Ohio weather has continued its depressingly frigid trend this week, with more snow on the way shortly. Admittedly, motorcycle news has improved slightly this week as manufacturers are getting their new demo bikes out to the press outlets; I caught a few “first rides” this week. What really caught my eye this week was an article from Motorcyclist regarding the focus on heritage of the Indian brand. With this in mind, I also recently came across news of a new Indian Motorcycle dealership in northern Cincinnati; under the influence of cabin fever, it was time for a field trip.
I was really excited back in 2013 when I first heard that Indian was making a comeback. I’m a sucker for underdog stories, I can’t help it, but Indian’s story is even deeper. After essentially ceasing operations in 1953, the Indian trademark passed through the hands of various owners for years with little success until Polaris acquired the company in 2011. While the lines of Victory Motorcycles are extremely polarizing, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Polaris Industries has essentially built a successful motorcycle brand from the ground up with Victory. I’m hopeful that with Polaris at the reins, Indian can finally experience the rebirth the brand deserves.
Itching to finally get an in-depth look at the new Indians, I pulled up to the new American Heritage Motorcycles (AMH) store in Cincinnati. Apparently AMH is a dealer franchise that’s popping up in the Midwest in attempt to bolster the Indian dealership network. I will say unlike other dealers I’ve been to, AMH is advertising that they aspire to form lifetime relationships with motorcycle riders, which is actually a breath of fresh air after the way I have been treated elsewhere in southwest Ohio. Apparently AMH Cincy opened right around the turn of this past year, but didn’t really start getting motorcycles in stock until just recently. The showroom opens up with surrounding glass windows for ample lighting, wood floors, several Indian bikes about, with a “fireplace”, leather couches, and coffee table as the center piece. A nice “homey” touch on a motorcycle shop if I do say so, much less industrial compared to pretty much every other dealer I’ve been to.
I have an inexplicable appreciation for Indian motorcycles. Honestly, the fenders do absolutely nothing for me, but I can’t stop looking at the bikes. I don’t know if it’s the engine, the heritage, the copious chrome, I just can’t stop looking at them. It’s like the Art Deco of the bikes stands timeless against the iPhone age we now live in. I am by no means in the market for a new cruiser, but still found myself impressed with this up and close interview with these new bikes, so much so I immediately found myself combing over the details of the new Roadmaster. The Roadmaster, essentially a loaded Chieftain, is land barge by all rights; undoubtedly aimed directly at Harley Davidson’s Electra Glide. While certainly not my cup of tea, I was still impressed with the on-screen menus, unobtrusive digital user interface, cruise control, internally wired handle bars, and general fit and finish of the controls, especially after looking over the Victory touring bikes. I was extremely impressed with the new adjustable windscreen, which I had completely forgotten was adjustable until the sales rep started thumbing through the options for me and changed the height setting; credit to Indian for making the mechanics of an adjustable screen overly subtle. Beyond electronic adjustability, I’m also impressed that Indian made the screen ported at the bottom in order to avoid the helmet buffeting issue common on other touring bikes. While the Roadmaster won’t be parked in my driveway anytime soon, I will comment that I’m actually a big fan of the distressed leather saddle, but especially the extra detail in diamond pattern stitching, unique to the Roadmaster from what I can tell.
Having at least snapped a few photos of the new Indians at the Cleveland motorcycle show, this visit offered me the opportunity to review some of the details up close. As mentioned with the Roadmaster, I was curious what the quality of the controls looked like, and whether the cruise control was a bolt on contraption. Apparently I didn’t bother to notice in any of the reviews, but the common features of the Roadmaster are actually standard through the Indian Chief models, cruise control, internally wired bars, etc. In all reality, all of the 111 Thunder Stroke Indians are essentially the same, simply changes in options and trim. The Touring bikes have decreased rake for improved handling, but for the average passerby, the guts of the bike pretty much the same. Having figured that out, I moved on to deeper details, like engine construction and quality of the hardware.
I noticed when riding Victorys that the floorboards and foot controls seem a little loose along with the hand levers. From what I can tell, it appears that the controls on the Indian are generally of better quality than the Victory, but I am still hesitant to say on par with Harley Davidson. The floor boards are sprung mount rubber, which is pretty nice, and truthfully I’m not sure if that’s the case for Victory. I am concerned that, while the floorboards are not fixed, they don’t appear to pivot beyond about 15 degrees. In the event that hard parts begin to make contact with the ground in a steep turn, it won’t be long before there’s “nowhere else” for the rider to go. Reviews suggest that only the most aggressive riders would ever experience this lean angle, but that doesn’t mean the less experienced ones wouldn’t discover this fact through carelessness. The electronics on the bars do appear to be chromed plastic, but it isn’t overly obvious. Upon first review, I am impressed with Indian’s attention to detail and subtle branding throughout the bike.
Walking around the show room I found myself continually captivated by the Thunder Stroke engine. Having not noticed until I read that article this week, I was fascinated by the downward exhaust pipes; excellent hat tip to Indian heritage there. Like Harley Davidson, the 111 has push-rod overhead valves; while not the sportiest selection, certainly offers advantages in the maintenance department as they are hydraulically adjusted. Generally it sounds like the new Indians have roughly 5,000 mile service intervals, mostly just requiring the usual oil changes and cable adjustments. That’s pretty convenient for the garage handyman, especially after going through the headaches of adjusting your own valve clearances on a DOHC motorcycle like my Speedmaster. The oil filter is also mounted low and up front, which I hope proves for easy servicing. The salesman actually started up the Roadmaster for another customer while I was wondering around the showroom. I was extremely impressed by what I heard from stock pipes. Mind you, I was indoors, but from what I can tell, the new Indian has a lot of bass, and in short, sounds oddly familiar to a 45 degree V-twin I’ve heard before. The salesman claimed that the Indian packs a lot of torque at the low end of the rev range, which is right where it’s supposed to be on a cruiser. That’s been my beef with Victory up until now, peak torque is in the stratosphere by comparison, and that’s totally backwards to me. Ultimately, the lines, finish, tone, and maintenance requirements for the new engine all score high marks from me, I’m looking to see the platform developed into new models of Indians.
Despite the fascination with the new Thunder Stroke engine, I have a few reservations about the new frame beyond the aesthetics. Having done the extensive service on my bike last year, I have started noticing the maintenance related headaches designed into new bikes on the showroom floor, not just Indian. My concern with the Chief line is access to brake calipers, and suspension settings because of the long fender skirts. Undoubtedly a classy nod to the Indian past, those skirts are one more part that needs to be removed in order to change brake pads. I fear the exhaust will also have to be removed in order to properly work on the rear brakes as well. Fortunately, the new Indians are belt driven, so final drive adjustment won’t be as much of a concern. Cleaning the rear wheel on the other hand will be a real bear, especially the wire wheels; something to think about if you find yourself riding in the rain like I do.
Maintenance concerns aside, I somehow find myself granting a pass to Indian for their eclectic styling trespasses. Undeniably, I am my father’s son, a cruiser was my first motorcycle; that said, studded leather and vintage fringe is his bag, not mine. On a Harley, or worse a Honda, the eccentric leather accents are absurd to me; to each his own, but unless it’s a ’48 Pan Head, it just looks silly. Yet, I find myself transported to a different era when it’s adorned to an Indian, I have no excuse. Beyond the fringe and studs, the saddle is otherwise comfortable; the pillion seat appears to be even more so. I am anxious to get my tail-gunner aboard the new line to get her approval of the supple pillion seat. Indian has also taken the time to design a standard easy-off passenger backrest; of which I am a big fan. Now that I typically take my lunch to work, strapped to my luggage rack, I don’t take the sissy bar off much anymore, but it was certainly a process when I first put it on my bike. In general, the ergos and saddles are all plush, hopefully a ride this spring will prove that to be true.
While mystified and star struck by the Thunder Stroke 111 engine, the new Scout it actually what I was most enticed by. The Chief is an absolute class act, but at the end of the day, probably not something I’m shopping for; the Scout on the other hand has the potential to be a cruiser with real “sport” prowess. I wrote at length about the Scout in my IMS review, it goes without saying I’m pretty enamored with the bike. Love it or hate it, without a doubt, the cruiser is pretty much the flagship of motorcycles in America. In the sea of low sling, V-twins, there is an apparent gap between the 650 cc “beginner bikes” and the big-bore heavy weights. Indian, releasing only its 5th new model has slapped the sporty Scout right in the heart of the cruiser displacement gap. Are there competitors? Sure, the Harley Davidson Sportster 1200, the V-Rod, the Honda CTX-1300, the Star Stryker, even the Honda Stateline. I contest that the new Scout is the lightest in its class, makes more HP than every competitor, save the V-rod, and has competitive torque despite being the runt at 1133 cubic centimeters. The Sportster 1200 is arguably the closest competitor on the scales, at 584 lbs., still heavier than the Scout, and anemic against the DOHC power plant. The rest of the 1300 cc range bikes easily tip the scales in the 600 pound range and still don’t reach 100 HP; again, save the V-Rod. On paper, the Scout is a breath of fresh air into the middle weight cruiser class. The local Indian demo truck should be around this June, I intend to see firsthand how the Scout truly handles on the ground.
A complete departure from the lines of the Chief, the Scout is lean and angular; yet another contrast against the American cruiser market (cue from Victory?). I’m a big fan of the chopped fenders, matte paint, and distressed leather seat. Even with bags, windshield, and pillion seat, the Scout still looks good. All of which is way off the reservation for me, I hate bags on a cruiser; I suppose I look the other way considering the vintage nature of the brand. I have some concern about the 3.3 gallon tank, certainly required to keep the Scout light, I fear that will limit the Scout’s touring abilities. The harsh angle of the rear suspension combined with the 3 inches of travel stir concern in my mind. Lack of suspension travel is in the top three complaints with my current steed. Inner city travel for the daily commute can test the limits of a bike between January and June, at which point the urban streets, and even highways are in their worst disrepair. The controls are simple, which is not a mark against quality, merely function over form. I will say that the subtle Indian markings are an excellent touch; on an otherwise overly modern styled cruiser, the hints of the Indian legacy are classy. The new Scout mill is also a demonstration of practicality, with no cooling fins to speak of. Certainly it’s the efficiency craving mind of an engineer, but the new engine is a hot piece of hardware, right up to the exhaust. After the suspicion of a harsh rear end, the exhaust is probably my only other complaint about the Scout. Agreed, the Scout is modernly styled, but even the Star Bolt’s exhaust seems more in line with the “modern motif”. How stereotypical of me, the first thing I would change on a cruiser would be the exhaust… the antithesis of how I feel about my current ride.
Beyond maintaining faith to a classic brand and raising the bar on a class of Motorcycles, Indian also offers classy clothing options. I assume this is a carryover from Victory, the new Indian jackets and casual clothing nod to the past while offering modern features like CE armor. I typically feel like an alien on a cruiser in textile armored gear, the new Indian gear has altered that view. Branding is unquestionably one of Harley’s greatest successes, Indian has taken notes and is offering an alternative to riders of every stripe.
I have already marked my calendar for when the Indian demo truck will arrive in Cincinnati, stay tuned for the real on the road “feel”.