By Guido Ebert
This month, two years after Polaris Industries’ purchase of the Indian motorcycle brand, the Minnesota-based company plans to begin deliveries of three all-new Indian models: the Chief Classic cruiser, Chief Vintage soft bagger and Chieftain hard bagger.
MMM visited Polaris’ motorcycle assembly facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa, in mid August and was lucky enough to ride away with a Chief Classic colored in Indian Motorcycle Red and powered by what turned out to be a stellar performing 111 cu. in. (1819cc) air-cooled fuel-injected triple-cam V-twin engine.
More about the engine and bike later. First a little Indian history.
Indian motorcycles were manufactured from 1901 to 1953 by a company in Springfield, Mass., initially known as the Hendee Manufacturing Company but renamed the Indian Motocycle Manufacturing Company in 1928.
Deliveries began in 1902, and in 1904 the company introduced the deep red color that would become the brand’s trademark. Racing and record setting were hallmarks of Indian’s success, and during the 1910s Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, with production rising to a peak of 32,000 units in 1913.
Eventually, the Chief, made from 1922 to 1953, served as the company’s most popular model alongside the Scout.
In 1940, all Chief models were fitted with the large skirted fenders that became another of the brand’s trademarks and the model gained a new sprung frame. Nevertheless, the 40s proved to be a rough decade on the company as the war effort taxed its operation, the DuPont family withdrew its support and sold its controlling stake, and new ownership introduced lightweight models that couldn’t find an audience. Bankruptcy occurred in 1953.
Over the next 50 years, more than a half-dozen successor organizations perpetuated the name with varying degrees of limited success.
Then, in April 2011, Polaris Industries purchased the Indian brand and, in the following two years, relocated operations from North Carolina into existing facilities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and came up with three new straight-from-scratch models built on a dedicated production line that is the company’s most advanced.
Now lets get back to our impression of the “base” model Chief Classic ($18,999).
As you’ve likely seen from the photos, the new Indian models are dripping with chrome and feature key heritage design elements like valance fenders, a sculpted and lighted front fender war bonnet, tear-drop fuel tank design, classic tank-mounted instrumentation, floorboards and genuine leather saddle. Of course, you’ll also notice the large chrome headlamp housing bookended by smaller driving lights, dual chrome exhaust, whitewall tires, chrome laced 60-spoke wheels, fork covers, brake caliper covers, LED rear light and more.
What you don’t see, however, is the advanced design, engineering and technology used to offer premium features within that iconic styling, things like the cast aluminum frame with integrated air intake, keyless ignition, throttle-by-wire engine management, ABS, a multi-function digital display with large analog speedo and cruise control.
First thing to know: There is no key. Instead, these new bikes respond to a key fob each containing a unique built-in authentication mechanism. Put the fob in your pocket or bag, swing a leg over the 26-inch-high seat, thumb the “power” switch in its usual location, press the tank mounted “on” button to light the bike up, and then thumb the “starter” switch that’s also found in its usual right-hand location. Boom!
Ergonomically, a bike like this couldn’t be much more comfortable, with the rider’s derriere cradled into the generous saddle, arms extended naturally with elbow bend to the chrome bars, and legs free to change foot position on the large, rubber-covered floorboards.
Once atop an on-ramp, goose the throttle and the bike pulls away with authority, emitting not an annoying bark but an aural wave of throaty rumble that pleasantly “blats” out in pitch circularity as you ascend through the integrated, gear-driven transmission.
First, second and third gear go by quickly under acceleration, but torque comes on low – really low – so short-shifting while on throttle just keeps the 812-lb. package moving forward like a locomotive. Traveling 70 mph in sixth has the engine loping along at 2,600 rpm. Need to make a pass? No need to shift down, there’s plenty of pull left as the full 119 lb.-ft. of torque comes on at 3,000 rpm. At 90 mph, siting in a relaxed position, there’s very little sense of speed and the bike’s stability coaxes you into watching the tank-mounted speedo rise past 110 mph.
Of course, you’re not a racer from the 1910s and this is no sport bike. Rather, it may be more of a mount for the Gentleman or Lady rider who’ll undoubtedly gain an equal satisfaction in utilizing the first three gears. And that’s O.K. Drop the shifter into first, slowly release the clutch and the bike will crawl away on its own. It couldn’t be smoother to operate, and its weight has a strange way of disappearing once in motion.
Whatever your speed, the suspension is compliant with a 46mm cartridge fork slanted at a 29-degree angle and a single shock hidden in the rear that’s preload adjustable once you pop the seat off.
As for coming to a stop, it’s simple with 300mm dual floating rotors and 4-piston calipers in front and a single 300mm floating rotor with 2-piston caliper in the rear – each fed by stainless steel lines and each tempered by independent ABS to bring the 130 series front and 180 series rear Dunlop Elite tires to a controllable halt.
Our time on the Chief Classic showed average fuel consumption of 42.9 mpg out of the 5.5-gallon tank, but that shouldn’t mean much as we played throughout the powerband rather than focused on hyper-mile results.
Priced at $22,999, the top of the range Indian Chieftain features hard saddlebags with remote locks and quick-release anchors, a tire pressure monitoring system, and a fairing with integrated driving lights, a high-output audio system offering
integrated Bluetooth smartphone connectivity and a powered windshield – an industry-first for a fork-mounted fairing.
Priced at $20,999, the Indian Chief Vintage offers quick-release soft-sided leather bags, leather fringe, chrome fender tips, vintage chrome badging on the front fender and a quick-release windshield for easy installation or removal.
Be sure, these new Indian motorcycles are NOT modified and rebadged Victory models. From design to blueprint to engine production to full assembly, the Indian brand bikes are unique to their brethren under the Polaris flag. And that’s not just PR flack, MMM talked with designers, toured the engine facility in Osceola, Wis., and the next day toured the assembly facility in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Everything related to Indian proved unique.
All three models are available for order now and will arrive in dealerships this month along with an extensive array of apparel, parts and accessories. To pay tribute to Indian Motorcycle’s past, the first 1,901 Indian Chiefs to roll off of the assembly line in Spirit Lake are identified with a limited-edition badge numbered between one and 1901.
Other Rider Impressions
By Mark Descartes
“Holy crap, that is huge.”
The first impression of the 2014 Indian Chief Classic is visual; mine was of one long, massive and oh-so-red machine.
Swing a leg over, hoist the 800 lbs. off the sidestand, flip the master switch, press the gas tank-mounted “on” button (really?) and thumb the starter. While I love V-twins, I hate loud. The new 111 cu. in. Thunder Stroke motor makes a menacing rumble at idle without any rude bark. Nice.
The bike’s feeling of mass disappears before you shift to second gear. Gearshifts produce a bit of feedback through the pedal but are effortlessly executed. I rolled through all six gears experimenting with roll-on. This thing is a torque monster. Pick the gear you like and ride it all day. How’d they do that?
You’ll yearn for the open road, as you’re likely to roast at stoplights. On a hot, humid evening in late August, a series of lights had the 1819cc air-cooled lump making my legs feel as if they needed a basting.
Ultimately, Polaris has put everything learned in 15 years of building motorcycles into this machine and it shows. The new Indian Chief Classic is a balanced mix of engineering, style, function and performance.
By Bruce Mike
I was absolutely giddy with anticipation for my Indian ride. I had never ridden an Indian new or old so this would be a first.
Over the years I have ridden pretty much all models of Victory motorcycles and I figured this would be a mash-up of all the Victory goodness with some Indian styling. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
While this bike may be considered a member of the cruiser class it is unique in every way it can be. For starters, I think it’s absolutely gorgeous. From the paint, to the valenced fenders, to the retro looking dash, Polaris has knocked it out of the park.
I put the fob in my pocket, turned the power on, hit the starter button and it rumbled to life. Very techie-cool. I’m only 5’8” so I find cruisers really easy to ride and the Indian Chief did not disappoint. This is where I found the only Victory similarity. It’s a big giant bike that’s engineered to ride small. Ergonomics are great and center-of-gravity is right where it needs to be. Oh yeah, the brakes are the best I’ve ever experienced on a cruiser.
I stopped riding Harleys after ten years because I wanted to try something different. If I ever return to a cruiser road bike, Indian would be my first choice, everything about it is different.