2015 Indian Chief Classic Review
Originally published in Cycle Source Magazine
2015 Indian Chief Classic Road Test
By J. Ken Conte
In some circles, it might be called a bias, having a preconceived notion that influences later decisions. In my case, I consider it a well-informed history with an archetypal brand that piqued my interest twenty years ago and has never been off my radar since.
The Indian bug bit me after I talked my way into managing an Indian dealership over a decade ago. I liked the nostalgia—the iconic branding and the fact that it was different from what my friends were riding. I happened into a 2000 Indian Chief—a cream-and-dark metallic-blue two-tone—and it was the first new vehicle I ever bought and the first American V-Twin I ever owned. It came with all the Gilroy Indian issues. But working for a dealer, I knew all the fixes, and, before it ever went on the road, I set it up with roller rocker arms, billet S&S valve covers, 12-inch ape hangers, and a sissy bar, because I was newly married and wanted to log some miles with my wife.
One thing led to another, and eventually someone made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I wish I’d never gotten rid of that bike, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have gotten to experience what I consider to be a real Indian motorcycle: I bought a 1948 Indian Chief sight unseen off eBay in 2002. It had a left-hand throttle, right-hand tank shift, and a 6-volt electrical system. The ethereal feeling of kicking an antique beast alive is unrivaled. She had some quirks, so I rode her around my yard until I got used to her. Then it was highway time.
I ultimately had to get rid of that bike, too, for financial reasons, and I regret that sale as well. Great bikes are like great guitars: you rationalize a way to sell them, in tough times, maybe, but deep down you know you’re blowing it. When I get another chance at a vintage Indian Chief that I can make a runner, not only will I take that opportunity, but I’ll never let another one go. I’ll sell a kidney first.
With as much experience and heartbreak as I’ve had with the Indian brand, I’ve always kept an eye on what happens with it. I was aware of the Kings-Mountain Indian revival, and I knew there were some major technological issues with the existing Powerplus 100 platform. When Polaris bought out Kings Mountain, I knew there was promise, but it seemed impossible to make a real go of reviving Indian yet again—but I stayed hopeful. Wary but hopeful.
Before I ever threw a leg over the 2015 Indian Chief Classic, I was full of reservations and anticipation. I’d heard only good things about the Chief, but I couldn’t dispel my preconceived notions about that bike. Although I was convinced it could never rival a ’48, I did hope it would at least blow the Gilroy away. What I found, upon mounting, is an original motorcycle in a class all its own, neither Gilroy nor vintage. It has the long wheelbase of the Gilroy Indian, but all similarities stop there. It has the iconic Indian-headdress fender light, similar to my ’48, but, beyond that, it’s all new and all Polaris. I immediately recognized the stability in the long wheelbase (probably because I made the trek from Los Angeles to Redlands to see it on a Buell Ulysses). I felt sure-footed and started acquainting myself with all the bells and whistles.
The Classic is the stripped down version of the Chief, and it has that nimble feel you expect from a much smaller bike. I maneuvered through the streets of Redlands with no problems and opened it up on the highway, heading for escape toward Crestline. That mountain road was made for the Chief: long sweeping curves begging to be leaned into, gobs of power at a twist of the wrist—the bike ate that mountain alive. I leaned into the turns but couldn’t get the floorboards to scrape—I remembered this being a problem with previous Indians, and I’ve had similar problems with other touring models. Not so with this Chief!
No matter where I was in the power band, a flick of the wrist and a smooth shifting transmission got me up to passing speed in a jiff. You expect wind buffeting on the highway when you’re in a comfortable riding position on a cruiser with no windshield.
But the thing about the Chief is that you don’t sit on the bike, you sit with it. You’re a part of it. Wind doesn’t matter. Neither does rain. Those of you who’ve ridden a bike and felt sure footed, felt that the handlebar position is exactly right, felt that your posture is perfect know what I’m talking about. You are the bike. It sounds cheesy and clichéd—unless you’ve experienced it. Then it’s gospel. I took the bike out for the afternoon, and when it came time to return it and climb back on the Buell Ulysses, I was scheming hard, trying to figure out how to dump the Ulysses and take the Chief. But that dream would have to wait. The Buell proved very useful when splitting lanes as I made may way back to the city, where the wide bars of the Chief would have proved daunting for a first time lane splitter.
The Chief Classic is free of vibration and gives you the sense that you can just point the bike in the right direction, fill it with gas every so often, and it’ll go all day, and you’ll be no worse for wear. That was part of the problem, which leads me back to my bias. I am used to greasy, leaky, kick-only bikes. It’s basically a battle every time I get on my ride, and when I return to the garage, I feel like a vanquisher. I like the struggle, breathing fire into a bike, taking its best shot, and coming out victorious. But I also appreciate the sense of ease and comfort I got from pushing a button and climbing aboard a steady, strong machine like the Chief, aiming it at the sunset, and knowing I’d get a thumbs up from every person I passed.
Hot Leathers Made in the USA Jacket
I have ridden in the same jacket since I was 19 years old. It has thousands of miles on it. It’s been used as pillow and had a new arm sewed on (didn’t bungee it well enough to my sissy bar one time, and it ended up under my rear fender). It’s kept me safe. To wear a new jacket almost seems like cheating. But there was no denying the new Hot Leathers Made in the USA racer jacket felt great when I first put it on. It has the extra heft of a good leather jacket that will keep you protected. When I got on the Chief, fired her up, hit the highway, and felt the wind, I knew I’d found my new riding leather. The arm length is perfect—obviously designed by riders. I don’t have to continually pull the back down, and it zips easily, even with gloves on. I’ve ridden on warm days, and it ventilates well when I unzip. Overall, an excellent jacket, especially for the price. You could say Made in the USA made me make the switch. www.hotleathers.com
American Kargo Trooper backpack
Not having saddlebags on my bike, I know what a good backpack should feel like. When I saw the American Kargo Trooper pack, I’ll admit I thought it looked a little over the top. My REI pack had worked for years, so why would I need a rider-specific pack? But after looking a little closer and seeing all the smart rider comforts, I changed my tune. I was getting ready for a trip, and I thought, “What the hell?” I wore the Trooper. The laptop compartment is very useful and composed of a material that makes sliding a computer in and out of it painless. I rode over 300 miles in one day, with the pack fully loaded and not resting on the fender, and the difference compared to a traditional pack was remarkable. My riding companion told me that the pack lit up like a Christmas tree with the littlest bit of light, adding to the safety factor. The arrangement of the compartments makes for easy organization, and it felt great wearing it. When it came time to pack up for home, I lashed everything I had to the trooper—even slinging my helmet and jacket in its helmet keeper, leaving my hands free. Getting the Trooper off was the easy part, two quick release buckles made it a snap to ditch the pack quickly. The Trooper is totally worth the $180 price tag if you need a sturdy-yet-easy-to-use pack for the long haul. www.americankargo.com
Run With The Bulls Jeans by Speed and Strength
I have never owned a pair of reinforced jeans but thought I would give them a try. Although a little tight in the waist (maybe go a size larger in the waste?), I found them to be a relaxed fit and knew that if I went down I would have extra Kevlar protection in the knee and . I wore them for an entire day of riding and found them to be as flexible and ventilated as any traditional pair of jeans. If I could take only one pair of jeans on a trip it would be these because of their construction and they are cut for riding. www.ssgear.com