There’s one in every family, even the most respectable—especially the most respectable, perhaps. A black sheep, that is; the rebellious one, the one who just won’t behave, conform or smile in family portraits. The sullen one who scoffs at family values, skips supper, dresses unnervingly and communicates exclusively through grunts, snorts, rolling eyes and histrionic brooding.
That’s just way it is, and knowing that, the new Victory Hard-Ball should come as small surprise. It’s the youngest of the Victory touring family, having arrived mid-model year to join the patriarchal Vision, Cross Country, Cross Country Tour and Cross Roads. And it’s a nice family, a refined family, and who can blame them for a momentary spell of apoplexy when the Hard-Ball showed up turned out in Goth attire, wearing its handlebars like a set of antlers and refusing to wear a windscreen even in foul weather?
And, again, as so often is the case, the Hard-Ball did not arrive at its edgy attitude unaided. There was a bad influence involved and it was a cousin (naturally) from the Vegas clan, the High-Ball. It was the High-Ball who started the whole nosebleed apehanger fad, the retro laced wheel fetish, and the stubborn aversion to bright colors and chrome that the Hard-Ball embraced as a willing sycophant. Someday they’ll probably share a cell together, or so the families worry.
Born bad and defiant, the Hard-Ball nevertheless remains a member of the family right down to its source code, meaning that beneath that rude exterior lie the essential traits and engineering attributes that make the Victory touring bikes state-of-the-art creations. There’s no escaping the helix. As sinister as the Hard-Ball presents itself to be, it’s still essentially a Cross Roads in costume and thus a civilized performer on the highway.
When riding the Hard-Ball, or any other contemporary Victory bagger, you’re basically riding the motor. That meaty Freedom
106/6 powerplant is the foundation of the machine, and to it are mounted a pair of hollow sand-cast aluminum frame members and an aluminum swingarm. It makes for a taut package, virtually impervious to flex, and with a laudable ground clearance in the absence of lower frame rails. Suspension components are likewise set up for serious road duty with the front bouncing on inverted cartridge forks, and the rear on a stout air-adjustable gas mono-tube. Considering the Hard-Ball’s low-down 26.25″ seat height, it’s impressive that the suspension system provides over 5 inches of travel in the front, and nearly that much in the back. The brakes are totally up to the task of heeling the nearly 800-pound machine, bringing a pair of floating 300mm discs with four-pot calipers to the front end and a single floating 300mm with two-pot calipers to the back.
Nor does the Hard-Ball want for family touring amenities. Like the Cross Roads, it comes standard with cruise control and ABS, and a single gauge housing that offers a wealth of information, functioning as a speedometer, odometer, tachometer, fuel gauge and gear indicator in addition to the usual array of idiot lights.
Most lovable of the touring accoutrements on the Hard-Ball are the saddlebags. We’ve had lengthy experience with these units on other Cross models and deem them the best in the industry—easy to access, easy to pack, capacious as all get out and easy to securely seal.
The Hard-Ball’s seat is familiar family fare, too, and while reasonably comfortable over the long haul is somewhat restrictive in available fanny space and comportment options. That’s less of an issue on the Hard-Ball than on, say, the Cross Country and that’s because of the dramatically different operator ergonomics enforced by those wild apehangers.
The thing about apehangers is that they’re a love/hate phenomenon. There’s not much middle ground, and as it happens I’m a lover. It’s a weakness that can be traced back to Easy Rider, I reckon, and it’s persisted since then.
Apes are super-popular among the custom bagger crowd these days, and are reaching unprecedented heights. In most cases they’re also unlawful heights in most jurisdictions, but so what—it’s a custom, dammit; I’ll take my chances. Not having the luxury of just saying so what, however, Victory ran the bars up as far as most laws would permit, and as a precaution, made them adjustable to a second lay-down position for places where the law was less tolerant. Hopefully you’ll never have to use that position—it spoils everything.
In motion, the Hard-Ball’s apes provide great grins in slow speed maneuvering, bossing that big mount around by the horns. The bike’s stability at those speeds (and at virtually any speed, really) is rock solid, which helps, and the immense operator floorboards make it feel like an actual platform. Getting out on the road, the apes demand a straight spine and forward lean—just the posture the Hard-Ball’s seat is ideally suited to. Slouchers and recliners need not apply.
Out on the road, the Hard-Ball exhibits the same nimbleness as we’ve experienced on the other Cross models. It has an
eagerness in the twisty conditions that belies its size. Cornering clearance is generous, and the Freedom 106/6 powerband is wide and forgiving.
The obvious drawback to apehangers is that they tend to turn your torso into a spinnaker at highway speed. For lovers of the wild wind, this is not an issue on either short hops or extended trips. For those not quite so enamored of the blast, the short hops are still a thrill but those long days in the saddle can take their toll.
Victory offers a pair of optional windscreens for the Hard-Ball—a short one and a tall one—and those should improve the situation nicely.
Personally, if I were looking to knock down the breeze some on this bike I’d probably just strap a big bindle—like a Saraceni Bag—on top of the massive headlamp. You’d be surprised how much of a change that can make on a setup like this, and it would certainly serve the Hard-Ball’s hard-edged persona more aptly.
The Hard-Ball is available in Matte Black with Red Pinstriping exclusively, as you’d expect, and sells for $18,999—the same price as the full-fairing Cross Country and $3,000 more than its closest relative, the Cross Roads. Let’s just call that markup the badass premium.