Harley-Davidson Roadster vs. Victory Octane | Sport Cruiser Comparison

Harley-Davidson Roadster vs. Victory Octane | Sport Cruiser Comparison

2016 Harley Roadster vs. 2017 Victory Octane Review

Harley-Davidson Roadster vs. Victory Octane | Sport Cruiser Comparison
2017 Victory Octane & 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster and 2017 Victory Octane offer two distinct approaches to the genre of performance cruiser. Interestingly, both play against type, yet are successful interpretations of speed and style.

Harley-Davidson is the brand with a past dating back over 100 years and a long history of flat track racing. Yet, in contrast to the discontinued XR1200X that tapped into that dirt track glory, the new 2016 Roadster looks to appeal to one of the latest trends among younger riders—the romance of the café racer.

Victory, a company just tipping its toe into dirt track racing, went a more traditional route with its sport cruiser. Victory has had the big-inch pro-street Hammer line, with its focus on Victory’s commitment to drag racing, but the 2017 Octane is a cruiser that has the laid-back ergonomics matched to a smaller displacement, high-and-fast revving motor that is undeniably modern.

So, the Harley-Davidson Roadster and Victory Octane aim to grab the performance-minded rider who does not want a conventional sport bike. It’s a rider who craves urban-appropriate cruiser grittiness, but with improved functionality beyond appearance.

Without a doubt, the Octane, with its potent liquid-cooled DOHC motor, is the faster of the two machines, though not necessarily the quickest in all conditions. The Octane and Roadster put out the same maximum torque—76 ft/lbs—but do it at wildly different places on the powerband.

The seriously oversquare Octane hits that torque peak at a heady 6000 rpm (redline on the Roadster), while the old-school long-stroke pushrod Harley-Davidson Sportster Evolution powerplant finds the muscle down at 3750 rpm. In the real world of riding, the Roadster has the advantage of being first to the punch, and that can make a difference in close quarters, be it a crowded downtown street or working your way through tight canyons.

Given just a bit of room, the Victory Octane will establish its authority. The motor is quick to rev, essential for tapping its power in a practical way, and the 104 horsepower at 8000 rpm is nothing to be trifled with. On an open stretch of road, the Octane will leave the Roadster behind fairly quickly.

Harley Roadster vs Victory Octane - Handling

2017 Victory Octane For Sale

Handling is definitely to taste with the Victory Octane and Harley-Davidson Roadster. Although they weigh about the same, the Octane carries its weight quite a bit lower. Smaller wheels (an inch at both ends) and a significantly lower seat height (3.6 inches) drop the weight down toward the pavement.

Conversely, the Roadster has a more aggressive fork angle (though almost the same rake) and a wheelbase almost three inches shorter. This means the Octane is a cruiser-like long and low, while the Roadster is a sporty tall and compact design.

On back roads, the Octane feels much more nimble than the Roadster, despite its length. Even with the more relaxed fork incline, the Octane has a feeling you can change direction without too much input. The Octane isn’t nervous, either, though it doesn’t have the planted feel of the Roadster, even though the Octane boasts nominally fatter tires.

With the aggressive seating position and the wide forward bars, the Roadster invites a twist of the throttle. The Roadster’s Dunlop tires feel good, of course, but much of the credit has to go to the beefy 43mm inverted forks. The ergonomics, rubber, and rigidity work together to make the front end feel like it is mechanically attached to the pavement.

This is exactly the kind of confidence builder that trumps the agility of the Octane. While the Octane isn’t disappointing in the corners, the short and front-heavy Roadster gives you no sense that you’re ever going to push the front end.

Additionally, the slower revving Roadster enhances that front end feel, while the Octane’s propensity to rev quickly moves the weight off the front Kenda Cruiser S/T tire, and that is not the best feeling for cornering. You can work around it on the Octane by showing some patience when exiting corners, but the Roadster is much more intuitive and forgiving.

Entering corners also requires different strategies. With twin discs and stiff inverted forks, the Roadster is willing to go deep into a turn and hit a late apex. While the Roadster isn’t going to be flicked mid-corner, it is willing to turn thanks to good traction up front. ABS is an option on the Roadster, and unavailable for the Octane.

Sitting back on the Octane, with your feet forward, it’s awkward to get hard on the brakes when setting up for a corner, keeping in mind that one 298mm disc can’t compete with two 300mm rotors in the front. The Octane prefers braking early and sweeping through a corner, making adjustments as necessary. One bike isn’t particularly faster than the other in corners, but I definitely prefer the conventionally sporty approach that the Roadster takes.

While the Octane has a slight advantage in cornering clearance, and it’s boosted by somewhat stiffer suspension, the Roadster only touches the peg feelers to the ground if you are really getting serious, or a corner is particularly tight. Harder riders will appreciate the room given by the Octane, in spite of its low seat height, while the rest of us will infrequently notice.

2016 Harley Roadster Review
Harley Roadster vs. Victory Octane - In Town Manners

In town, the differences continue. The low-slung Octane gives you that expected cruiser countenance, while the quick revving motor can get you through traffic alarmingly fast. It feels more agile than the weight and length indicate, so it’s fun doing battle in urban situations.

With strong torque right off idle, the Roadster moves through busy traffic authoritatively. If the engine’s running, all it takes is a twist of the wrist to access that pull. The response isn’t snappy, but the Sportster motor gains rpm quickly enough to be fully satisfactory in a crowd. The café racer look adds a bit of menace, so cars tend to back off from confrontation.

The suspension on both bikes is limited in travel, with the advantage going to the Roadster, even though the hardest chargers might complain that it’s a bit soft. Harley-Davidson upgraded the suspension on a few Sportsters, and the new emulsion rear shocks do a good job of making the most of 3.2 inches of travel. The Roadster’s inverted 43mm forks and beefy triple clamps are far superior to their wimpy equivalents on the Iron 883.

You won’t find much to love or hate in the Victory Octane’s suspension, as it is dutiful in its performance. The forks are better than the shocks, and it’s telling that Victory offers rebound-damping adjustable rear shocks with piggyback reservoirs as a $750 upgrade. This is as good a time as any to mention that the base price of the Victory Octane is $700 less than the Harley-Davidson Roadster.

Sound is a personal thing, though I suspect most people will prefer the less civilized sound of the Harley-Davidson Roadster. The twin exhausts have a good tone and decent volume, and the motor has its own sense of mechanical excitement. The liquid-cooled Victory Octane has a good exhaust note, though everything seems more precise, which will certainly appeal to some.

Freeway runs are another mixed bag. Both the Roadster and the Octane vibrate at the higher levels of their rev ranges, which makes using their top end power a bit annoying. No one will want to cruise along on the Roadster at over 4000 rpm due to the vibrating pegs. Fortunately, that’s fast enough to comfortably go the speed limit, even with just a five-speed transmission. The Victory Octane’s six-speed tranny offers a bit more flexibility, as well as smoothness on the freeway. Still, the lean forward position on the Roadster handles the wind better than the laid-back, wide bars on the Octane. Suffice to say, neither bikes are about freeway riding, but are more than adequate for fast blasts on urban freeways.

Harley Compared to Victory Octane
Harley Roadster vs. Victory Octane - Conclusion

The 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster and 2017 Victory Octane take two distinctive paths to the same goal—coaxing sport riders into the cruiser realm, and tempting non-riders to take up our sport.

The newer rider is better off on the tamer 2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster, which also happens to have confidence-expanding handling. Sport riders will love the fast- and high-revving of the 2017 Victory Octane, and will best exploit its stable handling and generous cornering clearance.

Of course, motorcycle purchases are not always made rationally. Those who are enamored with café racing will have their dreams confirmed with the Harley-Davidson Roadster, just as the dirt track crowd will find much to like in the styling and performance of the Victory Octane.

The choice is clear, so all you have to do is look within and decide if you’re a rough-and-ready Harley-Davidson Roadster rider, or a fast and elegant Victory Octane disciple.

Photography by Kelly Callan

Riding Style

(Octane in group photos)

(Roadster in group photos)

Harley Roadster vs. Victory Octane Specs

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster 2017 Victory Octane
Motor Air-cooled pushrod V-twin Liquid-cooled DOHC V-twin
Bore x stroke 88.9 x 96.8mm 101.0 x 73.6mm
Displacement 1202cc 1179cc
Compression ratio 10:1 10.8:1
Max. power N/A 104 hp @ 8000 rpm
Max. torque 76 ft/lbs @ 3750 rpm 76 ft/lbs @ 6000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed 6-speed
Final drive Belt Belt
Frame Mild steel tubing w/ cast junctions Cast-aluminum w/ steel-tube backbones
Front suspension/travel Non-adjustable inverted 43mm forks/4.5" Non-adjustable 41mm forks/4.7"
Rear suspension/travel Spring-preload adjustable twin shocks/3.2" Spring-preload adjustable twin shocks/3.0"
Front tire 120/70-19; Dunlop Harley-Davidson 130/70-18; Kenda Cruiser S/T
Rear tire 150/70-18; Dunlop Harley-Davidson 160/70-17; Kenda Cruiser S/T
Front brake Dual floating 300mm discs Single 298mm disc
Rear brake 260mm disc 298mm disc
Seat height (laden) 29.5 inches 25.9 inches
Wheelbase 59.3 inches 62.1 inches
Rake 28.9 degrees (fork angle: 27.4 degrees) 29.0 degrees
Trail 5.5 inches 5.1 inches
Lean angle 31.1 (l) and 30.8 (r) degrees 32 degrees
Dry weight 549 pounds 528 pounds
Fuel tank capacity 3.3 gallons 3.4 gallons
Colors Vivid Black; Black Denim; Velocity Red Sunglow; Billet Silver/Vivid Black Suede Pearl White; Matte Super Steel Gray; Gloss Black w/ Graphics
Price From $11,199 From $10,499

Harley-Davidson Roadster vs. Victory Octane - Photo Gallery






  1. I like the comparison as it seems these two bikes being about the same size and weight are in direct sales competition with each other. Problem with the review is that it really doesn’t compare much except by a few “seat of the pants” statements. Wouldn’t it been great to dyno each bike to see what the actual horsepower and torque really is? These are American Sport Cruisers so shouldn’t we test the “sport” aspect by doing a head to head 1/4 mile shootout? The writer claims they are about the same in cornering ability but then states sport riders will exploit the Octane’s generous cornering clearance? It’s also stated the Octane’s single disc brakes can’t compete with the Roadster’s dual disc. Wouldn’t a test to check stopping distance from say 60 mph really measure something? The writer thinks people will like the sound of the Roadsters exhaust better also? Is that what you call being objective? How about a real one on one shootout to see which bike really performs.

  2. I really liked this article. I’ve read several comparison articles on these two, and it’s clear that many motorcycle testers are more focused on instrumented tests than on how the bike feels. Nothing wrong with that, but this is a refreshing change of pace, as I don’t ride for 1/4 mile elapsed times, top speed, etc., especially on bikes that aren’t full-on sport bikes. It also seems like most testers have distinct biases toward oversquare, higher-revving bikes. This makes many of them not seem to “get” bikes like Harleys or older Ducatis, which are more about low and midrange torque. Low end torque won’t win on a racetrack, but is much more enjoyable on the street. The writer definitely seems to understand the difference between these two approaches (high revving horsepower vs. low end torque) quite well.

    I’ve often wondered if this is the reason why so many moto journalists fail to understand the appeal of Harleys and other cruisers. They’re just different from what the journalists are about. I’m not really a “cruiser guy,” but I get it, which is why the Harley Roadster is so appealing to me. If I had the dough I’d have one already!

  3. Randy, I greatly appreciate your critique of the comparison, so I’d like to give you a bit of insight into our editorial philosophy.

    We’re all about seat-of-the-pants riding. That’s what we’re about–getting on the motorcycle and riding it, and then relaying our experiences to you. We’re not about measuring things and quantifying them, as if we’re scientists. Motorcycles don’t work that way for us. They’re something we feel and love.

    I can tell you that we don’t care which is faster in a quarter-mile, and we don’t think you should, either. If you’re racing either of the bikes, we think you’re missing the point of the motorcycles. What matters is the sense of, and satisfaction with, the acceleration (and deceleration) of the bike. Is a higher revving bike better than a torquey bike? That depends on you, and what you want out of a motorcycle. Are linear brakes better than progressive braking? I can’t answer that question for you…only you can.

    We will leave it to others to try to reduce the motorcycling experience to a long list of specifications and charts. We simply do not ride motorcycles that way. A dyno chart has never told me which motorcycle to buy, or told me how much I will enjoy riding it. In fact, a dyno chart can be quite misleading.

    You ask if we’re being objective. I can assure you that we are not. Motorcycles are highly subjective to us, and our job is to relate to you what riding a motorcycle is all about. When you read one of our tests, we want you to feel as if you rode the bike, not disassembled it and put it back together.

    And, while we certainly are not objective, I can tell you that we are impartial. We don’t play favorites. We try to avoid judging a motorcycle based on our criteria of what we think it should be. Instead, we allow the motorcycle to reveal itself to us, and then we do our best to share that information with you.

    Thanks for the opportunity to explain what we’re about. We spend a lot of time thinking about it and discussing it, and when people challenge us, that’s extremely helpful…even when the criticism can sting a bit.

  4. Thanks, Eric!

    Although I’m a journalism guy of long-standing, I’m a motorcyclist at heart. I enjoy riding cruisers, sport bikes, adventure bikes, dirt bikes, and touring bikes, and any combination of the above. I can say that I test to not like exotic customs with strange ergonomics or geometry, and 200-hp superbikes aren’t my motorcycles of choice on public roads. Oh, and my motocross days are behind me, as triple jumps are not on my to-do list. Fortunately, we have other staffers who fill in that gap for us.

    As far as brands go, I can’t imagine being brand-loyal. I’ve owned over a dozen different brands of motorcycles over the years, and who makes the machine isn’t nearly as important to me as what the motorcycle is about and how it moves me.

  5. Thank you for a great review. I personaly prefer Roadster, but this is based only on others opinion. Test ride is following. How do you think would a change of stock bars for higher bars affect the overall bike handling and comfort?

  6. As always, that depends on what body type you are, and what you consider to be comfortable.

    I wasn’t expecting to like the bar placement, and it felt a bit odd at first, but I quickly grew to like it. I’d give the stock setup a chance before changing it, unless you’re absolutely sure.

  7. I now understand that editorial philosophy has nothing to do with real world comparisons. Doesn’t the title of the article Roadster vs Octane (comparison) indicate a competition? Doesn’t any competition have its own criteria for measuring the results? By your statements I see you don’t believe so. Could be one of the reasons HD layed off employees and Polaris’ market share increased. You can’t fool all the people all the time……

  8. “Versus” can mean “in contrast to”, so it’s not strictly a word that indicates competition–though that certainly is the normal usage. Still, we’re comparing and contrasting the two machines. If you have a suggestion for replacing “vs”, I’m happy to hear it!

  9. I found this comparison useful. I too have owned all sorts of motorcycles. At this stage of my life I don’t care about 1/4 mile times. I’m more into usability. I would assume that sport bike riders will be more familiar with the powerband of the Vic, and those coming off of a cruiser will prefer the down low torque of the Harley.


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