Issued in public interest: not all big cruisers are Harley Davidsons!
People on the road would look at the Indian that I was riding and, after some hard-throttle chasing, would catch up with me at a traffic signal only to ask all sort of absurd questions and guess this one to be one or the other from Harley's product range. When I'd tell them it's an Indian Chief, they'd ride away saying "khud isko hi nahi pata kya gaadi hai" (he doesn't know himself what car it is). Two things here - it's not a car, and I do know what I was riding, you idiots!
This wouldn't go down very well with the lovely chaps at Indian Motorcycles - the MD, Pankaj Dubey, is a fine man; but even he may raise an eyebrow reading this bit. What this entire episode of the Indian Chief getting labeled as an example from the product portfolio of its rival from Milwaukee brings forth is, I think, a larger issue at hand - lack of knowledge among the masses!
That's exactly why this history lesson is a bit important. Indian Motorcycles did not exist as we have come to know it until 1928. Before that, the company functioned as Hendee Manufacturing Company since its inception in 1901. The company remained in operation till 1953. Between 1953 to 2011, when Polaris acquired the brand, there were a number of attempts to revive the iconic motorcycle manufacturer. It all started when Brockhouse Engineering acquired the rights to the Indian brand name and used to sell modified Royal Enfields. The Indian name was then licenced to AMC of England but the company itself went bust in 1962.
There were repeated efforts to revive the cult American brand, but every effort went in vain. In April 2011, however, Polaris Industries took over Indian, and invested heavily into it. Two years later, in March 2013, an all-new 111-cubic-inch "Thunder Stroke" engine was revealed and that was the start of a fresh innings for Indian Motorcycles.
If I delve into great details, you will run out of patience and the interest you've invested so far in this article and that will not be ideal. So I'll get straight to business. The Indian Chief that we have here - well, it's quite a looker, isn't it? It's got that true old-world appeal about it in the way it looks - the design is evokes the lines from the 1950s and it's fantastically executed. The fit-and-finish on the Chief is simply astonishing!
I think it's just wrong to "compare" such motorcycles to their rivals. Every brand in this segment - Harley Davidson, Victory, Norton or Indian, they're cult names and appeal to different sections of consumers. The fact that they go at massive retail prices makes it even simpler to justify this. If a consumer has 30 lakh rupees to spend on a motorcycle, no matter how much you convince him otherwise, he will invest that money in the brand that he has set his eyes on. Well, that'll be so in most cases, anyway.
So I'm not going to tell you how different it feels from, say, the Heritage Softail (it does feel a whole lot different), but will concentrate more on what exactly this massive metal art is all about. The motor - it's 111 cubic inches, which translates to 1811cc in plain English. The Chief, in its original spec, generates about 170Nm but to meet the Indian emission norms, the engine has been detuned to 139Nm at 2600 revs with the drive being delivered to the rear wheel via a 6-speed transmission. The 49-degree V-twin engine is air-cooled and operates via 3 camshafts. To bring down the NVH levels, there's an engine-speed balancer but it works in such a way that the primary engine vibration isn't completely eliminated - I like that, as it gives you a nice feel of the massive engine that skulks below the buttocks!
One look at the Indian Chief and you'd guess that it's a really heavy bike. It is - tipping the scale at over 354 kilograms, there's nothing doubting it. The bars are set wide and the legs stretch out like you're sitting on a custom chopper! The seating position is commanding, no doubt, but I must say that I've experienced better saddles on a couple of Harleys, and even the Suzuki Intruder comforts the back side much better. I am, however, not trying to say that the Indian's seat is uncomfortable - gosh, why did I start comparing it!
The Chief, like I said, is a large motorcycle - it's wide, low, heavy; and all that makes it a tad lazy and cumbersome around tight bends and low speeds. Get the momentum going and the Chief is simply magical on the open roads - feels rock solid at any speed, and gives an impression that it's got an undying appetite for the road.
The engine is very impressive. It may not really be insane on outright power, but it is massive - massive - on torque. It feels like a marine engine - a glorious sounding marine engine! It's got the character and sound that's a bit missing in some of the Harley Davidsons (oh crikey, I must stop comparing the motorcycles!). The torque spread is extremely linear and at low revs, this 1811cc engine is just hilariously powerful. Give it just a suggestion of the twist on the throttle and the way it surges ahead blows the mind away! I must also mention here that the brakes are great - but who'd really want to slow down and stop? I would want to just keep piling miles on end.
The Indian is a properly refined, properly heavy, properly massive, properly American motorcycle, and it would go wrong had it been any other way. As it is often said, with such brands, you don't buy a motorcycle, you marry a family!