First Ride Review
Building a motorcycle brand from scratch is hard work. Launched by Polaris Industries in 1998, Victory Motorcycles struggled during its first decade to build motorcycles and an identity that resonated with American buyers. Growth can be difficult when you’re in the cold, dark shadow of a well-established competitor like Harley-Davidson. But Victory eventually caught its stride, forming a successful partnership with the Ness family, launching the one-of-a-kind Vision and following it up with a series of successful touring models like the Cross Roads and Cross Country, which combined powerful V-twins with sweet-handling chassis and distinctive styling.
When Polaris bought Indian Motorcycles in 2011 and re-launched the brand a few years later, Victory no longer had to fight the unwinnable “heritage” battle against Harley-Davidson and could evolve in its own direction. Victory rolled out a new, more modern logo and embraced all things performance. It invested in a factory drag racing team, pursued land speed records, earned a podium as the Isle of Man Zero TT electric-bike race (after Polaris bought Brammo’s electric motorcycle business) and raced its Roland Sands-built Project 156 bike at Pike’s Peak.
Project 156 was said to be the inspiration for the new-for-2017 Octane, but when it was unveiled, styling and specs more closely resembled another bike…the Indian Scout. The Octane elicited a lot of comments on our website and Facebook page, with some expressing disappointment that it isn’t racier or doesn’t have mid-mount controls, but the most common complaint was that it’s a “re-badged Scout.”
Is that a fair characterization? Yes and no. Both bikes are based on a common platform, but, according to Victory Product Manager Brandon Kraemer, “Only 35 percent of the parts are shared, the other 65 percent are unique to the Octane. And what they share—things like the crankshaft, crankcase, transmission and brake pads—are things customers can’t see.”
Using the same engine and/or chassis in different models is common. Think about BMW’s legendary boxer twin, which is found in seven models, or Kawasaki’s mid-sized parallel twin, which powers the Ninja 650 sportbike, Versys 650 crossover and Vulcan S cruiser. Victory, Indian and Harley-Davidson have used the same engine/chassis in multiple models for years, but what’s less familiar is a platform shared across brands. That’s standard practice in the automotive world, as Alex Hultgren, Victory’s Director of Marketing, points out. Before joining Victory last year, Hultgren worked for 18 years at Ford, where he helped market Ford and Mercury models based on shared platforms. Platform-sharing between automotive brands owned by the same parent company—think Chevy/GMC, Dodge/Chrysler and Honda/Acura—allows manufacturers to get a greater return on their R&D investments. Polaris owns two motorcycle brands, so it should come as no surprise that they share resources.
With Victory’s emphasis on performance—it’s new tagline is “Modern American Muscle”—the Octane’s engine had to have plenty of kick. With DOHC and four valves per cylinder, the Scout’s liquid-cooled, 60-degree, 1,133cc V-twin is already impressive, making a claimed 100 horsepower and 72 lb-ft of torque. For the Octane, the 73.6mm stroke was retained but the bore was increased to 101mm (up from 99mm), boosting displacement to 1,179cc, and the pistons, cylinder heads and camshafts are new. Victory says the Octane cranks out 104 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and 76 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm, and the goal, says Product Manager Brandon Kraemer, was to deliver “head-snapping acceleration.”
To test this claim, Victory invited the motorcycle press to Daytona Beach, Florida, a few days before Bike Week. On our first day, we cruised the flat, mostly straight roads of central Florida until we reached Orlando Speed World Dragway. There, Victory had set up a series of testing stations where we subjected the Octane to drag strip runs, rolling burnouts and a police motor rodeo-style handling course. This is not the manner in which most Octane owners will treat their bikes, but it did allow us to flog them really hard in a safe, controlled environment. Not only does the Octane make more power and torque than the Scout, it also weighs less (a claimed 528 pounds dry, 17 pounds less than the Scout) and has 7-percent lower final gearing. Throttle response is immediate and very linear, making it easy to get off the line. A couple of quick-wristed journalists managed 12 seconds flat in the quarter-mile, which qualifies as “head-snapping” in my book. (I’m big and slow, so the best I could muster was 12.9 seconds.) The burnouts didn’t reveal much, other than the fact that the tires don’t have a lot of grip, but the handling course showed the Octane to be nimble and easy to toss around tight corners. After several hours of abusing the clutch, banging the engine off the rev limiter, grinding down the footpegs and roasting the rear tire, the only complaint was from the tendinitis in my left elbow.
We got more real-world experience on the Octane during a 150-mile loop on the second day. With a pullback handlebar and forward controls, the seating position is standard cruiser fare. The hard solo seat, which sits just 25.9 inches above the ground (laden), turned my backside numb within 30 miles, and when ridden fast, the Octane’s low-fuel light came on well before 100 miles (the tank holds just 3.4 gallons). Comfort and range may not be the Octane’s strengths, but overall it’s a solid bike. The engine is rigidly-mounted to cast-aluminum front and rear frame sections with twin tubular-steel backbones, and the sculpted front spars help conceal the radiator. The 41mm, non-adjustable damper-tube fork with 4.7 inches of travel and the preload-adjustable twin shocks with 3 inches of travel have dual-rate springs, and together they offer a fairly firm ride. Hitting big bumps at speed sent jolts up my spine and occasionally bucked me out of the seat. The cable-actuated clutch is light at the lever, the 6-speed transmission shifts smoothly and the belt final drive helps quell unwanted lash. The pair of disc brakes, with a 2-piston front caliper and a 1-piston rear caliper squeezing 298mm rotors, provide decent but underwhelming stopping power. And it rolls on cast aluminum wheels, with an 18-inch front and 17-inch rear.
Even if the overall silhouette looks familiar, the Octane nails the hot rod styling with Matte Super Steel Gray paint, blacked-out components, mag-style wheels and a bullet cowl with a dark-tint screen that does a decent job of parting the wind. Among the available accessories, essential add-ons include the Stage 1 slip-on mufflers, which give the exhaust a throatier bark without being too loud, and the adjustable piggyback shocks, which offer compression damping adjustment. Other accessories include a tachometer with shift light, a drag-style handlebar and reduced-reach controls, seat and handlebar. One of the Octane’s best features is its price, which is just $10,499. It delivers a lot of performance and style for the money, and it should appeal to dyed-in-the-wool cruiser folks as well as other riders who want a cool, fast, affordable bike.
If it were not for the hard work and solid foundation laid down by Victory since 1998, the re-launch of Indian 15 years later might not have been as successful as it has been right out of the gate. Polaris climbed the steepest part of the learning curve with Victory, and it leveraged that experience with Indian, which introduced two brand-new engine/chassis platforms in two years. To get the most out of that substantial investment, Victory and Indian share a basic platform. That’s not something to complain about; that’s good business sense in a competitive market. Despite their similarities, the Scout and the Octane are distinct bikes with different personalities, one a reborn classic and the other a middleweight power cruiser. Where we’re likely to see greater divergence is in the future. Although the folks at Victory refused to talk about future products, they did say the Octane is just the beginning. With a flexible engine/chassis platform, what will we see next?