It wasn’t so very long ago that the term “cruiser” entered the motorcycle style lexicon as a novel means of classifying bikes that weren’t made in Milwaukee, but were designed to look like they were. It started with the Japanese knock-offs, and suddenly there was a slew of motorcycle magazines starting up to cater to consumers of this new breed. When Victory Motorcycle got their start in the late ’90s, they embraced the term wholeheartedly, naming their original V92 models the Cruiser, Touring Cruiser and Sport Cruiser. That trend continued to gain steam until it reached the point where pretty much anything that wasn’t obviously something else—a dirt bike, or dual-sport, or sportbike, chopper, bobber or bagger—was deemed some type of cruiser, especially if it featured forward foot controls, kicked-back operator ergos and a V-configuration powerplant.
And so it went, as power cruisers and pro-street cruisers and the like entered the vocabulary.
Harley-Davidson took the concept to another realm in 2009 when they trotted out a model that was stylistically inspired by the muscle cars of Detroit’s golden era, the ’60s and early ’70s. They even dubbed it the Muscle, and gave it the type of five-spoke mag wheels typical of those cars, and put on a set of squared-off, side-dump side pipes also derived from the automotive styling of the era. A fat 240mm rear tire, potent 125-horsepower Revolution motor, scoops on the tank and Marisa Miller drove the point home.
And now four years later, and in pursuit of that same muscle-car mystique, Victory has introduced the new Judge. Though named, obviously, after Pontiac’s Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In inspired GTO model of 1969, the bike shares few other similarities with that machine. It does have five-spoke mag wheels and raised white lettering on its tires. So there’s that.
Victory refers to the Judge, naturally, as a cruiser—specifically one with “muscle car inspired styling”—but that’s taking even that super-elastic term out to an extreme that’s hard to wrap your head around. Mid-mount foot controls, bolt-upright operator ergos and modest tire dimensions set this machine decidedly apart from anything else conventionally referred to by that term. So let’s try something else: let’s call it simply a street bike—a street bike in the grand and versatile tradition of the Brit, Euro and Japanese standards of, yes, the ’60s and early ’70s
That’s what it is, pure and simple, and it’s an impressive one at that. While the Judge is built upon the familiar mono-shock tubular Vegas chassis and powered by the familiar 8-valve overhead cam Freedom 106/6 V-twin and 6-speed overdrive transmission shared by all of the company’s models, it’s an entirely different breed of cat beyond those attributes. What impresses most about the Judge, in fact, is the free rein the designers exercised in creating this bike’s overall appearance and utterly unique bodywork.
From the front fender to the headlamp, flat handlebar, wrap-around seat, ovate side covers, unusual fender strut protrusions, and clipped rear fender with flush taillight, the Judge is completely novel. Almost, that is. The beautifully sculpted fuel tank is actually a 4.5-gallon scaled-down version of the 6-gallon unit found on the Victory baggers, and the use of 16-inch wheels with a 130/90 tire in front and a 140/90 in the rear, recalls the setup intro’d on last year’s hell-raising High Ball bobber.
Beyond that the designers incorporated just the right balance of blacked-out components to make the shinier bits pop visually. They also redesigned the EFI and ignition covers on either side of the motor, reshaping and reproportioning the pieces—a massaging that brings a subtle aesthetic improvement to those areas.
The whole package is tightly executed and artfully integrated, and the only element we’re less than jazzed about is
the cartoonishly round headlamp. (They couldn’t make it a twin-beam oval?)
Ergonomically, the Judge is nonconformist among Victory offerings, placing the footpegs amidships and mounting a low handlebar tight to the triple tree. The seat, which looks like it melted and drooped over everything around it, provides a comfortable perch and easy boot reach to the pavement from its 25.9″ height. Taken together, it all makes for your basic standard street bike triangle. It favors those with a longer reach and felt optimal for someone of my size, though it shouldn’t take much of an adjustment for shorter riders of an aggressive mindset.
The handling properties of the Judge are dictated first and foremost by those 16-inch tires. They give the bike a rock-solid ride, and one that’s remarkably nimble in quick maneuvering. The ride is very similar to that provided by the High Ball we rode last year—which is to say a real rowdy joy ride right up to that moment when the confident handling manners butt up against the cornering limitations enforced by its low stance.
Power delivery from the Freedom motor is sneaky fast off the line and smooth-mannered both on-throttle and off after that. The bike we tested came fitted with the Stage 1 Straights Exhaust System, a $1,099.99 option that sanitizes the Judge’s profile even further and gives the machine a gratifying growl.
Our overall take-away from our time on the Judge is that this is a somewhat eccentric, but worthy and visually spectacular specimen of a modern street bike. It’s also a reasonably priced one, starting at $13,999 for a Gloss Black unit, and $14,399 for either Sunset Red, or Suede Nuclear Sunset.
One thing it is not, though, is a muscle car with handlebars, as Victory’s promotional buzz would have you believe. If that’s what you’re looking for, a 445-hp Boss Hoss should be more your cup of adrenaline.