First Ride Test Tide

2015 Indian Chief

Article And Photos By: Ken Conte

Originally Published In The June 2015 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine


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-anddark metallic-blue two-tone. 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, righthand 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 Indianheaddress 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.

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