The original Indian motorcycle company began in 1901, but then faded away in the early 1950s. Two recent attempts to revamp the brand failed in the early 2000s, then Polaris Industries, which manufactures snowmobiles, watercraft, ATVs and the Victory motorcycle brand in Minnesota and Iowa, purchased the Indian name and trademark. With the backing of this major company, Indian has now been done right. It begins with its own proprietary motor, which is an air-cooled, 49-degree V-twin with two valves per cylinder, a retro style and a displacement of 1,811cc (111 cubic inches).
A major factor in this Indian revival is that the company embraces its classic heritage with those iconic full fenders and flowing lines. Wherever I rode it, the bike garnered a good deal of attention for its style. The illuminated Indian head on the front fender could be discounted as mere kitsch, but when considered as a total package the bike can fully stand on its own merits as a motorcycle rather than trying to survive on its coolness factor.
Climb aboard and the rider takes in the instrument cluster on the tank, the huge chromed headlight nacelle flanked by a pair of chromed driving lights, and the wide handlebar. It also features cruise control. Everything about the bike speaks of a jewel-like massiveness. The only negative is that, at certain angles on a sunny day, the chrome can produce an annoying glare.
With the largest displacement here, the Chief Classic generates the greatest torque (107.1 lb-ft at 2,700 rpm) at the lowest rpm, but the least amount of horsepower (76.4 at 4,500 rpm). The result is easy takeoffs with a very mellow power feel, yet when you hit the throttle hard it delivers a satisfying shudder in the grips and seat. Its suspension system is also heavily biased toward the comfort side and produces a compliant ride. At 808 pounds wet, it is by far the heaviest bike here.
Polaris also builds Victory motorcycles, so to prevent the company from competing with itself it has positioned these two flagship machines at opposite ends of the spectrum. While the Victory is more hard-edged in performance and handling terms, the Indian is softer and showier. And with that said, the show is very impressive indeed.