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Saturday, January 31, 2015

First City Ride: Indian Chief Vintage

Big motorcycle, big surprise, big grin… It knocked us off our feet!!!

I won’t lie. The Vintage has appeared intimidating to me. The sheer mass of it. And that’s before I even know how many kilograms it presses against the earth, which is around 380kgs by the way. The numbers don’t really help the confidence either! But I still want to ride it so much. Only to stop somewhere, probably on an empty stretch on a highway, to marvel at its beauty, it’s magnificence with nobody to interrupt me and then carry on riding it.

If I were a king and wanted a motorcycle to match my demeanor, the Indian Chief Vintage would be it. I guess all the variants of the Chief would pass for the purpose, but with “Desert Tan Genuine Leather” seats and saddle bags on either sides, the Vintage is more perfect, royal and slightly more fitting in the kingdom. Aah! what a dream!

The Vintage comes factory fitted with a windshield which is big enough to protect me from the wind and other elements of the weather without the need to crouch. It can be taken off and installed back on in a matter of few minutes to suit my requirement and mood.

Now I haven’t ridden many big and powerful cruisers, so the prospect of riding the Vintage was spellbinding and thought-provoking in itself.

To think of it, first rides are quite a tricky affair. They leave you with the first impression and that can be good or bad. It’s like starting on a good or a bad note. And while I wasn’t so sure about which way my first impression would go, I was certain that it would be quite unforgettable. It was.

So here it is – ThrottleQuest brings you the first city ride of the iconic Indian Chief Vintage.

Big cruisers with big engines are meant for wide and open roads covering miles after miles. True, no doubt about that and they are boring and senseless to ride in city. Well, not so true.

The Vintage carries all the legacy of the Indian brand and is one of the most classically styled production motorcycles today. However, it is the creation of the present times, which means that it’s a thoroughly modern motorcycle especially under the skin. Backed by years of experience, finances to back up the development and excellence in engineering have ensured that motorcycles today are far more technologically superior and easier to ride.

With the chassis made up of cast-aluminum and 46mm front forks complimented by a monoshock of 94mm diameter at the rear, the Vintage has exceptionally neutral handling. It’s unbelievable for its size that once past parking lot speeds, it’s extremely easy to ride and maneuver. And that makes it a fun ride actually. Think about it, we all expect a street fighter to handle well, but when a big and heavy cruiser handles well enough to defy its own size, it becomes a very enjoyable ride.

My time with the Vintage was divided between riding on the NH8 and some parts of South Delhi. Anybody who lives in and around Delhi, especially Gurgaon, would tell you that the traffic on the NH8 that stretches between Delhi and Gurgaon is hardly devoid of traffic. I was in luck that it wasn’t over-crowded with vehicles.
If I have to describe the handling characteristics of the Vintage in one word, I would say – extremely impressive. Make that two! Moving from a standstill, as soon as you are able to lift both your feet off the ground, the Vintage will start to impress with its handling dynamics. I was blown away as soon as I discovered how easy it is to maneuver at anything faster than parking lot speeds. On the wide NH8, the Vintage is only starting to spread its wings. The word “stable” gets a new meaning, it’s like the motorcycle is riding on rails. The design language of a cruiser is very different from a sportbike. The high weight and long wheelbase makes it stick to the tarmac like a glue. The Dunlop tyres provide excellent levels of grip throughout the ride adding to the stability and riding pleasure. Even in pretty good traffic, the Vintage is easy to maneuver and it’s actually fun doing so. I weigh around 70kgs and I was managing it through the traffic with surprising ease.

The power is so effortless that the motorcycle is moving ahead much faster than it feels. There were times when I felt like I was riding at 70kph and when I looked down, the needle was pointing at 110! It is effortless. Of course, the tall and wide windshield saved me completely from the windblast further enhancing the feeling that I wasn’t going faster. The sound generated by the two exhausts is one of the best v-twin soundtracks a rider can listen to. And when the highway is long and straight and devoid of much traffic, the Cruise Control feature is there to add to the enjoyment.

Even in the city, the ride is absolutely enjoyable unless you get stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. But then, this kind of a situation is equally bad and frustrating on any big motorcycle. While I felt the almost 380kgs of weight at the snail pace, I wasn’t putting any of my body weight on my wrists. And once on move, the weight disappears and the handling continues to impress.

Braking is another strong point of the Vintage. The motorcycle has double discs at the front complemented by a single disc at the rear. While this looks quite assuring, the motorcycle also has ABS as standard which further adds to the braking performance.
And then, there are the looks. And my God! This motorcycle is BEAUTIFUL. I have seen number of visually stunning motorcycles. But the Vintage is too special. The 1811cc ThunderStroke engine is covered in chrome and is the most beautiful engine I have ever seen and touched in my life. Valenced fenders are a simple but a unique design element of the Indian Motorcycles and is a recognizable trait of their design language. The uniquely designed fender, especially at the front, also neatly hides the brake calipers and gives a clean look to the front end. I guess it’s a smart move that adds to the overall classic styling of the Vintage.

But there are bits that are not so pleasant as well. In stop and go traffic, the Vintage needs more space than many other motorcycles and the air-cooled engine does heat up. It was my luck that I got stuck in Delhi traffic, around 2:30 in the afternoon, in the winter of January. Still, after having spent half an hour in traffic the engine warmth became apparent enough that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. But the overall cold weather compensated for it and I didn’t feel uncomfortable. However, I am sure that at the same time in summers I would have different sentiments to share!

Talking of limitations, U-turns are particularly difficult to manage from a standstill especially when the streets are narrow unless you have done them enough to understand how to manage the weight in such a situation. Also, while the spoke wheels add to the styling, the tires aren’t tubeless. I want them to be. After all, I wouldn’t even imagine pushing such a heavy motorcycle if the tire deflates. That pretty much sums up the negatives.

The overall experience is so wonderful that the quirks don’t really matter to me. I have ridden some big bikes before and while my friends have looked at them in awe, it would be hard for any of those motorcycles to match the road presence of the Chief Vintage. I showed it to my friends and they reacted quite overwhelmingly to the Indian. It was nice to see such a reaction.

Yes, the Vintage has the on-road price of around 33 lakhs, a figure that keeps it out of reach of many people. But if you have the money, would you take it?

I’m quite blown away by the Vintage. It intimidated me in the beginning but at the end of my time with it, the Vintage became a friend. I just have to make sure that I don’t drop it! If I have that much money to spare, I would probably buy more than one motorcycle and one of them would be a superbike. But if I would want a cruiser, I would get one of the Chief variants. I might even get it if I could manage to pay the downpayment!

And I would take it in red.
... but all stories do not end when they seem to rather end, there's one last page, one last paragraph, one last perspective still remaining before the curtains roll down, so, here's the Other Perspective which showed us the true grit of the Indian Vintage…
We all know and agree that motorcycles are quicker and faster than anything else with more wheels in traffic, especially in a city. But in India, irrespective of where you live, riding in traffic is a task not many take to willingly. Especially when the intensity of vehicles is more, which is a routine, even riding a motorcycle becomes a challenge especially when we are talking a 380kgs behemoth in peak hours of evening traffic!

The challenge that wasn’t to be…
So when one of our colleagues, Krishnendu was faced with a tricky situation where he had to be somewhere and cover a certain distance in less time than needed, the trust in one’s own ability and the motorcycle comes into play, with little bit of luck and smart thinking.

What follows next is not just a review or an impression or just another article just for the sake of it being an article, what you would read next is an account of a man and his motorcycle putting forth a synchronized Ballard to the tune of the 1811cc work horse. Read about it, and some more, in his own words…

I was on a mission here. I was given a task of covering 200 kilometres in 4 hours flat in city riding conditions! For a city like Delhi, it is Mission Impossible 6! So I decided to cheat a bit. I wanted to go partly to the Highways as well to help our cause at TQ. And the Stage-I exhaust with the rubber wrenching tarmac digging torque helps to achieve such impossible missions! I got it.

Let us be very clear. The moment you engage gears on this giant, the 380 kilos somehow magically disappear. Yes, I know that most bikes seem easier to ride once they are in motion. And the Vintage Chief far exceeds expectations. Within 200 metres of my ride, I had to negotiate 2 U-turns in quite heavy traffic. This is the kind of negotiations and traffic that one has to encounter in Delhi. But in less than 50 metres of riding, the bike gave me full confidence of riding freely. The stress of 200 kilometres in 4 hours soon melted away.

With close to 200 Nm of Torque available at will on tap, acceleration and overtaking in traffic is a breeze. With a very mild twist of the right wrist, the bike is propelled forward at a pace that will surprise you. At 2250 Revs you swiftly go past 120 clicks. It is simply amazing at the rapidity that the bike approaches the 200K mark. Man and machine, we consumed tarmac real quick. And this bike comes with stellar braking. Stopping a 400 kilo machine on two wheels hurtling down the highway when a cow suddenly decides to stroll across is not easy! Understandably ABS is standard.
We have seen the looks of the Indians. They are all very pretty and have such detailing that it leaves a lover of aesthetically beautiful motorcycles awestruck. It is a visual delight. And the Chief Vintage is no exception. The Torque is superb. But what is most impressive about the Vintage is the handling. The way the Vintage makes cruiser riding easy for even a rank novice is commendable. I would have never imagined a 400 Kilo behemoth such as this would weave through traffic with the ease of an agile panther. No, the association is not far fetched. Sudden changes in direction while riding due to the unpredictable traffic in India is as easy as it gets.

Do not get me wrong, but I have ridden the Midnight Star, the Vulcan, the Intruder and a handful of Harleys! No cruiser, I repeat, not a single cruiser even comes close to matching the handling of the Chief Vintage. Indian has done some serious work on the geometry of the chassis structure. We know that it is not a Sport bike but it is unbelievably nimble, easy to lean, willingly goes around a curve super quick without a shiver in the frame and remains strongly planted at higher speeds. The suspension is wonderful. The undercarriage is not as low as it looks. It soaks in the normal speed-breakers. However high speed-breakers while riding with a pillion does scrape the underbelly.
The controls and instrument clusters have a host of features that will blow you away. On the right controls you have the hazard lights, the starter switch and the cruise control. The cruise control has a “resume” and “accelerate” button activated by clicking up and a “decelerate” and “set” button activated by clicking down. On the left controls you have the horn, in this case it is pneumatic as is oft required in India, high beam switch and turn signals. Also, where you are supposed to have the pass switch, you have the switch that toggles between various options on the instrumentation console between RPM, Odometer, two trip meters, average fuel economy, tank range; however time and gear indicator are standard.
End of the day, night actually, I managed to clock 188 kilometres in 4 hours. From a rough calculation, the bike returned a generous 18-20 kilometres a litre from its massive 21Litre tank. And I reckon I could easily get an autonomy of 380 + kilometres on a tank full. This means lesser stops on the highway!

We all know that Polaris took over Indian. And ever since, they have paid special attention to the looks. The Indian Chief Vintage looks gorgeous from every angle. The detailing of the chrome of the Indian head, the stylised Indian badging on the tank, the lit up bonnet on the front fender, 40 stainless steel spokes on the wheels giving it the lace look, stylish iconic fenders that are the hallmark of the Vintage for nearly a century now, all add up to the elegant looks of this beautiful motorcycle!

From the short ride that I did, I could not find a single point of critique. Does that mean that this is worth the buy? Is it value for money? At 33L, I do think that it is overpriced. But then all CBU motorcycles in India are overpriced. That is because of government policy and nothing to do with the pricing of the motorcycle. Honestly I would say that if you have ridden an Indian, any other cruiser would feel just like any other cruiser.

Text by: Sachin Sen and Krishnendu Kes (Ken)
Images by: Krishnendu Kes
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Item Reviewed: First City Ride: Indian Chief Vintage Description: Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Unknown
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