. You’ll never feel as confident as you do navigating a bike with “normal” bars, but that’s the price you pay for flipping the bird to conformity.
A drawback to anyone not of NBA height is being locked into the seating position demanded by the reach to the high controls. Where normal bars allow a rider to lean back or forward, or to reposition their keister on the seat, the reach to the Hard-Ball’s ape-hangers confine its rider to a single position: Fists at shoulder-level and back plumb-line straight with a slight forward lean.
This position also acts as a wind-catching sail at freeway speeds. While not as bad as you might think during short jaunts, any trip requiring multiple, successive hours in the saddle white-knuckling the handgrips will have a person back at the dealership purchasing a windscreen. With the windscreen in place Victory’s “Touring” designation for the Hard-Ball nudges closer to reality.
Performance & Safety
The Hard-Ball’s dual, front 300mm rotors and four-piston calipers in conjunction with its rear 300mm rotor and twin-piston caliper, provide ample stopping power. The standard equipment ABS is somewhat abrupt and intrusive when initiated but we’d rather have ABS than not.
The rear shock is adjustable via an air-pressure valve beneath the right side cover, but in a time when you can purchase a Ducati Multistrada S with ABS, Traction Control, variable engine mapping and Electronic Suspension for approximately the same price, we find hand pumping air into a shock to be a little antiquated.
Much like the Moto Guzzi Black Eagle we reviewed a few months ago, the Victory Hard-Ball exhibits surprising degrees of cornering clearance. There’s enough available lean angle that the Hard-Ball’s large, curved floorboards touch down long after other cruisers would have already augured their footpegs into the blacktop.
The Hard-Ball balances plushness of comfort and taut control to create a noticeably competent handling cruiser. This, and its remarkable cornering clearance, can be attributed to the suspension with which Victory endowed the Hard-Ball. Boasting 5.1 inches of front-wheel travel from its inverted cartridge fork, and 4.7 inches of rear-wheel travel from a single, mono-tube gas shock gives the Hard-Ball an advantage against competitive manufacturers with lesser suspension components. Even with this amount of travel, Victory maintained a seat height of 26.25 inches, proving you don’t need to sacrifice suspension and handling when chasing a low saddle.
The “long-travel” suspension of the Hard-Ball absorbs freeway expansion joints and surface street potholes without jarring its rider. Considering the Hard-Ball’s low seat height and hefty wet weight, it’s a wonder the suspension works as well as it does.
Form & Function
With brake rotors and lines, engine cooling fins, stanchion tubes and a small variety of parts as the only shiny bits on the Hard-Ball, Batman would appreciate the bike’s blacked-out treatment. To create that light-absorbing look, the paint lies beneath what Victory refers to as a “suede clear over the color,” and the company claims the same protection a glossy clear coat provides. However, the flat paint underneath makes any scratch easier to spot.
Like the Cross Country and Cross Roads before it, the Hard-Ball blends contemporary elements into classic cruiser styling. The rear of the bike, with its tall, LED tail light splitting the valanced metal fender, beveled exhaust tips and toothpick-thin blinkers is an exercise in stylistically edgy design.
Boasting 21 gallons of combined storage space the hard saddlebags are proportionate to a fault: they will not accept the width of an open-face helmet. The opening only needs be a quarter-inch or so wider to fit a helmet. We consider this a failed oversight in the design of the Hard-Ball made only worse by no alternative helmet locks elsewhere on the bike.
Those same hard bags ingeniously dismount from the Hard-Ball via two quick-release Dzus fasteners. The intention is to make cleaning easier, not so you can haul them up to your hotel room. Without handles the bags are awkward to manage once detached, and left behind are unsightly mounting brackets, so order some luggage liners for your stay at the Holiday Inn.
Powered by the same 106 cu. in. Freedom V-Twin found in Victory’s other models and producing 77.5 rear wheel hp and 88.9 ft-lbs of torque (as measured in our 2011 Bagger Shootout), the Hard-Ball’s acceleration is brisk. Enough vibration is felt to ensure you’re riding a big Twin, and the rumble emanating from the dual mufflers is appropriately butch for an EPA-compliant exhaust.
Shifting the Hard-Ball’s six-speed gearbox is met with positive gear placements emphasized by loud clunks when rowing the lower cogs. Victory’s made inroads to bettering the transmission on its motorcycles, but there remains a sloppiness that needs to be addressed by Victory engineers. We were surprised not to find a heel/toe shifter as a stock component on the Hard-Ball, but as a $100 option in the Victory parts catalog.
The front lower fairing on the Hard-Ball, as well as other Victory touring models, is oftentimes mistaken to be a radiator shroud, but the Hard-Ball, et al., remain air/oil-cooled. There is an unsightly cutout in the vertical slats to allow room for the front cylinder’s exhaust pipe, which again, seems like an oversight on Victory’s behalf as the cutout at first glance looks to be broken instead of manufactured.
The look, feel and general badass presence of the Hard-Ball is understated but recognizable. It ain’t perfect, but no bike is. With the Victory Hard-Ball you get a motorcycle that owns up to its brochure hyperbole. It makes you wanna ride for hours to the not-so local pub and get into a bar fight. If your opponent were to see the bike you rode up on, however, no punch would ever be thrown. Yeah, it’s that intimidating.