Another nice Indian article

I’ve cut and pasted in case anyone else can’t open it, opens fine for me but the article is below, from the Chicago Tribune

Indian Motocycles was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1901 (the r was added later), predating Harley-Davidson by two years. The original company went out of business in 1953. Many bikes wore the Indian brand in the decades that followed, with several abortive attempts to resuscitate the company through the end of the century and beyond.

In 2011, powersports giant Polaris bought Indian and relocated production to Spirit Lake, Iowa, where it also produces Victory brand bikes. After several years of design and engineering, the new Indians are finally coming to market, with an initial lineup of three bikes: The Chief Classic; the Chief Vintage; and the subject of this review, the Chieftain.

The Chieftain is a touring motorcycle, sized and priced to match up with the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. The new bike looks the part, with deeply valanced front and rear fenders, a fork-mounted batwing front fairing. The big 111 cubic inch Thunder Stroke engine acts as a visual anchor and a stressed member in the cast aluminum frame. Even a casual observer will have no problem differentiating the Chieftain from a Harley – especially if they can read.

Following the Motor Company’s lead, Indian has engraved and embossed its logo all over the bike. It is stamped into the frame; carved onto the fairing; and printed on the derby cover. It says Indian on the dashboard, on the oil cap, on the master cylinder, on the ends of the handgrips and on the tank. A big Indian headdress is painted on each side of the gas tank. The Indian head war bonnet fender ornament dresses the front fender, lit from within for visibility after dark.

There are Indian head Easter eggs in surprising places, like within the mirrors. If that’s not enough, there’s a catalog of additional Indian bolt-on accessories on the way.

Fit and finish on my test bike, a late pre-production example in Springfield Blue, was superb. I’d expect production bikes to be even better.

This is a great-looking bike with fantastic presence, a great blending of Indian heritage with modern technology and bike design.

There’s no physical ignition key, just a key fob with two buttons: Lock and unlock, controlling the power locks on the hard bags. As long as the key fob is within the proximity of the Chieftain, the starting procedure is simple: Push the button on the tank with the universal power symbol, wait until you hear the fuel pump cycle, pull in the clutch and press the starter button on the right hand grip. There’s an ignition cut out tied in to the side stand so you can’t ride off in gear with the side stand deployed.

Chieftain’s instrument panel lives within the fairing, surrounded by a chromed bezel. An LCD rider information screen is flanked by two white-faced analog gauges: Speedometer on left, tachometer/gas gauge on right. Idiot lights – I mean warning lights – show up out of the blackness of the panel. The rider information screen covers a wide range of information.

With a trigger on the left handlebar, you can toggle through oil life, tire pressure, audio settings, time, ambient temperature and other information. Particularly useful is a gear indicator at the bottom of the window, and the ability to switch from miles per hour to kilometers per hour on the fly – great for cross-border trips to Canada. A small complaint – at certain times of the day, it was impossible to read the settings in the rider information screen due to glare and reflection.

I’m not sure how you’d remedy this, except with some kind of a screen hood.

While I’m registering small complaints, I didn’t love the look of the international graphics on the accessory driving light switch and the power switch, both of which are quite prominent in view at all times. I’d prefer something more in keeping with the whole retro/deco look of the bike – but I understand why the buttons are so ugly. Help, aftermarket!

Also, a blank switch space on the tank, reserved for add-on heated grips, is a bit of an eyesore. I’m picky when I have to spend $23 grand, I know.

The fairing gives home to some up-to-the-minute technology. There’s Bluetooth built right in, so you can link your cellphone or MP3 player to the bike wirelessly. There’s also a semi-concealed storage compartment beneath the right wing of the batwing, complete with a USB connection and a padded pocket that will hold a smart phone, so you can ride and charge all at once.

There’s also a 12-volt socket on the dash, in case you need to connect a GPS unit or other small electronics to power while riding. The windshield on the fairing is electrically adjustable via a switch on the left hand control. Indian claims that it’s the first electrically adjustable windshield on a factory fork-mounted fairing, and I believe that’s true (though really, who cares – as long as it works). Audio quality is excellent.

I usually use helmet speakers when I listen to music or podcasts, and I always use earplugs. On the Chieftain, I used the fairing speakers, and I had no trouble hearing music and spoken word clearly, even at highway speeds.

Clutch pull is reasonable, but a little heavy for smaller hands. Because I live in Los Angeles, I spent plenty of time in traffic on the Chieftain, and my left hand got a good workout. The transmission is nice and solid, starting off with a solid thunk when downshifting into first gear to take off from a start. Neutral is easy to find once the bike is warmed up.

My test bike was a little stiff shifting when it was cold. Engine and transmission share a bathtub, so when the engine warms up, so does the transmission.

We’ve been teased with photos and sounds for months. and now the ride must deliver. The Thunder Stroke 111 sounds great – different than a Harley Big Twin, but not night and day different. The sound comes up to the rider differently, because the intake is on the left side, an Indian tradition.

The sound seems to come from all around. Throttle control is by wire, not by mechanical cable, though you’d never know it in operation. Twist the grip, and the engine responds instantly, linearly and directly.

Indian doesn’t reveal horsepower figures. The claimed 119.2 lb-ft of torque comes on nice and low, hitting its peak at 3,000 rpm. The punch is available when you need it, with serious acceleration on tap in pretty much every gear.

On the freeway, I was able to cruise in sixth (top) gear at the speed limit, and when I needed to pass or squirt through traffic, I didn’t have to downshift unless I wanted maximum acceleration. This engine goes as good as it looks.

Handling is very good for a bagger. You can adjust the rear shock by pumping in more air with the provided hand pump. I matched up my weight with the suggested air pressure before riding, and never felt the need to adjust it again. The Chieftain does a great job of gliding over rough pavement and bumps, smoothing out the ride without losing road feel.

Because of a comfortably steep rake (25 degrees) and trail, the Chieftain feels stable at speed, while still maintaining relatively quick steering, inspiring confidence through the curves. There’s plenty of lean angle available for most riders, though aggressive riders should be careful – the floorboards are solidly-mounted, not hinged. Leaning farther beyond initial contact could lever the bike off the pavement in certain situations.

Dual disc brakes on the front and a single rotor on the rear provide ample stopping power. In a nice touch, brake lines are already steel braided – a frequent accessory upgrade for Harley owners. Non-linked ABS is standard, front and rear.

Indian may actually be in the right hands after six decades of uncertainty. The 2014 Chieftain is a fantastic motorcycle, a worthy competitor to the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide. In Thunder Black, the Chieftain comes in at $22,999; add $500 for Indian Red or Springfield Blue, and another $250 if you live in California.

Anyone who is considering a V-Twin touring bike purchase must sample the Chieftain before making a decision. Indian has about 170 dealers across the United States right now, with hopes of adding many more in the next few years

Your buying decision will ultimately come down to a matter of taste – you might be a Harley guy, or you might be an Indian guy. Finally, you’ve actually got a choice, and it won’t be an easy one.

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