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Indian Chief Vintage: Revival of Iconic Cruiser

By Arv Voss, December 27th, 2014

Many think of Harley-Davidson, founded in 1903, as being the first American motorcycle manufacturer, when in fact, Indian Motorcycles produced its first motorcycle in 1901, earning the official title of the first American motorcycle.

Indian is now owned and manufactured by Polaris Industries in Spirit Lake, Iowa. Indian has gone through some serious ups and downs over the past several years since its rebirth, with on again/off again production by two prior ownerships, before Polaris (who also produces Victory motorcycles), purchased the company rights, finally putting Indian motorcycles back on track.

This latest example of the Indian Chief Vintage is essentially a modern interpretation of the original iconic classic heavy cruiser, but with well thought out improvements and enhancements. In the process of designing this iteration, Indian eliminates most of the issues that seemed to plague the two earlier attempts at revival of this motorcycle icon.

Power comes from an 1811cc (111 cu.-in.) 49 degree air/oil-cooled, "Thunder-Stroke" III V-Twin motor with closed-loop electronic fuel injection and split dual exhaust with crossover. Horsepower is not listed, but the motor produces 119.2 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,000 rpm.

The primary drive is a gear-drive wet clutch that monitors power levels to the 152-tooth final-drive belt via a six-speed constant mesh transmission with toe shifter (a heel shift-linkage accessory is an available aftermarket option).

Suspension componentry consists of telescopic 46 mm chrome forks with 4.7 inches of travel up front, and a single shock with 3.7 inches of travel in the rear. Reining in the Indian Chief Vintage are individual front and rear control brakes that utilize dual 300 mm discs with floating rotors and four-piston calipers up front and a single 300-mm disc floating rotor with two-piston caliper with ABS aft.

The Vintage Chief rolls on Dunlop American Elite whitewall tires sized 130/90B16 67H in front and 180/65B16 81H rear, mounted on chrome lace 40-spoke wheels (3.5-inch up front / 5.0-inch aft).

The 2015 Indian Chief Vintage displays gracefully sweeping, valanced front and rear fenders, studded and fringed leather saddle bags and rider seat (both with conches), generous doses of chrome, and the traditional front-fender-mounted Indian headlight with its stylized chrome war bonnet.

The 2015 Chief Vintage sports, for the first time, stunning two-tone paint schemes. Large footboards are provided for the rider, with pegs and pillion with a grab strap for the passenger. Front chrome crash bars and bar-mounted auxiliary lights flank the chrome nacelle-housed headlight. Easily removable quick-release passenger backrest and windshield are also standard fare.

My test 2015 Indian Chief Vintage wore one of the two-tone paint themes, and was painted a beautiful light Willow Green and Ivory Cream. Other available two-tone treatments include Indian Motorcycle Red and Thunder Black as well as Indian Motorcycle Red and Ivory Cream. Badging is clean and simple with only Indian script on the tank sides and Vintage script on the lower front fender panels.

The base price was set at $22,049 with the final wampum total coming to $22,449, before tax and license. Of course it's entirely possible to spend considerably more by adding a full complement of tasteful period accessories, such as fishtail exhaust tips, fender tips, bumpers and racks, fringed board skirts, and more.

I'm a Harley guy and prefer a traditional, heritage look, but the Indian Chief Vintage bagger managed to push all my buttons. It's a gorgeous bike, and it not only looks great, it performs exceptionally well, too. The balance and maneuverability are outstanding at any speed, and the riding position proved ideal for me. The ride comfort is outstanding as well, with a confident firmness and virtually no sponginess.

The Indian Chief Vintage is not a sport bike, but rather a serious and purposeful, heavy touring bagger. It may feel heavier than its more than 830 pound (wet) weight due to its 29 degree rake and lengthy 68.1-inch wheelbase. The throttle response is smooth, linear, and predictable with no unexpected surges due to the motor's long flat torque curve.

For security purposes, the bike features a keyed fork lock and no ignition switch, but rather a proximity fob; there's nothing to push or turn, but the bike will not start without the fob on one's person. A power button turns off the lights after the engine is shut off. The windshield is easily detachable and the bike looks even more "old school" without it, but it doesn't lock. Besides, the bright chrome headlamp nacelle and gauge console render a high reflectivity off the windshield, particularly with the sun at your back. Unfortunately, there's no locking provision for the gas filler cap or saddlebags.

Bottom line, you may be able to find a faster bike or one with sportier attributes, but you're not likely to find a more pleasant ride or one that stirs a more positive emotional response. The 2015 Indian Chief Vintage is a bike that any rider should be able to appreciate and be proud to add to his or her collection.

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