~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.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Custom Battery Installation

I saw this nifty install of a larger battery in...or on...a Honda Magna the other day.  I thought I'd pass it along in case any of you out there didn't want to spend a lot of money on one of those tiny, over priced motorcycle batteries and wanted to opt for something larger and less spendy.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

More Photos From the GoAZ Motorcycles Vintage Bike Show

A few more from the GoAZ vintage event I wrote about in the last entry.  As always, click for the larger view:

1970 Ducati 450 Scrambler.  Color shot converted to black and white.

A new construction: 2013 Pemberton 3-wheeler powered by a Moto Guzzi engine

1968 Sachs.  Sachs later became DKW.  The leading link front suspension was great for open, rough
terrain like desert racing in the southwest.  The transmission, on the other hand, made a fine door stop.
A friend bought one in 1971 to race and DNF'd every race he entered that year.

A closer look at the leading link or "Earl's forks" front suspension.

Also on the Sachs, Magura levers used to be the hot ticket, made of mailable aluminum in an age
where levers tended to be either heavy steel or brittle aluminum.  Magura's were expensive but would
bend instead of break and if you were manly enough you could bend them back and be on your way.
Anyone remember what those black rubber grips were nicknamed back in the day?

Norton Dominator in cafe trim with a few modern updates.  Cafe racers seem to be coming on strong
and replacing bobbers as the fashion bike of the moment.  I'll take either genre over the ridiculous
billet barge chopper craze of five or ten years ago.

1969 Triumph Daytona cafe racer. I showed you this one in B&W the last blog entry.  Here's the original color version.

1970 Kaw 500 street tracker in a for real Champion flat track frame meant for a Yamaha 250. 
If super moto bikes are quarter horses, this thing would be a velociraptor.

The whole set of photos from the event are on Flickr here.  Enjoy.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

GoAZ Motorcycles Vintage Bike Event

Last Sunday GoAZ Motorcycles hosted their first, and hopefully annual, vintage bike event.  The dealership is a premium location
consisting of very nice modern campus with three large, separate show rooms plus it's own riding and demo area out back.

If you've heard of GoDaddy.com, the very big domain hosting and registration company, you might have heard of Bob Parsons.  Parsons is a long time motorcycle enthusiast and out of his success bought Scottsdale BMW (motorcycles).  To that he added a Honda franchise, Kawasaki franchise, Triumph, KTM, Ducati, Ural, and finally, Harley-Davidson.  The furrin' brands have been relocated to their own plush facility described above.  Parsons sold GoDaddy.com sometime back for more money than the biggest Lotto jackpot ever and seems now to have devoted himself to motorcycles and some very worthy charity work.  Gotta admire that kind of priority.

GoAZ Motorcycles

GoAZ has a growing calendar of events for it's customers and local riders and the vintage event is part of a busy fall schedule.  Naturally I went.  I bought my Gold Wing from GoAZ and they treated me right so I was happy to revisit the store and look at vintage bikes.

I'd heard that they had fifty vintage bikes pre-entered and it looked to me like a good many more than that showed up.  Interestingly, it was a somewhat  different selection of bikes than what I've seen each year at the annual AACME I've attended for many years now.  I have to wonder if vintage bike people didn't get the word, didn't take this event seriously, or just didn't want to help promote a different event.  No matter, if GoAZ does this event each year, expands it, and refines it, it will likely become the vintage bike event in Arizona.  One thing GoAZ knows how to do is promote and that's something about which many vintage clubs don't have a clue.
So there I was, bright and early with my trust Nikon in hand.  The setting was nearly ideal for photography, nice light, some open shade courtesy of the pretty architectural canopies that cover the courtyard at the middle of the dealership.  A few old bikes were in place already and more trickled in as the morning went on.

To my dismay the organizers chose to put entrant labels on the headlamp of each motorcycle.  This makes for unsightly images and no way to fix them.  I shot around it as best as I could but lots of nice photos I took were compromised by an ugly sheet of white paper scotchtaped to a headlamp.  Hey GoAZ guys, next time use stiffer paper and place it in a slotted chunk of 2x4 on the ground next to the bike like the AACME guys do:

Like this

Not like this

Anyway, it was a fine event, a good time, they even served FREE hot dogs at noon.  Can't beat that.  Here's a few photos from the event:
Nose for speed: The front end of a Triumph T120 powered Bonneville racer

The 1914 Harley was known as "The Silent Gray Fellow."  Quite the opposite of modern Harleys.

In all respects there were more Brit and Italian bikes in evidence than Harleys.

The unusual color of the 1968 BMW R50 is factory original

Hard to believe this 1990 Ducati 900 Supersport is now 23 years old and almost considered a classic
1969 Triumph Daytona cafe racer.  Kind of cobby and probably closer to how it was in '69.

1974 BMW R90S.  Probably the nicest one I've seen since I bought mine new in 1973. 
I'd have traded this guy straight across for my Gold Wing.


Something for everybody.  A Kawasaki 500cc triple street tracker.  I'd like one of these too, please.
1970 Ducati 450cc Scrambler. 

This 2007 customized Ural Gear UP was entered in the cafe racer class.  I'm guessing it didn't win
but people did enjoy seeing one of the nicer done-up Urals running around.
Meet Dawn, the founder of the new Howlers Vintage Japanese motorcycle club.
She was one of the most enthusiastic riders I met that day. That's her Yamaha RD cafe
bike she's customizing herself.

More pictures to come!

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