Suzuki Boulevard M109R LTD. vs. Victory Hammer S - Alternative Muscle

Heavy Hitters for those who don't care how it's done in Milwaukee

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Adam Campbell

Surrounded by the leaner, greener, subcompact sensibilities of 2009, a tiny voice cries out from the back of the gearhead cortex: "Bigger is better. Nothing exceeds like excess." That little voice holds these truths to be self-evident. All motorcycles are not created equal, and big, fast ones are generally the way to go. Following the crowd just means waiting in a longer line for brats and Bud, so don't. Basic 45-degree OHV pushrod orthodoxy isn't the only way to big twin nirvana. There are more than a few alternatives to the brand that made Milwaukee famous. Some are bigger. Some are stronger. Some are faster. Some are all of that.

Introduced in '06 amid mixed reviews, Suzuki's muscle-bound Boulevard M109R arranges its liquid-cooled DOHC cylinders in a 54-degree V displacing 1783cc. Meanwhile, Victory's marquee muscle bike, the '09 Hammer S, divides 1731cc between a pair of air/oil-cooled SOHC cylinders set at a narrower 50-degree angle. The latest Freedom 106/6 departs from steam-shovel cruiser convention with chain-driven single overhead cams and four valves per cylinder. Both proclaim their sporting intentions with the classic blue/white racing-stripe livery that has marked American motorsports entries since Briggs Cunningham's 1951 C-4R race car. Beyond that, differences begin to outnumber similarities.

Suzuki's Boulevard M109R is the GSX-R1000 of the phat-tire cruise-missile set, with oversquare cylinders and a 7500-rpm redline that tip you to a preference for horsepower over earth-moving torque. Undersquare bores and a redline set 2500 rpm lower give Victory's latest a bore/stroke ratio of 0.93:1 and 101 lb.-ft. of clich-pulling torque at 2750 rpm. That's enough to overpower Harley's biggest, strongest, 110-inch pushrod twin, and more than the unassuming rumble from those overachieving mufflers might lead you to believe. This could get interesting...

A thumb on the Boulevard starter cues up more convincing thunder from its 2-1-2 exhaust system, designed by audio engineers at Tokyo's Seikei University, complete with a catalytic converter and Suzuki's computer-controlled SET valve. The 109 wants you to know those are big pistons down there. Bigger than a 454 Chevy's, in fact. You feel every one of those 54 cubic-inch temblors like you were sitting in front of Lars Ulrich's drum kit at a Metallica concert.

The Victory will never be mistaken for anything made in Japan. You light it with a starter that sounds like it could crank a Rolls Royce Merlin V-12 and engage low gear with an industrial-strength clank. This, boys and girls, is a motorcycle engine. Visteon EFI has a harder time lighting the fire on sub-freezing mornings, but the 106-inch twin is ready for business in less time than it takes to pull on a helmet and gloves. Anyone at or under the 5-foot-10 mark will be quite comfortable between the swept-back bar and deeply dished seat. Said seat is closer to the pavement and within easier reach of short legs. Lanky, ectomorphic types can survive, but not comfortably or for long, especially on the freeway.

The Boulevard is considerably more humane for the vertically gifted, with more room to stretch between the broad, flat seat and that drag-style handlebar. But more room means more motorcycle: 87 pounds more, topped off and ready to roll. Neither bike is exactly what we'd call nimble. The 109's parking lot demeanor is something like Baby Shamu in the kiddie pool; it's longer, taller, wider and noticeably heavier than the Victory, which adds up to heavier steering in city traffic. The Hammer's long-stroke twin pulls happily from 2000 rpm. And that, along with relatively agile handling, gets it through and beyond the urban pressure cooker with less effort. The only catch is stiff shifting through the bottom half of the six-speed gearbox. Be patient shifting up to second or you'll miss it.

Off The Record
Tim Carrithers

If it comes down to A or B, I'll save $4400 with the Boulevard M109R and cut my chiropractic bill in half. It's the only one that comes in my size and behaves like an actual motorcycle. Otherwise? None of the above: I'd take a Harley-Davidson Muscle over both these behemoths. You want torque? Buy a Cummins Turbo Diesel--happy towing to you and yours! Meanwhile, the Muscle is twice as much fun to launch when the light goes green with half a liter less under the hood. You want more? Try 105 horses at 8000 rpm. Case closed.
Age: Fiddy Height: 6'3" Weight: 215 lbs. Inseam: 35 in.

The M109R's five-speed tranny is refreshingly cooperative, and that's a good thing. The short-stroke twin is no slouch in the torque department, making 93 lb.-ft. with just 2500 rpm on the LCD bar-graph tach. Below 3000 rpm, a handful of throttle sets off more chugging and shuddering than forward motion in the first three gears. It trolls along obediently turning 3250 rpm into 70 mph, but is happiest between 4000 and the 7500-rpm redline.

Meanwhile, in its overdrive top cog, the Victory ticks over 2400 times every minute at 70 mph with no discernable vibration to spoil the mood. Harsh, short-travel suspension makes the Hammer painfully worthy of its name over rough pavement, so go around or find out the hard way. Otherwise, if its cockpit dimensions are a good match for yours, just sit back and watch the world go by until the low-fuel light or early symptoms of monkey butt signal the next pit stop. Dispatching convoys of slower traffic requires a quick trip to fifth gear, or fourth if you're in a hurry. All that lazy, long-stroke power takes a bit of getting used to, but it always gets the job done. Bereft of wind protection beyond the clothes on your back, those broad bars induce the dreaded Human Spinnaker Effect beyond 75 mph or so--earlier in a headwind. The 109's more balanced ergonomics make tucking in a bit easier, and that plastic headlight nacelle actually deflects some oncoming atmosphere. The Boulevard's 5.2-gallon fuel tank gives it more range--200 miles or so if you're determined--though reeling in big freeway miles is something to be survived rather than savored on either bike.

Better to Google up a meandering stretch of obscure two-lane to a four-star burger joint with five-star fries that could use the business. The Hammer arcs in to the first lazy set of bends with less effort and more accuracy. Victory-badged four-piston front calipers are good, but the M109R's radial-mount Tokicos are a whole lot better, hauling 900-plus pounds of bike and rider down with an easy, two-finger squeeze. The Boulevard's 240mm Dunlop D221 rear tire's flatter profile makes persuading all that heft into tighter bends a bit more difficult, and there's enough shaft reaction to jack the rear suspension around unless you're smooth with the throttle. Otherwise, a little extra cornering clearance and more responsive engine/transmission package make it more fun.

Halfway through the first triple-bacon cheeseburger, you'll bet lunch that the Boulevard will hammer the Hammer at the drag strip, too. Not so fast: The 109's best--11.91 seconds at 112.90 mph--does beat the Victory, but only by .12 of a second and 3.5 mph. Launching that extra weight without the rear tire going up in smoke is tricky business. But cue up all that bottom-end torque behind a more linear clutch and the Hammer comes out of the hole hard enough to squeeze out a lead through the first two gears. That sticky gearbox and an awkwardly placed shifter don't help its cause. By 4700 rpm the slower-revving 106/6 is done--just as the 109 hits a sweet spot that lasts all the way to 7000. By third gear, it's over. Man may not live by torque alone, but with 101 lb.-ft. of it, you can come pretty close.

The '07 Hammer S was a solid piece of work, but its 100-inch twin didn't have enough muscle to back up the muscle-cruiser look. The 106-inch version has enough to run with the big hogs. Hydraulic lifters leave you with little to do but change the oil and filter every 4000 miles. Paint and chrome are first-rate. Reliable? Absolutely. Effective? Sure. Exciting? Not really. Despite all that torque, most of the time power delivery is just plain flat for a 1731cc engine. It always feels like there's a lot more muscle in there waiting for the right intake/exhaust therapist to let it out. A little suspension therapy wouldn't hurt either.

If you can live with the space-cowboy styling and a phalanx of plastic modesty panels covering the unsightly bits, the Boulevard serves a more convincing kick in the pants every time you open the throttle. There's also a list of little things--a clock and a fuel gauge, for starters--that make life a little easier. With this one, you get reliability, practicality and the aforementioned 7000-rpm kick in the pants. When all that goes for $14,099--$4400 less than an '09 Hammer S--you get one more thing: a winner.

Off The Record
Brian Catterson

The form-over-function mindset of cruiser riders continues to baffle me. Sure, the Hammer S looks great in its blue/white racing-stripe livery, but a 250mm-wide rear tire and 3.9 inches of travel do not a pleasant riding experience make. This wouldn't bother me half as much if the original 1998 Victory V92C hadn't worked so well, with suspension and handling far above the cruiser norm. The M109R looks even racier, yet suffers from the same shortcomings. The long, low look might turn heads on the, ahem, boulevard, but it doesn't work anywhere else. If I'm gonna ride a motorized barstool, I'll get mine from
Age: Forte-something Height: 6'1" Weight: 210 lbs. Inseam: 34 in.

Boulevard M109R | Price: $14,099
Hard Parts

It's exactly what you expect from the people who brought us the GSX-R1000: two cams, two spark plugs and four valves atop markedly oversquare cylinders. Staggered crankpins provide perfect primary balance, while a contra-rotating balance shaft between the crank and countershaft cancels remaining vibration. Dual-stage cam drive keeps head dimensions and engine height manageable. The shallow, semi-dry-sump--a.k.a. Suzuki Advanced Sump System--design sequesters 5 quarts of engine oil in the gearbox area to create a more compact package. A pair of 56mm dual-butterfly throttle bodies feeds the fire via instructions from the 32-bit ECU.

Essentially hidden behind a phalanx of sculpted plastic modesty panels, the 109's 44-pound steel-tube chassis carries the all-conquering 108.8-cubic-inch lump in six rubber mounts to soak up second-order vibration. The cast-aluminum swingarm incorporates shaft final-drive on the left. Spiral-spoke cast-aluminum wheels lack Victory's X-Factor elegance. The 8.5 x 18-inch rear wears a purpose-built 240mm Dunlop D221 Sportmax radial.

It only looks simple. Underneath all that chrome and plastic, the M109R is at least as complex as the average GSX-R. To wit, each cylinder's pair of spark plugs is controlled by a separate pair of maps. Both fire at the same time when you're cruising, but they're staggered to minimize emissions when you're hard on the gas. The engine's 32-bit CPU has a 256KB read-only memory.

There's a horizontally mounted Kayaba shock below the swingarm pivot, adjustable for spring preload only. The process is relatively painless compared to the Victory's knuckle-busting arrangement, but bring your own spanner because the tool kit doesn't include one. The 46mm Kayaba fork isn't adjustable at all. Firm? Yes: It's undersprung and overdamped at both ends. Still, the net result is more humane than the Hammer.

Tech Spec
Engine type: l-c 54-deg. V-twinRear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 275mm discCorrected 1/4-mile: 11.91 sec. @ 112.9 mph
Valve train: DOHC, 4vFront tire: 130/70-R18 Dunlop D221F SportmaxTop-gear roll-on: 3.8 sec.
Displacement: 1783ccRear tire: 240/40-R18 Dunlop D221 SportmaxFuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 41/33/37 mpg
Bore x stroke: 112.0 x 90.5mmRake/trail: 31.2 deg./4.9 in.Colors: White/blue
Compression: 10.5:1Seat height: 27.8 in.Availability: Now
Fuel system: EFIWheelbase: 67.3 in.Warranty: 12 mo./unlimited mi.
Clutch: Wet, multi-plateFuel capacity: 5.2 gal.Contact:
American Suzuki Motor Corp.
P.O. Box 1100
Brea, CA 92822
Transmission: 5-speedWeight (tank full/empty): 778/747 lbs.
Frame: Tubular-steel double-cradle with aluminum swingarmMeasured horsepower:106.8 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Front suspension: 46mm Kayaba inverted cartridge forkMeasured torque: 97.1 lb.-ft. @ 3250 rpm
Rear suspension: Single Kayaba shock, adjustable for spring preload
Front brake: Dual four-piston Tokico calipers, 310mm discs

Making marginally less torque than the Hammer across the board, the M109R hits noticeably harder above 4700 rpm, where the Victory is signing off.

The Boulevard presents roomier, better-balanced accommodations more suited to the L or XL set. A relatively flat bar lets you lean into the wind just enough to make freeway travel more tolerable as well.

Victory Hammer S | Price: $18,499
Hard Parts

The 1731cc 106/6 is essentially Victory's 1634cc V-twin with 6mm more stroke and a raft of detail improvements that came on-line for both engines in '08, including a new crankshaft, pistons, rods and a redesigned oil-cooling system. Stage 2 cams cue each four-valve head. Visteon PCM60 closed-loop sequential injection does business through a dual-bore 45mm throttle body, providing independent fuel, spark and idle-air control for each cylinder. Self-adjusting cam chains and hydraulic lifters mean there isn't much for you to do but change the oil. A lot of work went into making this engine run cleaner and quieter, and it shows.

Designed to be sufficiently stout without cluttering the silhouette, a new welding sequence joins steel tubes in the double-downtube skeleton more effectively at the factory. A two-piece die-cast footpeg design and steel brake/shift lever pivots for '09 are more likely to survive a slow-speed tip-over. The S gets artfully cast X-factor wheels as well. Aside from looking good, they save an alleged 15.8 pounds of unsprung weight.

The single shock (barely) visible beneath the seat is adjustable for spring preload, but the collar is surrounded by the battery on the left and the fuse box on the right, so access isn't easy. The 43mm cartridge fork offers no external adjustments--a maddening omission when you're spending this kind of dough. The ride is decidedly firm, and genuinely punishing on rough pavement.

Cockpit accoutrements are minimal--just an LCD odometer and tripmeter--but take a look at the big twin's brain. A 60-pin Visteon ECU calculates fuel and spark for each cylinder using speed/density-based load detection via data from a manifold air sensor, compensating for altitude, barometric pressure and engine load. It knows when the engine is cold, bumping idle rpm just enough on cold mornings and eliminating the old fast-idle lever on the handlebar.

Tech Spec
Engine type: a/o-c 50-deg. V-twinRear brake: Single two-piston caliper, 300mm discCorrected 1/4-mile: 12.03 sec. @ 109.42 mph
Valve train: SOHC, 4vFront tire: 130/70-R18 Dunlop Elite 3Top-gear roll-on:4.9 sec..
Displacement: 1731ccRear tire: 250/40-R18 Dunlop Elite 3 Fuel mileage (high/low/avg.): 43/33/39 mpg
Bore x stroke: 101.0 x 108.0mmRake/trail: 32.7 deg./5.5 in.Colors: Blue/white
Compression: 9.4:1Seat height: 26.5 in.Availability: Now
Fuel system: EFIWheelbase: 65.7 in.Warranty: 12 mo./unlimited mi.
Clutch: Wet, multi-plateFuel capacity: 4.5 gal.Contact:
Victory Motorcycles
2100 Highway 25
Medina, MN 55340
Transmission: 6-speedWeight (tank full/empty): 691/664 lbs.
Frame: Tubular-steel double-cradle with aluminum swingarmMeasured horsepower:84.9 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Front suspension: 43mm inverted cartridge forkMeasured torque: 100.8 lb.-ft. @ 2750 rpm
Rear suspension: Single shock with adjustable spring preload
Front brake: Dual four-piston calipers, 300mm discs

It's all about torque. With upwards of 100 lb.-ft. on tap at 2750 rpm, shifting early is key, if you shift at all. Once the tach needle strikes 4500 rpm, the long-stroke twin makes more noise than acceleration.

Despite nearly 8 feet of motorcycle with a 66-inch wheelbase, there's not much room between the seat and that swept-back handlebar. That's okay if you're 5-foot-10, but cramped if you're 6-foot-2, especially on the freeway.

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