September 20, 2013

Indian Chieftain Riding Impression


Just like the real motorcycle blogs YAOGB test drove the brand new Indian Chieftain  as resurrected (for the umpteenth time) now it is Polaris' turn.   Based on my ride, this attempt may have a future.

A tweet from Cycle Works, the Edmonton Alberta Indian dealer announced that the demo fleet would be here on September 20th and 21.  I dropped by about 1:30 on Friday,  there was hardly anyone there, no problems signing up, the ride, we left 10 minutes later, just me one other demo rider, the lead rider and the chase.

Before we left I looked all the bikes over.   Polaris certainly got the looks right.  Just as an unblinged Heritage Soft Tail has captured the looks of the hard tail Pan Heads of the 1950's, and Road King that of the  Electra Glides of the 1960's, Polaris has matched the look of the last Springfield Chiefs. If Hank Williams came back from where ever he might be, he would recognize it immediately never realizing that the last true Chief rolled of the line in 1953.  I am somewhat ambivalent about making an Overhead Valve motor look like a Flathead, as Indian chose to do with the "111" motor, a reason,  perhaps the main reason that Indian went bust was their antique engine.  Flathead motors are performance impaired, but I have to admit the Indian's motor (the original) was nice to look at, and so is the new one.

The chosen route for the demo followed fairly busy, limited access, fast moving arrow straight well paved roads, with speeds mostly in the 100 to 120 Kph range (60 to 75) mph, some four lane with traffic lights, some on and off ramps, mostly fairly smooth pavement.  The weather was sunny and warm (20 C - 68 F), but fairly heavy crosswinds along the route.

The Chieftain is a heavy bike, as are all cruisers, but handles well, even at very low speeds as well as high.  The only tricky bits are the few milliseconds between  almost stopped and full stop.

The Chieftain is a touring bike, it comes with a stereo, handlebar fairing, hard bags and floor boards. It is also the top of the line price wise.  Apparently the Chieftain also has less rake to the front end, which is why I chose it for the demo ride. 

The Chieftain has an absolutely gorgeous sound.  I assumed it had some kind of 'off road' mufflers, but the demo guys swore it was the stock factory muffler.  If so, anyone who tosses the stockers for life saver pipes is an idiot (but perhaps that statement is redundant).  Or maybe they were lying to me, as I see there are slip on pipes advertised on the web site.

The suspension handled the jolts of expansion strips and discontinuous concrete paving well.  The suspension feel was similar to a large German sedan, or high end domestic SUV, stiff but not harsh.   You never get the impression that this is a sport bike, but sense that it can handle anything the superslab throws at you. 

I rode to the demo on my well under 400 pound KTM, for me  cruisers are terra incognito, or better, terra infirma.  One thing I liked was the absolute feeling of security it gave me when surrounded by semis, jacked up over sized pick up trucks then mix it all up with some stiffish crosswinds.  I would have preferred a less cruiserish riding position.  The original high mounted saddle on the 1940's Indians would have looked great IMHO.  Maybe Polaris Indian will make a Police version with better ergonomics, sign me up for that one.

Everything on the Chieftain is electronic, just like your Caddy or Lexus, and there are practically as many things to play with and get distracted by.  Displays, ABS, fly by wire throttle control, cruise control, stereo, every display you could imagine, blue tooth, electric windows (screen).  Controls for all the gimmickry are on the left grip and are somewhat similar to a game controller, old time Nintendo players will likely have few problems making everything sing and dance.  For me there is a learning curve.  I did not play the buttons, if did and tried to ride the bike at the same time I would end on top of the trunk of the car ahead of me, so I left them alone.

The accessory and function display was also difficult to see in the bright light, but the important information, speed, RPM, signals were easy to see.  The adjustable windscreen was great, crank it all the way down for slow, raise it juuuust enough to match whatever speed you are traveling.

Power was, as Rolls Royce used to say 'adequate' The redline was not very much, but it did not matter, any speed any gear, pick one, any one, shift it just to make exhaust music.  The transmission has 6 speeds which I did not find out until well into the ride.  The maximum speed limit (110 in Alberta) can be achieved in all the upper gears, I was having a great time in fourth and fifth then decided to see if there was another, and like an Easter Egg, there it was.  Sixth was definitely the overdrive gear, and while it pulled OK from 100 Kph (62 mph), the Chieftain had a lot more poke in fifth.

Brakes were excellent, I am by habit a one finger on the front brake at all times rider, and I had no problems hooking my solitary finger over the brake lever and doing most of the braking with it.  The rear brake is very powerful, I suspect it is linked to the front, based on the way it instantly slowed the bike down.  I would have preferred to have that power on the front brake lever, but I could get used to using the Chieftain foot brake.

If I was looking for a bike to ride on  highways rather than byways, the Chieftain would be on my short list, and fairly close to the top of it.
But all that weiiight...........