Story by Ray Seidel
Though now made in Spirit Lake, Iowa, as most readers know, “Indian Moto cycle” was born in 1901 in Springfield, Massachusetts. Production of motorcycles continued until around the summer of 1953, though Indian did NOT (contrary to Wikipedia) go bankrupt – they were acquired by the Brits. Sales continued through several different owners through the years – mostly rebadged imports, and in fact one could step into a showroom in every decade in this century and last and buy a brand new Indian. (Look it up in Kelly Blue Book). The last time we saw an all-new Indian Scout was model year 2004. It was the end of the line for Indians made in Gilroy, California, but for 2004 the Scout was coming into its own with a fresh design of new sleek and sexy sheet metal coupled with an all new Indian badged 92 cubic inch engine with round cylinder heads similar to the Power Plus 100 used in the Chief. These were gutsy motors contracted out to S&S, and sorry, they have long since been sold out. The 2003 and earlier models were basically badge-engineered plain vanilla cruisers with off the shelf parts and motor with Indian window dressing. This is not to say they were unattractive bikes! They were of a clean, classic style with “Indian” flavoring, and a good looking alternative to the Harley-Davidson line-up. However, the DNA of these Scouts clearly originated in Milwaukee, not Springfield. Only a handful of 2004 Indians were made when production stopped in September 2003, and again, they did NOT go bankrupt – they were acquired by the Brits.
Flash back to the last Indian Scouts made in Springfield. Indian was typically ahead of its time, resources permitting. Such was the case in the late 40’s when they looked into getting into the light weight motorcycle market with vertical twins and singles. We all know how the Japanese dominated that market over the coming decades. Springfield had high hopes with these bikes, even to the point of stopping production of its signature big cruiser, the Chief, in 1949 to concentrate on the Scout. Sad to say, Indian’s post war quality controls for these new light weights was poor, and were shipped to dealers who were left to deal with a number of problems. For the record, the Springfield factory was able to pull themselves together and again build and ship improved quality products, but by 1952 they were down to their last nickel and threw in the towel on this line. When today’s Spirit Lake Indian looked for a new “Scout”, they didn’t look at this offshoot, they looked further back.
A couple of years ago Polaris Industries’ Vice President of Motorcycles, Steve Menneto, was on hand at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, CA, to tease the new Chief coming out in several months. We spent a bit of time talking, I discussing how Springfield Indian became the world’s (repeat world’s) largest manufacturer of motorcycles, and their missteps to failure. And to my astonishment, that the Gilroy Indian factory made the exact same missteps to failure. Did the management at Gilroy not study the history of the company? From the beginning, Polaris has done their homework on the history of Indian, and who the buyers of the brand are. But they did not stop at just cracking the covers of books. The crew at Indian got out actual real Indian motorcycles made in Springfield to test ride, and to find out firsthand about the reputation, the feel, the ride, the quality, the magic of riding an “Indian.”
As our conversation continued, I mentioned that while many think the Indian Chief is the best looking motorcycle ever made, many think the Indian 101 Scout is the best Indian ever made. This would be a logical follow-up to the Chief. There was nothing on the 101 Scout that didn’t belong or was missing, and the ride position was perfect. Steve listened to this, and I’m certain heard this exact same thing many, many times from others. They had something cooking on the back burner. They were eyeballing the Scout in general and the 101 in particular. However, this bike would not follow the same path as its big brother the Chief.
AN AGING MARKET
New statistics compiled by the Motorcycle Industry Council show that the median age of California motorcycle owners was 45 in 2012, up from 33 in 1990 and 41 in 2009. However this is somewhat misleading as almost 40% of the study’s respondents were 50 and older – compared with only 10% in that age range in 1990. Also, there are more licensed motorcyclists in California without a motorcycle than there are licensed riders who own one. A core audience is rapidly aging out. To wit: While at the Laughlin River Run a couple of years ago, I was marveling at the new Indian 111 Thunder Stroke engine (the bike itself had not yet been revealed). In my opinion, even better looking than the previous Power Plus. Clearly robust engineering, 3 cams (with huge cam chain tensioners) plus the finned valve covers that hearken back to the look of the Springfield flatheads. Fantastic job of capturing that “look” of the originals in every possible way. Yet still, this was a two valves per cylinder, pushrod engine. I told the engineer at the display that Indian was known for innovation, and sort of expected something ahead of the curve? He explained THIS was for those who wanted that old-school recognizably “Indian” motor, but that didn’t mean they didn’t have something modern in the works.
And now we know, the NEW Scout is retro-ultra modern, having a water cooled 100 horsepower, double overhead cam, 4 valves per cylinder engine, as well as the modern styling, middle weight body with DNA that goes back to Springfield. For people who want to ride – including younger ages, and women – here is a motorcycle you might want to own, something other than a “Classic” heavy cruiser.
By the way, though the Scout is considered a “middle-weight motorcycle” today – our grandparents would not think of it as such. In comparison to the big Chief cruiser they rode in the ’40’s and early ‘50’s, it’s essentially the same size bike. Weight: Scout – 558lbs, Chief 560 lbs. Wheelbase: Scout – 61.5 in., Chief 62 in. Fuel capacity: Scout – 3.3 gal., Chief 3.5 gal. Grandpa would be very much at home riding this Indian!
Quick Throttle had Scouts for 3 weeks, so this is not a review after a 20-minute demo ride, or a single day; this is what it’s like to live with one for several hundred miles and getting to know its personality, pro and con. I had already seen YOUTUBE videos of different riders and a number of reviews, so I had a good idea of what to expect. After picking up a red pre-production model at the warehouse in Redlands, I was eager to log some serious time on this bike. Now note – the new Scout has the 1200cc market in general, and the Harley-Davidson Sportster in particular clearly in its sights, and in fact – to the dollar – both bikes in gloss black (Sportster 1200 Custom) are the same price: $10,999. And as I own a Sportster myself, I will highlight a few things that are different, and the same.
Now, I already knew from rider comments that this bike was quick. Was it? Well, put the spurs to this baby, and it’ll snap your head right back. Chiropractors will LOVE this bike! I’ll put it another way: not once in all the time I had the Scout was I able to pull out all the stops before it met or exceeded my acceleration requirements! Right away it had a great feel, sitting IN the bike (like the original Scout) rather than ON the motorcycle, as with the Sporty. This was intentional on the part of Indian, to get that same ergonomics. To my great surprise, foot pegs had the exact same reach, the same as the forward controls on my Sporty. The Scout does one better for extra tall or short riders with pegs that go 4” farther out, or that go back. The bars and seats can also be changed over for taller/shorter riders, but designed for that sweet spot for most riders. I happen to be 6’ 2” and 230 pounds of fighting flab, and the bike seemed to fit me just fine. We’ll get more into custom set-up later. It did seem however the steering did not turn as tightly as on the Sportster. Once firing up the Indian there’s another difference from the Harley – rather than the potato potato potato sound, there is a smooth purr of a throaty wildcat. The Indian Chief is much the same, even though the engines could not be more different.
Leaving the warehouse, the road leading to the Interstate was being worked on and chopped up, so you know how that is, yet the Scout seemed not to notice this broken road at all, while my Sporty (which I rode up on) transmitted every imperfection. Not harshly, but still. The Chief is the same way, again, even though a different kind of bike. I was LOOKING for potholes when I test rode a Chief Vintage, yet it just rode over everything as smooth as glass. One issue I noticed in a few YOUTUBE videos is some say the rear suspension is too soft and can bottom out. Again, at my weight, I did not experience that, though I did not take it on any old cow trails.
1st DAY ON THE ROAD
Riding up the steep Cajon Pass on I-15 towards Victorville, the Scout zipped along like a cruise missile past the pokey trucks and faster cages. What limited my speed was no windshield on the bike (as there is on mine) so I had a gorilla grip on the bars to hang on. I decided to take the scenic Route 66 to Barstow at a comfortable cruising speed of 55 to see if it’s as comfortable as its great-grandfather. A key difference between this and a Sportster Custom is the smaller 3.3 gallon tank, even though it looks large (4.5 gal on Sporty Custom, both the XL1200C and XL883C). That can limit range… however, I averaged 47 miles per gallon in mixed driving (with a high of 53 mpg) which ought to get you 130 miles before the warning light comes on telling you there’s another ½ gallon left to the next filling station. HOWEVER – I want to remind you readers this was a pre-production bike. You recall SATURN automobiles? Their pre-production cars didn’t get mid-30’s mpg, they got mid 40’s or better, so something happened between R&D and the assembly line. I would recommend you do a check on your bike if you get one. One thing I really like is the Space Shuttle style locking gas cap with a metal ring around the opening, so less likely to scratch the paint during fueling. A 3rd lever by the clutch lets you zero out the odometer, and can also toggle to RPM if you wish. Sporty owners will have to get use to the kick stand being further back, and L & R turn signals are both on the left side.
Continuing my ride out of Barstow and back on the Interstate to Hesperia, the engine at freeway speeds is purring effortlessly, the bike does everything I tell it without hesitation, but the saddle is getting pretty uncomfortable. With the banana seat on the Sportster one can scoot forward and back to alter the pressure points on the butt bones; on the John Deere tractor style saddle on the Scout, as good looking and comfy as it is at the start, there’s no room for movement. Four hours into the ride and I pull over for a combo burrito & Coke at Baker’s in Hesperia for a needed break and some fuel. By now the sun is setting, and I’m back on the Scout for a night ride. The instruments light up in bomber pilot red, and include an ABS idiot light. There is no ABS on American bikes, but there are for exports where it is required for insurance reasons in other counties. Both the Sporty and Scout have the speedo needle that is at 12 o’clock at 60 mph, so at night only a glance is needed to check your speed. After six hours of riding my first day, I’m loving the Scout, but the seat was a serious pain in the you know what. But more on that later.
LIVING WITH THE SCOUT
Filling up the Indian Scout at the local gas station draws an instant crowd. People from THREE different gas pumps rush over to check it out, ask questions, and salivate all over it. Starting the bike is a touch of the starter button, and it cranks on its own until it fires up. Riding through Old Town Temecula on a weekend, the traffic is slooow, stop, slooow, stop, again, and again. This brings to light two things. One, the electronic brain controlling the engine speed will not allow it to go below 1500-2000 rpm. Try to lug this engine, and it will push right back. Second, even though this is a water cooled engine, it throws out a LOT of heat on the right leg at walking speed or less. I’ll add that steering effort at slow speeds is non-existent. At stop and normal speeds on surface streets and highway, feedback from the bars is what anyone would expect, but at a crawl the feeling of power steering on an ice rink takes getting use to – I want the bit of resistance so I know I’m in control. Parked in front of a local watering hole in Old Town, as fate would have it another guy on a red Scout passed by, swung around, and we compared notes. He just bought his in another State, and though not happy with the dealer, loved the bike. His only issue was there was a lag in the fly-bywire throttle. His dealer’s fix was for him to buy a stage one exhaust ($1000) which seemed to solve the problem. My pre-production bike had no such delay in throttle response; it was perfect.
Scouts are designed for easy service, for the most part. For the DIY set, dealers have an oil change kit ($80) with a filter and synthetic oil. Drain plugs are easy to get to, the filter not so much. Depending on what type of filter wrench you have, you may (or may not) have to pull the horn. Air filter is another matter, that gas tank has to come off (and seat) to get to it.
Another weekend day trip to Julian, and again people come out from everywhere to ask about the bike, sit on it, have their picture taken with it, and tell me about their family members that once owned an Indian, and generally lust after it. I think I probably “sold” a dozen bikes that one day alone just responding to questions from people wanting to know more about it. Riding down the twisty road on the return trip, and having spent hundreds of miles on this Scout, it occurs to me the bike has become almost telepathic in anticipating whether I want to move to the left, a steady sway to the right, or jump to warp speed. Stopping at a back country saloon, and fielding another round of questions, I was able to chill a bit and view the Scout from a different vantage point looking at the sculpted lines as a theme from the rear fender to the front, and how they all fit together. I already admired the sharp edged tank, its badging, and the design motif of pushrods on the engine to honor its past history. Also the Brough Superior style exhaust appeals to me, even though nothing like the 101 Scout. Motorcycles are considered three things: 1) transportation, 2) a work of art, and 3) Best Friend. The Scout is a work of art with a capital “A.” And as fond as I am of my own motorcycles, with this bike I think I understood the relationship between Roy Rogers and Trigger – you just bond together almost from the start… and it does what you’re thinking.
There are a couple of things I’d like to see on the Scout. The original had floorboards. Having floorboards on MY Indian, I appreciate not having my feet locked into one position on long rides. However, there are aftermarket floorboards available, probably ready when you read this. Original Scouts also had pin striping, almost a lost art today. Would be nice if the factory put frosting on the cake. Now, what about that pain in the butt saddle? It looks great, feels fine on a short spin, but after more than two hours became a problem…at first. Logging hundreds of miles on the new Scout, the leather saddle slowly seemed to break in and conform to my ischial callosities for a much more comfortable experience on a day trip. Give it some time. Moreover, Corbin now has great looking Sporty style seats which offer more wiggle room fore and aft if you want to look into that.
So – city bike, or all purpose cruiser? Indian didn’t come up with this bike through market research, but is designed for the urban environment, running around town, as that second bike, being a touring bike, that kind of world. It’s a solo rider bike right out of the box unlike the Sportster. Again, designed to fit into that happy medium of different size riders – some from the 1200cc market going up in size, some from the larger big cruiser size, most will find a good fit. However, Indian showed us in the media how that can be tweaked for riders on either side of the bell curve. With the tallest person they could find, they put him on a Scout set up for the smallest. First change the foot pegs, as mentioned above, with some further out. Next, the seat pops right off, and replaced with one that places the rider further back. Handle bars come off with four allen bolts, now a longer reach for the taller rider, and thus a perfect fit. All now available at the dealer.
For those who like the bike because it’s smaller and very powerful, plus the great handling, some will want to expand on that. Highway bars for up front, and Stage 1 exhaust with a bit more noise and more torque (certified in California) can be added. All accessories are tested and measured as a whole system with the bike – the quality of the chrome, the vibrations, fading, all that stuff – that’s why the accessories lag behind the bike, because they test everything they sell. Remember, it’s a solo bike, but you can add a luggage rack (quick release) on the back, a passenger seat that appears thick enough to prevent a mutiny from your rider, and passenger pegs that mount so they won’t move so much when you hit a bump.
Saddlebags are much the same as on the Chief – 2 cams flip for quick release. Passenger backrest pops off easy as well. (And one for you if you like, too.) The windscreens were designed early on in the program. The bike has no hardware for it, it’s all in the windscreen itself, so you can change from a tall to a short if it’s really hot in just seconds. So there it is; awesome sauce. I urge in the most animated fashion to take a test ride and prepare for a big grin. And how impressed was I, really? Answer: I just bought one.
Many thanks to Indian Motorcycle Company for the loaner. http://www.indianmotorcycle.com/en-us
– as we went to press, a recall notice was issued for the 2015 Scout – about 800 units manufactured from May 12, 2014, to Feb. 13, 2015, for inspection of and to possibly replace the rear brake master cylinder, NHTSA announced.
A defect identified with the rear brake master cylinder, manufactured for Indian by Zhejiang Jingke Auto Parts Co. Ltd. of China, could cause the motorcycle to have a reduction or a complete loss of rear brake power.
Indian said it received warranty claims on Jan. 15 and Feb. 18 related to the problem but that neither incident resulted in an accident or injuries. Dealers are asked to inspect and if necessary replace the rear brake master cylinder free of charge.