2017 Victory Octane First Ride Review
When dreams and reality meet
When we posted our article about Victory’s unveiling of the 2017 Octane, the vitriol in the comments section was surprising even by internet standards. Of the 50 comments posted as of the writing of this review, roughly 30 were negative, many saying that the commenter felt mislead by Victory’s references to the Project 156 Pikes Peak racer as an inspiration during the Octane’s development. Perhaps this is an example of people hearing what they deeply wish for instead of what was actually being said.
2017 Victory Octane
With the negative initial MOronic reception of the Octane in mind, I arrived at Daytona Beach this week hoping to learn if the readers had a point. Is the Octane really just a warmed over Indian Scout? Does it really matter? And what exactly does the Octane reveal about Victory’s new slogan “Modern American Muscle,” as the first all new model arriving in 2016 as part of model year 2017?
Well, it appears that Victory’s PR department had a similar set of goals. So, let’s don our gear and put the Octane through its paces.
A Victory Scout?
Okay, this might get a little bumpy, but here goes: Yes, there are similarities between the Scout and the Octane. They were both designed and built by different divisions of the same parent company using shared development resources. Both bikes utilize the same basic engine which was then modified and tuned to deliver the power characteristics that should appeal to each model’s target market.
Both utilize the same cast aluminum frame technology – though not the same frame – which would explain the similar look. The chassis geometry is similar but not exactly the same with the Octane measuring 29.0° rake and 5.1 in. trail compared to the Indian’s 29.0° rake and 4.7 in. trail. The wheelbases of the Octane and Scout (62.1 in. versus 61.5 in.) are similar, as are the seat heights, measuring 25.9 in. vs. 25.3 in., respectively. Yes, there are similarities, as both bikes are based on the same platform.
In a conversation with Alex Hultgren, Director of Marketing of Victory Motorcycles, basing multiple models around a common platform is quite common on the car side of the market, an area in which he has a deep background. However, the key to successfully creating multiple offerings on a single platform is differentiating how the machinery interacts with the operator.
“When platforming is done well, you get two distinctive products that have some commonality,” Hultgren explains. “What you want to differentiate is the things that people care about. So, it’s the appearance of the bike and the feel. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
In the cruiser world, this is fairly common where the naked, the leather-bagged, and the hard-bagged versions share not just the same base name but the same engine and chassis – only each are tweaked to fit the functional requirements of a specific market niche. What makes the Octane/Scout relationship unusual is that they are sold by two different motorcycle companies yet share a common parent company in Polaris.
When I discussed this issue with Brandon Kraemer, Victory Product Manager, he posited that the issue is less of the common DNA in the Octane and Scout than the similarities among the motorcycles in the class, noting that fully 65% of the Octane’s parts were unique to it, leaving only 35% of them shared with the Scout. As Kraemer put it, “Because they are mid-sized cruisers, they are definitely in the same category, they are always going to have similar specs and similar silhouettes.”
This resonated with me because, as I’d thought about the comment thread brouhaha over the model unveiling, I kept coming back to how the lines of the Octane reminded me more of the Kawasaki Vulcan S than the Scout. Both the Octane and the Vulcan have 18-in. front wheels and 17-in. rears. The visual emphasis of the bikes is a distinct angle sloping from the front to the rear. Even the tank lines are similar, though one is more curved and the other more angular. The solo saddles have a distinct bolster at the rear to help the rider, who is in a feet-forward riding position, stay in place under acceleration. So, perhaps Kraemer has a point.
Still, if you’re having to explain this much, doesn’t that mean you’ve already lost? Well, maybe it’s time to stop overthinking this issue and simply move on to the specifics of the bike this review is presumably addressing.
A Bike For Troublemakers
When the time came to create the engine for the Octane, Victory had to look no further than the Project 156 bike. “From our end, Pikes Peak was about the motor,” said Kraemer. “That’s all it was.” So, the cylinders gained 2mm (to 101.0mm) while retaining the Scout’s 73.6mm stroke. Consequently, the displacement increased to 1179cc – a 46cc bump. Although Victory was mum on all the internal engine changes, Kraemer did run off a laundry list of parts that are distinct from the Scout mill, saying, “The pistons, cylinders, heads, all the covers on the motors, camshafts – those are all specific to Octane, giving you that unique character.”
Victory didn’t provide graphs of the Octane’s power output, so I’ll resort to my butt dynamometer. Where the Scout was somewhat docile at lower rpm – until the rider pulled its tail – the Octane responds immediately off the line. Throttle response in the lower rev range borders on abrupt, and (since you should know by now that I obsess over smooth power delivery) : I was surprised to learn that the characteristic is claimed to be a feature, not a bug. “We really wanted a little more acceleration, a kind of jerkiness in first gear,” explained Kraemer, “So, when you do a burnout or you’re going slow and you want to spin the rear tire, you can easily do it.”
Normally, this kind of information comes off as merely hyperbole – because the press event doesn’t have a way to properly test these claims. (See my 2016 Ducati XDiavel S First Ride Review for an attempted clandestine test of launch control.) Victory, on the other hand, gave the international motorcycle media a full day playing at Orlando Speed World where three arenas were set up: quarter-mile dragstrip, an Octane-khana handling course, and stunting school. The things we go through for our readers…
When we rolled our Octanes into the center of the banked oval race track, Victory Stunt Team riders Tony Carbajal and Joe Dryden promised us that, if we wanted, we’d be drifting Octanes by the end of our session. Beginning with static burnouts and progressing to rolling ones, they helped some of the media who had never engaged in such shenanigans become comfortable.
Next came hard launches, which were simply getting the Octane rolling by cranking the throttle WFO, dumping the clutch, and hanging on. The whoops and hollers from the first-time hooligans filled the air, along with the tire smoke. When the time came, Dryden instructed us how to drift a hard launch – only to temper it with the warning that, if things got too sideways, the preferred action would be to keep the throttle open and ride the slide to the ground since chopping the throttle would likely lead to seeing how the Octane looks from above.
The experience proved Victory’s point. The Octane has plenty of stonk in the bottom end to make a drooling, toothy-grinned show-off out of even the most mild-mannered journalists. By the time the 40-minute session was over, the air smelled of burnt rubber and all of the Octanes had flat spots in the center of their rear tire profiles.
The performance in this realm was made possible by the changes in the final-drive ratio compared to the Scout. “We’ve got 7% shorter gearing in the final drive,” said Kraemer. ”That plus the more torque produced by the bigger engine gives you 14% more torque at the rear wheel in any gear.” Additionally, Kraemer claims that the Octane’s flat torque curve cranks out over 65 lb-ft. of torque from 2,500 to 8,000 rpm, which conspires with the gearing to deliver “that throw-your-head-back acceleration when you drop the clutch.”
The dragracing stage also emphasized the Octane’s aggressiveness in the bottom end. A good launch required just the right amount of clutch feathering or the rear wheel would spin. Then it was just riding the power curve. Good times on the Octane were a challenge because the feet-forward riding position required that the tip of the left boot be threaded between the peg and the shifter while holding the throttle open and managing the clutch release in first gear. A good launch shortened the time to get your toe forward for the shift. During the practice runs, I was able to clock a 12.45 second quarter mile with a speed of 107.7 mph – earning me second place among the American journalists in the practice sessions.
In the final competition run, I got my best launch of the day, proceeded to catch my toe on the left peg, and decided to take a nap in the rev-limiter resulting in my slowest run of the day. A clerical error credited me with the fastest American journalist run and allowed me to bask in a moment’s false glory at that night’s dinner before fessing up to my peers.
Aside from being a kick in the pants, the drag runs gave a great impression of the acceleration the Octane is capable of achieving: best E.T. of the event was a 12.0-second run. While the clutch pull is a bit stiff, it is easy to modulate for a quick launch. The power builds with a noticeable bump peaking near the engine’s 8,400 rpm redline. The exhaust note on the stock pipe is exciting until it is ultimately drowned out by the 100-mph wind. The bikes outfitted with Victory’s Stage 1 slip-ons sound even better. Shifting, when I was able to get my foot in position, was slick and precise with nary a missed gear change that can reveal transmission sloppiness during the hurried dragracing shifts.
The Sea Of Cones
When considering gymkhana, most riders wouldn’t think that a cruiser – with its long wheelbase and feet-forward riding position – would be the best mount. Still, a tight, technical cone course is a great place to demonstrate low-speed handling. Using the same course design that will be featured in the upcoming CHiPs movie, the lane width was the length of your average broomstick and contorted around the parking lot. One particular U-turn, which was essentially two side-by-side lanes with a closed-off end, gave me fits, making me question my riding ability. The rest of the course highlighted the Octane’s maneuverability, acceleration, and braking.
With a claimed dry weight of 528 lbs., the Octane feels light between the knees, making it easy to toss around on the course. Although Victory’s claimed lean angle is 32° (1° more than the Scout), touching the pegs down in this environment was quite easy, though they did drag cleanly. The challenge of gymkhana is feathering the clutch while leaned over and adjusting speed with the rear brake. The two-piston front caliper and the 298mm disc offered plenty of power with a firm squeeze, but I’d likely prefer a dual-disc setup to allow finer control. Strangely, ABS is not an option though it is required on EU models. At the end, I was certain that the Octane would be an excellent mount in the urban environment that many will likely prowl.
It’s About The Open Road
While the day of hooliganism was a blast, the real test of any streetbike is how it behaves in public. The riding position is clamshell performance cruiser, and if you don’t like it, you won’t like the Octane. It’s as simple as that. Around town in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the riding position is absolutely fine. Maneuvering between cars with cat-like agility that one might not expect from an 18-in. front wheel, the only real flies in the Octane ointment were the hefty clutch pull and low-speed throttle abruptness. However, the abruptness isn’t oppressive, and muscles get stronger with regular use, so no real points are lost here.
Although Florida isn’t known for lots of corners, our ride to the interior west of Daytona provided enough information about the Octane’s cornering manners to earn some praise. At speeds that would have earned our cadre of motojournalists certificates of appreciation, possibly with complimentary lodging included, the Octane handled sweeping corners better than most cruisers. The chassis stiffness was noticeable since the ride lacked any of the hinge-in-the-middle sensation produced by less-stout frames. At higher speeds, the 18-inch front wheel slowed steering, requiring more effort than a bike with 16-inch wheels, like, say, the Scout, but the Octane was dead stable and always went where told to go.
With only the dreaded 3-inches of travel in the rear, what can I say? The ride was more comfortable than a Sportster’s, but that’s damning with faint praise. As with all short-travel shock setups like this, moderate bumps are absorbed, but big hits become big hits – straight up the spine. A session with the (same length) accessory piggyback shocks revealed a firmer ride that kept cornering forces from using up as much travel, but they were still hamstrung by the length of their stroke. Such is the nature of the beloved cruiser low seat height.
The Octane’s riding position will be familiar to almost any cruiser rider, and it distinguishes itself from the Scout by having pegs mounted to a revised frame that allows an additional degree of lean angle. The reach to the grips is reasonable, particularly for fun and games, and the sporty cowl directs a good amount of the wind blast away from the rider. At 80 mph and above, the upper body gets a workout, requiring the rider to straighten his/her arms and let the skeletal system take the load. Although the Octane wasn’t designed to be a tourer, with the exception of the seat, day-long rides are more than possible.
About the seat… It is firm with a pronounced curve rising up in the rear. While the shape makes staying in the saddle under hard acceleration much easier, it also limits wiggle room on longer stints. After about 45 minutes of ride time, all of the journalists could be seen trying to find more comfortable positions for their aching glutes.
Breaking The Lights
As I cross the finish line of my too-brief time with the Octane, I’m left with a positive first impression. When considering the $10,499 MSRP, the Octane offers a compelling package of trouble-making performance wrapped in a modern-looking cruiser form that looks – to someone who has had the pleasure of testing Victorys since their inception – like a performance cruiser only Victory could have built.
While I can understand riders’ desire to see this powerplant in a more standard or sporting chassis, their disappointment at the Octane being a muscle cruiser instead of a streetfighter (or whatever) doesn’t change the fact that this is a well-built, fun, and somewhat corrupting motorcycle.
To the riders who like this feet-forward style of sportiness, give the Octane a serious look. The performance is good, and the price is nice. With Matte Super Steel Grey as the only offered color, that decision will be easy. However, if you’re heartbroken and more than a little bit angry about the form that the Octane took, you should take heart in the subtext of Hultgren’s closing words to me:
“This is the first step in a journey we are on. We are moving forward.” Kraemer was a bit more forthright but still just as nonspecific: “Now, we’re going to start looking at other classes. The future is wide open, and we’ve got a great new powertrain here. So, we’ll see where it goes.”
2017 Victory Octane
- Instant acceleration off the line
- Competent handling
- Slick shifting
- Harsh rear suspension
- A seat unsuitable for extended rides
- Not Project 156
2017 Victory Octane Specifications
|Engine Type||Liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin; 4V/cyl, DOHC|
|Engine Capacity||1179 cc|
|Bore x Stroke||101.0 x 73.6mm|
|Horsepower||104hp @ 8000 rpm (claimed)|
|Torque||76 lb-ft @ 6000 rpm|
|Compression ratio||10.8 : 1|
|Fuel System||EFI, 60mm throttle-body|
|Front Suspension||41mm damper-tube forks with dual-rate springs; 4.7-in. travel|
|Rear Suspension||Twin shocks with dual-rate springs, adjustable for preload; 3.0-in. travel|
|Front Brake||298mm disc; 2-piston single-action caliper|
|Rear Brake||298mm disc, single-piston caliper|
|Front Tire||130/70-18 63H|
|Rear Tire||160/70-17 76H|
|Laden Seat Height||25.9 in. (Laden? Really, Victory?)|
|Dry Weight (Claimed)||528 lb. (dry)|
|Fuel Capacity||3.4 gal|