The Octane PR fumble: What does Victory do now?
The initial backlash against the Victory Octane was so intense that most of the reviews I've read of the bike have felt the need to mention it:
- Motorcyclist: "Maybe Victory set expectations unreasonably high... enthusiasts like us were hoping for a high-performance machine more in the standard- or naked-bike realm than another midsized cruiser"
- Motorcycle.com: "(M)any... felt misled by Victory’s references to the Project 156 Pikes Peak racer... I can understand riders’ desire to see this powerplant in a more standard or sporting chassis"
- Common Tread: "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."
As I said in my own early comments, Victory's PR led a lot of people to hear things that weren't actually being said. I include myself in that group. I wasn't expecting a naked or standard –– the two "concept" bikes from Urs Erbacher and Zach Ness had made it clear the Octane was a cruiser –– but I was expecting more power and perhaps something that wasn't 100-percent cruiser.
In conversations I've had with Victory folk since the Octane's launch they've quietly conceded their initial enthusiasm may have been just a little over the top. Fortunately, for Victory all the actual ride reviews have been positive. So, it's not in the position as Harley-Davidson was (is?) with the Street 750, where it said "Look at this amazing bike!" but delivered a stinker.
Instead, the general consensus is something along the lines of: "The Octane is a really good bike that isn't quite the huge leap forward some people thought it would be."
From Victory's perspective, that's not an awful place to be. They have a solid platform they can build upon. And it's a platform they can be pretty sure will be profitable.
Which is an important thing to remember about Victory (and Indian) –– it's a business. Victory doesn't make motorcycles as an act of social good; this isn't some massive community service project. And Victory is a motorcycle business that operates first and foremost in the United States, where (much to my persistent confusion) Harley-Davidson sells roughly half the street bikes larger than 600cc.
I can't find any figures on what the rest of the market looks like, but by simply travelling around the United States it would appear the next biggest market segment is: "cruisers/big V-twins that aren't Harley-Davidsons." Let's imagine that makes up 30 percent of sales. Maybe even 35 percent. That leaves a not-so-big field of play for everything else.
Which is why I don't think Victory is ever going to completely abandon the cruiser market.
But, Polaris is an international company and it is already familiar with the idea of offering different products in different places. That's why we lucky Europeans still have the Judge. It's why the Octane (and Judge and Gunner and High Ball) is ABS-equipped, despite the feature not even being an option in the United States.
So, Victory could build a bike targeted more at markets outside the United States. And I suppose that's what I was hoping for. I had hoped the Octane would be a Victory Judge that lived up to the ambitions of a Judge. Apparently a flop in the US market (it only lasted two years there), the Judge was designed and marketed with a muscle car motif –– similar to what we've seen with the Octane.
The Judge has midset pegs, cool 5-spoke cast wheels, and an overall bad-ass look that I love. It remains one of my favorite motorcycles, but for the fact its single front disc brake isn't up to the task of stopping all that weight. The Judge weighs more than 700 lbs. sans rider.
Plus it has a 33º rake, 16-inch tires, and 82 hp. It doesn't really live up to its "Modern American Muscle" tag line.
But the fact it still sells in Europe is sign riders in Not America like the idea –– folks here are open to the concept. I had thought that since the Octane's engine was first unveiled in Milan and its first "concept" delivered by a Swiss builder, this would be a model aimed partially at the wider world. I pictured a lighter, more powerful Judge with dual front discs and tighter steering.
And, that may happen still. The Octane is sort of there already in some aspects (more powerful than the Judge, with tighter rake), and there are rumblings that Victory plans to expand the platform very soon. So, maybe we'll get an Octane S, similar to the way Victory offers a Hammer and a Hammer S.
But even if that doesn't happen, I've been thinking that building the Octane I want might not be impossible.
The first step, I think, would be to get my hands on some modifications from Lloydz Motorworkz, who have managed to boost the Octane's oomph by 16 hp and 14 ft.-lbs. of torque. That means 108.72 hp and 84.86 ft.-lbs. of torque, measured at the rear wheel (if you want to use Victory's at-the-crank numbers as a base, you could claim 120 hp and 90 ft.-lbs. of torque). That's a solid amount, I think; plenty for me.
As soon as I did that, though, I'd want increased stopping power. I'd want to equip the Octane with upside down front forks and dual front discs. I don't know how hard this is, but the fact Urs Erbacher did it in less than two weeks (that's the amount of time Victory gave him for the build) tells me it's entirely possible.
Lastly, I'd improve the suspension, possibly boosting travel in the rear by an inch. Though, I wouldn't want to do something so excessive it affects handling. Shame I don't know a damn thing about chassis dynamics.
I find myself thinking about all this so much that I plan to look into the expense of having it done. Exactly how much would it cost for me to have the Victory I actually want? Probably a lot, since I don't have the tools or knowledge to make any such modifications myself.
Obviously, the better solution would be for Victory to deliver an Octane S that has these features (to save on cost, I'd be willing to miss out on the engine mods). And after that, I'd like to see the Octane platform used to build a spirited tourer –– a kind of American version of the BMW R1200RT. A boy can dream.
It feels Victory is on the verge of something really exciting. I hope that turns out to be the case.