Photos by Mike Dalgaard, Lisa Dalgaard, Barry Hathaway and Indian Motorcycle Company
Sunday morning, August 4th was “pedal to the metal” day. After attending a truly unique and fun reveal ceremony in downtown Sturgis the night before, I was finally going to get to ride one or more of the all new Indian Motorcycles. Walking into the Alfa Romeo garage just a block from my hotel in Rapid City, I was greeted by what looked like an acre of new Indian models including the Chief, the Vintage and the Chieftain. Parked in neat rows were 44 new bikes and after a short briefing on the bikes including how to start them using the keyless ignition and some technical questions, I was turned loose along with about 35 other press members for a ride into Sturgis. What made it extra cool was that we all got to choose our own bike. No stuffy formality here, just the feeling that you were a kid in a candy store with an unlimited allowance! Given my love of the traditional Indian styling I jumped on a red Vintage, took a quick look at the controls and hit the start button. The powerful and throaty sound of the new Thunderstroke 111 greeted my ears as the bike roared to life. What a kick. I eased the bike into gear and rolled it slowly out of the garage and up to the back of the pack as we staged for a fun two hour ride through the back roads of the Black Hills. Then on into Sturgis for lunch and a press briefing.
While pictures were being taken, I took stock of the bike from the drivers seat. The fit and finish are all top notch. The dash contained a very large speedometer, start button and a very legible gas gauge. Within the speedo near the bottom, is a window that contains various digital read outs for the tranny, the time, warning notes and more. The Vintage comes with a quick disconnect windshield which I left in place as I prefer a windshield when I ride. The base Chief model does not come with one but it can be added later. The pullback handlebars and the chromed upper controls were almost a custom fit for me as was the seat and the seat height. At 5’10’’ and 172 lbs, that in itself made me feel very comfortable. I was literally in my perfect riding position. Nice big floorboards, a chromed toe shifter, large foot brake, also chromed and a noticeable lack of wires completed my quick look around. I felt instantly at home on this bike.
As the group pulled out, I applied power, shifted up and was taken with how smooth everything felt and how well things seem to mesh. Within two miles I was as much at home on this all new motorcycle as I am on my personal ride of some 12 years. Very impressive. Shifting was fast, easy, positive. Clutch pull was a bit tight but this was after all a brand new bike with only about 40 miles of break in on it.
The motor was the real attention getter. Very smooth, very responsive and very powerful. As we motored out of Rapid City, I got caught at a very quick yellow/red light and got my first real feel for the ABS brakes. WOW! I literally made a perfect, fast, well balanced stop. Neither of my personal rides has ABS and I was impressed.
The light created a significant break in the pack and I was able to spread out a bit. Stop and go at a few lights and finally we had escaped the confines of Rapid City and were up into the foothills. It was then that this bike really began to show me what it had.
As we spaced out a bit and got into the rhythm of the roads I just fell more and more in love with the bike especially the motor. Each up shift and power upgrade was very smooth and you just knew there was lots more “go” where that came from. Now I hear all of you asking “Is there an Indian sound ala the very famous, very well known Harley sound?” Indeed there is and it’s quite different but also distinctive. Throaty, but smooth and a bit tight, but definitely this motor has its own identity and it will easily find its own loyal fans once it’s on the street in numbers.
After hanging with the pack a bit longer and riding past some of the pre-designated camera positions —smiling of course— I made the decision to bend the rules a bit and take off on my own. As the turn off for Nemo came up, I took a right and was suddenly alone with the bike on a really spectacular road. My theory is that when you ride in a group you make subconscious concessions to the group’s style of riding and your focus is on staying in touch with the group and not on getting to know the bike. Given my 15 or so trips to Sturgis I feel I know the Black Hills around Nemo, Sturgis, Deadwood and Rapid City and was comfortable enough that I wanted to see what the bike would do when I rode it my way. This proved to be a great decision. As I headed for Nemo I took some cutoff roads that put me up higher into the local hills on some real challenging twisties and the bike loved them. It handles like a much lighter bike than it is. I had not checked the weight specs and I felt like I was riding a motorcycle that weighed in at around 650 lbs. Later that night when I got back and checked the weight spec I was shocked to find it had a dry weight of 801 lbs! Plus I did have a full load of fuel, some cameras and small gear. The bike just felt very nimble, very comfortable and fun!
After some more of the same including a couple of tight slow right-handers where you break down from 50+ to under 20 and a lope through the canyon, I took a side road and rejoined the group at their rest stop in Nemo. From there we went down the canyon towards Sturgis where a few of us broke away again, and then on into Sturgis via Lazelle street. The slow ride, sometimes walk down and then up Lazelle gave me my only two complaints of the day. At my height my legs are very close in to the bike and after awhile the air cleaner on the left gets pretty warm and my upper leg noticed it. I also miss my heel shifter for down shifts but that was pretty much it. Overall this big motor runs very cool and I know that was a design priority of the engine team.
Even at ultra slow speeds this bike handles very well. After a very informative technical press briefing and lunch, I rode around Sturgis a bit and then headed back to rapid City via I-90. This was a purposeful choice as that section of I-90 going east has a stretch where the road rises up going over a low land plains area and the cross winds are usually a bitch. I wanted to see how the new leaner look of the Indian’s famous valance fenders would do at freeway speeds and some nasty crosswinds. It would also give me a chance to see how the stock windshield fared under the same conditions. Up till now it had been perfect. The winds were indeed ripping thru the area and if you didn’t pay attention they would move you around a bit, but it was nothing like the “sail” affect I get when I ride my ’03 Gilroy Indian under those same conditions. Not even close, and the windshield was a gem. I was literally in a cocoon of stable air and moderate if not low attention to steering kept me on my chosen line as I motored sedately towards Rapid City. Great bike if you are stuck on the slab. During one of the briefings I learned that all 3 bikes went through extensive wind tunnel testing. Obviously it paid off. Arriving in Rapid City I took my time going through town, and at every light other riders did a double take at the bike just like in Sturgis and Nemo. It was a show stopping crowd pleaser. Good for the ego even when you haven’t paid for your ride!
The next day I got to ride both the basic Chief and the top of the line Chieftain with the fairing. I loved them both but my heart belongs to the Vintage. Its styling just can’t be beat, and yes that’s a very personal observation because I love retro looking bikes. Yet even though I love the old styling I want all of today’s performance, power, comfort and tech, and this bike delivers all of that and more for under $21K. Indian in my book has a sure fire winner here. I could not find a major flaw in the whole package. Later in the year we will publish my road test of the Chieftain so keep an eye out for it.