When Polaris announced the purchase of Indian Motorcycles in April 2011, anticipation went through the entire motorcycle community. America’s first production motorcycle has seen its share of ups and downs since 1901. With a new parent company, Indian dove headfirst into a sea of Harleys at Sturgis for their reveal party. What better place for such an announcement? And after riding the three new models ourselves, we’re more than excited at the reincarnation.
Three Reasons Indian Will Be Successful
Reason 1: Most people assumed Polaris would simply take the Indian look and shove a Victory engine into it. Polaris has vehemently denied this from the beginning, and they spoke the truth. Although Victory and Indian share the same facility, they are assembled on separate lines and do not share any parts. Presumably Polaris looked at the Ford/Jaguar case study and knew Indian would have to be standing on its own two wheels if it wanted to be successful.
Reason 2: Made in America. With research and development in Osceola, WI, and assembly in Spirit Lake, IA, Polaris Industries is relying on the American workforce. If they’re trying to sell American muscle, it better be as American as apple pie.
Reason 3 (3.5 billion to be exact): Indian is backed by a $ 3.5 billion a year powersports powerhouse that is aiming to hit $ 5 billion in the next few years. This is the best chance of success that Indian has ever had.
The Thunder Stroke 111
Whereas most new product launches take 40 months to account for engineering, tooling, etc., Indian’s engineers designed a completely new engine, and ultimately three new motorcycles, in only 27 months.
To begin, Indian wanted to stay true to its heritage and design the engine to look like a ‘40s Indian Power Plus. Elements include multi-directional finned valve covers, downward firing exhaust, large parallel push-rod tubes, asymmetric fin styling, right-hand drive, right-hand cam cover, the classic 2/3 head-to-cylinder neck down, large left-side mounted air intake, a primary cover that features three centers of rotation, and prominent external fasteners. Packing new technology into the look of an old engine is amazing.
The result, called Thunder Stroke 111, is 119 lb-ft of torque beast. The engine is smooth and so powerful it’ll whip you around curves like never before on a heavy (812 to 848 pounds wet, depending on the model) cruiser, and passing is even easier. Its balance is very confidence inspiring. Of course, it couldn’t compete without the right exhaust note, and we found it has a very pleasing V-twin rumble. The name “Thunder Stroke” didn’t come from nowhere. Throttle by wire further underlines the technological advances. In case you’re wondering about reliability, Polaris states that it has been validated for more than 2 million miles and 1.5 billion crankshaft turns. That’s about the same as circling the world 40 times.
The advantage of having Polaris pony up for R&D is world-class facilities. The frame has been subjected to all kinds of rigorous testing to ensure nothing less than premium quality.
All three models share the same CNC machined, modular frame design but with altered triple clamps, backbone, and forks, thus producing a different feel and handling. The frame was even optimized for sound and includes air channels to help cool the engine. The covered rear fender also acts as a structural member increasing stability; it’s not just for looks.
The air adjustable rear suspension features a shock supplied by Fox Racing with progressive linkage (allowing it to lie almost flat and accommodate a low seat height and other design features). We found the ride quality to be topnotch, and during average riding, the 4.5 inches of travel are ample. If pushed hard, the suspension quickly reminds the rider of what kind of bike is underneath though. To make life easier, an incorporated feature allows the removal of a single pin to lower the entire rear suspension. This makes changing the tire a lot simpler, especially with the valenced fender.
The front suspension is made of telescopic forks with 4.7 inches of travel. Braking power is sufficient with dual floating rotors with a 4-piston caliper in the front and a single floating rotor with a 2-piston caliper in the back.
Chief Classic - $ 18,999
The basic cruiser was our runner-up for “Motorcycle of the Year.” The powerful engine, relaxed ergonomics, and fun handling won us over, but it lacked technological features for the win.
Standard features include ABS, cruise control, keyless starts, light bar, and premium leather seats. The tank-mounted electronic speedo has all the info an informed rider could want, but its position isn’t conducive to constant monitoring. This motorcycle is for taking it easy, cruising the byways, and feeling the wind.
Identify it by the painted “Indian” lettering on the tank.
Chief Vintage - $ 20,999
Basically the same motorcycle as the Classic, the Vintage comes with a highway bar, quick release windshield, and leather bags.
All three models utilize a key fob to start them. Owners can also preprogram a combination that allows them to start the motorcycle. As a security feature, the bike will stall if first gear is engaged while the bike is running, but the fob is out of range.
The “Indian” badge on the tank identifies this model.
Chieftain - $ 22,999
Our 2013 “Motorcycle of the Year” set itself apart from the competition with the incorporation of old-school style, retro-modern looks, and infusion of technology. The rake and trail is different (5.9 inches/25 degrees compared to the others, 6.1 inches/29 degrees) and gives the Chieftain a nimbler feel. It’s stable at high speeds on the interstate and surprisingly fun in the curves.
It comes with the same list of standard features as the Chief but also has remote locking hard saddlebags, tire pressure monitoring, and a 100-watt stereo with full Bluetooth and Smartphone capability. The tech read out on the classic looking V-twin is what impressed us the most. Information like engine oil-life percentage, tire pressure, trouble code read out, and engine hours of operation are unique.
Ground clearance is impressive (as is handling), but scraping footboards is still a common activity.
It will be exciting to see how Indian will prove itself as the choice in American motorcycles. Currently, Indian is working to establish a dealer network from the ground up. Domestic fly-and-ride programs will allow potential buyers to apply their airfare credit toward the motorcycle price should they fly into a dealer city and purchase a motorcycle.
As one can imagine, Indian didn’t sleep in the aftermarket department, and a slew of accessories is available for customization. And it’s an Indian after all, so the leather fringe is acceptable.
Comparing the Chieftain to its closest competitor, the Harley-Davidson Street Glide, it packs more power, comes with more standard equipment, weighs 37 pounds more, and costs about $ 5,000 less similarly equipped.
With the first three models closely competing with Harley-Davidson, we hope to see more innovation from Indian that will set it apart. After all, Indian motorcycle’s heritage is one of racing and technological achievement.