Meeting the tribe
It’s my humble opinion that some of the best riding in the world is in the Black Hills area in South Dakota and so it was particularly exciting when I was offered the opportunity to saddle up an Indian Scout Bobber to be my trusty ride while in Sturgis. Since the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s founder, J.C. “Pappy” Hoel, had brought the Indian brand to his hometown via his dealership that opened in 1936, the historical value alone made riding the marque special. When I arrived to pick up the Bobber, it dawned on me that the American-made Indians began production in 1901 and here I stood, 116 years later, looking at the newest of the historical motorcycle’s line. Since the Polaris purchase and revival of the Indian brand in 2011, the focus has been primarily on cruisers and touring bikes so I immediately checked out the other 2018 models and made a wish list of those I wanted to ride. The Dark Horse and the Chieftain were added to the “must experience” file.
Rolling out of the parking lot on the Bobber, the first thing I noticed was the uncontrollable smile that stayed plastered to my face the whole time I was straddled across the stripped-down little beast. From the 25.6” seat height to the low-slung profile, this minimalist, entry-level machine was nothing if not fun. With a 3.3-gallon gas tank over the 100 hp liquid-cooled engine, the basic bike weighs in at a measly 554 pounds of heart-racing excitement. Fat tires, bobbed fenders and street tracker handlebars capped off with end-of-the-grips mirrors make the 87.8-inches-long model easy to maneuver when wrestling into a tight parking space. The grips have been moved back and though the pegs have been moved 1.5 inches closer to the rider for what is supposed to be a more aggressive riding position, it doesn’t mean you can’t still scrape those bad boys in the corners. And it is certainly meant to tame the twisties because tucking in on this machine delivers solid feedback from the chassis. The cartridge-style forks are new, the rear shocks are cut down and the lean angle is increased even though the new Bobber sits lower to the ground with a 4.8-inch clearance. The single-disc, two-piston front brake makes stopping on a dime a reality. No fading or spongy feel to the 298mm disc that’s pressed by a single-piston caliper on the back.
The throttle is responsive and a quick twist brings on an immediate thrust to get to you to the top of the hill. Hitting 100 mph is effortless for this little workhorse. The rev range remains smooth throughout 3000 to 6000 rpm where the 73 ft/lbs of torque lies. The engine didn’t change from the base Scout model so the liquid cooled 69 c.i (1133cc) engine still kicks out 100 hp but the rider stays cool and comfy in the process. None of that burning-your-thigh stuff with this bike. The blacked-out engine and wheels scream with sex appeal but the big headlight comes off as a bit too much for the styling. Color choices include five options and accessory add-ons can turn the bad-to-the-bone basic bike into a weekend warrior with the addition of saddlebags. So, what does all this stuff mean for someone who has the $11,499 starting price in their budget? A guaranteed good time, that’s what.
Trading up to the Indian Chief Dark Horse was an interesting exchange. As stripped down and sleek as the Bobber is, its stablemate is anything but. With a mere ½-inch more in seat height and just under an inch more ground clearance, the Dark Horse comes off as a bigger animal all the way around but is still a nice intermediate machine. The 5.5-gallon fuel capacity and additional features bring the weight up to 777 pounds of blacked-out sinister styling that demands a second glance while motoring along the byways. A slight hand on the gas renders a get-up-and-go response that elicited a giggle and though the Bobber actually made me feel like an endorphin-raged teenager, the Dark Horse’s overall stability felt a bit more mature. Hard acceleration in every gear is easily accepted by the Thunder Stroke 111, which produces 119 ft/lbs of torque with extraordinary power at 3000 rpm. The award-winning engine, which is used in all the 2018 Indian models other than the Scouts, was inspired by the Power Plus motor of the 1940s and features multi-directional finned valve covers, large parallel pushrod tubes, downward firing exhaust, right-hand drive and right-hand cam cover.
The individual ABS-controlled front and rear braking system includes a 300mm floating disc with 4-piston calipers on the front while the same-sized single floating rotor in the back uses a 2-piston caliper. What this means is that stopping your wild horse won’t be a problem.
The ever-popular matte black finish, called Thunder Black Smoke, renders a sort of ominous look and the muted Smoke Gray paint of the iconic headdress on the tank carries the look to an almost sinister level. It is the only color scheme offered for the Chief Dark Horse. The blacked-out headdress headlamp that first graced the wide-skirted front fender of Indian motorcycles back in 1947 continues to illuminate the same fender fashion of the modern models and is a pretty cool way to carry on the traditional Indian styling. Suspension, however, is far from traditional. The 46mm diameter telescopic front fork allows 4.7 inches of travel while the rear suspension’s adjustable single shock offers 3.7 inches of travel. Together with the Dunlop Elite tires mounted on blacked-out cast wheels, over-padded seat and 68.1-inch wheelbase, the Horse is a comfortable ride that offers solid handling in corners. There’s keyless ignition and cruise control. The bars, however, took a little getting used to since they’re a bit wider and made me tend to oversteer. Prices for the Dark Horse start at $17,499.
Next on my list of Indian experiences was the Chief Classic. The most obvious change for 2018 was the addition of the Burgundy Metallic color. In prior years the Chief was only offered in Steel Gray but the classy Burgundy metal flake makes this iconic Indian hard to miss. Additional upgrades include whitewall tires on wire wheels and full chrome hand controls. Combined with wide fender skirts, the Chief clings to the traditional styling of the original models, including the headdress on the front fender. This cruiser has the same 26-inch seat height as the Dark Horse, but the ground clearance is 5.5 inches, which means that overall, the handling was smooth, solid, and I didn’t scrape the footboards. Which brings me to one of my favorite accoutrements of the Chief. The footboards are extended, tapered footrests that offer plenty of room for big boots and allowed for some stretching out of long legs.
With a full 5.5 gallons of gas, this classic machine weighs in at 790 pounds of pure muscle. The Chief Classic is the dressiest model in the Indian cruiser corral, sporting chrome from fender to fender, and the performance of the big V-Twin engine makes this bike nothing short of a show-quality machine. With a price tag of $19,499, this bike is good for the long hauls and looks cool doing it.
As I returned the Chief to its corral, the Indian Roadmaster Elite caught my eye. With one color scheme of hand-painted Cobalt Candy over Black Crystal accented by 23k gold trim, this magnificent machine is impossible to ignore. After throwing a leg over the 26.5-inch seat, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that as I lifted the top-of-the-line tour machine off its kickstand, it was amazingly light. The low center of gravity of the 953-pound, 105.4-inch long monster meant handing was completely doable for this 5’7” gal. I spent a considerable amount of time just taking it all in. With tour pack, passenger armrests with leather seats and roomy saddlebags, the Roadmaster is all about the comfort of a two-up combo and clearly meant for tribal elders. Outfitted with 300-watt AM/FM audio system and the Ride Command infotainment system, the dash sports a 7-inch screen. A mere 10 seconds after turning the switch, the panel lights up with Bluetooth and USB input capabilities and GPS turn-by-turn directions. With a starting price of $36,999, the Roadmaster Elite is indeed the crème de la crème of touring machines.
Indian’s technology coupled with the unparalleled customer service and friendliness of its dealerships makes looking into the iconic product line a wise choice. So go find yourself a dealership and make some new friends by heading out for test rides and seizing the opportunity to step into the 21st century while giving a nod to the past at the same time.