11 May 2012 | David Morley gets a taste of America
Isn’t it funny how people claiming to be individuals go on to express that sentiment by making sure they appear just like the rest of the individuals?
Okay, so it’s an easy target, but don’t you get just a small giggle when a bunch of rough, tough, leather-clad individuals all turn up on identical Harleys? Us too, but it’s a bit unavoidable when one brand is really the only game in town.
Of course, there’s more to life with a cruiser than attempting to convince others you stand ‘one out and one back’ from the mob. And not the least of those things is that an American-made bike with a big V-twin is cool. Even (especially) people who don’t ride know it’s a cool thing to be straddling.
So what if you could combine that undeniable sub-zero factor with a bike that really did stand out from the Harley pack? Surely that would fulfil all those internal yearnings, no?
Until just a handful of years ago, that meant paying money for something like a bike from a Japanese manufacturer that was actually assembled in the US. Not quite there for most of us. But then, in 2008, a proper, full-nine-yards alternative to a Harley-Davidson turned up in Aussie showrooms.
It was, of course, the Victory brand and with a range of cruisers and tourers, the Victory product has started to kick on in both Australia and New Zealand (see accompanying story, A Victorious History, page 93).
And now there’s an all-new model which not only has the H-D Fat Bob in its sights, it also gives Victory a foothold in a new (for the brand) market segment. The bike is called – provocatively enough – the Judge, and it fits somewhere between Victory’s Vegas and Hammer models.
Broadly speaking, it’s from the stripped-down cruiser school of bike design, but its design details are very much a part of what makes it tick – and what should make it sell. In a market segment where retro rules the style roost and mechanical specification hails from the don’t-scare-the-horses school of engineering, the Judge scores a bullseye.
Which is not to say the bike is dowdy looking or falls down in a dynamic sense, rather that Victory clearly knows to whom it is selling machinery.
By the standards of such bikes, the Judge is a bit leaner – and, possibly, meaner – than some of its ilk, including many of Victory’s other models.
Like any good ‘muscle cruiser’, the Judge is visually dominated by its monster V-twin engine. Mostly blacked out with a few polished highlights (like the cooling fins), the 106-cube (1731cc) twin forms the visual centre of the bike, with the cut-down guards and heavily sculpted 17lt tank filling it out into a classic cruiser silhouette.
The 16in wheels are cast aluminium with a black finish and polished webs recalling US muscle cars of the ’60s.
The ’bar-’peg relationship is rational with footpegs mounted well back by the standards of the class. And to ensure the Victory will accommodate as many different backsides as possible, the seat height is a duck-friendly 658mm.
Like we said, in engineering terms the Judge won’t challenge the expectations of a group of buyers not universally known for their acceptance of new ideas. So, there’s a steel-tube cradle frame with conventional, right-side-up forks. That said, the rear swingarm is a bit novel – an aluminium casting with a rising-rate linkage. That said, rear travel is 75mm, which ain’t much, but it’s on par with the competition and is, thankfully, adjustable for preload.
Three 300mm disc brakes are fitted, all with floating rotors; you get four-piston calipers up front and a twin-piston job on the rear.
So, how about that engine, then? Well, again, Victory has managed to stick with traditional big-twin design and the Freedom V-Twin is a classic cruiser powerplant. With a 50-degree angle between the pots, the engine has its own signature soundtrack, yet it could only ever be a big-inch V-twin from idle to redline.
It’s still air-cooled, too, despite increasingly tougher global emissions rules and regulations that govern noise and exhaust output, but clearly the adoption of electronic fuel-injection has cleaned up the big fella’s act. The fuel-metering precision of EFI also means Victory can specify a 9.4:1 compression ratio and make it work.
Slightly more modern than the air-cooling are the cylinder heads, which feature a single overhead camshaft on each cylinder and four valves on each pot, too. The camshafts are chain-driven and there are hydraulic lifters to reduce maintenance to a bare minimum (no valve adjustments necessary).
The one potentially contentious area of engineering displayed by the Judge is in the rear tyre department. Rather than opt for the fashionable 200-section rear hoop, Victory has specified a vastly more conventional 140-section tyre, in this case a Dunlop Elite.
And while that move gives the bike a more delicate view from directly behind, it also makes it a far more rideable machine with – theoretically – better turn in and easier steering. But does it work? In fact, does the Judge make the overall dynamic statement that will get it noticed?
The desert roads outside Palm Springs in California were calling… In fact, the streets of Palm Springs offered up the first test for the Judge. Like a lot of desert towns, with the typical sandy soil and lots of run-off, Palm Springs’ stormwater drains aren’t underground; they consist of big spoon drains that criss-cross the city’s streets. So the initial test involved hitting them at speed and seeing what the 75mm of rear suspension travel did in response. To be honest, it was all pretty undramatic, with the Judge’s obviously well-chosen damper rates soaking it all up.
Part of the whole ride comfort thing probably has a bit to do with the Judge’s relatively rational riding position, too. Instead of having your knees banging under your chin, the Judge is quite roomy. If anything, smaller riders might find the stretch to the drag ’bars a bit of an ask. And while the ’pegs are placed well back by cruiser standards, they’re still semi-forward and can take a couple of goes to find without looking when you’re new to the bike. The sidestand (there’s no centrestand) can be a bit tricky to locate and tag with your heel the first couple of times, too.
The rest, though, is a piece of cake with everything where it should be and only a horn button placed too close to the indicator switch making for some ‘What the hell?’ moments.
The big vee fires up easily thanks to the EFI and there’s just a small amount of top-end rustle to let you know this is still an air-coolie. Helmet on, you won’t even hear that much, but you will know precisely when you’ve snagged first gear.
Okay, old timers tell me that earlier Victories had a gearshift worthy of some kind of agricultural appliance and that this one is much, much smoother and quieter. To which I can only say, the old one must have been truly crook.
As it is, the Judge’s ’box needs a deliberate touch and while the shifter isn’t heavy exactly, it is a bit slow and engages with a distinct clang. I also had the bike jump out of second gear a couple of times, but only when I knew, in the back of my mind, I hadn’t prodded it all the way into second. It would engage for a second and then jump clear, leaving me in neutral. Not a big problem and totally avoidable had I been more deliberate with the six-speed. On the plus side, it feels like it would survive a nuclear blast.
So would the engine (from all accounts) but unlike the trans, the big twin is a real smoothie. There’s nothing in the way of bad vibes and the only snatching turns up if you’re super lazy and lug the engine too low in too high a gear and then try to pull away. But you need to be almost wilfully stupid for this to happen and the rest of the time, the big guy just blams away with the rubber belt final drive keeping it all super silky.
But that’s not the engine’s only strong suit, because it also goes like the clappers compared with most of its opposition. Nobody at Victory is saying, but we reckon there’s near enough to 90-odd horses (60kW) at the rear wheel which, even with that 300kg weighbridge ticket, makes for a decent ration of squirt.
Kick it down a cog or three and it overtakes anything with ease, but cruising along in sixth it feels like it’s got the longest legs this side of Elle MacPherson. Really, the only thing that will limit its mile-eating abilities will be the seating position which, typically, turns you into a wind-sock at anything much over 100km/h.
Less impressive is the front brake which has a wooden feel to it and less than stunning retardation. The same-size rear disc works much better and, once you adapt your style to the layout, the Judge pulls up adequately.
The skinny rear tyre makes the Judge more agile than many of its fat-tyred peers and it remains a natural steerer as you swing from curve to curve.
The limiting factor will be ground clearance and it seems to deck out on the left side pretty early for what is an otherwise capable chassis. Victory says there’s a longer rear shock option which might help, but we’d also be looking into firmer inserts for the cartridge forks, too, because these are a bit soft for press-on progress.
Pricing is pretty keen with the Judge carrying a $22,995 (rideaway) sticker (when it arrives in Australia in May) making it a bit cheaper than the 2012 Fat Bob ($24,995 rideaway) we mentioned. And, of course, Victory has a fat catalogue full of bits and pieces to make your Judge stand out from the pack. Which, like we said, is what this market segment is all about, no?
Type: Air-cooled, eight-valve, SOHC, 50° V-twin
Bore x stroke: 101mm x 108mm
Compression ratio: 9.4:1
Fuel system: EFI
Final drive: Belt
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: Tubular steel
Front suspension: Conventional fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Monoshock, adjustable for preload
Front brakes: Single 300mm disc with four-piston calipers
Rear brake: Single 300mm disc with twin-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed dry weight: 300kg
Seat height: 658mm
Fuel capacity: 17lt
Max. power: N/A
Max. torque: 153.2Nm (112.9ft-lb)
Colours: Red, orange or black
Bike supplied by: Victory Motorcycles USA
Warranty: Two years, unlimited kilometres
*Manufacturer’s list price, excluding dealer and statutory costs