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Monday, April 7, 2014

The Indian Chieftain - Ride Review

When Polaris acquired Indian in 2011, most people thought, oh yet another acquisition! However, naysayers notwithstanding, some industry watchers did feel that this could turn around the fortunes of a company ailing for over half a century. Indian has probably seen more ownerships than Elisabeth Taylor has husbands! However 27 months later, Indian working under an autonomous governing body brought out three exquisite that is a huge understatement here, motorcycles that have the potential and can change their fortunes forever.
My first interaction with Indian motorcycles was in Auvergne, in one of the finest vintage motorcycle museums of all of Europe, held privately by the family Baster started by André Baster. There were two motorcycles; one was one of the first inline-four motorcycles ever built, an inline four that was not a transversal setup but a lateral setup, which is totally unheard of today; and the second that I saw was arguably the first ever V-twin motorcycle on the planet!!

That is the legacy and history of Indian Motorcycles, innovations and research of which goes back to 1901!
Under the changed acquisition, in 2013 we saw Indian roll out those three motorcycles and within a short few months, all three motorcycles rolled into India in 2014 marking a new page in motorcycling history on the Indian subcontinent! Indian Motorcycles invited Throttlequest.com to do a first ever review in India of their top of the line product, the Indian Chieftain!

So, what you read and experience from here on, it's not just a ride review, it's ThrottleQuest.com's bohemian indulgence on two wheels!!

When I first saw the bike, the initial reaction is one of sheer admiration! Here was a bike with oodles of character, incredible legacy and a long history, all built into one machine, made for the present and for the future and designed intelligently from a vintage past. A lot of time is spent just looking at the motorcycle. And I am perfectly okay with that. If we spend time appreciating the visual delights that a motorcycle exudes, it means that a lot of thought has gone into developing that quality. This is what the Indian Chieftain can do to you. If looks can say, “Buy me”, this is it. You have come to the right place. And we have not even put in the key yet! Wait. This bike does not even have a key.

The new Indians come with a key fob. Some people like it. Others don’t for security reasons. I am indifferent to it. This is one bit of technology that I really do not care about.

Now let’s get down to the business end of it; a motorcycle is designed to ride. And if we have a bike here that is taking on the Harleys and other cruisers from other manufacturers, it had better ride extremely well. Else it is getting to get tossed aside in the trash can sooner than you can blink no matter how impressive the legacy.

With 350 Kilos under me, thumbing the start button and getting the 1854CC, 49° V-twins live and roaring gave me goose pimples. Yes this is lighter than the Roadking, by nearly a quintal! And packs 30Nm more of Torque and at a lower RPM. The clutch is heavy. And thankfully the bike does not feel heavy at all! It is times more nimble than any cruiser I have ridden till date barring the younger generation smaller shorter Sportsters. The gear changes were a reassuring loud “thud” each time and at every gear.
The engine is revvy despite such a deep bore. Opening up the throttle was a breeze and response was super quick given the tech that went it for the fly by wire throttle. I could easily feel the R&D gone behind the development of this machine with modern pistons having short skirts with lightweight connecting rods. However the engine revs at a relatively low redline for such an advanced machine at 5500RPM. But that proved sufficient with the 6 speed. As I moved smoothly on the highway, I noticed that my gear changes were nearly superfluous. I was doing 110Kmph on 3rd at a little over 3500RPM. I could have been doing that at 6th too and would have nearly not felt the difference. Polaris has worked overtime to deliver a large torque range with enough robustness to carry you through with almost any weight and from any speed and any gear to wherever you want your machine to be. The throttle, the gearbox, the clutch plates are completely at your command! Anytime, any speed! Now that is not true for many motorcycles.

Polaris is loath to reveal Bhp figures for reasons best known to them and their decision makes of company policy. But I have studied the dyno charts from folks sitting at various corners of the world who do it just for people like us who obsess! And I checked that this machine gives out close to 80Bhp. But then I realised that this does not really matter knowing that you have more than 160Nm of Torque for as low as 3000 RPM. Now that gave me an effortless cruising velocity of 160Kmph on 6th and I was munching away the miles with gay abandon. Just have a look at this video and you would know why we are so emotional about this engine :)

In India, one needs to use the brakes more often than the throttle. You can have short skirt, lightweight pistons with titanium valves and iridium plugs. But if the braking is not good, the bike is nonsense. But the Chieftain and all the three models come with ABS as standard which is how the world should work. I jammed on the brakes at 160+. The ABS responded perfectly without a shudder. It is very reassuring to be able to stop a 350 kilo bike hurtling down the track at 160 clicks with a gentle squeeze with two fingers! I tried all kinds of things to test out the brakes and they held really firm.

This is one department that one does not even have to worry about when one is riding a heavyweight cruiser. However, I can say without any hesitation that this Indian does not have very soft suspension. But it is very comfortable. It simply glides over the bad patches. The suspension has been sprung just right to not compromise on handling. It is stiffer than your regular cruisers. It has a travel of 11cms up front and a rear travel of 9cms which also comes with a pneumatic preload adjustment. And believe me, you can actually lean this bike. Yes you can lean this cruiser and really enjoy the ride even when you go to the curves! That said, at slow speeds, at Old Delhi or Nehru Place parking lots, manoeuvering it can be quite a handful. Getting her in and out of the garage can be quite cumbersome too. At 168cms, I am not a tall person. But I did not have any problems with this bike unlike a GS.

What all you get at your finger tips: USB access to get your music, FM channels, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, electronic windscreen control etc. The dash is simple. However it gets you other data like mileage range, air pressure. I turned on the music. The motorcycle was preloaded with the Terminator theme music for some reason which suited me fine.

And I realised that the volume of the music was in automatic direct proportion to the revs of the engine which is quite ingenuous I must say. Small things go a long way. It made me happy. I am sure it will make a customer happy too. You do not have to jack up the volume as you go faster. That is taken care of automatically.

Can this bike really take on the Harleys, the big guns and the Goldwings, hardly matters, the Intruders, even more insignificant though a wonderful motorcycle? All depends on how they position themselves and their marketing campaign. I believe that their work is quite easily cut out. Contrary to popular belie, the Indian is the Original quintessential American motorcycle. They started in 1901 and were the largest producer of motorcycles in the world for nearly three decades! They should not position themselves as an “alternative” to Harley. They should position themselves as the Original American Motorcycle! With that kind of marketing strategy and the quality of the motorcycle that we have, no matter how stiff the competition, they will rapidly climb the ladder.

This is not just another motorcycle. This is a motorcycle that if I owned one, I would be loathe to share or loan out to even my closest friend something that I have not hesitated to do with my Jap plastic stuff that is fast losing its sheen!

We cannot thank enough Indian Motorcycles Gurgaon and Mr. Mohit Agarwal for providing us the Indian Chieftain for this review.

Text Contributed by : Krishnendu Kes a.k.a Ken
Images Contributed by : Krishnendu Kes a.k.a Ken and Sajal Chakraborty
Engine Illustration Video Courtesy : Indian Motorcycle official Youtube Channel
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  1. Thanks for the lovely review...and this bike looks as if straight from UNESCO's World Heritage list. I wish you could have written on and on and on....and on! What a stunning piece of machinery!


Item Reviewed: The Indian Chieftain - Ride Review Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Sajal
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