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Worth waiting for

Victory Judge

In my previous post, I talked about how I’m struggling with the concept of delayed gratification. After flirting with the idea of chaining myself to challenging monthly payments for the sake of a brand new Triumph Bonneville, I’ve decided instead to hold onto the objectively superior bike I’ve already got, ride it into the ground and in the meantime set aside money for something I really want.

I’ve wanted a Victory Judge ever since they were first introduced, but it’s been off the “Bike I’ll Get Next” list because of, primarily, two things: cost and the absence of ABS.

Give it two years, and at least one of those issues will definitely be resolved. Recently, I wrote to Victory (which already offers ABS on its tourers) to ask about anti-lock brakes being made available on its line of cruisers. Obviously, they’re not going to share specific secrets with some random fan boy who emails in, but they did tell me this: “Victory have always been applauded on their handling and brakes… [but] yes, our R&D facility do keep tabs on EU rules [a] and we will always look to work within guidelines.”
It other words, ABS is coming within at least two years. That gives me time to save up.

Although, by then I may no longer want a Judge. The Minnesota-based company may produce something even better. Recently, a rumour came out that Victory is working on a new water-cooled engine. That’s exciting news not because of the presence of water cooling (after all, Victory bikes have been oil cooled for quite a while now), but more for the fact that a new engine means Victory is moving forward.

After the launch of Indian last summer, the immediate question that came to the minds of a lot of people, including myself, was: What now for Victory motorcycles? With both it and Indian owned by Polaris, how was it going to differentiate itself?
“Keep moving forward,” Polaris VP Steve Menneto told Forbes last year. “When we acquired Indian, that allowed Victory to really go all out.”

The Gunner, the first Victory offering to come in the wake of
Project Rushmore and the Indian launch, was a disappointment.

However, it certainly didn’t seem like that recently when Victory announced the addition of the Gunner to its lineup. Little more than a Judge with a different seat, it was a real disappointment to me. I mean, I’m sure it’s a great bike, but I had high hopes for what would be first out of the gate in the post-Indian world. I was imagining a bold step, a statement of difference. In writing about the future of Victory last summer I opined that they could draw on the expertise of their parent company and build an adventure bike of some sort to rival the BMW R1200GS.

In fairness, I suppose history has shown that bold steps don’t often work for American vehicle manufacturers. And Victory simply doesn’t have the wallet to take gambles like, say, the Honda NM4. It has to know that what it makes is going to sell. And in the God-blessed United States of America what sells –– especially in the Upper Midwest, where Victory is based –– is a cruiser. But I was still disappointed by the Gunner.

So, news that Victory is working on a new powerplant is encouraging. They’re not just sitting around redecorating old bikes. They really are moving forward. And it’s exciting to think of where it could lead. At present, Victory is a one-engine company; all its bikes run on the Freedom 106 engine. Please don’t ask me to explain anything about engines. I don’t have a clue. I think it would be cool, though, if this new water-cooled engine were added as an addition to the lineup. Rather than simply replacing the Freedom 106 in all the bikes.

From the leaked sketches obtained by Motorcyclist, it appears the new engine will go in a Judge chassis. Again, please don’t ask me to explain anything about a chassis. I am just regurgitating stuff from Motorcyclist so I can point out that, in some way, Victory are following my advice from last August. At the time, I suggested improving and then keeping the Vegas 8 Ball as the “iconic premier machine of the marque” –– the philosophical heart of the Victory lineup, if you will. It appears Victory is doing that, but with the Judge.

Good call, Victory. That makes sense. The Judge, with its lesser rake, is a more manoeuvrable machine than Victory’s other cruisers, and that fits with what Steve Menneto told Motorcyclist in an October 2013 interview: that Victory intended to “focus on performance and innovation as core brand values.” Yes, you have to take that with a grain of salt, since it’s performance and innovation within the cruiser context, but it’s still exciting.

A sketch of a possible design for a new Victory.
Will this be my next bike?

So, what will the future hold? Will Victory make something on par with the Ducati Diavel? The Moto Guzzi California? The Honda F6C? Will the lineup have two different engines?

Personally, I’d like to see the new engine be lower displacement, so Victory could offer an affordable bike like the Harley-Davidson 883, or the Triumph America, which serve as “gateway” bikes to draw people into the brand. At present, Victory doesn’t have that. And I think that’s something that hurts them. They are a relatively unknown cruiser brand whose cheapest product costs thousands more than the cheapest product of the best-known cruiser brand in the world.

Also, on a side note, I have trouble believing that Victory’s cheapest product, the Vegas 8 Ball, is appealing to anyone who doesn’t live in a trailer park. It looks cheap with those rims. The Judge and the Gunner (and, sort of, the High Ball) are stylistically right. I’d like to see these style cues followed on a more affordable machine.

What will happen, though, is anybody’s guess; only time will tell. I just hope it will be worth the wait.

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(a) From 1 January 2016, ABS will be mandatory on all motorcycles above 125cc sold in the European Union.