2017 Victory Octane first ride review

Mar 03, 2016

After my first ride on the new Victory Octane, I can sum up my take in three points:

  • The Octane is a fun, competent motorcycle.
  • There is a large incongruity between the motorcycle that Victory’s marketing department hinted we were going to get and the Octane that is actually going to hit the showroom floors.
  • The Indian Scout and the Octane are not carbon copies (we wondered about this when the Octane was unveiled), but they also feel closer than parent company Polaris might have you believe.

But before I delve into the Octane's place in the bigger picture, let me tell you about riding it.

Riding the Victory Octane

Victory introduced the Octane to the motorcycle press on the even of Daytona Bike Week in Florida. We had a chance to take the Octane down the drag strip at Orlando Speed World and try the handling in an obstacle course and an open stunt-riding area. The next day we got to do the typical Bike Week thing of riding down Main Street in Daytona.

Victory Octane on the drag strip

So can the Octane do a killer rolling burnout? Yep, but I’m not going to dwell on that. In spite of what Victory’s marketing gurus may say, most riders who buy an Octane are not planning to go stunting or racing. They’re probably like you and me and like to hot-rod around on a bike from time to time, but mostly ride on the street and turn up the wick when law enforcement appears scarce.

test riding the Victory Octane
Lemmy tried the Octane on the strip and on the street, as well as a parking lot obstacle course. RevZilla photo.

The Octane felt very Scout-like to me (see the similar specs in our previous story), but the Octane felt a hair better in most categories. Vic shored up a few areas of concern I mentioned when I reviewed the Scout, and left others unaddressed. On the positive side, revised cams and heads woke this powerplant right up.

1200 cc Victory engine
1200 cc. Is that actually important, that little-bitty 5 mm overbore? I think it's probably just for bragging rights, but I'll never complain about a bump in displacement. RevZilla photo.
(I’m pretty sure the bump up to 1200 cc is an exercise in nomenclature. Five millimeters of bore won’t affect much. Discuss in the comments how silly you think I am.) There’s more power, and right where you need it in the rev range. The gearing is noticeably shorter, thanks to different sprockets on the belt final drive, and that makes the Octane feel much more aggressive and responsive. The Octane also seemed to handle better, which is probably due to the different tires and wheels. I was able to rash up footpegs and exhaust shields far more confidently than I could on the Scout.

scraped exhaust
Sorry, Polaris. Can you please move those exhaust shields? In fairness, I was intentionally flipping this bike over as hard as I could to see how soon I scraped and what got mangled. It fared better than I would have thought, but no one will mistake this for a race-rep any time soon. RevZilla photo.

The brakes are still just adequate, because they are unchanged. Same deal with the suspension. If you’re my size and you score an Octane, you could change the front springs and throw better brake pads on it. The chopper builder inside of me says if you wanna shoot the moon, grab a late-model sportbike front end and machine a new stem for it so you can install it on your Octane. (Warning: that’s pro-level stuff there. Possible, but not easy or cheap.)

Victory Octane optional rear shocks
Another piece of hot Victory kit that does not come stock. These optional rear shocks worked fantastically well, but they ain't cheap. At my weight, though, I was pleased to see 'em on our test bike. RevZilla photo.

In stock form, the Octane comes with budget shocks and springs on the rear, but I didn’t get to try them because our test units had upgraded Victory remote-reservoir shocks ($699.99), which were delightful. The aftermarket will probably be along shortly with an awesome alternative that costs less, but if you don’t want to wrench and cost is not a problem, tell your dealer to install the piggyback units before you pick up your new Octane. They’re great.

Victory Octane
A minor detail, but the LED turns signals are bright, sleek, and modern. Plus they didn't keep spinning 'round and 'round like our Scout's did. In fact, I noticed another rider using his as highway pegs. Nice work, Polaris. RevZilla photo.

turn signals
Push to cancel, but don't push for too long, or else signals transform into four-way hazard lights! RevZilla photo.
My two notable qualms with this bike are Scout holdover problems. The first is the seat. The saddle is not bad at all, but the combination of the feet-forward riding position and the shape of the seat locks you into one position, which is fine for short rides but gets old after a while. The second is the soft turn-signal cancel switch. You have to hold the button for just a touch longer than a mechanical switch forces you to. However, if you hold it too long, your hazards come on. I spent two days telling everyone around me my lane change was finished by using four-way flashers. This was not intentional.

All in all, I found the Octane to be a fine mount. There’s no denying that. But a musclebike it ain’t. Harley-Davidson V-Rods, Yamaha VMAXes, and Suzuki M109Rs are longer, more powerful, and more expensive. But at the price, $10,499, the Octane approaches the Yamaha FZ-09 in terms of its value proposition. The bang-for-the-buck factor is quite high. There’s a lot of bike here for the price. If one assesses the Octane against the allusions the Victory marketing team cooked up, it disappoints. Rather than judge the Octane a poor bike, I’d instead just say that Victory has an overzealous marketing team.

Victory Octane
The fairing is probably the most distinctive visual element of the Octane from the front. Looks kinda rowdy, don't it? RevZilla photo.

The Octane is a platform bike, and that cannot be escaped. However, it is a very good platform bike. If you want a super-fun, quick, and reasonably light cruiser, the Octane is awesome. If you want some sort of Pikes Peak replica machine, know that the only similarity between the Project 156 bike and the Octane is the mill, and even that’s probably very different.

Victory Octane tachometer
This picture has a lot going on. First, you can see how the gauge package tucked neatly into the fairing. The optional add-on tach is about the size of a 50-cent piece and has a small shift light integrated into its face. I had suspected that the Indian Scout's digital tach was not displaying a true engine speed when we tested that bike. Assuming the Octane is using a similar setup, this picture seems to prove it. Look at the digital value as opposed to the needle over on the left. RevZilla photo.

What would it take?

If Victory truly wants us to believe they’re morphing into the “domestic hot performer” slot, this had better be the beginning of things to come. I’ve heard rumblings of a performance version of the Octane coming hot on the heels of the standard Octane we have currently been granted. It sounds plausible. Platform bikes are supposed to be flexible. Keep in mind, too, that Victory announced this 2017 model in February, which is damn early. Perhaps there are more 2017 sub-models on the way. Victory must follow this up with some bikes that are more Project 156 than Gunner, or I’ll file the Octane in my “SOS” folder.

Victory Octane
2017 Victory Octane. Photo by Barry Hathaway.
So what would it take to move the Octane closer to the Project 156 derivative we were hoping for? Here’s my short list of needs.

Tires. Put 120/70R17 radial rubber up front. Lose that 18-incher. That kills the tire choices. The 17-inch rear wheel can stay, but let’s drop that 160/70 bias-ply tire for a 160/60 or a 180/55 radial. (The Harley-Davidson XR1200 and V-Rod, Ducati Diavel, VMAX and M109R have all fouled this up over the years with their weird-ass tire sizes that guarantee riders have limited options, at best. I’m pretty sure Don Canet wasn’t hauling up the side of Pikes Peak on a set of the bias-plies the Octane is wearing.)

test riding the Victory Octane
Testing the Octane. RevZilla photo.

Next, I would like a decent front end. Preferably, that comes in the form of an upside-down adjustable unit, matched with good rear shocks, like the upgraded ones we rode in Florida. That fork should also feature a good set of dual disc brakes and some four-pot calipers would be nice. Vic also needs to stuff that fork with some springs that are appropriate for a full-sized, beef-eating, red-blooded American rider.

Mid controls or rearsets are non-negotiable. Between the exhaust and the super-duper low seat, I don’t see how mids could be fitted to the Octane, so this would mean some other changes, too.

Victory Octane seat and rear fender
The Octane's seat is not bad, but its shape and the forward controls lock you into one riding position. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Do all that and call it the High Octane or whatever you want and we’d be a lot closer to having the bike we expected to get, based on Victory’s advance promotion. Skip the faux-dragbike baloney all the other musclebikes suggest, and give us an American performer that does well on a curvy piece of asphalt like the ones most Sunday riders are actually attacking.

Victory Octane
2017 Victory Octane. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Is the Victory Octane the right bike for me?

What if you’re not interested in my vision of what this bike could be and you're just looking to buy a muscular American cruiser? Is the Octane the bike for you?

Victory Octane
Victory gave us a bike that already had some goodies — like these not-at-all-OEM mufflers. The Octane snarled enough that most riders I pulled up to recognized that this bike packed a little more oomph than its size suggests. RevZilla photo.

The Octane, like its sister Scout, is an excellent machine. With more horsepower, more torque, and a lower price, it’s arguably a better deal. In my view, the Octane isn’t a musclebike at all. It’s a cruiser that will give most musclebikes a run for their money. It’s shorter, lighter, and cheaper than most pure musclebikes. Here’s the dirty little secret Victory won’t tell you, but I will: The closest competitor to the Victory Octane is the Indian Scout.

Victory Octane
We rode the Victory Octane on the drag strip and the street. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Me? I loved the Scout, but I’d buy the Octane, if given the choice. Meanwhile, I’ll keep holding onto hope for the version with mid controls, 17-inch wheels, and an upside-down, dual-disc front end. (That is coming, right, Victory?)