When we first heard rumblings of the Victory Octane, it appeared as if the stars had aligned. Victory had revitalized their interest in performance machinery with the Roland Sands Designs collaboration and Pikes Peak International Hill Climb build, known as Project 156.My hopes of getting my hands on an American performance V-twin seemed closer at hand. Many motorcycle fans, and I include myself in this statement, saw this as a return to days gone by when brands such as Harley-Davidson that had once been intimately associated with racing, would release bikes of that ilk. The XR1200 that was disappointingly put to a halt in 2012, seemed to have an alternate-brand replacement on the horizon in the form of the Octane.
When Victory released the Octane as an early 2017, it had to live up to those lofty and, in some ways, unreasonable expectations. The likelihood of Victory releasing a consumer-grade Project 156 bike seemed implausible, and the Octane is not a Project 156 replica. Instead, it’s an outgrowth of three projects—Urs Erbacher’s Ignition, Roland Sands’ Project 156, and Zach Ness’ Combustion.[Visit the Ultimate Motorcycling Reviews Page]As with most American V-twin motorcycles, the story begins with the powerplant. The Victory Octane makes use of a DOHC liquid-cooled, 1179cc V-twin that shares many components with the Indian Scout (the other motorcycle brand under the Polaris Industries umbrella).Changes have been made in the form of a 2mm increase in bore, updated camshafts, and a host of cosmetic changes to the heads, as well as cases. The greatest takeaway here is that the Octane has a four more horsepower (104) and a four more ft/lbs of torque (76) than the Scout. If you were expecting a race-grade increase in performance over the Scout, you will be disappointed.In no way is the 2017 Victory Octane a sleepy cruiser, however. Make no mistake, it will pull through the gears up into triple digit speeds at a blistering pace. Power delivery is linear and exacting. Although when one decides to push it in to the regions of the rev-range, be aware that a good amount of vibration will be felt.The Victory Octane makes use of a six-speed transmission that has a hearty clutch pull, which then translates to an incredibly firm shift. For some, this is appreciated. A hallmark of the American V-twin is the ka-thunk one gets while shifting. On a sporting cruiser such as the Victory Octane, a smoother, slicker shifting experience would not be an unreasonable expectation.Let’s ignore the numbers—often they have more to do with getting bikes off of the showroom floor than having any real-world relevance. Realistically, most riders will be keeping it around the speed limit, and the fact is it can transport you there – fast. Adding to that experience is a pure, satisfying exhaust note that completes the engine package for me. Would I have liked the Project 156 engine? Absolutely, but the truth is that the Octane’s motor does a great job.That leads me into my next point—handling is superb. Whether you’re trolling at parking lot speeds or attacking your favorite set of canyons, the 2017 Victory Octane is absolutely brilliant in terms of cornering. It’s featherlight—effortless even—and with a claimed dry weight of 528 pounds, the Octane is certainly on the lean side for bikes of its class.In those regards, the Octane breaks the mold of what many people perceive cruisers to be. Corner exits are stable, even when twisting the power on. With a max lean angle of around 32 degrees, about the same as a Harley-Davidson V-Rod—a high-performance cruiser that costs nearly 50 percent more—the Octane is one of the top competitors in the performance cruiser world.Bear in mind, in many ways, the Victory Octane is not out of step with American cruiser dimensions. It has a wheelbase over 62 inches, which is perfectly ordinary and certainly aids to the confident feeling of stability that the Octane has. Once more, you’ll find non-adjustable conventional forks with nearly five inches of travel, and dual shocks featuring three inches of travel.The front suspension works quite well. There is a lack of diving under hard braking and it absorbs truly miserable patches of road. Sadly, the rear suspension falls into some of the same cruiser tropes that many have spoken out against for years. Manhole covers and potholes will send a shock into your spine. This might be acceptable on a cruiser that focuses on the lowest of low seat heights, but it’s something that needs to be addressed on a bike with sporting credentials.In terms of braking, you’ll find 298mm rotors on each wheel. The braking is adequate, but requires good amount of effort on the rider’s part. The braking is one point, like suspension, where I feel Victory should have stepped up. Another missing element is ABS, even as an option. For many, that is a deal-breaker when purchasing a motorcycle; given the ubiquity of ABS systems on lower priced bikes, it is a tough pill to swallow.If the Victory Octane is supposed to be fighting-weight, furrowed-eyebrow sport cruiser that Victory makes it out to be, it needs to be able to stop remarkably, not just adequately.As much as I loved the speedy cruiser that handles wonderfully, I found myself unable to remain comfortable for periods of time longer than ten minutes. While the handlebar height is perfectly neutral, I was constantly sliding back in the seat, and having to pull myself forward. Some of the comfort issues are alleviated when I’m fully engaged in riding, rather than simply cruising from Point A to Point B.One rarely mentioned fact about the Victory Octane is how easy it is to move when not running. Does that speak to a well-balanced machine? I believe so. Whether that be in the garage, moving this bike in the garage is as easy, if not more so, than moving my dual-sport.Admittedly, I have mixed emotions about the 2017 Victory Octane. I genuinely want to impart that Victory has created a cruiser which easily breaks the confines that many manufacturers live and die by when it comes to cruiser development—largely those improvements come in engine feel and handling. What is disappointing is that, though the Octane throws many of these commonly associated cruiser issues out of the window, it holds onto some of the worst offenders—comfort, braking, and suspension.As with anything else, there is room for improvement and it’s worth remembering that this is a first-year effort. What many hoped for was something closer to Project 156 or something reminiscent of the Harley-Davidson XR1200. I’ll be the first to admit that it was naïve of me to assume that would ever come to fruition. What I can see is some of that lineage, intentional or not, Victory has made great strides for the genre.I cannot stress enough that if the 2017 Victory Octane is anything, it is a physical manifestation of a brand that is truly dedicated to moving the proverbial ball forward. There will always be room for improvement but Victory is, without a doubt, pushing the cruiser genre to new heights. Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style:
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!