Indian motorcycles is a marque with a storied and spotted history. Once going toe to toe with Harley Davidson and often beating them. Indian originally closed its doors in 1953 after several years of post war decline and an ownership change.
This is where things get interesting and many people have since owned the Indian name. From 1955 to 1960 Brockhouse Engineering imported Royal Enfields and re-badged them as Indians. At one time every Royal Enfield model had an Indian equivalent. In 1960 Royal Enfield competitor AMC purchased the name and had planned to sell re-badged Matchless and AJS motorcycles. They however went out of business in 1962. Floyd Clymer began importing Italjet Moto minibikes in 1963 with the Indian name. Floyd never actually owned the name but continued to use it until 1977. He worked from the mini bikes to larger motorcycles until his death in 1977. At that point his most recent model the Indian Velo 500 had failed to sell and with his death so had Indian once again. Several competing claims and spurious ownership claims of the Indian name resulted in multiple people attempting to make a new Indian motorcycle without much success.The modern Indian began in about 1999 with the Indian Motorcycle Company of America. This is also known as the “Gilroy” era of Indian motorcycles. Produced in Gilroy, California these were new bikes with S&S engines originally and later a 100 CI Power Plus motor. Large and expensive they failed to sell well and the company once again went into bankruptcy in 2003.
The year 2006 saw Stellican Limited purchase the Indian brand and restart operations in King Mountain North Carolina. This the same Stellican Limited that resurrected Chris Craft boats with some success. They saw Indian as a premium motorcycle and were inclined to produce limited numbers for large price tags as an exclusive item. Think Rolex versus Timex.
Finally in 2011 Polaris industries purchased Indian. With experience from building Victory Motorcycles from the ground up Indian finally had an owner who could build quality motorcycles. It also for the first time was in the hands of a company who had the engineering, and finances to build a new motorcycle while paying homage to the original Indians. Let’s see how they did.
Let’s start with the Indian power plant. Smooth linear power, easily accessible while never being more than you need. Power is developed right off idle and rolls on with a flick of the wrist. This is not a racer though. Power builds smoothly but is a low RPM runner, shift early keep the revs low and feed in throttle and you are rewarded with good acceleration and a willing mount. There is no need to rev it out to generate forward momentum. This is not the Victory power plant that loves the top of the rev range. The Indian motorcycle may have the best sounding stock exhaust. A great pulse with just enough volume it’s a joy to listen to as you ride.
Ergonomics are spot on. There were riders from my height of just over 6 foot, to several smaller riders at 5 foot tall. We were all able to ride the Indian and while some adjustments would be needed for long term use the motorcycle fit everyone enough to allow us to ride all day comfortably. Seats are comfortable if a little slippery, floorboards are spacious allowing for plenty of adjustments for your feet. Reach to the bars is easy and there is a seat to push you forward available.
Indian has a nice set of standard features. Ride by wire, ABS, cruise control are standard. The Chieftain adds power adjustable wind screen, radio, blu tooth, multiple display menus, and keyless entry for the bags. Each bike uses a key fob for proximity starting with a large on button on the tank. You can also press the start button once to begin the start sequence and a second time to engage the starter. Every one of these is intuitive and easy to use except the cruise. It’s the one feature that seems like it wasn’t thought through. Unlike almost every other motorcycle Indian’s cruise doesn’t offer a speed adjustment in simple increments. You can accelerate and decelerate but then it wants to return to the previous speed setting. (Editors note: This appears to be fixed for 2015 and may have been broken on the test model.) Not a very good design for such a well thought out motorcycle and certainly at the 20k price point.
What’s the bottom line? Well I say that all cruiser manufacturers should take note and understand that Indian is well and truly back. They will take market share from everyone. If they continue to build this level of quality and add features along the way we will have three choices for American cruisers and that is a good thing.
All photos were taken at Chesapeake Cycles in Annapolis MD.