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There’s no doubt in my mind that the Victory Hammer is a serious contender against the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle.

Ever heard of a Victory motorbike? Alastair Walker reckons you soon will, as this new cruiser brand steps takes aim at the market leader, Harley-Davidson.

I went along to Millennium Motorcycles in St Helens, Lancashire, to test this Victory Hammer, thinking it would be a Harley Fat Boy clone, like so many other V-Twin shaped motorcycles. True, it looks similar, with a beefy 106 cubic inch engine, low chassis, thumping great exhaust pipes and a range of custom paintwork options. But a closer look reveals details like twin front disc Brembo brakes, with 4-piston calipers, just like you’d find on a sport bike, plus the huge 250 section rear tyre, which gives the bike a kind of Pro-Street drag racer feel. It is a closer rival to something like the V-Rod, although as soon as I sat on the Victory, I thought it was more comfortable than many conventional cruisers.

The Victory is a bit different from the average V-Twin cruiser. Polaris Industries in the USA make the Victory brand, which is just a small part of their range of vehicles, covering jet-skis to snowmobiles. I reckon this wider involvement with the automotive sector will help Victory grow, as they approach motorcycles with a `clean sheet’ attitude. Victory don’t need to sell heritage, because the brand name is new.

So what’s different? Well, the 1731cc Victory Hammer twin features hydraulic valve adjustment, self-adjusting camchain tensioners, fuel injection and makes a claimed 97bhp. That’s quite powerful for a big cruiser bike, and even though the Hammer weighs in at 303kgs, which is over 600lbs, it soon proved to me that it can outpace angry housewives in Citroen Picassos away from the lights.

The engine has a pleasantly smooth, yet grunty feel, with all the useful power produced at low revs and the 6-speed gearbox and clutch were a delight to use, way smoother than the transmission on a Harley-Davidson I have to say. Riding through St Helens traffic, you relax on the Victory, grabbing the wide handlebars, settling into a low seat and enjoying the punchy, sweet-handling ride. If any white van men, keen to deliver yet more treble-glazed windows, should pull out in front of you the Victory can stop easily, thanks to those huge 300mm front discs. Again, I rated the brakes as being every bit as good as those on the V-Rod, and better than the H-D stoppers on say the Heritage Softail or Electra-Glide. The Victory definitely has a sporting edge, it feels great to give it some gas and you have confidence in its ability to stop and handle pretty well too.

Final drive is by belt, there are upside-down fornt forks, and a rear monoshock that uses a remote gas reservoir, adjustable for pre-load. All modern touches that promise accomplished performance on the road and the Hammer delivers; it feels taut, precise and responsive on the open road. The transmission puts the power to that fat back tyre with a fluid ease and the bike handles bumpy pot-holed sections of road pretty well - it ain’t no BMW GS, but it lacks the crashing and thumping that many big cruiser bikes had just a few years back, when suspension was pretty basic on some machines.

Style vs Value

Best of all, the Victory Hammer looks right, it has a good balance of meaty bodywork, curves that draw the eye and has that massive 250 section rear tyre. This American-made motorcycle arrived in the UK back in 2005, but since then the Hammer has grown a slightly bigger engine, different exhausts and I like the blue and white painted version, which kind of reminds me of the AC Cobra/Dodge Viper muscle cars. Victory also produce an Arlen Ness tweaked version of their Vegas model. The brand are trying to set the bikes apart - you only have to look at the futuristic Vision tourer to see that, which looks like it should have Scotty from Star Trek voicing the Sat Nav.

Does style matter so much? Yep. Just ask any specialist cruiser dealer and they will tell you that a bike with the right bits on it, in a good paint scheme will always find a buyer - people who choose custom style motorcycles want a good-looking machine for sunny Sunday afternoons, that holds its value well. Nowt wrong with that in my book and when you ride the Victory you get regular non-bikers asking you if it’s the latest Harley, or something you had built yourself. Unlike an R1, the Hammer starts a conversation with ladies too, who don’t regard the Victory rider as some speed-crazed Power Ranger.

All this idle chat about the looks of the Hammer shouldn’t detract from its ability. The bike handles twisty roads and roundabouts with plenty of ground clearance ( for a big cruiser ) and loads of torquey acceleration out of corners. You soon get a smile on your face when blasting along next to a sportbike rider ona dual carriageway and find the Hammer can match the sheer stomp that a `Blade or GSXR has for a few seconds - it’s nice to make the sportbike riders work hard and the Hammer compares well to the V-Rod Muscle in terms of performance.

Both big twins pull hard and fast, set the rider low in the saddle and handle respectably. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Victory Hammer is a serious contender against the Harley-Davidson V-Rod Muscle. Having ridden the Muscle just a week later I would say that the Hammer feels better made, it changes gear and handles with slightly more refinement and last of all, it’s cheaper. The base model Hammer starts at £12,295, which is good value, as it includes 1 year’s breakdown cover, road fund tax and a 2 year warranty. If you don’t fancy that, the Victory Vegas 8-ball entry level model is a reasonable £8695, featuring the same engine, about 10bhp less and skinnier wheels/tyres.

The only fly in the ointment is re-sale values. Victory have held their 2008 prices, which is amazing considering the sterling-dollar rate has tipped 30% in the American currency’s favour over the last year. H-D had to raise some of their prices this Spring, but Harley dealers will tell you that demand, especially from mainland Europe, is sky-high - try getting a new Night Rod and see how long the waiting list is right now. But will the Hammer hold its value over say five years like a Harley Fat Boy?

Hmmm, tricky one, because buying a Harley is more raw emotion that rational riding experience. The brand represents a lifetime’s dreaming for many riders - self-made men turn 50 and blow 20K on a Hog - and that emotional engine is the main driver of any big Harley’s residual value. People will always want to buy a Harley, well except for an 883 Sportster maybe....and I don’t know if Victory, or any other brand, will ever achieve that kind of cachet. But scarcity of used Victory bikes will keep demand high in the short term, so I would say you would be unlucky to lose more than £1000 per year on a Hammer - that’s a hell of a lot less depreciation than on a £12K R1, which may be worth about half that in three years time.

Most motorcycle magazines publish road tests and rarely mention details like re-sale values. OK, they don’t matter if you get your bikes for free, but most of us buy them, new or used and so the question of losing four grand in under two years is one that needs answering. I say yes, give the Victory some serious consideration, because if you have money in these recessionary times, then you need to think carefully before investing in any new motorcycle and I reckon the Hammer will hold 70-75% of its new price over three years.

Victory may be an unfamiliar name to many UK bikers, but I reckon plenty of riders will like one, and want one, once they have a demo ride. Victory UK are expanding their dealer network to around 18 shops in 2009, so you should get the chance to make your own mind up.

More at; www.mmcbikes.co.uk


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