“OK, I’ll avoid the obvious Native American puns and clichés in the review of the Indian Chieftain and concentrate solely on the merits of the bike.” I said.
‘Good’ replied the Ed, already groaning at the bad puns flowing down the phone line.
We also agreed that with the announcement of the first Kiwi dealership and news of the first bikes gracing ‘Munro-via’ imminent; it was timely to throw a leg over a new Indian for a burn around KR’s ‘West Island HQ’.
The bike was ready and waiting, fresh from its first service, when I called in to collect it at the stylish Fortitude Valley ‘factory’ dealership in inner Brisbane. The modern building features Victory bikes downstairs and the Indian range up - and is very flash.
After a quick refresher on some of the bike’s control functions I was heading for the hills west of town wearing a grin almost as wide as Oreti Beach at low tide.
I guess like anyone who has been to half a dozen Burt Munro challenges, seen the World’s Fastest Indian and has a library of works by Roger Donaldson like me, then Oreiti isn’t far away - no matter where you ride an Indian motorcycle.
I did wonder what Ol’ Burt would make of ‘all this’ as I climbed the hills towards Mt Nebo. He’d probably want to strip it down and re-engineer it, but then, he’d probably be better off starting with the ‘naked’ Classic or Vintage models from the new range because this ‘Bagger’ is absolutely jam-packed with extras and touring accoutrements.
Comfort is the order of the day and it’s not just about the plush saddle. The windscreen on the Chieftain is not only ‘the first handlebar mounted power screen’ as Indian claim, but it’s also simply one of the best on any bike, with around 100mm of adjustment available via a pair of ‘glove-operable’ buttons on the left switch block. It’s very easy to dial in the optimum height; either for some wind in your face or sit-in-the-bubble applications.
Being able to deflect most of the wind noise also means you can get the best from the modern entertainment system. Bluetooth your phone or hard wire a music device (via a USB connection in the glove box in the fairing) and you can crank the volume and select tracks and sources as you cruise, also from a control pad on the LH switch block.
Additional buttons over on the right hand block operate the Cruise control. It’s also very easy to engage and it works flawlessly. As does the rocker switch mounted into the chrome tank protector to control the central locking on the hard panniers.
The chrome tank guard also houses a rather unique starter button as part of the keyless ‘security fob’ ignition system.
Out on the road it’s a very pleasant bike too. The wide footboards are mounted high enough to give pretty good cornering clearance. It’s quite a firm ride but the air adjustable rear suspension affords 114mm of travel, which is also pretty good for the genre.
It means is that you can ride this bike a long way, over 300km between fuel stops from the 20.8 litre tank, in very good comfort and with no shortage of style.
You’re also likely to make plenty of friends when you do eventually stop along the way. “My dad/grandfather/uncle had an Indian” begin most of the unsolicited conversations at the bowser or kerb. Or alternatively, “I didn’t know they still made them” is another common opening gambit.
It’s like the styling cues - enclosed rear wheel, heavily valanced guards, prominent war bonnet badges, motifs and the 40’s freight train fairing styling evoke a tremendous amount of ‘inherited’ nostalgia. It’s not the bike to own if you don’t like meeting people.
What I’m pretty sure Burt would really enjoy is the engine and gearbox. You do sit very close to the rocker cover and it does generate a little heat, but nothing I found at all uncomfortable, even is Brisbane humidity.
Anyway, I’m sure he would approve of the Thunderstoke 111 cube power plant because it really is a thing of beauty, both aesthetically and throttle-wise.
Displacing 1811cc it develops 161Nm of torque at 3,000rpm and has enough ponies to give the bike a real surge off the line. It launches really well, and overtaking - even at highway speeds, rarely needs a change-down of the crisp and solid-feeling gearbox.
The engine is also very tractable and will chug along at 60kph in top gear with no sign of stress or lugging. It’s also a vey quiet engine, featuring much ‘double-walling’ to insulate noise and heat, while maintaining the traditional Indian double down-tube appearance and classic style and it’s finished with masses of faultless chrome.
The primary is gear driven and the final drive is via a slop-free belt. Combined with the crisp gearbox it all gives a very direct feel at the throttle hand. For a bike weighing in at 385kg wet, it gives exceptionally good rider feedback.
The relatively quiet engine means that Indian had more decibels to spend on the exhaust note and while it’s not exactly raucous (what new bike is), from the rider’s perch it provides quite a rewarding note. Particularly when you wick it up.
For slowing it down, the ABS features 300mm twin discs up front and a single at the rear. I rarely used the rear pedal and two fingers on the front were all that were needed to pull the bike up in normal situations. Like the rest of the bike, they performed very comfortably.
The bank of fairing-mounted headlights and driving lights proved highly efficient and the bike’s horn is automotive grade. The central locking panniers carried all my camera kit and more, with change. Pillions are pretty well catered for with the standard saddle, reasonably low-set foot pegs and there is a range of back rests for both rider and passenger available as optional extras.
The cast 16” (yep,16 inch!) wheels front and rear carry 130 and 180 section rubber respectively. In combination with the 1668mm wheelbase, 29 degree rake and 150mm trail they provide very stable and comfortable manners and road holding. I found the bike tracks and held a line better than the other 16” fronts I’ve encountered.
Comfortable. I used that word a lot when talking or writing about the Indian Chieftain. The other word I used a lot when discussing the bike was ‘pleasant’.
That’s how I found the bike from the first time I rode it: comfortable, pleasant and, very, very attractive.
At almost $A36,000 (NZ Pricing is still to be confirmed) the Chieftain represents a choice from the top-shelf of motorcycling.
But I’m sure Burt would approve. Without………reservations. D’oh.
Indian Chief - Chieftain.
Type: Thunder Stroke™ 111
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Bore x stroke: 101mm x 113mm
Starting system: Electric
Engine management system:
Fuel system: Closed loop fuel injecion /54mm bore
Clutch: Wet Multi Plate
Transmission: 6 speed
Final drive: Belt
Type: Cast aluminium with integrated air box
Swingarm: Double sided
Front suspension: 46mm cartridge forks with dual rate springs
Rear suspension: Single Shock / 4.49 in / pneumatic adjustment
Brakes: Front: Dual / Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper Dual Front / 300mm with ABS
Rear: Single / Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper / 300mm
Wheels: Cast 16" x 3.5" Front and 16" x 5" Rear
Tyres: F: Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H
R: Dunlop® Elite 3 180/60R16 80H
LxWxH: 2571 mm x 1022 mm x 1529 mm
Seat height: 660mm
Dry weight: 370kg
Fuel tank capacity: 20.8l
Test bike: Indian Motorcycles Aus & NZ
A riding ramble: