2016 Harley Roadster vs. 2017 Victory Octane Review
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
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.
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 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
(Octane in group photos)
- Helmet: Arai Defiant Jolly Roger-2 Frost
- Jacket: Joe Rocket Meta-X
- Gloves: Axo Pro Race XT
- Jean: Dainese Bonneville
- Boots: Tour Master Vintage WP 2.0
(Roadster in group photos)
- Helmet: Biltwell Gringo S
- Jacket: RSD Zuma
- Gloves: iXS Talura II
- Jeans: iXS Cassidy II
- Footwear: iXS Strada
Harley Roadster vs. Victory Octane Specs
|2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster
|2017 Victory Octane
|Air-cooled pushrod V-twin
|Liquid-cooled DOHC V-twin
|Bore x stroke
|88.9 x 96.8mm
|101.0 x 73.6mm
|104 hp @ 8000 rpm
|76 ft/lbs @ 3750 rpm
|76 ft/lbs @ 6000 rpm
|Mild steel tubing w/ cast junctions
|Cast-aluminum w/ steel-tube backbones
|Non-adjustable inverted 43mm forks/4.5"
|Non-adjustable 41mm forks/4.7"
|Spring-preload adjustable twin shocks/3.2"
|Spring-preload adjustable twin shocks/3.0"
|120/70-19; Dunlop Harley-Davidson
|130/70-18; Kenda Cruiser S/T
|150/70-18; Dunlop Harley-Davidson
|160/70-17; Kenda Cruiser S/T
|Dual floating 300mm discs
|Single 298mm disc
|DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
|Seat height (laden)
|28.9 degrees (fork angle: 27.4 degrees)
|31.1 (l) and 30.8 (r) degrees
|Fuel tank capacity
|Vivid Black; Black Denim; Velocity Red Sunglow; Billet Silver/Vivid Black
|Suede Pearl White; Matte Super Steel Gray; Gloss Black w/ Graphics
Harley-Davidson Roadster vs. Victory Octane - Photo Gallery