I am still in Sturgis, and quite tired, actually. In addition to riding the new Indian Chief models roughly 350 miles in the last two days, I have attended various press briefings, and events in the heart of Sturgis, and several dinners with Indian representatives. I will be riding more today, and trying to shoot some video. Let me get to some solid first impressions, but wait for more details in Part 2 of this report.
Polaris Industries has been frustrated, I am sure, with its efforts to grab market share from Harley-Davidson in the heavyweight cruiser category with its Victory brand. Although, to be fair to Victory, it has reached the number 2 position behind Harley in worldwide market share for the category. Nevertheless, for the American consumer in particular, branding is hugely important. If you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes doing a Google search of the “importance of branding”. Indian is the brand to take it to Harley in a way Victory never could, and the reaction of the Harley faithful here in Sturgis (more about that later) is proof positive.
Oh, and about the bikes. The new Chief models, including the Classic, Vintage and Chieftain, are extremely impressive on several levels. Polaris tasked its designers and engineers with building the best bike platform in the category. In Part 2, I will get into the design process more deeply, but MD is very impressed. Not only with the incredible Thunder Stroke 111 engine, but the other elements of the entire package. The largely aluminum, backbone frame feels stiffer than anything I can remember riding from the competition. Indeed, the Victory platform comes closest, but the Indian frame feels more solid beneath me, leading to more precise handling and accurate suspension movement (without having to deal with random flexing and rebound from a less stout, steel chassis).
The engine is every bit as special as it presents itself from an aesthetic standpoint. Indian painstakingly removed as much clatter and irritating noise emanating from this mill, leaving the rider to enjoy some beautiful, soulful harmony coming from the air box intake and exhaust. It sounds good, and the engine pulses feel good.
The engine is also a performer. Will it prove to be the fastest bike in the category? We can’t say for sure, but the broad plateau of torque allows you to overtake on the highway in the overdrive sixth gear without the necessity of a downshift.
Watch for our next article where we will go into the painstaking effort by Indian to craft and present every little aesthetic aspect of the machine, with close-up photography by yours truly. You will be impressed. I will also get into much greater detail about my riding impressions.
I have a few small criticisms that I will get into, as well, but they are not particularly significant, and certainly not deal breakers. Stay tuned, and enjoy the photos taken of me by Tom Riles during my test so far.