Victory Hard Ball | First Ride

Retro Roller

Baggers are hot right now. Seems cruiser riders, in their old age, have come to appreciate the convenience of saddlebags. Or maybe they've just got more baggage? Whatever the reason, Victory jumped on the bandwagon recently with its Cross Country and Cross Roads baggers, and now this here Hard-Ball, which the company calls a "naked bagger."

At first glance, the Hard-Ball looks like a High-Ball with hard bags, but that's not entirely accurate. It's really a Cross Roads without a windshield. Oh, and ape-hangers, though these are simply the Cross Roads' tiller-style handlebars rotated upward. They can be put back down, should you so desire; dots at the bar clamps aid in alignment and the bars are drilled to accommodate the hand controls in both positions.

But never mind those details, the Hard- Ball is all about styling, its fl owing lines and "murdered-out" fl at-black paint scheme resembling a primer-finished rat rod. Red pinstripes on the bodywork and rims provide the finishing touch-and help you find your bike in the dark, proclaim Victory's copywriters. The combination works: More than any cruiser we've ridden recently, the Hard- Ball prompted unsolicited commentary from passersby. Our favorite was the guy in the crosswalk outside the NAMM (North American Musicians Merchandising) convention who remarked, "Hey, nice bike. Wait-that is a nice bike!" Call it a verbal double-take.

Actually, scratch that last paragraph. The Hard-Ball isn't all about styling; it's also eminently functional. It's powered by Victory's latest Freedom 106/6 engine-shorthand for 106 cubic inches (1731cc) and six-speed overdrive transmission. The long-stroke (101 x 108mm), 50-degree V-twin features SOHC actuation for its four valves per cylinder, with hydraulic lifters and self-adjusting cam chains for maintenance-free enjoyment. Air/oil-cooled and fuel-injected courtesy of twin 45mm throttle bodies, the mill churns out triple-digit torque (a claimed 109 lb.-ft.).

That engine is housed in the same cast-aluminum frame found on the Cross Country and Cross Roads, complemented by a cast-aluminum swingarm. Suspension consists of a non-adjustable 43mm inverted fork and a single, air-adjustable shock. Triple disc brakes feature twin four-piston calipers grasping 300mm rotors up front and a single two-piston caliper pinching a similarly sized rotor out back. As is becoming increasingly common, anti-lock brakes are standard. Unlike most motorcycle manufacturers, Victory prefers not to disclose the makers of its outsourced components, but if you look close you can probably figure out who made what.

Plop down in the saddle and down is the operative word, as the seat sits just 26.3 inches above the asphalt. Then reach up to the handlebars. It's a long way and farther yet at full-lock, where even long-limbed riders will be stretching. Factor in floorboards that limit where you can dab a foot, plus a near-800-lb. weight topped off with 5.8 gallons of gas, and the Hard-Ball feels both heavy and top-heavy, making for awkward slow-speed maneuvering.

Fortunately, that top-heaviness disappears at speed, the Victory tracking straight and true. Steering is quite light by cruiser standards, and very neutral, and the chassis has a solid, put-together feel that's a far cry from its competition-particularly those with rubber-mounted engines. Unlike most low-rider cruisers, the Victory's fork and shock offer ample wheel travel (5.1 and 4.7 inches, respectively) and effective damping. The brakes also get high marks; they're firm and powerful, and the ABS doesn't cut in prematurely. The Hard-Ball also offers more cornering clearance than most cruisers- though those floorboards still tend to ground fairly easily. You'll scare a passenger good with that sound!

The Freedom 106/6 engine produces prodigious torque that makes gear changes almost superfluous. Clutch and shift action are quite good, the latter a far cry from the notchy box that hampered the original Victory V92C. We appreciate the inclusion of a Kawasaki-style Positive Neutral Finder, which prevents the rider from shifting past neutral at a standstill. But we have to wonder why a bike with floorboards lacks a heel-and-toe shifter...

The Hard-Ball has some truly nice features, such as standard cruise control operated by an easy-to-use cluster below the twistgrip. The clean, analog speedometer has just one set of numerals-you can choose mph or kph, a blue light indicating your selection. That's joined by a digital gear indicator, a clock and an LCD that can be toggled to show total mileage, trip mileage or engine rpm. The only shortcomings we noted are the lack of helmet and steering locks-and the openings in the top-loading saddlebags are too small to fit anything bigger than a beanie helmet.

As for those ape-hangers, they must be an acquired taste. Truth be told, the ones on the Hard-Ball aren't that high, and are quite comfortable going down the road. Just know that air will go straight up your jacket sleeves and, with the forward-set foot controls, straight up your pant legs as well. But the apes do make you feel pretty badass: "Two fists pounding the air" and all that.

As Abe Lincoln famously said, "People who like this sort of thing will find it just the sort of thing they like." The rest of us will be glad those bars are adjustable.

Tech Specs

Combine the Cross Roads with the High-Ball and this is what you get.
None: No-one else makes a "naked bagger." Yet.

Price $18,999
Engine type a/o-c 50-deg. V-twin
Valve train OHC, 8v
Displacement 1731cc
Bore x stroke 101.0 x 108.0mm
Compression 9.4:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 92 bhp
Claimed torque 109 lb.-ft.
Frame Cast aluminum
Front suspension 43mm inverted fork
Rear suspension Shock with air-adjustable spring preload
Front brake Dual four-piston calipers, 300mm discs with ABS
Rear brake Two-piston caliper, 300mm disc with ABS
Front tire 130/70B-18 Dunlop 491 Elite II
Rear tire 180/60R-16 Dunlop Elite 3
Rake/trail 29.0?/5.6 in.
Seat height 26.3 in.
Wheelbase 65.7 in.
Fuel capacity 5.8 gal.
Claimed curb weight 793 lbs.
Colors Matte Black
Available Now
Warranty 1 yr., unlimited mi.
Contact Victory Motorcycles 2100 Hwy. 55 Medina, MN 55340 800.765.2747 _www.victorymotorcycles.com_

Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.

More fun than a barrel of apes.

They say:
"The badass bike that rejects labels." We say:
"What, you never heard of Black Label Society?"
Talk about hard-ball: Victory’s latest tries to look nonchalant as the lovely ladies of Long Beach Roller Derby strike a pose.
The latest evolution of the Freedom V-Twin displaces 106 cubic inches and features a six-speed overdrive transmission. Care to guess how we know?
Got a brand-new pair of roller skates? Stick ’em in one of the Hard-Ball’s hard bags. Lockable and watertight, they open with, you guessed it, a key.