~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Indian Motorcycle Demo Day

 Over the years I've watched, mostly with sadness, the travails of the Indian marque.  To my thinking the last real Indian motorcycle was built somewhere around 1952 or '53.   Since then a serious of pretenders, huxters, and dreamers have tried to revived the brand.  They may have owned the rights to the Indian name but buying the rights to something doesn't give the true ownership of it's history and soul.

When Polaris Industries purchased Indian a few years ago things started to look up for the brand, finally!  Polaris is well funded and experienced in building quality motorcycles (Victory Motorcycles, also Polaris powersports vehicles).   What remained to be seen was whether they would do right by the Indian brand and create a unique model or merely re-badge the Victory and hang the iconic Indian fenders on it.  Happily, they did the right thing, they pulled out all the stops and did a real bike, a unique bike, a bike with a character of it's own.  And now if they want to truly claim the Indian Motocycle heritage they'll have go racing, too.

But Harley never went out of business three or four times.
Since the new 2014 Indian were announced I've waited for the chance to ride the new Indian and this past Friday the chance arrived in the form of the factory "demo truck" at Indian of Chandler (Victory BMW).  The long time BMW dealer is in the throws of a re-model of their showroom to give Indian it's own quality space, the brand won't just be a corner camper in a BMW showroom.  I doubt that either Indian or BMW would find that acceptable.

So Friday morning I did something rare and got up early.  Ugh.  When I retired I've vowed to to bed when I'm sleepy and get up when I'm rested regardless of what numbers the hands on the clock point to.  I rarely get up early these days but made the effort for the chance to ride the new Indian.

I hopped on the Gold Wing and rode the 45 miles up to the dealership, it was a fine morning for riding; the ride was all freeway but after a long, hot Arizona summer, the morning air felt good.  I may have to try this early morning thing again one day.

A big, stylish machine.
I had hoped to ride the new Indian Chieftain, the model with the fairing and  all the bells and whistles, but all were spoken for until 11:00 AM and I didn't want to hang around that long.  All the new Indians have the same engine and transmission so the differences between the models are largely cosmetic.  The Chieftain has a snazzy fairing, the Vintage has only a windscreen, and the more basic Chief Classic model makes you the bug stopper.  The Chieftain being unavailable I settled for the Vintage model.

In person the new Indians impress more than they do in pictures.  I liked them a lot better when they were sitting right in front of me, the bikes have their own presence and it's a presence different than that of a Harley or metric cruiser.  The quality of the bike is evident and doesn't disappear as you get closer.  The Indian's over all quality appears every bit as good -- and better in some areas -- than it's competition.

The demo ride route was uninspiring, there are no interesting roads near the dealership.  A couple of miles of 4 lane city streets, a two mile dash down a freeway, a bit of stop and go through the city of Chandler, and back to the shop.   It would have been nicer to ride more, of course, but if rider has a lot of riding under his or her belt (I saw some ladies taking demo rides as riders) and is paying attention, the plusses and minuses of the bike quickly show themselves.   The bike definitely has plusses and strong ones, and it has some minuses too, at least two of which put me off quite a bit.

No heel shifter available yet.
Sitting on the bike the first thing I noticed was space and distance issues with the foot boards and hand controls.  The foot boards are mounted high -- good for corning clearance -- but too high and while I have short legs I still felt like I was a bit crowded in the legs.  The seat / foot board / handlebar relationship was very good over all, much better than the Electra-Glide I rode a few months ago, and nearly as good as my 2006 Kawasaki 1600 Nomard.  But the Nomad gets the nod for having the foot boards just right.

The lever for the 6 speed gear box is waaaay forward requiring that I move my size 10 Oxtar riding boot noticeably forward to change gears.  There was nothing about shifting gears that felt natural and there is no heel shifter currently available from Indian.  The left foot board also felt crowed in the lateral direction.  I found myself trying to move my left foot to a position that matched the right one but couldn't the engine case was in the way.  The foot boards are otherwise wide and roomy, just not ideally placed.

People with small hands will not like the reach required for the cruise control.
 The hand controls are the biggest issue with me for the bike.   I'm an average sized guy (5'9" tall) and I could not manage the left side  accessory controls, primarily the cruise control, without either awkwardly stretching my hand to reach the buttons or fully removing my hand from the grip.  Not good and something that would become annoying very quickly if I were riding the bike a lot.  I love the cruise control on the Gold Wing, it makes long stretches a lot easier to handle, but I never successfully set the cruise on the Indian because I couldn't reach the controls properly.  The controls are beautifully made, like all the parts of the bike, but just too big an poorly placed.

The 111 c.i.d engine thunders when you get on it hard.
The star of the new Indian, apart from the classic, deep and iconic Indian fenders made famous by the Indians of the 1940s, is the engine.  The engine is beautiful although slightly over chromed.  It's a fresh design and Polaris understood the need to get it right and make it unique.  It starts easily using a keyless ignition system and sounds like neither a Harley nor a metric bike.

The power down low is adequate but not as strong as the Kaw 1600.  It could be that 1st gear is a tad high on the Indian and the gap from 1st to 2nd seems a bit long.  But the engine pulls decently and then when you get it moving a little it comes on very strong and positively thunders.  I liked it and if I owned the bike I'd be whacking open the throttle a lot just to feel and hear the motor.  I ran the bike up to about 75+ on the short freeway section and it loafed along easily just as you'd expect from a big twin.

What the 111 c.i.d Indian is that most other big v-twins are not is smooth.  It's fairly smooth sitting at idle and smooth at all speeds on the road.  It's not Gold Wing smooth but there is no objectionable vibration up to legal highway speeds with the Indian motor.

In terms of handling it was hard to draw too many conclusions but the bike felt fine getting in and out of the dealership parking lot at low speed.  Going around the few corners the bike rolled into the turns without the the "square shoulder" rear tire feel I found on the Electra Glide.  At 75 mph on the freeway it tracked fine.  Beyond that there were just not enough miles available to tell.  I doubt that it's a canyon carver but neither did it feel like a bike that wallows or can't find it's direction.
Over done?  Nah!  The new Indian is not for the timid or bashful.
The leather-work on the Indians is impressive, very beautiful and nicely crafted.  The leather is thick and feels like the very best leather.  No doubt it will take some owner effort to maintain properly but I've never seen better looking leather saddlebags and seats, ever.  The seat, however, at least on the Vintage, isn't as roomy as it looks.  The front is a bit narrow and I believe on a longer ride it might come up lacking.

Some niggling stuff that bothers me:  Fit and finish was one of my specialties in my working days at the Volkswagen Proving Grounds.  I inspected the bits and pieces on the Indian Vintage closely.  The paint is nice, as good as say the paint on a Yamaha Star of the same class, but lacks the depth of the paint you'll find on a Harley.  Harley does amazing paint, Indian is doing nice paint.

Plastic conchos?  Really??
An odd moment of disappoint came when I looked at the conchos on the leather seat.  One of the things I hate to see on a cruiser the intends to compete with the Motor Company is plastic parts and the conchos on the Indian are molded plastic.  They are pretty enough but should have been made of metal since they are such a visible part on the bike's look.   There's not much plastic on the Indian, not as much as you find on most metric cruisers, so the plastic that's there, especially on a bike that costs past $20k, ought to be changed out for metal.

Not much between the read cyl head and your thighs.
The exhaust shielding is a little too slick and a little too fake.
I didn't much like the look of the exhaust shields, instead of making them look like shields Indian made them look like swoopy pipes and went too far.  With so much style elsewhere on the machine an authentic exhaust system would have been a nice and pleasant visual counter balance.   If I bought an Indian I'd ditch the pipes for something more real and also have the cylinder head tops stripped to a natural finish.  It would make the bike look more authentic and less like a pretty woman with too much make up on her face.

I also noticed a some heat coming straight up off the engine and warming my thighs, and experience I also recall from riding the Kawasaki VN2000 a few years ago.  It wasn't hot Friday, about 72° (eat your heart out, eastern riders) but I still felt the engine heat from the rear cylinder.  I believe on a hot day, sitting in traffic, it could get downright uncomfortable.

So over over all I'd sum it up this way:  I like the Indian, I like it much better than the new Harley I rode a few months back.  I might like the idea of the Indian better than the bike, that is to say, it's a big, classy cruiser with an iconic heritage, and it's not a Harley.  I've always been fascinated by Indian lore and history, my dad was an Indian dealer for a while after WWII, and I once even met Bill Tuman, Bobby Hill, and Ernie Beckman -- the famed Indian Wrecking Crew that spoiled Harley's dirt track championship hopes circa 1950.  

The Indian engine is the most entertaining V-twin I've ridden since my uncorked Aprilia with it's raucous 990cc V60 Rotax engine.  The brakes are adequate but not impressive.   I like the Indian's controls a whole bunch less than what I've found on metric cruisers and more than anything the ergonomics of the controls would keep me from buying the bike.

The twelve regular 40on2 readers know I change bikes frequently, so will I be selling my Gold Wing and replacing it with an Indian?  Not any time soon.  Too many little misses on the Vintage at this point add up to some shortcomings that the big Wing just doesn't have.  But if I wanted another big twin cruiser it would be tough to choose between the Indian and a couple of the metric models from Yamaha or Kawasaki.


Trobairitz said...

It is unfortunate there are so many misses on the Indian. Were they thinking of very tall riders when the designed the controls? I think of your height as a normal height and more as tall.

I too would have been disappointed with plastic conchos on something in that price range. Could it really have added that much more if they were building to a price point.

Thanks for the review.

Jim L said...

I am surprised that you would say that the Kawasaki 1600 was quicker. I had a Nomad before my RT and I would say the 1600 was a slug. I have ridden a 2010 Ultra with a 96" engine and it was the same or a little better than the 1600. I've ridden the 1700 Voyager too and didn't think it was much better than the 1600. I would think a 111ci vtwin would walk away from a 1600 Nomad or at least hope so considering the money spent.

As far as ergos go, the 1600 is definitely roomier than the Indian, HD or Voyager. Go to cycle-ergo.com and see the difference. I think Kawasaki made a big mistake with the redesign.

Doug Klassen said...

Jim, I felt that the power down low was better with the Kaw 1600 than the Indian (1800cc). The Indian pulls very strong from about 30 mph on up and might be hurt by gear ratios more than power. It would be interesting to run them side by side.

Jim L said...

Could be gear ratios and it could be the computer. I think the Indian is throttle by wire and that can be tuned an almost infinite amount of variations in how the bike responds to throttle input. Could be they dialed it back off the line. Could be the camming too. The victory's are like that. For their displacement they don't pull like gangbusters down low, but build torque and power as RPMs build. With all the engine management today, variable valve timing, etc, I would think they could have it both ways, strong throughout the RPM range.

Anyway, there are times I wish I still had my Nomad. It was an easier bike to live with in some ways. Sometimes the girl next door is better than the trophy wife. May be all the time.

Dave said...

Uh - I could be wrong but after double checking the Indian website all # models include ABS as standard...

Doug Klassen said...

Dave, you are correct. I sat here with the very nice and expensive looking Indian brochure in my lap and missed it. There goes my perfect year! Thanks for the catch, I've updated the entry.

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