First Ride: 2017 Victory Octane

Polaris’ other cruiser company scouts out a new product range.

2017 Victory Octane review
Victory, sister company of Indian Motorcycle, brings out their own mid-size cruiser by way of the 2017 Octane.©Motorcyclist

They say: "Chrome won't get you home."
We say: "Who are they talkin' about?"

Two years ago, Victory’s parent company Polaris brought us the Indian Scout, a liquid-cooled American V-twin that formed the second tier of a brand-new (albeit old) motorcycle company. The Scout was the answer to many riders’ prayers for a sporty middleweight cruiser, a headlong feint against the rising tide of ever-larger big-inch cruisers.

Now, Indian's sister company, Victory, brings out a similar bike by way of the 2017 Octane. At first glance, it looks more than similar to the Indian, and that's not an entirely inaccurate estimate, though Victory press agents made a deliberate effort to call out the differences between the Octane and the Scout. Maybe Victory set expectations unreasonably high by racing Pikes Peak on the Project 156 bike (in concert with our sister brand, Cycle World) so that enthusiasts like us were hoping for a high-performance machine more in the standard- or naked-bike realm than another midsized cruiser. And who's to say that such a bike isn't coming?

Victory Octane First Ride review
Like the Scout, the Octane is a well developed, terrifically executed midsize cruiser.©Motorcyclist

Today, though, let’s focus on the Octane. When Victory first released specs and photos of the new Octane, it claimed 0-60 in 3.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 12; not something the average motorcycle manufacturer includes in pre-embargo literature. To emphasize this self-proclaimed title of Modern American Musclebike, Victory trucked a pile of journalists out to Orlando Speed World just outside Daytona, Florida, and let us loose on the dragstrip and a “riding” course to test the bike’s performance. And we were even taught how to do rolling burnouts because, well, they’re fun.

I’ll get back to that. For the street ride, the folks at Victory shuttled us to the Daytona airport, where they had set up a fleet of Octanes awaiting our arrival. As we posed for a group photo, I threw a leg over one of the bikes, not realizing that they had a bike set up and set aside “specifically for me” by installing all the Reduced Reach components. Let me just point out here: I know I’m a tad vertically challenged (at 5-foot-5), but I’ve spent the last 11 years riding regular-sized bikes, and generally enjoy having leg room. I still have a 30 inch inseam, afterall. And while I appreciated the Reduced Reach handlebars, the Reduced Reach seat and footpegs were completely superfluous, and downright uncomfortable, though that didn’t become apparent until we were on the road for an hour. For riders smaller than me, the optional Reduced Reach parts may be ideal, but I felt cramped.

Victory Octane review, front view
Victory claims 0-60 in 3.6 seconds and the quarter mile in 12.©Motorcyclist

Later in the day I was happy to switch to a bike set up with normal controls for a short while; the main issue I had with it was the handlebars felt a bit far of a reach for me. Otherwise, it was much more comfortable. While I didn’t need all the Reduced Reach accessories, the options certainly make the Octane a more accessible motorcycle for riders who are even shorter than I am.

Victory Octane review, handling course
The first station at Orlando Speed World was a winding cone course set up to test the Octane’s handling, and our slow speed riding skills.©Motorcyclist

After a good hour on the road, we made our way to Orlando Speed World, where Victory had a few stations of activities to keep us occupied (distracted?), including a winding cone course set up to test the Octane’s handling, and our slow speed riding skills. It felt like a repeat of the MSF course I took so many moons ago, but this time I’m on a cruiser with 1,179cc pumping out 104 hp. A little tough to control and keep slow through the incredibly tight corners, more like a parking lot than a track. To keep my overly competitive side from taking over and cursing at every missed cone, I just started to laugh. Later, my Motorcyclist predecessor Aaron Frank—who now works with Victory’s “activation” agency and appears to consume every bit of the Batdorf & Bronson coffee sent his way— said “All I could hear was Julia laughing in her helmet.” After all, I was riding a motorcycle with 76 pound-feet of torque, and a gentle growly exhaust note, competing for time through a slow cone course. Is this really my job? Someone pinch me.

Victory Octane review, drag test
The author, nailing the 'Tree and clocking a couple 12-second ETs on her first-ever runs down the quarter-mile. Watch out Angie Smith!©Motorcyclist

The second station took place at the drag strip, where we got three practice runs. I’ve never been to a drag strip before where I was actually piloting. Thankfully we were running one at a time, not side by side. I watched the other journalists pull up to the burnout box and kick up clouds of smoke before pulling forward. I had never done a burnout. Ever. It just wasn’t something my riding buddies and I ever did—because, well, I’ve always paid for my own tires—so I never felt inclined to. So I rolled up to the burnout box, and… didn’t do a burnout. Instead I pulled up to the timing sensors and as soon as I got the green light, I launched it. Not a hard launch, and certainly not a hard drop of the clutch, but a clean controlled start. I don’t consider myself a speed demon, and I’m definitely no racer, so my first run was just okay: 13.132 seconds at 98.25 mph. I knew I could do better. Second run I launched a little harder, and twisted the throttle even more, bringing me a 12.942 quarter mile at 102.63 mph. I could have spent all day trying to perfect my launch skills, and getting past my own mental blocks preventing me from going as fast as I possibly could. But we didn’t have all day.

Victory Octane review, drifting
At station three, we met up with stunt riders Joe Vertical and Tony Carbajal, shown here demonstrating his drifting skills.©Motorcyclist

Our third task was to learn a controlled drift, which started with a hard launch that broke the rear tire free, and learning to control the bike under the gyroscopic movement of a spinning rear wheel. This went against everything I’d done my best to master: controlled clutch feathering and release. That would do me no good here, and Tony finally laid it out for me: “You’re feathering the clutch. You just have to let it go, trust the rear tire to slip and slide one way or the other, and ride it out.” Okay, got it. I slowly took off, came to a near stop, then goosed the throttle and dropped the clutch. That rear tire broke loose, and the rear end did a slow gentle fishtail as I pulled away from my starting point. I kept the throttle on and rode it out. No full blown sideways drift, but first step. That was enough for me. I didn’t like the idea of risking a high side, which I think was enough to deter all but one of the other moto journalists from trying that more difficult maneuver. Thankfully we ended the session without any broken bones.

Victory Octane review, left side
At first glance, it looks more than similar to the Indian, and that’s not an entirely inaccurate estimate.©Motorcyclist
Victory Octane review, fairing
The face of Victory's new midsize musclebike.©Motorcyclist

Perhaps you want to know less about our track fun and more about the Octane. At 1,179cc, its engine displaces 48cc more than its sister Indian Scout, thanks to a 2mm-larger bore of 101mm (stroke is the same at 73.6mm). Victory’s tech squad offered few specifics of the engine internals, except to say that the camshafts, cylinders, pistons, heads, and engine covers are unique to the Octane. Additionally, the engine has been tuned to give a “more dynamic torque curve,” and more immediate power output from 2,500 to 8,000 before redlining at 8,400 rpm.

Victory Octane review, seat
While I appreciated the Reduced Reach handlebars, the Reduced Reach seat and footpegs were completely superfluous, and downright uncomfortable.©Motorcyclist

Can the Octane’s engine claim Victory? It does feel quick, if not overwhelmingly powerful. You’re not going to scare yourself silly with 104 hp in a 528-pound motorcycle. But the spread of power is good, the quantity certainly enjoyable, and the 60-degree V-twin is smooth and generally very well mannered. Its vibration feels higher pitched than you’re used to from a Harley, but there’s not much of it getting to the bar or pegs. Demerits include high clutch effort along with an engagement point very close to the handgrip. Not just a one-off, as all three of the bikes I tried did the same thing.

Victory Octane review, engine
At 1,179cc, its engine displaces 48cc more than its sister Indian Scout.©Motorcyclist

The Octane’s brakes are adequate, given they are a shared item with the Indian Scout. Front two-piston calipers on a 298mm disc, and rear one-piston caliper on a 298 disc. No ABS for the US-spec Octanes, to keep costs in check. With a 29-degree rake (same as the Scout) and 5.1-inch trail (not even half an inch more than the Scout), the Octane handled itself well through the cone course at Orlando Speed World, and seemed perfectly at home on the slight curves of Ocala National Forest roads. The main chassis difference between the Octane and the Scout is an 18-inch front wheel on the Victory—the Indian gets a 16. Victory is very proud of the 32-degree lean angle, but this is only 1 degree more than the Scout. Sportier, yes, but only slightly. While the fork gets 4.7 inches of travel, the twin shocks get just 3 inches, meaning a stiff ride over rough pavement. Victory offers optional adjustable piggyback shocks that are more fade resistant, but I didn’t feel much difference in suspension performance. A cruiser tradeoff, I suppose.

Victory Octane review, exhaust pipes
Victory offers optional adjustable piggyback shocks that are more fade resistant, but I didn’t feel much difference in suspension performance.©Motorcyclist

The Octane has available accessory packages to accommodate three different rider heights: Reduced Reach, stock, and Extended Reach. Both Reduced and Extended reach are a $450 option package. Reduced Reach includes handlebars that reach further back closer to the seat, foot pegs that are positioned up and back, and a seat with a thicker back padding to push the seating position forward. Likewise, Extended Reach includes handlebars that reach further forward, foot pegs positioned further forward, and a seat with thinner back padding.

Also a reach? Victory’s chest pounding assertion that the Octane is a hardcore hooligan machine. Like the Scout, the Octane is a well developed, terrifically executed midsize cruiser. The performance upgrade compared to the $700 more expensive Scout is modest, just 4 hp and about 4 pound-feet of torque. But the Octane makes sense in the scheme of Victory’s brand realignment toward a younger audience. And considering how aggressive Polaris has been with Indian, you never know if a real Project 156 is on the way.

Victory Octane review, rear view
The main chassis difference between the Octane and the Scout is an 18-inch front wheel on the Victory—the Indian gets a 16.©Motorcyclist

TECH SPEC

EVOLUTION
Based on the bones of the Indian Scout, Victory’s version has new parts, a different set of pistons, and a fresh direction for Polaris’ other cruiser brand.
TECH
PRICE $10,499
ENGINE 1179cc, liquid-cooled 60° V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/belt
MEASURED HORSEPOWER 104.0 hp @ 8000 rpm
MEASURED TORQUE 76.0 lb.-ft. @ 6000 rpm
FRAME Cast-aluminum semi-double-cradle with tubular-steel backbones
FRONT SUSPENSION Victory 41mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Victory shocks adjustable for spring preload; 3.0-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Victory two-piston caliper, 298mm disc
REAR BRAKE Victory one-piston caliper, 298mm disc
RAKE/TRAIL 29.0°/5.1 in.
WHEELBASE 62.1 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 25.9 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.4 gal.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 528 lb. dry
AVAILABLE Now
CONTACT [victorymotorcycles.com][]
VERDICT
Victory’s new midsize cruiser has the stuff to expand the company’s reach, but can it outrun the Scout?