By Justin Dawes, Digital Media Producer

The pick of the Victory litter

“Thanks, it is a good-looking bike, isn’t it? No, I didn’t build it. Yeah, it’s totally stock. It’s a Victory Hard-Ball.” I felt like Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day” and was suffering from an acute case of deja vu. At every stoplight, every gas station and every parking lot at the 2013 Laughlin River Run, I repeated the same script concerning the 2013 Victory Hard-Ball that I had for my dedicated ride during the weekend. I know it is a great-looking machine, but I had no idea the attention it would garner over four days in the desert.

The Hard-Ball is the bad-boy of Victory’s cruiser line, replete with a menacing blackout treatment, ape-hanger bars and wire-spoke wheels. Around town the stance of the Hard-Ball commands respect and looks from just about anyone it rolls past. It’s a mean-looking bagger but underneath that tough exterior is basically a Victory Cross Country. Sharing the same platform means civilized road manners, even with the grips at shoulder height and no windshield to knock down the wind at speed. Unlock the top-opening sidebags, which are the same used on the Cross County model as well, and you’ll discover copious storage space that is easy to use.

The reach to the bars is easy for my 5’10” frame, except on tight turns in parking lots with my feet on the floorboards. Shorter riders will have to do a little foot down peddling when negotiating tight quarters at full-lock. The low 26.3-inch seat height will allow most to get both feet flat on the ground. And, wow, is that seat good! After four days in the saddle I would say it is one of the best cruiser perches ever.

On the road, however, the cockpit feels more natural than it looks. The handling is light and neutral thanks to a very low center of gravity. The Hard-Ball rolls into corners with just a dip of the sky-high bars and completes an arc without much pressure from the legs or arms; it is wonderfully balanced.

Ride quality from the mean-looking Victory is downright sweet. The air-adjustable rear shock soaks less-than-perfect bits of asphalt with a cushiness you wouldn’t expect from the Hard-Ball. Out front, the inverted cartridge fork is not quite as smooth as the rear, but it handles most pavement irregularities with control. Every so often a bridge seam or other square-edged bump will have a harsh feel from the fork, but 99% of the time it is well behaved.

One feature of the Hard-Ball that matches its badass look is Victory’s Freedom 106 engine. Although the tone of the motor is mellow coming from the long flat black dual mufflers, one twist of the wrist and the HB rockets forward with authority. The power comes on low, and the meat of the torque carries through the mid-range before tapering off as the rev limit approaches. Making a pass on the highways is easy as rolling the right grip, no downshifting needed.

Victory transmissions and I have always has a bit of a love/hate relationship, and I’ve often been less than impressed with the shifting prowess in past models. The Hard-Ball, however, has me more pleased than before. Shifts from the six-speed are clunky but solid. Not once did I experience a false neutral or missed shift. I guess you could classify the feel as classically American.

ABS is standard on the Hard-Ball, and it works well. The long chassis helps keep things stable while braking hard, but the ABS does slow things down with control when grabbing a handful of lever and stomping on the pedal. And that is what it takes to get the system to activate, which I think is a good thing. Overly intrusive ABS systems will turn my smile upside-down quicker than just about anything, but I was pleased with the Victory’s anti-lock. My only gripe is that the dual 300mm discs and four-piston calipers are a bit wooden and lack the outright power that should be on tap for any 800-pound cruiser.

The 2013 Victory Hard-Ball is my new favorite offering from the Minnesota manufacturer. The ride is comfortable for a blast down to the local hangout or to Sturgis and back, and the Freedom 106 V-Twin is too much damn fun. Even without a windshield, this would be my pick of the Victory litter every time, no matter the situation. Not only for its fine road-going qualities, but also because it looks so badass.