There are times, when in the cosmic scheme of things, two seemingly disparate situations intersect in an unsuspecting way, creating a favorable end result.
Such was the case in our household recently:
SITUATION 1: Ever since Polaris gained ownership of the Indian Motorcycle legacy and introduced the first truly new Indian in decades (2014), I have been fascinated by the look and construction quality of the new Indian Vintage. Mind you, as I find myself well into my second motorcycle childhood, owning or riding a bike weighing north of 800 lbs has not been on my prime bucket list. Not, that is, until my buddy Bill Hayes literally forced me to visit the new Indian dealership in Round Rock (www.dreamMachinesIndian.com ). Just seeing these beautiful machines in the flesh, and actually sitting on one, convinced me that 800 lbs maybe isn’t all that much after all. The cushy natural leather seat sits deep within the unique cast aluminum frame, situating the rider in a very stable, low center of gravity position.
SITUATION 2: My wife Dorothee’s Lexus roadster has been a neglected stepchild in the garage for quite some time. The car is beautiful, never leaks oil, never breaks down, and is in pristine condition. Yet, we both found we were consistently gravitating to our other daily drivers (a pair of BMW 540 touring, to be exact). The Lexus, well, just has no personality, and, honestly, handles and drives like an old lady’s car. Therefore, we have had numerous conversations mutually agreeing that the dust-gathering Lexus should be handed off to a more appreciative owner.
Out of the clear blue sky, a month or so ago, the exact Indian Vvintage model I’d been looking for.. sporting a beautiful Springfield Blue paint job, and outfitted with all the bells and whistles, showed up on eBay, with only 327 miles from brand new.
A plus with the 2014 models is that Indian offered a 5 year warranty, whereas the 2015 warranty was reduced to 2 years. The bike was located at a dealer new Miami, Florida, and the price was competitive and attractive.
On a whim, I contacted the dealer via email, and asked if he might be interested in a Lexus on trade toward the Indian, expecting nothing but a snicker. To my surprise and delight, the dealer called me on the phone, said his partner had just been looking for an SC430, and loved the red exterior black interior of ours. In short order, we had reached a purchase/trade agreement that I felt very favorable, but which included my responsibility for transporting the Lexus to Pompano Beach and bring the Indian home at my expense.
So, on a bright Sunday afternoon, with the full support and approval from my wonderful wife, I embarked on a marathon solo drive to Florida, with the Lexus securely strapped onto our trailer (I won’t go into ALL the details of everything mechanical that went wrong before and during the trip.. saving that for a later time!)
Somehow, I managed to cover almost 2800 miles round trip in the space of 4 short days, safely delivering the Lexus, and taking possession of the new Indian. This included losing a half-day after a massive tire blowout on my truck on the way home:
But, if you’ve read this far, you’re not interested in my petty travel issues. You want to know about the Indian, right?
A bit of history might be in order, as Indian claims to have been in business since 1901, and motorcycles from 1902 (beating out perennial favorite Harley-Davidson by a year). But the Indian brand has had a much rockier story than that of H-D. The “original” Indian company met its demise with the final production of the side-valve Indian Chief in 1953. Thereafter followed a variety of resuscitation attempts, involving Royal Enfields and some British Matchless bikes rebranded as Indians, all with limited success.
More recently, Indian of America began producing bikes in Gilroy, California under the Indian brand, circa 1999. Unfortunately, the company was woefully underfunded, and the bikes were less-than-perfect bitsa Harley clones festooned with Indian brightwork, and the firm went bankrupt in 2003.
It was not until 2011 that the Polaris company, producer of the popular Victory line of motorcycles, 4 wheel ATV’s, snowmobiles, and the like, obtained rights to the Indian name, and embarked on development of a completely new line of Indian motorcycles, designed from a clean slate, including engine, yet following the iconic and readily-identifiable classic Indian design. The end result of Polaris’s effort met the public in the form of 3 brand new 2014 models, the Chief Classic (naked bike), the Chief Vintage (outfitted with leather bags and windshield), and the Chieftain (full touring bagger version).
And, lest there is a question about what brand of bike this is, the Indian logo is displayed profusely from one end to the other:
The new Indians have been enthusiastically received by a Harley-bloated market.. owner satisfaction has been high, and mechanical and quality issues have been minimal. Polaris, a multi-billion dollar company, appears to have the financial heft to see this most recent (and hopefully final) revival of Indian through to a successful future.
My own experience? This bike has exceeded all my expectations. Once above 5 mph, the bike handles as nimbly as any of the other 4 bikes in the garage, all of which weigh about half that of the Indian. The engine is incredibly smooth and vibration free (and surprisingly, given a similar cylinder angle configuration as Harley.. well 49 degrees vs 45 for the Harleys). This is not a high-revving machine.. you will hit the rev-limiter around 5,000 RPMs, but then you quickly come to realize that the locomotive-style torque comes on strong at minimal rpm. With 6 smoothly shifting gears in the tranny, this baby just loafs at a leisurely 2300 RPM at 70 in 6th.
The engine, producing a massive, factory-stated 119 ft lbs of torque (Polaris declines to publish horsepower figures) insures that a Vintage rider can leave most stock Harley riders in the dust!
Ground clearance is way more than adequate for my style of riding.. I’ll never scrape a muffler, yet feel like I can safely push this bike into corners as far as these fragile bones desire. And turn in is as effortless as any smaller bike I’ve ever ridden.
I love the combination of the footboards with the single lever shifter (NOT a heel-and-toe contraption as is more commonly seen on this class of bike). The configuration allows easy up and downshifts without ever fully lifting your foot from the floorboard.
Polaris eschewed old-school mechanical/electrical design, in favor of state-of-the-art components. Granted, it’s true, if this bike quits on the side of the road, you will most likely not revive it with a pocket knife and pair of pliers. Yet, just as the modern automobiles with which Indian shares the common CAN electrical buss, one accepts significantly greater reliability and performance in exchange for lack of roadside repairability. After all, isn’t that what towing insurance is for?
The drive-by-wire throttle functions flawlessly, without the annoying on/off jerkiness I have experienced with other machines similarly equipped. You simply come to expect smooth, seamless power delivery from idle to wide open throttle. The wired throttle lends itself to a full featured (and standard) cruise control, an option I never realized I needed until having the opportunity to employ it. Wow.. how nice to be able to take your hands off the bars from time to time for a stretch, or to adjust mirror, etc. And just a light touch on clutch lever or either brake instantly disengages the cruise.
Of course, self-cancelling turn signals are a must (intelligent enough to remain on if the bike is not in motion, as in stopped at a light). And, the Vintage comes standard with spot lights, a battery tender/iphone charger/GPS connection plug, and beautiful real leather saddle bags.
There is no key (except for the steering lock). Just a small round key “fob” employing user-replaceable common CR2032 batteries. Keep the fob in your pocket, sit on the bike, raise the kickstand (the electronics won’t allow starting with kickstand down), and just press the starter button to watch the engine roar to life! With intelligent fuel injection, the engine is ready immediately to launch off.. no choke, no idle issues, etc. The engine just settles instantly into a nice 750-800 rpm idle until more is called for.
Forget, or lose your fob? Not a big worry, except for the $150 cost of replacing. You will choose and program your own secret 4-digit code, which is cleverly entered using the turn signal switch, to bring the bike to life, in the absence of your fob. It seems as though Indian has thought of everything!
Of course, all the expected digital gee-gaws are part of the package.. a multi-function display showing (on command), RPM, outside temperature, volts, fuel consumption/remaining, trip distances, digital clock, the gear you are currently in, and more.
It is hard for me to imagine anything I could or would do to improve this bike (other than having a full-time detail staff to keep it clean, and more free time to ht the highways). I do plan on enjoying this baby for some years to come!
April 2017 Update
I love every thing about my Indian Chief Vintage except the handlebar position. It has never felt “readily to hand” as the Brits would say. So, I recently decided to swap out my stock handlebar for an optional “Beach Bar” that Indian offers. Taking on this swap myself (vs paying the dealership) is no mean feat, and I found little help online, but I managed to get the job done. Other Indian owners contemplating a swap will hopefully find my installation documentation helpful: Changing the handlebar on an Indian Chief Vintage