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Test Drive: The classy Indian Chief Vintage

Indian Motorcycles, for the uninitiated, is a glittering jewel in the history of the two-wheeled world. It is the oldest surviving American motorcycle maker in the world, and was at the very pinnacle of motorcycle technology during its formative years. Founded by George Hendee and Carl Oscar Hedström in 1901, Indian Motorcycles’ models held several records for being the fastest things on two wheels in their heydays.

Indian Motorcycle
Price: Rs 28.5 lakh (ex-showroom)

The First World War, and the need to meet the military demand from the US government in 1917, however, dried up the company’s dealerships. Harley-Davidson, in the meantime snatched the top spot in 1920. The Second World War sounded the death knell for the company and it was finally liquidated in 1953.

Those saddlebags have been made with the finest, most expensive leather. And those tassels make the Chief Vintage look like a real rockstar. PICS/AMIT CHHANGANI
Those saddlebags have been made with the finest, most expensive leather. And those tassels make the Chief Vintage look like a real rockstar. Pics/Amit Chhangani

After several failed attempts to revive the legendary brand, Polaris, the global leader in off-roaders, bought Indian Motorcycles in 2011 and turned it around splendidly. Polaris loaded Indian Motorcycles with a newly-developed 111-cubic inch Thunder Stroke engine and gave it the resource and attention it needed. Today, Indian Motorcycles has managed to resurrect itself as a venerable brand, which has the substance and heritage to sell as one of the most premium brands across the world. Let’s get astride the Indian Chief Vintage then, the saddled version of the Indian Chief series.

Indian branding is omnipresent. Thanks to the quality of materials and great workmanship, it doesn’t look awry anywhere
Indian branding is omnipresent. Thanks to the quality of materials and great workmanship, it doesn’t look awry anywhere

Design and styling
Indian Chief Vintage preserves its traditional design elements and stands out as an original among similar premium products. Among other details that the Chief Vintage borrows from its ancestors is the massive fenders and the original Indian Motorcycle red hue that it was sold in during the yesteryears. There are other colours to choose from too.

Another design detail is the War Bonnet, the classic Indian emblem. Housed in a chrome frame, the emblem represents a native Indian face and takes pride of place on the enormous front fender. The 3D Vintage brand logo can be spotted on either side of the fender.

The simple tan-mounted odometre also has a digital display which serves up dollops of useful information
The simple tan-mounted odometre also has a digital display which serves up dollops of useful information

The trinity of round headlamps lends the face of this Indian both style and function with their luminosity. The central headlamp 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, front brake lever and switchgear.

The massive fuel tank has a capacity of 20.8 litres. Running through its length is a leather strip merging into the comfy tangerine-coloured seats. At the back, the pillion seat is flanked by a pair of saddles with the lower portion featuring leather tassels to give it its rockstar look.

The Thunder Stroke 111 engine has been newly built by Polaris. It looks as good as  it performs
The Thunder Stroke 111 engine has been newly built by Polaris. It looks as good as it performs

The motorcycle has the ‘Chief Vintage’ branding all over it — and it’s done in an utterly classy, likeable way. You will find the Indian branding on the handlebar grip, bar ends, footboard and the exhaust in various materials including chrome, leather, rubber and paint. The build quality is immaculate and the Indian Chief Vintage comes across as a motorcycle that’s been built to last a lifetime.

Features and details
The tradition and heritage of the Indian brand has been garnished generously with modernity, thanks to Polaris’ technological prowess. The motorcycle comes with a keyless ignition system as a standard fitment. The motorcycle also comes with a cruise control system, so you can see the beautiful scenery blur past with minimum throttle input.

The quality switchgear covers all the necessary functions. Over the tank, you see a chrome-splattered, raised console featuring a rather simplistic looking, big speedo with a small fuel gauge and ignition button sitting atop. The speedo dial also houses a digital display which has an odometre, tachometre, two trip metres, gear indicator, fuel economy, distance to dry range, ambient temperature and a digital clock.

The 18-inch windscreen works well to prevent the rider from the wind blast at speed. It works well during the day, but the visibility is hampered at night. The seat and saddlebags feature sealed, high-quality desert tan leather which has been treated and designed to withstand the elements.

Engine and performance
The Thunder Stroke 111 engine powering the Indian Chief Vintage is a brand new, modern engine, built from the ground-up by Polaris, though it’s still architecturally based on the V-twins found on classic Indian Motorcycles to keep the character in-tact. Drenched in chrome, bouncing ever photon of light that falls over it, the resplendent engine looks like a jewel on the motorcycle when viewed side-on. And it’s a gem in terms of performance, too.

The 1811-cc engine delivers a massive 139 Nm of torque which pulls the heavy motorcycle with a wet weight of 380 kg with utmost ease. The low revving engine has bundles of torque at the lower end of the rev spectrum, and the bike just wafts at slow speeds even in higher gears. Once on the move, the intimidating looking thing is incredibly easy to ride and very manageable, as long as you don’t make any U-turns, or push it backwards with your legs that is. May we request a reverse gear, please?

As mentioned before, the torque kicks in from the lowest revs, and the bike builds speed at rapid pace. Naught to hundred is disposed in a matter of seconds, and you can let the bike settle into the effortless cruising mode thereon. The engine is mated to a six-speed transmission, which is smooth to operate, though we did manage to witness a couple of false neutrals through our day-long ride. Our test motorcycle came loaded with an aftermarket slip-on free flow exhaust which adds a bit more thunder to sound and increases the power output too.

The anchoring duties on the motorcycle are taken care of by 300 mm dual floating rotor four piston caliper discs at the front and single floating rotor two piston caliper 300 mm discs at the rear which come standard with anti-lock brakes. The Indian Chief Vintage does a splendid job of bringing its speed down for its mass.

The Chief Vintage’s suspension has been tuned for comfort. The ride quality, thanks to the suspension setup and the well-padded saddle, lets the motorcycle gobble up the broken pieces of tars without a burp. It’s perfectly at handling the intermittently appearing broken patches on Indian roads. Don’t subject it to harsh treatment though — the soft compound tyres are prone to punctures. The pillion seat, just like the driver’s saddle, is extremely comfortable.

Our verdict
The Indian Chief Vintage, or any Indian Motorcycle for that matter, is not for the value seekers. It’s obscenely expensive! It’s a grand piece of the American motoring history which has been carefully and lovingly reconstituted by Polaris. In its modern avatar, the Indian Chief Vintage remains true to its roots, and embraces modernity wherever it can while avoiding conflict with its heritage. The quality and attention to detail that has gone into the making of this motorcycle reflects in each one of its parts. You really have to take a closer look to witness the pain taken to make it the desirable product it is. So, if you are someone with a taste in tradition, and loads of money — no other motorcycle replaces this masterpiece. Go ahead, invest!

Technical specs
Indian chief vintage
Engine Displacement: 1,811 CC
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Peak torque: 138.9 NM@3,000 RPM

Rivals

Harley-Davidson Heritage
Softail Classic
This is a vintage-looking Harley with modern accessories. Motive power comes from a twin-cam 103B V-Twin engine, displacing 1,690cc, and producing 130 Nm of peak torque right from 3,000 rpm. The Softail Classic is about relaxed cruising, with its detachable windshield, stepped pillion seat, and tall handlebars. You can customise this behemoth with studded leather saddlebags to custom fenders and whitewall tyres.
Price: Rs 16,92,335 (ex-showroom)

Harley-Davidson Heritage  Softail Classic

Triumph Rocket III
The Triumph Rocket III is powered by a monstrous 2,294cc inline-triple (hence the name) producing 148PS of max power and a whopping 221 Nm of peak torque right from 2,750rpm, mated to a five-speed transmission, sadly. Named after the illustrious BSA Rocket 3 from the 1960’s, the Rocket III rides on 150 and 240-section tyres at the front and rear respectively. It’s twin-headlamps, beefy upside-down forks, wide handlebars, and massive exhausts on either side are not for the faint-hearted.
Price: Rs 20.6 lakh (ex-showroom)

Triumph Rocket III

Honda Goldwing
Ever since its launch in 1974, Honda has thrown everything but the kitchen sink at the Goldwing, and the result shows. The current Goldwing comes with three hard panniers, airbags, CBS, ABS, cruise control, electronic reverse gear, and an 80-watt stereo system. With such accouterments, the specs themselves almost take a backseat, but the Goldwing doesn’t disappoint there either. Moving the 363 kg bulk along is an 1,832cc engine, churning out 120PS of peak power and 167 Nm of max torque. The Honda Goldwing is available in two variants:
Price: Audio Comfort (Rs 28.50 lakh) and Airbag (Rs 31.50 lakh) (both ex-showroom)

Honda Goldwing

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