Indian is a legendary marque, even without the likes of Burt Munro firmly lodging its name in the record books for all time. That’s both a blessing and a curse. A few other attempts to resurrect the Indian name have come and gone over the years, but powersports powerhouse Polaris seems most likely to make the rebirth actually happen. That’s a good thing.
For a start, the new purpose-built ThunderStroke 111 engine that powers the Indian Chief Classic, Indian Chief Vintage, and Indian Chieftain is a jaw-droppingly beautiful piece of automotive art. Photos alone don’t do it justice. If you like looking at beautiful engines, you’ll be staring at this one for ages. Of course, it isn’t just about looks -- the thing also goes well and sounds great doing it. That's no surprised, seeing as it’s an air-cooled, 1811cc V-twin monster that produces more than 115 ft.-lbs of torque.
I was invited to check out the new line ahead of Daytona Bike Week, so I could experience the new Chieftain in an up-close-and-personal fashion. As I’m a rather small rider, handling on a big beast of a bike like this is always a concern, so I asked about it ahead of time. I was assured that although the Chieftain does weigh a bit more than either the Chief Classic or Vintage models, its slightly revised geometry and decreased rake actually lead to lighter handling.
I’m happy to report that’s absolutely true. Everything behind the forks on these three models is essentially laid out the same way. However, by merely picking the Chieftain up off the side stand, you can instantly feel the difference between it and the other two. The Chieftain doesn’t resist at all. It wants to be upright. It wants to go for a ride. The other two Chief iterations aren’t bad, but they do immediately feel heavier, even though they aren’t. As with comparison between two or more bikes of any variety, it’s all about the character you’re hoping to find in your next bike.
Another concern with baggers is that a lot of times, they only look good with their bags on. While that may be how you want to ride most of the time, what happens if you want to take the bags off? Happily, the Chieftain has you covered there as well. All that beautiful paint and chrome is continued underneath your bags, straight from the factory. There is no hideous and aesthetically ill-conceived bracketry that ruins the lines of your baby. The bags are also deep, and both open and close with unparalleled ease. While they still won’t fit a full-face helmet (no bagger’s side bags really do), they are big enough to comfortably handle a laptop bag or small briefcase.
The coolest things about the Chieftain over the Classic or Vintage Chief models are all technological innovations. The power-adjustable windscreen just works exactly as you’d hope. Shorter riders may not need to put it up very high, but that windscreen makes it easy for a taller rider to set the bike up and hop on the road with ease -- no tools necessary. Want it lower? That, too, is achievable with just your finger.
Need to charge any of your myriad electronic devices while you’re out riding? You have a choice of three ports: two 12V and one powered USB. One 12V is located in the right saddlebag, while the other is located on the lower left side of the instrument panel, near the handlebars. The USB outlet is located on the lower right side of the instrument panel, below the right handlebar. This would work well if you wanted to use a GPS or cell phone mount and keep your unit plugged in as you ride.
The Chieftain is Bluetooth-enabled, so you can easily pair your iPod/iPhone/iPad, Android device, or other compatible Bluetooth device (such as a GPS unit) with it. This means that not only can you hear your tunes through the Chieftain’s sweet sound system, but you can also listen to music or voice navigation through a Bluetooth headset, as long as you’re properly paired. Full instructions regarding Bluetooth pairing and other essential technological features are yours upon purchase of the bike.
Keyless starting is also nice. Your late-model car may already have this feature, but it isn’t very common on bikes yet. Simply stick the key fob in an available pocket, hop on your bike, and go.
As with any good cruiser these days, a truly vast array of accessories is available from the factory to customize your ride. For example, the base Chieftain comes with beautiful black leather saddle and grip accents, but one of the Indian guys with whom I spoke put the beautiful brown leather from the Vintage on his Chieftain, so it sets off the bronze Indian logo on the tank.
From photos alone, I didn’t expect to like the Vintage’s leather as much as I did, but it’s actually quite nice. All three bikes must be seen to be believed -- they’re very visually striking, and not cookie-cutter cruisers by any stretch of the imagination. While it’s true that bike people can usually tell different bikes apart, I’m confident that even non-bike-people won’t have problems knowing that it’s an Indian. (You know how non-bike people like to refer to all cruisers as Harleys? These bikes may just help to change that.)
(A note for shorter riders: the side stand on this family of bikes is quite far forward. If your legs are very short, you may experience trouble trying to use it. Taller riders shouldn’t have any trouble at all. Not every bike is made for everybody, or every body, and that’s just a fact with which all riders have to live.)
The Chieftain succeeds as Indian’s nod to its long and storied history, while still firmly existing in the modern day. It’s so modern, it even comes with a tire pressure monitoring system. It’s true that Polaris is the same company that brought you the rolling spaceship that is the Victory Vision, but while they sought to capitalize on lessons learned from Victory, Indian is most definitely not Victory. Indian is its own thing, and this bike strives to show that off.
MSRP starts at $22,999 for the Chieftain. The Indian Chief Classic’s MSRP is $18,999, while the Chief Vintage starts at $20,999. Wondering about the dealer network? Indian plans to have between 125 and 140 dealers in North America alone by the end of 2014. That's in addition 70 international dealers. Dealerships started taking delivery of the bikes in September 2013 and are ready for order. There are plans to offer integrated GPS in the future, although it was not available on the test model. Additionally, the company plans to host demo ride events across the country starting in August, so you can experience the legend for yourself before you buy one.
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