2013 Victory Judge First Ride

February 13, 2012
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

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Watch the Victory Judge Review Video to see the new 2013 model from the other American V-Twin OEM in action.

While most motorcycle manufacturers are scraping by, 2011 proved another banner year for Victory Motorcycles. Sales are up 21% domestically, 51% globally, and the other American V-Twin company expects more of the same in 2012. It seems the folks at Medina, Minnesota are eager to get a jump on 2013 as well with its early-model release of the Victory Judge.

This new ride from Victory represents an important addition to the cruiser lineup. In recent years the company marshaled its resources on expanding the touring lineup, with the Judge Victory’s first non-touring all-new model addition since 2006.

The cruiser niche is known for its hewing to traditional styling, but the Judge’s lines reveals how the times have changed since ’06.

Victory Judge
Victory charges forward in the American V-Twin market, carving out double-digit sales growth year after year. The new Judge looks to carve out more conquest sales.

The Judge sports the now-familiar blacked out motif, which stretches to its slash-cut twin pipes and mag wheels. The flash of chrome has been dialed down from gaudy to tasteful. Victory lauds the “American muscle car” lines, and we have to agree designer Mike Song successfully inserted retro styling cues into the modern look.

The new Dunlop Elite II tires, with raised white lettering, drive home the Judge’s muscle car vibe. And speaking of changes from 2006, the form vs. function factor swings back to reality with a 140mm rear tire – no corner-flopping fat rear like that found on the Hammer. Instead the fat tire is up front with a 130/90 anchoring the front end of the bike, even more pronounced than usual as its 16-inch five-spoke wheel is absent a right side braking rotor (the Judge only sporting a single-disc front, more on this later…)

There’s plenty more to like visually about the Judge. The Victory badging is muted and unobtrusive, just block letters on the side of the fuel tank. And the tank itself looks sleek. As for the oval side panel under the seat, it’s begging for a Roland Sands-esque number plate graphic. Overall the bike looks sharp, even sharper in person.

The Victory Judge strikes a strong pose with the now familiar blacked out look, along with some muscle car styling cues.

Straddle the 25.9-inch seat and riders get an unencumbered reach to the ground. Reach to the bars isn’t quite as accommodating. Victory designers repositioned the drag-style bars an inch-forward on the Judge, the result a slight stretch for average sized riders. That said, overall rider comfort is pleasing, owing to a fantastic seat and well-positioned placement of the mid-controls, which were moved back from more pronounced feet-forward cruiser controls.

Fire the starter button and the familiar Victory 106 Twin growls to life. Nothing’s changed from the 50-degree V-Twin, and it chugs along with pleasingly rich character. The tones emanating from the stock pipes are rich as well. Two of our test bikes came fitted with accessory pipes. The 2-into-1 pipe from Cobra, developed in partnership with Victory, sounds particularly crisp when riders crack the throttle – loud but still conforming to EPA emissions (Victory reps are keen to note its pipes conform not only to the current EPA sound emissions but the new SAE J2825 test as well). 

The rumble at idle gets punctuated by a clunky first gear to get the Judge rolling. In fact, as our testing troop set off on our day ride from Palm Springs, California, the gearbox clunk was audible from other bikes stopping and starting at traffic lights. Clutch engagement is smooth enough, even if lever pull is on the stiff side, and while loud at times, the deliberate gear changes ensure no missed shifts. The sixth gear overdrive allows for an effortless 70 mph freeway pace, perfect for superslab commuters and touring duties.

Victory Judge
The Victory Judge tackles curvy play roads with cruiser grace. Pegs scrape at a moderate pace, but the ride is steady with predictable handling.

The Victory pulls with plenty of oomph in any gear, particularly down low. The company claims 113 lb-ft of torque from the Freedom 106 (1731cc) Twin, unchanged from the 2011 Vics (the Victory Hammer sourced in our 2011 Performance Cruiser Comparison turned the dyno up to the tune of 104 lb-ft torque and 85 rear-wheel horsepower). Our first ride impressions find no fault with the 106, instead we praise the crisp fueling and smooth power delivery. The throttle rolls on immediate thrust, without a herky-jerky feel. But while it doesn’t take long to get up to speed, it’s not exactly blistering acceleration, and it will be interesting to see how the Judge benchmarks against rivals (the aforementioned Hammer struggled in performance testing).

The new Victory isn’t super agile when the road starts to kink up, but acquits itself well for a 660-pound cruiser. While it sports the shortest wheelbase (64.8 inch) in the Victory lineup, the Judge’s wide 130 front tire doesn’t make for lightning fast turn in. Once committed, however, the bike holds a steady line. The Dunlop Elite II tires offer more performance than is required, as the Judge’s low ground clearance sees the footpegs tapping out well before anything else on the chassis.

Overall the suspension keeps things in order, though it can feel unsettled on rough surfaces. The conventional fork offers no adjustments, with the single gas shock adjustable only for preload. Getting to the rear shock, however, is a chore, having to remove one of the side covers and reach behind a fuse box to ramp up or down via spanner wrench. Our short day ride didn’t make any changes, but a follow up long term test or comparison review will have us busting out the tools to bump up preload toot suite. Better yet would be sourcing Victory’s optional accessory shock, which raises ride height an extra inch, and will be appreciated for riders pressing at more than a moderate pace.

A single 300mm disc front brake makes the front wheel look flashy, but it has to work double-time to bring the burly Judge to a halt. The four-piston caliper stoppers get the job done with a stout pull at the lever. The 300mm/two-piston caliper rear brake kicks in more than its fair share of the stopping load – although the back tire can lock up without much pressure on the foot pedal.

The Judge’s instrumentation centers on the analog speedo, with an inset LCD. The single-disc front showcases the 16-inch wheel and Dunlop Elite II tires.

Instrumentation features an analog speedo, and is fairly easy to read at a glance. An LCD screen displays information rotated via left-side switchgear trigger. Info like the gear position indicator is much appreciated, but the digital/numerical tach is an odd way to display RPM.

After an abbreviated day in the saddle (about 100 miles), it might be premature to make strong claims on rider comfort. That qualification made, the Judge seat rates quite high. It’s soft without being spongy, and the back lip adds a measure of lower back support. Piling on some touring-level miles shouldn’t be an issue, and included among the 75 accessories already available for the Judge are quick release saddlebags to up its touring appeal. Victory also offers a two-up seat as an accessory.

The Judge delivers pleasing road performance on par with its cruiser rivals. In looks and pricing, however, it’s easy to see how Victory is gaining more and more loyal adherents to the brand. The Judge’s styling makes the bike look slick, but it’s the fit and finish that make the difference. Unlike some mounts we’ve tested, there’s a dearth of plastic and cheap construction on the Judge. Little things like the solid black aluminum air cleaner cover, or the pristine stitching on the seat – everything feels solid and high quality.

As for the price point, at $13,999 the Judge undercuts its Harley-Davidson rival, the Fat Boy, by $1350 (though the orange and red colorways tack an extra $400 to MSRP). Victory reps made no bones about having the Fat Boy in their sites, eager to point out the Judge also sports higher power claims (13 more lb-ft) and lower curb weight (10 pounds). Hmm… sounds like a comparison review is in order.

The Judge hits on all the important traits that make a cruiser a cruiser. Attractive styling, grunty engine performance and stout exhaust tones. It’s a strong new entry from Victory, as the ultimate challenger brand makes a worthy addition to its V-Twin arsenal. The public will get its first taste of the Judge at Daytona Bike Week, with models slated to hit dealer sales floors this April.