Victory Octane First Ride

Published: 02 March 2016

The rebirth of historic American marque Indian by new owners Polaris may have been a huge success (its Chief and Scout models have already taken a big enough chunk of the US market to make Harley sit up and take notice) but it’s also meant that its Polaris sister brand, Victory, has recently had to take something of a back seat. 

Not any more. The launch this week of the new Victory Octane, the first all-new model from the Minnesota-based marque in years, heralds, they’d have us believe, a fresh start for the V-twin cruiser firm. From now on, Polaris say, Victory has been repositioned slightly to sit better alongside resurgent Indian. So, while Indian is the ‘heritage’ brand, the classic rival that dates back to 1901 and has Harley’s US dominance very much in its sights (Indian now also proudly calls itself ‘America’s first motorcycle company’), Victory, from now on, stands simply for ‘Modern American Muscle’, and the Octane is the first result. 

Except that it’s not ­– not ‘quite’ at least. The eagle-eyed among you may have already noticed the 1200cc Octane bears more than a passing resemblance to the 1200cc Scout launched by sister company Indian in 2014.  It’s no coincidence. Although Victory themselves conspicuously make no mention of the connection in their official blurb, the truth is the Octane is effectively a Scout that’s been tweaked and restyled to fit Victory’s new mission. 

To their credit, though, Victory have done a pretty good job and the result is sufficiently different – there’s far more to it than just different badges ­– to deserve being thought of as a worthwhile bike in its own right. 

So, although the basic 60º, liquid-cooled V-twin engine architecture is the same, its bore is up from 99 to 101mm but with same 73.6mm stroke to take capacity up to 1179.3cc from 1133cc. Compression is also up from 10.7:1 to 10.8:1 with the combined result being a slight boost in peak power from the Scout’s 100bhp at 8100rpm to the Octane’s 103bhp @ 8000rpm, enough, slightly disingenuously, for Victory to boldly claim the Octane is its most powerful bike ever. 

It doesn’t end there (thankfully): Engine barrels and heads are cosmetically restyled; in place of the Scout’s retro 16-inch wheels front and rear there’s an 18/17-in combo with fenders to match, there’s a neat nose cowling and all the detailing and badging now, inevitably, says Victory. 

It’s a sweet enough ride, too. The seat is ridiculously low, the riding position novice-friendly, the view ahead takes in a single dial that, like the Indian, oddly blends an analogue speedo with an LCD digital tacho (rather than, more usefully, the other way round) and the controls all easy. 

It’s been said before but that Indian, sorry, Victory V-twin is a peach: usefully picking up from as little as 2500rpm before building in a linear fashion and firing off from five thou and up. Travelling is effortless and pleasing (a 70mph cruising speed comes up at just 4000rpm in sixth); get more aggressive with it and, as we found at our test at Orlando Speed World drag strip, and there’s enough to squeal tyres and do burn outs (although I’m not quite convinced it’s the hot rod style muscle bike Victory would have us believe…) 

What’s more, at £9800 when the Octane goes on sale in the UK in late June, it’s not just more powerful than the Scout upon which it’s based, not to mention being arguably more substantial due mostly to its larger wheels, it’s cheaper (by £700), too. 

Whether all that makes Victory’s newcomer a better buy I’m not so sure. The Octane is a decent enough bike with a (slight) flavour of power cruiser. Materially, it also makes more sense than the already great Indian Scout upon which it’s based. Trouble is, I struggle to get the ‘based on Scout’ bit out of my head and, more than that, the Indian brand resonates with me, is powerful and desirable, while, in the UK at least, Victory just doesn’t quite cut it to the same degree.