Before we start boasting about our glorious day with the Indian Chief Vintage, let us first delve into the history of this iconic motorcycle brand. Founded by George Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström in 1901, Indian Motorcycles is the oldest American brand in existence. Just two years into establishment, Indian’s co-founder and chief engineer Oscar Hedström set the world motorcycle speed record of 56 mph. Another major milestone was achieved in 1911 when Indian riders Oliver Cyril Godfrey, Franklin and Moorehouse got first, second and third position in the Isle of Man competition.
Images: Chirag Mondal
But the fall of the company, in true sense, began during the First World War when Indian Motorcycles dried out its dealership network to meet up with the demand from the US government in 1917 and 1918. The company lost its ace position to Harley-Davidson in 1920. And while the Scouts, Chiefs and Fours created good demand, the company severely suffered through the Second World War and was finally liquidated in 1953.
Various attempts to revive the brand went in vain. The most recent buyer of the Indian Motorcycles brand is American manufacturer of snowmobiles, ATVs, off-roaders and neighborhood electric vehicles, Polaris, which overtook the cruiser maker in 2011. Polaris loaded the Indian Chief motorcycles with a newly developed 111-cubic inch Thunder Stroke engine. The engine was developed from scratch and was created exclusively for the Indian Chief line-up.
Whenever we introduce ourselves as automobile journalists, the most common response that we receive from people is that we get to ride all the new cars and motorcycles. Well, our job is not as fancy as it may sound. At times we are centre of attraction for humorous reasons as we ride puny scoots wearing all the riding gear. But the next day we are the demigods travelling on the most exotic machines mortal humans have even seen. Luckily, we are doing the latter today.
When I laid my hands on the Indian Chief, from a manufacturer with great history and stature, sweaty palms and weak knees grew upon me, as I almost stumbled in excitement. The current Indian Chief line-up comprises of three models, the Classic, the Vintage and the Chieftain, all of which are powered by the new Thunder Stroke 111 engine and differ only by a handful of features. This time though, we have the Chief Vintage in our hands for a real life test on the Indian roads. So without any further ado, let us get the key fob into our pockets and push the ignition switch to understand what this classic American product is all about.
Styling: Admiration Guaranteed
The Indian Chief Vintage is an eye-candy like a rare few machines. So much, so, that we were eventually annoyed by a wave of people flooding in to check out the motorcycle. The fast paced city life came to a halt as people slowed down on the Eastern Express highway to get a glimpse of the motorcycle. We literally had to ride off just to get rid of the excessive attention and resume the job at hand.
In the times of supersports and naked roadster motorcycles, the Indian Chief Vintage stands out of the crowd like an old school rockstar in his hippy attire. The Chief Vintage borrows its dressing cues from the Indian motorcycles of the (g)olden days. Even the colour! You can get the Chief Vintage in the same solid Indian Motorcycle red colour that it was sold in during the yesteryears. You can also opt for Thunder Black, Willow Green/Ivory Cream, Indian Red/Ivory Cream, Indian Red/Thunder Black colour shades. However, do not expect a clear coat paint job. Indian has kept the motorcycle as close to its history as possible.
War Bonnet, the classic Indian emblem, housed in a chrome frame, graces the enormous front fender of the motorcycle. This iconic valenced fender on the Chief Vintage has been standard on Indian Motorcycles since 1940’s. A chrome trim ravishes the front end of the fender while a strip follows the arch on both the sides. The 3D Vintage brand logo can be spotted below the chrome strip on either sides of the fender.
The beefy, chrome laden, front telescopic fork with dual rate springs holds the three-pod headlight assembly which further merges into the quick release Lexan windshield receptacle. And while the centre headlight is always ON, a button behind the front assembly controls the sub-headlights. The entire assembly is followed by chrome smacked handlebar, rear-view mirrors, clutch and front brake lever and switchgear.
Following the design further, a fuel tank, with 20.8-litre capacity, is bestowed with the 3D Indian logo. Top of fuel tank, along with the filler lid, also holds the instrument panel that comprises of an analogue speedometer clubbed with a multi-function digital display. An analogue fuel gauge and a tank mounted Power button holds position above the speedometer.
The instrument panel is followed by a leather strip that also works as a tank pad. The strip merges into the couch-like comfortable tangerine coloured split seats. A pair of saddle bags, with the tan leather, is installed on either side of the motorcycle. The bags receive a three-buckle strap system with well disguised plastic latches. The rivets on the seats and saddlebags act as icing on the cake giving the seating setup a more authentic and retro look. The mid and the rear end of the motorcycle is shrouded with metal, exposing very little of what’s underneath it. An LED tail-light and turn indicators inhabit the tail section. A chrome trim, similar to the one found on the front fender, completes the overall design.
The Chief Vintage has Indian written all over it, literally! Excluding the regular spots like the fuel tank, the Indian badging can be seen on various parts of motorcycle including the handlebar grip, bar ends, foot board and the exhaust which gives a more personalised feel to the cruiser. The overall build quality too is sturdy and above par in most aspects.
The Chief Vintage’s design is based on Indian Motorcycles from yesteryear
Windshield provides protection from wind but may hamper vision during night time
The Thunder Storm 111 cubic-inch engine has been specially developed for Indian Chief series motorcycles
The illuminated War Bonnet finds place on the iconic valenced fender
Tank receives 3D, chrome treated Indian brand emblem
The handlebar has been inclined towards the rider for straight forward riding posture
Multi-function instrument cluster displays riding information along with tell-tale details
The tan leather saddlebags can store sufficient lugguage for a long trip
With the key fob in your pocket, you can climb on the bike, push a button and ride without bothering about the gloves
Indian badging can be seen on the handlebar grip, bar ends, foot board and the exhaust
Features and details: Old magician with new tricks
The very first thing that deserves a mention is the keyless ignition feature on the Indian Chief Vintage that comes as standard. So with the key fob in your pocket, you can climb on the bike, push a button and ride without bothering about the gloves. Simple and easy!
The switchgear comprises of the most necessary functions. The left side units holds high/low beam, horn and turn-indicator button. The pass-light button has been replaced by an information toggle switch which displays variety of information on the multi-function digital display. The information includes the odometer, engine RPM, two trip meters, gear indicator, fuel economy, range in the tank, ambient temperature and a digital clock.
The right side of the switchgear comprises of ignition, engine kill, hazard light and cruise control switches. The right side assembly holds a dummy switch, similar to the toggle button found on the left hand side. The switch merely exists because the Chief Vintage shares the hardware with other Indian motorcycles. We believe that using the dummy switch as a toggle button and the existing one as a pass light would have been a better utility of resources.
The 18-inch windscreen is kept in position by a chrome holder. The design of the holder gives the front of the motorcycle a cleaner look as it overlaps the suspension and handlebar. What we would have really liked to see is an adjustable windscreen which would have proved more beneficial, especially for the taller riders.
Durability through various weather conditions has also been kept in mind. The seat and saddlebags feature sealed, high-quality desert tan leather which has been designed to withstand various elements that the motorcycle would come across during its lifetime.
Coming down to the shoes of the motorcycle, the Chief Vintage is loaded with Dunlop American Elite 130/90b16 67h at the front and Dunlop American Elite 180/65b16 81h at the rear. The soft compound tuff-up tyres get a classic, white wall finish, along with 60 spoke wheels which add up to the retro look of the motorcycle.
Engine and performance: A near locomotive feel
The Indian Chief Vintage, in a way, fulfilled my childhood dream of driving a locomotive! Indian Motorcycles boast a tremendous amount of torque. The Thunder Stroke 111’s basic architecture is based on the V-twins found in classic Indian Motorcycles. The air and oil-cooled V-twin comes with beefy parallel pushrod tubes. The left side works towards the air intake while the right side is dedicated to drive.
The Thunder Stroke also incorporates heritage inspired design elements such as the angular fin valve covers, classic 2/3rd head to cylinder neck down bodies and distinctive downward ported exhaust headers. As many as eight sensors feed the ECU data by taking over 400 measurements per second to ensure optimum fuel-air mixture. That’s that with the technical jargons. Here is how the motorcycle performs in real like.
The 1811cc engine puts out a massive 139Nm of torque which pulls the 380 kilogram (with full tank of fuel) motorcycle with “utmost” ease. Why do we emphasise on utmost? Try moving the motorcycle around without starting the engine and you would soon realise what we are talking about.
But this does not mean that you would have to hit the gym two times a day and have a burly physique to ride the motorcycle. Once in action, you barely feel the weight and it is fairly easy to manoeuvre the Chief Vintage. Taking a U-turn though, with the 2634mm length, is quite a task and you end up doing some leg exercise.
The torque kicks in from the lowest of RPMs and is delivered throughout the range. And although the motorcycle is meant to be an ideal tool for leisure cruising, it propels to three digit speeds in a matter of seconds. The six-speed manual transmission is crisp and precise and except a couple of false neutrals (throughout the day), we did not find anything to complain about. The throttle-by-wire system ensured smooth acceleration without excessive wheel spin. Long highway voyages are fairly easy thanks to the cruise control feature. Lock the motorcycle on a particular speed using the cruise control and let the electronics do the rest!
The Chief Vintage that we received for testing was loaded with an aftermarket slip-on free flow exhaust which added to the grunty sound and more power.
But what would be sufficient to stop a near 400 kilogram piece of mass moving at three digit speeds? This requires some really potent braking capacity and the job is nicely executed by 300mm dual floating rotor four piston caliper dual brake at the front and single floating rotor two piston caliper 300mm at the rear which come standard with anti-lock brakes. Once the anchor is dropped, the motorcycle comes to a standstill in a remarkably short amount of time giving the rider the confidence of late braking.
Ergonomics: The Couch Competitor
The last five motorcycles I rode were naked roadsters. So hopping on the Indian Chief Vintage was like jumping from an iOS device to the vintage circular dial telephones of yore. The first thing you realise is the couch-like comfy seat that you place your rear on. It’s wide, well padded and sculpted for optimum riding comfort. Then you reach out for the handlebar which is inclined towards the rider with the grips curving inwards for easy accessibility and straight forward riding posture. The foot boards, like typical cruiser motorcycles, are forward placed. The rider’s triangle somewhat resembles the sitting position on the couch on a lazy Sunday (well, minus the handlebar).
Once in motion, you come to realise how easy it is to ride the motorcycle. Of course, one may have a really difficult time in bumper to bumper traffic but that’s not where the Chief Vintage is supposed to be ridden. Cast aluminium frame handles the weight and massive power of the motorcycle quite well. You can lean into a corner with immense confidence thanks to the sturdy frame and wide, soft-compound tyres. The well distributed torque is a blessing doing the same.
Taller gear range means less frequent shifting. Engage the third gear and you can ride the Chief Vintage like an automatic transmission motorcycle on city roads. The motorcycle holds its ground with ease as the Godzilla-like-weight provides maximum stability even on higher speeds. The 18-inch windscreen comes handy as it deflects all the oncoming air over the rider, further enhancing the aerodynamics and avoiding any windblasts.
The ride quality, thanks to the suspension setup and the soft, well padded saddle make uneven surfaces feel like a baby’s smooth skin. Taking it over a few bad patches of roads made us realise that the suspension setup and the soft saddle work extraordinarily well and, at times, you may not even realise that you rode over a small pothole or an uneven surface. And if the comfort level is still not enough, you can get yourself a rider backrest as an accessory for those long highway hauls. Comfort aspect for the pillion too has been thoroughly thought of. Our photographer friend stepped up to the task. Although he did suggest that a backrest would come handy, he was fairly satisfied with the shape, design and padding of the seat.
There are a few niggles though. Firstly, it is fairly difficult to push the motorcycle backward and you just can’t pray enough for a reverse gear. Moreover, the non-adjustable clutch lever may cause trouble if you’ve got small hands. But that is something that one can live with.
The Indian Chief Vintage, in many aspects, feels like a time machine that takes you back to the yesteryears. But the modern technology adds to the safety net making it every bit of modern day motorcycle that one can ride. It somehow reminds us of the Avengers because of its diverse characteristics. It has the weight and holds huge power like the Hulk, carries technological advances like the Iron Man, roars like the thundering Thor, is a historic hero like Captain America, grabs attention like Natasha Romanoff and comes with the precision like Hawkeye.
The weight and size may appear intimidating to some but crack up the engine, start riding and you would come to realise that it is a walk in the park. The excessive length and longer turning radius does make you feel uneasy while manoeuvring the motorcycle but you really have to pick this one for a Sunday morning drive out of town. If you want to use this beauty for your daily commute to work, then may god grant you some wisdom. One may also think that the 28.49 lakh INR (ex-showroom) price tag is a little hefty but what you do get in the package is unmatched build quality, authenticate American heritage, finest quality materials and unbelievable attention to detail – in all, the best cruiser motorcycling experience money can buy.
That’s our take on the motorcycle. Here is a picture gallery that would help you understand the motorcycle in details. Do let us know your thoughts and opinions about the review and photographs through comments below.
|DRY WEIGHT||364 KG /379 KG (801 LBS / 835 LBS)|
|DISPLACEMENT||1811 CC (111 CU IN)|
|ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN|
|DRIVE/DRIVEN CLUTCH||WET, MULTI-PLATE|
|EXHAUST||SPLIT DUAL EXHAUST W/ CROSS-OVER|
|FUEL SYSTEM||CLOSED LOOP FUEL INJECTION / 54MM BORE|
|TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE||2.2 : 1|
|TRANSMISSION/PRIMARY DRIVE||GEAR DRIVE WET CLUTCH|
|BORE X STROKE (MM)||101MM X 113MM (3,976″ X 4,449″)|
|ENGINE TYPE||THUNDER STROKE® 111|
|PEAK TORQUE (J1349 FT-LBS)||138.9 NM (102.4 FT-LBS)|
|PEAK TORQUE RPM||3000 RPM/2600 RPM|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||TELESCOPIC FORK/119 MM (4.7 IN) – 46MM CARTRIDGE FORKS WITH DUAL RATE SPRINGS|
|REAR SUSPENSION||SINGLE SHOCK / 94 MM|
|FRONT BRAKES||DUAL / FLOATING ROTOR / 4 PISTON CALIPER DUAL FRONT / 300MM WITH ANTI-LOCK BRAKES|
|REAR BRAKES||SINGLE / FLOATING ROTOR / 2 PISTON CALIPER / 300MM WITH ANTI-LOCK BRAKES|
|GEAR RATIO (OVERALL)|
|1ST||9.403 : 1|
|2ND||6.411 : 1|
|3RD||4.763 : 1|
|4TH||3.796 : 1|
|5TH||3.243 : 1|
|6TH||2.789 : 1|
|TIRES / WHEELS|
|FRONT TIRES||DUNLOP® AMERICAN ELITE 130/90B16 67H|
|REAR TIRES||DUNLOP® AMERICAN ELITE 180/65B16 81H|
|WHEELS||60 SPOKE 16 X 3.5″ FRONT AND 16″ X 5″ REAR”|
|FUEL CAPACITY||20.8 LITRES|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||142 MM|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||1490 MM|
|OVERALL WIDTH||1012 MM|
|SEAT HEIGHT||660.4 MM|
|OVERALL LENGTH||2634 MM (103.7 IN)|
|INSTRUMENTATION||ABS; CAST ALUMINUM FRAME WITH INTEGRATED AIR-BOX; CRUISE CONTROL; HIGHWAY BAR; INDIAN SCRIPT TANK BADGE; KEYLESS START; LIGHT BAR; DESERT TAN GENUINE LEATHER SEATS; QUICK RELEASE LEXAN WINDSHIELD; QUICK RELEASE VINTAGE LEATHER SADDLE BAGS; VINTAGE FENDER BADGE|
|STANDARD EQUIPMENT||ABS; CAST ALUMINUM FRAME WITH INTEGRATED AIR-BOX; CRUISE CONTROL; HIGHWAY BAR; INDIAN SCRIPT TANK BADGE; KEYLESS START; LIGHT BAR; GENUINE LEATHER SEATS; QUICK RELEASE LEXAN WINDSHIELD; QUICK RELEASE VINTAGE LEATHER SADDLE BAGS; VINTAGE FENDER BADGE|