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.|
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.|
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.|
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 111 c.i.d engine thunders when you get on it hard.|
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.|
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??|
|Not much between the read cyl head and your thighs.|
|The exhaust shielding is a little too slick and a little too fake.|
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.