Indian back in the game – By Trevor Hedge
America’s oldest motorcycle brand, Indian was recently relaunched in a manner few industry watchers would have expected. Plenty of enthusiasts, however, were more than willing to bet cold hard cash on the new machines being a good thing, with almost 100 Australian buyers putting down deposits before they had even seen a picture of the machine or had any indication on price!
I am very glad to report they were not disappointed and instead of a single new Indian model expected to be unveiled at launch, they found out their deposits allowed them to choose from not one new Indian model at the relaunch of the brand, but three machines ranging from the $28,995 Chief Classic, to the $31,495 Chief Vintage and the top of the range Chieftain complete with all the bells and whistles for $35,995. The first shipment quickly sold out.
Indian make no bones about Harley-Davidson being clearly in their sights, and that aim is so obvious that there is no point in them hiding from that objective. Instead of taking on Harley’s easy targets like the hugely successful Softail and Dyna ranges, Indian are instantly shooting for Harley’s best models, the full featured touring line-up which includes Harley’s Road King, the best handler in Harley’s big twin range, along with the well-appointed Street Glide and Ultra Classic Electra Glide models. The new Indian range is certainly ambitious in choosing these well respected targets and the new Indians certainly fulfil their intended briefs well, but only the market will decide if they can truly challenge Harley’s dominance of the cruiser category.
Indian sold 174 new motorcycles in the first six months of 2014 to Harley-Davidson’s mammoth 3985 (Full Sales Figures Here). Clearly, cruisers are popular in Australia and in fact Harley-Davidson are on course to perhaps being the biggest selling road motorcycle brand in Australia across all categories of motorcycle. Thus, little surprise that Indian parent company Polaris want a slice of that action. Polaris have been in the market for some years with Victory Motorcycles, but without a known name complete with a well established history and lineage to draw on it was always going to be a tough ask to take on Harley-Davidson. Indian is the new weapon in Polaris’ armoury as they step the battle up further to earn a bigger slice of the motorcycle market.
All three Indian machines available at the reincarnation of the brand certainly look the goods with all the classic American cruiser architecture present in spades. Beautiful lines, teardrop tanks, a valanced front fender with the famous Indian War Bonnet emblem all tastefully executed with almost every styling cue finding its roots in yesteryear. The amount of chrome on the new machines will keep plenty of American foundries in business.
A beautiful looking v-twin powerplant closely modelled (visually) on that seen on the 1948 Indian Chief, but inside benefitting from some of the best elements of modern technology to deliver Harley beating power and torque. Dubbed the Thunderstroke 111, the 1811cc engine is a narrow 49-degree vee layout complete with bold pushrod tubes and stunning polished cooling fins.
Mimicking the styling of the downward firing exhaust ports of its historic forebears presented huge technological challenges to Indian’s engineers in order to get the cylinders heads breathing efficiently, but none of that is noticeable from the seat. A wonderfully smooth fly-by-wire throttle means that despite its bold styling and prodigious torque output (161Nm at 3000rpm), taking off from a standstill or rolling on and off the throttle between bends is a sublime experience.
Likewise handling both at low speed and out in the mountains is sure-footed and confident. Ground clearance is a little better than the comparable Harleys but it still doesn’t take too much aggression to send sparks flying from the undercarriage as it grounds out.
Nice to have electronic features such as cruise control and keyless ignition are featured across all three models. The full gamut of electronics are reserved for the top of the line Chieftain. Full Bluetooth functionality to easily pair and play tunes from your phone through the 100-watt audio system integrated with the front fairing. The Chieftain’s windshield is electrically adjustable and to help keep the bar mounted screen from holding back the handling the Chieftain rolls on much sharper steering chassis geometry than its siblings.
After spending time on all three models it is hard for me to pick which one I would like to take home. The comfort of the Chieftain combined with the stereo system and remote lockable luggage offers great amenity but there is also something to be said for the purity of the Classic… Decisions, decisions….
Of course a cruiser wouldn’t be a cruiser if it didn’t showcase endless ways to spend ridiculous amounts of more cash customising it now would it…? Indian showcased their own accessory line up in their ‘Big Chief Custom‘ project.