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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Some Thoughts On The New Indian Motorcycles

2014 Indian Motorcycles.   Image via Indian Motorcycles
The new Indian is out, this time built by Polaris Industries who have also built the Victory Motorcycle line for about fifteen years now.  With real money and engineering behind it, Indian Motorcycles, one of the most iconic brands in motorcycling, finally has a chance at real revival and despite my thoughts below, I wish them well.

There is much talk around the moto-net about the new Indian and what it is an isn't.  Some of the comments are downright hilarious and by hilarious I mean stupid.   One commenter couldn't imagine anyone preferring the Indian to a Harley and another called Polaris "a snowmobile company trying to build a motorcycle" -- as if fifteen years experience and success with the Victory Motorcycle brand taught them nothing. 

I thought it would be interesting to look at Indians over the last "generations" beginning with my friend Don's for real Indian Chief.

The Real Deal. 1946 Indian Chief

(Note: After Indian closed in 1953 they were "revived" in the form of machines using Royal Enfield motorcycle engines along with assorted other brands.  I have not included a picture of those "Chiefs" here so as to avoid damaging anyone's eyesight.)

Complete with a cloned Harley motor, a Gilroy built Indian Chief of about 2000-03

Built in North Carolina by Stellican, the 2012 Indian. I saw the Stellican Indian a time or two and in person they were beautiful with excellent fit and finish.  But with their $35,000 price tag few were seen outside of dealer showrooms.  image:

2014 Indian built by Polaris.  Starting at $19,000 mere mortals may be able to afford them.
Image via Indian Motorcycles

and just for fun:

The 1999 Kawasaki Drifter 1500.  Img:

I had a 1999 Drifter so I might be biased but I think Kawasaki's homage to the Chief came closer than the others over all to the "feel" of the old Indians even if it is absolutely a Kawasaki.  The Stellican Indian was a nice looking machine, closer in pleasing proportions to the original than the others.   But none of the modern Indian versions have the historic jauntiness of the original Chief.  Don made a comment about the spring seat and the empty space below it giving a more distinctive look to the original bike.   I think that makes sense and Kawasaki at least took a shot at it with their design.  

To me all the modern editions of the classic Chief have too much of everything while the original machine is three distinct elements, the front fender, engine, and rear fender.   The engine and fenders should have been the star attractions as with the old Chief.  Instead, the chromework seems garrish, the bodywork under the seat too fat, and the fuel tank too small in proportion to the rest of the machine.  All those detract from the original's classic design elements.

I do understand that modern designers and engineers have to deal with realities the original Chief designers never did, things like emission controls, complex fuel injection, an elaborate electrical system with it's bigger battery, etc.  Still, it seems like they could have gotten closer than they did with the look.  Sometimes less is more.  The modern generation of the Chief looks nice but too much as if it might have been styled by Honda or Yamaha and that puts me off a bit.

I do have this idea that it would be fun to buy an Indian for my 65th birthday in three years.  Give them time to refine it a bit, maybe a make a cleaner version.  Could happen.  I've wanted to own an Indian for a long time.


mq01 said...

we share some views on this, doug. and funny, i was just having a similar convo...

imho: on one hand, if they put the engineering of polaris/victory into the indian, at a decent msrp, then this could be a match from heaven. and, everyones got their opinion... but, people have to eventually admit, victory's are FABULOUS machines. btw, i'm seeing victory touring models registered for more IBA events each year, and i think that's telling. they're running LDR's flawlessly alongside bmw's and gold wing.

on the other hand, if polaris doesn't utilize their strengths and fix the indian eng issues that plague the brand, then i for one will be a fan from only afar. they have adj the msrp at least, which is good. i've gone and looked at old vs new, thanks for links btw. gotta admit, i am NOT digging what they've done to the tank, frame, and side panels. it looks like a completely different bike now, with an attempt at masking with side panels. :( looks great from a distance or certain angle, but, that monstrous front neck/frame and small tank just isn't working for me.

ultimately, i am really hoping this brings back a classic as a well engineered machine. i love the old indians, problems and all. so :) we shall see...

Doug Klassen said...

MQ, Everyone (including my brother) I've run across who has owned a new Victory, loves them. Victory seems to have hit the mark on quality, performance, and durability.

Such as I've read, there's no reason not to think they cut any corners with the all new Indian motor (which has no relationship to any earlier versons by the Gilroy or Stellican crown).

I predict success for the revived brand unless they make some huge mistake or another such as motor problems. The other linchpin will be good dealers and service and that's a biggie too since there will be too few dealers to change if a buyers selling dealer turns out to be a dud.

Jim L said...

I've owned a couple Vulcan's and they were decent bikes, if only lacking in personality. I was skeptical of the Indian at first, wondering if it was a new engine in a Victory frame, but as I investigated more, the more I respected what Polaris has done and I really want to sit on one if not ride it. It seems like the Indian may be the Goldilocks of cruisers: Traditions, soulful, but not overdone or boring. I find the HD's starting to jump the shark a bit with the colors, styling and a little of the being a legend in their own mind mentality. For some reason, I feel like I have to suspend disbelief when I go to a HD dealer...I don't get that vibe with the Indian. Don't know why either.

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