Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

Victory Hammer 8-Ball

And while we enjoyed our initial outing on Victory’s bold bagger, we woke up the next morning with a hankerin’ to up the adrenaline level. While the stretched-out, big-hooped Vegas Jackpot begged to be ridden, we couldn’t take our eyes off the 2011 Hammer 8-Ball. Of all the blacked-out Victory models, the treatment suits the aggressive nature of the Hammer 8-Ball best. Don’t know why but there’s something about seeing the Hammer’s signature styling cues in black, its high-set, chopped rear fender showing off the bike’s big backside to the racy rear passenger hump to its new “Bullet” headlight that speaks to the inner hooligan. It makes riders want to clamp the four-piston Nissin calipers down on the 300mm front disc as tight as possible, rev up the rpm, dump the clutch and roast the 250mm rear tire until they disappear in a cloud of thick, grey smoke.

The lumpier cams of the Stage 2 Freedom 106/6 used in the Hammer 8-Ball adds credibility to the bike’s billing as a muscle cruiser. With just a little rev you’re treated to a strong hit off idle with first gear jettisoning you to a tad under 50. The next two aren’t quite as broad but power distribution is even. Most highway miles on the tight stretches we are riding are spent in fifth gear running from 55 to 85 and the roll-on power of the gear is frequently utilized. Kicking into overdrive sixth, the bike lopes along at a comfortable 2,250 rpm at 65 mph.

The rumbling note coming out of the Swept pipes is befitting of the blacked-out V-Twin’s dark disposition. It’s got a strong pulse and bark that borders the line of compliancy. Maybe it’s the way the pipes echo off the natural acoustics of the vertical walls in the canyon we’re riding. These pipes aren’t standard fare, though, but are one of three new factory aftermarket pipes offered this year. The shorty wind deflector on the model we’re riding isn’t stock either, but it does give just enough of a buffer to tuck into. It also has clamps to latch the removable passenger cowl onto if you decide to roll two-up.

The new stock dual pipes are staggered with a slash cut. Equipped with the black ceramic-coated exhaust shields and mufflers, the Hammer 8-Ball is pretty much void of chrome except for the small round housing of the speedo. From the tip of the “Bullet” headlight to the tail of the chopped rear fender, it’s a wave of ebony. Frame, fenders, tank, engine, handlebars, wheels, belt guards – did we leave anything out? We shot video of the Black Stingray Wheels in motion and they spin to a point where they look like they’re standing still.

Short-shifting between corners helps us appreciate the smoother nature of the transmission’s redesigned engaging dogs. The tranny is definitely more compliant and quieter now, though shifts are still American V-Twin notchy. But it’s a marked improvement and the ease in which the bike kicks into neutral is impressive.

Whereas the $17,799 Hammer gets dual discs up front, the $14,499 Hammer 8-Ball gets a single 300mm floating rotor front brake with a Nissin 4-piston caliper. Grab a handful of lever and the system has a progressive feel but lacks a strong initial bite. The rear’s 2-piston calipers snatch the back 300mm floating rotor with a little more authority. The 130mm-wide front Dunlop Elite 3 provides a planted feel up front working within the 5.1 inches of travel of the inverted front fork. At stock settings, the spring on the rear is fairly stiff but can be adjustable for preload to optimize its 3 inches of travel.

The 26-inch seat height and forward-slanted ergos plant the rider down and spread out at-the-ready. Its big tire actually gives it a generous lean angle and even with a 250mm rear, the 2011 Hammer 8-Ball tracks very linear and stable in sweepers. Dipping into tighter radius 25 mph turns exposes that the 8-Ball is a bike tipping the scales at a claimed dry weight of 672 pounds with a cruiserish 32.7 degrees of rake anchored by a 250mm-wide swath of Dunlop rubber. It’s hard to overcome the physics of these numbers, but the Hammer 8-Ball is no sloth by any means. It just requires a concentrated effort at the bars in the tight stuff.

Jumping on the 2011 Vegas Jackpot after spending the first part of the day on the 8-Ball, Victory’s factory cruiser feels light and low. It has a 66.3-inch wheelbase giving it 0.6-inch more stretch than the Hammer 8-Ball. The seat also sits 0.3-inch lower at 25.7 inches. There’s a lighter, less planted feel to the front end which sports a much taller, leaner tire and a little more rake. On the back end, the feel is about the same as both hug the road on 250mm Dunlop Elite 3 tires.

It stakes its claim as Victory’s custom cruiser courtesy of a sharp two-tone paint matched with a clean, color-matched white frame, swingarm and foot brake lever. The Freedom 106/6 is packaged tightly under the stretched tank and an eye-catching chrome 21-inch billet front hoop leads the way. Twenty pounds lighter than the Hammer 8-Ball, the Vegas Jackpot grips and goes as it doles out the V-Twin’s claimed 113 lb-ft of torque. It did give up a little lean angle to the muscle cruiser, though.