The sparks that inspire designers and engineers to create new motorcycle models are lit by a mix of iconic cultural images, personal experiences and the machines that made an impression on the designer. The machine emerges in boardrooms and focus groups as design sketches, CAD drawings and profit-and-loss analyses. But those dry documents are just due diligence. The heart and soul of any worthwhile motorcycle is a biker with an idea.
Victory’s brand-new Judge was born from a desire to do something interesting with the Vegas platform, something a bit more muscular and lean. The design team wanted a pared-down, ride-me kind of bike with less glitz and more purpose — something mean and quick.
The interest in muscle has been present in Victory’s engineering and design department since the very beginning. The early prototypes of the Victory V92C — the company’s first bike — had stonking, tire-smoking power. Those crude prototypes ripped, and the engineers and test riders loved it.
As the V92C prototypes went through the EPA approval process, the horsepower numbers dwindled. By the time the EPA approval was acquired and the production bike was ready to hit showroom floors, the bike was mildly faster than the competition’s cruisers.
Which isn’t to say the company lost focus on the goal. Development continued. Engineers designed around the EPA restrictions. Power and torque increased, while emissions decreased. The entire line sports class-leading horsepower and torque. And when the Hammer emerged, Victory touched back hard on their performance bike roots. The relatively light, lean motorcycle had attitude.
Greg Brew is the head of product design at Polaris. He came to the company from BMW, and is trained in industrial design. He’s also a horsepower junkie gearhead who digs drag cars, custom bikes and rock n’ roll. The Hammer spoke to him.
“When the Hammer was new, I really liked it,” Brew said. “When it was on target and on trend, it was a bit of a muscle bike. I dug that.”
The Cross Country took the company down the bagger path, and the High Ball put a toe into custom waters. The next step was hardly logical. A Kingpin replacement? Another bike?
But the company kept coming back to something lean and muscular. The Hammer was right for the time, but the time was no longer right. “The 250 rear tire is Wal-Mart,” Brew said. “Everyone has it. I’d been squirming around that it was time to do a performance bike.”
The vision for the Judge was to pick up where the Hammer left off. “We wanted to build a Hammer stripped for fighting weight,” Brew said. “The new bike would be more lean, more athletic, much more ready to go in the corner.”
Add smaller tires front and rear to give the bike some balance. Move the bars forward and the pegs back. Call it a Hammer on a sticky rubber diet. As the concept gained momentum in the company, the next step was to turn over the specs to Victory designer Michael Song. A look was needed.
The look had several parameters to meet. Motorcycle manufacturers can’t build up brand-new models willy-nilly. Care needs to be taken. Budgets minded. Platforms and parts interchange maximized.
So Song’s directive was a double-edged sword: create something new, but don’t break the bank. No new frames. No new front ends. Use what you have and be creative.
One part of the bike that both Song and Brew knew they would incorporate was engineered a few years back. “When Mike and I originally wanted to do the Cross Country,” Brew said, “he and I talked long and hard about making the gas tank so you could cut a pizza slice out of it and make it a much narrower tank for a different bike.”
The Judge was their opportunity. The tank was sliced and diced, and the result is lean angular tank – a fresh look that used existing tooling.
“We had this collection of things we could do,” Brew said. “We knew we could do the tank. We knew we could do the front fender. We had been playing around with the headlight. The High Ball was one of our best-handling bikes because of the tire choice and size combined with the slight chase in fork angle and wheelbase. We put drag bars on one. We put low-rise on one. Then we put the Core bars on it and were like, that’s close.”
An engineering change that the company invested in for this bike was mid-controls. The foot controls would be a traditional peg, moved back so that they complemented the bars from the core.
Development of the mid-controls was not as simple as you might think. At stoplights, bikes from the competition with mid-controls are awkward, as your foot wants to go right where the peg is located. According to Ben Lindaman, Victory product manager, a lot of work was done to make sure that your feet drop to the ground unhindered.
The seat was also all-new, and it works with the forward bars and rearset pegs. It also happens to be the most comfortable seat on any of Victory cruisers. “There is quite a bit of height on the rear of the seat,” Lindaman said. “ This provides lots of lower back support and keeps you in a good position.”
The tires are a 140 on the rear and a 130 up front. The result was much more balanced handling. And they were styled a bit with white letter tires that were a tip of the hat to the muscle car era.
Pieces came together, and the result was getting good. Big torque. Better handling due to the right tires and forks. The right seating position, a bit from the Core — style was still needed. The tank was a start, and Song added a distinctive touch to one of the early design sketches. The touch was a big oval number plate, one that evokes muscle-era flat track and motocross racers. Brew loved it.
Gary Gray, the Victory product manager at the time, got the bike, number plate and all. He understood. But obstacles arose, and the number plate was one of the bits that hit some pushback.
“The challenges came later when we started showing the bike further upstream,” Brew said. “They had a hard time with the fact that the bike had a number plate.”
Brew felt strongly about the plate. “If you don’t have the number plate, you don’t have the seat. And if you don’t have the seat, you don’t have the bike.”
Discussions ensued. A number plate was a departure. What do you do with that space? Victory’s ace painter, Steve Leszinski, created graphics for the plate styled with bomber art, numbers and checkered flag decals. Which one is right? The debate raged.
The end result was simple. “Motorcyclists always figure out what to put on their bikes,” Song said. Decals will be available to purchase cheaply, and the rider can decide which one to apply.
“I love the idea of selling it without anything,” Brew said. “What has to go there? Nothing. Nothing at all.”
Once the number plate issue was more or less settled, the bike was exposed to focus groups. The Victory designers knew the market this bike would serve — people riding mid-sized cruisers — had slightly different tastes than the big bike buyers.
“They tend to be minimalistic. They like a motorcycle to be beautiful in its raw form,” Lindaman said. “That was something we took away as a main focus and respected as we designed.”
“There are people who are into lifestyle, and others who are performance weekend riders. This bike is unique in that it’s modern and unique but has some throwback touches. They want to be able to get on this thing, and they are more likely to go into twisty roads more than bar to bar.”
The bike was also shown to people who rode Triumphs and BSAs. The focus groups responded, and a common theme emerged.
“We saw lots of guys that were 25 and 55 that loved this bike,” Lindaman said.
That mantra was repeated. “This is the Victory I would ride,” was heard from motorcyclists who love to ride. Victory believes this motorcycle will serve hardcore riders, the people whose core value is seat time. Brew says that a customer-focused attitude is fundamental at Victory.
“When we are designing a bike, we are most concerned about who will be riding the bike. It’s all about the potential riders,” Brew said. “We’ll walk up to a bike at a show and say, he’s not going to care about this …”
“I hope that’s part of what the style [of the Judge] sparks,” Brew said. “You react with a burning, ticking desire to ride the crap out of it.”
The Judge was put together, and the prototypes were sent out on product quality verification (PQV) rides. People from all areas of the company were given the opportunity to ride the new bikes, and they did so with gusto.
“We’ll rack up thousands of miles,” Lindaman said. “It’s usually well over 30,000 miles in PQV. The thing that stuck out was how comfortable this bike was. After two to three hours, they were still ready to ride.”
“Comfort wasn’t our top priority, but we executed really well.”
In the end, the Judge is a step for Victory.
“We are … becoming much more of a motorcycle company,” Brew said. “The Judge felt like one of the bikes that went the farthest away from the mainstream that you could go with that chassis.”
“It didn’t get too tall, it still has lots of cruiser touches. It still feels right. It’s not completely outside where we are, but it feels like it’s right on the edge and if we went further because you’d be in another category.”
“I feel like we broadened the definition of what a Victory can be,” concluded Brew.