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2014 Indian Chief Classic: MD Ride Review

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After spending several days riding the three new Indian Chief models in Sturgis at the product launch (which we reported on here), we asked Indian if we could have a Chief Classic for an evaluation here in Southern California on familiar roads.

Obviously, our report from the Sturgis launch was very positive with regard to all three models, including the Classic, Vintage (soft bags) and Chieftain (hard bagger with integrated fairing and stereo). All three bikes share the same engine and chassis (although the Chieftain has slightly different steering geometry). We chose to further test the Classic, which is the essence of the new Indian.

We won’t bore you with all the technical details about this bike, which we covered thoroughly in early articles. To summarize, the Classic and its siblings represent an entirely new, ground-up design by Polaris based on its thorough study of the heritage of the Indian brand, as well as its technical expertise gained with the development of its other cruiser brand, Victory motorcycles. The very stiff frame houses the heart of the Classic, the beautiful and powerful Thunder Stroke 111 engine. A traditional two-valve, push-rod design that dynos with a stout 103 foot/pounds of torque and close to 75 horsepower … very healthy numbers for a stock cruiser (particularly the torque figure). With roughly 800 pounds of curb weight, the Classic has powerful four-piston calipers gripping twin rotors in front to haul it down.

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We found the blue Classic test unit flawlessly finished, and a joy to look at. Even MD test riders who are not typically fond of cruisers commented that the Classic is an attractive machine … and very photogenic. Virtually every detail on this bike is executed with great care … down to brake reservoirs and even footpegs. I found myself visiting the garage to look at, and photograph, things such as the tank-mounted gauges and the stitching on the leather seat.

The Classic oozes quality and class when you ride it, as well.  From the hefty, generously wide brake and clutch levers to the firm, aftermarket-like seat (which I understand has been slightly redesigned since our test unit came off the line), the Classic offered a solid feel and comfort.

This is a huge motorcycle and low speed maneuvers in and around the garage or parking lot must be handled deliberately and carefully. If you haven’t owned or ridden a cruiser in this class you might be surprised by the huge wheelbase and overall length of the bike.

Once underway, and above parking lot speeds, the Chief Classic handles predictably and confidently. It does not change direction quickly or easily, however, preferring to carve sweeping arcs through corners, rather than anything resembling point-and-shoot. Of course, you wouldn’t expect quick handling from a bike in this category.

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The appeal of bikes in this category boils down to styling, and how the bike makes you feel when you are riding it … particularly the power delivery and the sound and feel that comes from the engine. Judged by these criteria, the Chief Classic is a tremendous success.

Everywhere we went, the Classic drew admiring glances, as well as the occasional questions from onlookers at the gas station or coffee house.

Indian worked hard at the other part of the equation as well, i.e., the sound and feel coming from the engine is hard to fault. Cruising down the highway, I found myself rolling on and off the gas just to hear the beautiful music coming from the intake and exhaust. Although I was never bothered by an irritating level of vibration, I appreciated the feel that came from each explosion at the top of the 910 cc cylinders. Big, brawny and fast, the Classic has an effortless feel about it when traveling down the road.

The transmission shifted positively, and without complaint, although with a frequent clunk characteristic of huge v-twin transmissions. The brakes are strong and predictable, and about as good as it gets in this category.

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The suspension has a welcome firmness to it where many large cruisers have overly soft, almost sloppy suspension action. Although you always have to respect its huge size and weight, the suspension allows you to hustle the Classic more than some of its competition is capable of.

Without a windshield, the Classic nevertheless keeps a fair amount of wind off your chest, depending on your height, presumably due to the huge, high-placed headlight in front of you. The headlight offers very good illumination. The auxiliary lights are bright, but their beam is not particularly well directed.

At an U.S. MSRP of $18,999, it is hard to match what Indian offers in terms of styling, fit-and-finish, and power in a stock cruiser.  Take a look at Indian’s web site for further details

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81 Comments

  1. Patjr1957 says:

    Take it from a 56 year old guy that has owned and rode about everything! The new 2014 Chiefs are for real! I just traded off my 2012 HD Streetglide and bought a new Chief! Much more low end power with my new Indian and it’s nice not hearing the Ping if the HD at low RPMs! The ride is so much better! My Gf was always complaining how hard the Streetgide road! The fit and finish is night and day superior on the Indian!
    Harley better step their game up because like Indians sales pitch, “NOW THERES A CHOICE”!!!

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  2. LC says:

    So here’s a 53 year old, HD riders view. I’ve been riding Harleys since 1981 and have owned Shovels, Iron Heads & EVOs, etc. including every model (Sportster & Big Twin) except a V-Rod. In December 2013 I owned both a 2008 Ultra and 2005 Sportster 883L. Visited my local Harley and Indian dealer in Myrtle Beach, SC thinking about trading. The Harley dealer told me that my bikes were not worth much, the market was soft, and the 96′ engine in my Ultra was no comparison to the 103′, so they low balled me big time on a trade (both bikes) on a new Harley. Went into the Indian store in Murrels Inlet and saw the Chief. The fit and finish is better than Harley and the currnet standard warranty is much better than HD. I rode a Cheif Classic and loved it. The Indian dealer made me feel at home, offered consderably more for my traded and acted like they really wanted to make a deal so I purchased the Black Chief Classic on 12/23. Since then I’ve added the Stage I Fish-Tail mufflers and she really sounds and looks old school now. I really enjoy riding the bike and she does turn heads. The seat height of the Indian is great and she is well balanced. I still love Harleys and in the next couple of years will add a Fat Boy to the stable. Why? Because Indians (1901) and Harleys (1903)are American icons and even though both have a percentage of foreign made parts on them they are the closest we have to an American Manufactured motorcycle and V-Twin riders need to support the two brands.

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  3. Harleynot says:

    These size matters posts crack me up! Indians create crowds wherever we stop. Indians are longer, faster and better looking!
    The fact that a big guy can ride one and not look like a circus bear on a road king is exactly why they rule at motorcycle gatherings!
    This is gonna be great to watch over the next 10 years as Polaris gets the street Cred they so covert and never got with their American Metric Brand….Victory! Long Love Indian !

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  4. The1&only says:

    Beautiful motorcycle the look of the new Indian really appeals to me. I’ don’t pull anything away from Harley-Davidson as up to the point that Polaris had bought the Indian brand I was positive my first H-D was in the pipe, but I took a wait and see moment thankfully. I still have to test the Indian but I can’t imagine a disappointment after reading the feedback on several sites.

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  5. Bill L. says:

    No Dirck, Im comparing it to my Harley. If they would have made the Indian smaller and more nimble, the Harley riders you talked to would have been even more impressed. Several posters here have stated the bike is too big.

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  6. Gman says:

    I did a demo ride of a new Indian and found it gutless. It also had a noticeable delay in throttle response. High speed stability was very good and the motor pulls hard from 1000 to 2000 rpm (and then falls flat on its face) I was told by the dealership sales guy that a “stage one” option solved both of my complaints, but i was not able to verify that fact.

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    • Jeremy in TX says:

      “a ‘stage one’ option solved both of my complaints”

      Well, sounds like they stole page one from H-D’s playbook.

      Step 1) Produce barely rideable bike
      Step 2) Sell bike to customer. (Stroke customer’s ego, and explain that he/she is buying much more than a motorcycle. The customer is buying tradition, culture and community.)
      Step 3) Guide customer to apparel and parts departments so that they can make their bikes (and therefore themselves) “stand out” from the crowd and declare independence from the rest of the lemmings in society.

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      • paul says:

        In step 2 you forgot to mention “tell the customer to look at this as an investment, you’ll get your money back when you sell”… which explains why the classifieds are full of HD’s that don’t sell until heavily discounted. Everyone I know that bought a used HD brags about what a sweet deal they got, how can that be??.

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    • Dirck Edge says:

      H-D riders I have spoken to after demoing an Indian have been impressed with the power, and dyno charts back this up. What are you comparing it to, a sportbike?

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    • fast2win says:

      You claim about the motor falling flat after 2000 rpm is absurd. Nobody’s gonna buy that, It only makes your claim of riding it seem bogus.

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  7. Bill L. says:

    I had hoped Polaris would have chucked the super size dimensions of the last generation of Indians and made them about the same size as a Harley. They would have been lighter, faster, handled better and been in more direct competition like they were when they originally butted heads. I also think a smaller engined sportster type Indian ( Maybe the Scout ) would be a big seller.

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  8. Mr.Mike says:

    I’m not a cruiser guy but this sure is a pretty bike. I could see myself losing hours in my garage just staring at it.

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  9. takehikes says:

    I’m Indian’s demographic too and if I had the cash I’d buy it. The HD guys that wouldn’t touch a metric will go for this since it’s made in America and that’s fine. Personally I was forced to my metric when HD didn’t produce what I wanted at a reasonable price, emphasis on reasonable. I’ve got a wonderful metric cruiser, a Yamaha Road Star but given the same set of circumstances now I’d be over at the Indian dealer taking a look. Yes its pricier than the metrics but it’s value vs price is better in my mind than HD’s. If you look at their bike and the pricing versus the HD they nailed it. Oh and I have owned HD’s and currently own one….an Ironhead Sportster which reminds me every time I look at it or work on it just what made HD’s reputation….lol.

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  10. Joe Bogusheimer says:

    When it comes to cruisers, the opinions of non-cruiser riders about their (the bikes, not the riders, lol) looks don’t count for very much. For example, the typical Harley or Japanese Harley knock-off really don’t do anything for me – but they sell in big numbers. But, FWIW, I happen to think this is a pretty handsome bike. Not one that I’ll likely ever own, but if I did, I would be proud to have this in my garage, or parked up at bike night somewhere.

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  11. cmc1891 says:

    Interesting, a UK motorcycle news site reported a rumor on 1/30 that 2 new Indian models are coming for 2015. A Roadmaster and a Scout. The Roadmaster is likely a Chieftain with the top box and leg fairings everyone is asking for. But I wonder what the Scout will be? I’d be surprised to see them creating a whole new lighter frame and/or engine for such a bike so soon. But I suppose its possible, Polaris has been on a roll lately. More likely, I suspect the Scout will still use the current good (but heavy) engine and frame. My guess for a Scout would be a “blacked out” classic much like the prior 2013 Indian Chief Darkhorse. Or, a classic (chrome or blackout) with more unique styling: cut back fenders, no driving lights, the chieftains front fork geometry for sporty steering, and maybe making the abs and cruise control optional to reduce cost. The way the UK site describes it, they don’t call it a “sportier” Indian, it is an “entry level” Indian.

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  12. Tom Shields says:

    Wait…. where are the tank seams?!?

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  13. mechanicus says:

    I’m with Karlsbad on this. I am the demographic they’re after, and I really want to like it, I really do, but I just don’t get it. The valanced fenders and the big ugly headlight nacelle just look doofus to me. Plus, at this stage I just don’t want a bike that physically large. The Polaris Judge (with the round headlight) is a decent looking bike. All the other Polaris bikes are just too “space-pod” looking for me.

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  14. billy says:

    Wonderful logo, right up there with Triumph and Norton. As for the bike, not my type but it has that Duesenberg charm, probably fun to putt around on.

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  15. Schmutz says:

    I retract all previous posts. I just spoke to a dealer friend who picked up the Indian line and he said they are flying off his showroom floor. I was wrong. All of you were right!!

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  16. Gronde says:

    I have more hope for the success of Indian than for EBR if these posts are any indication. Sounds like a lot of potential buyers for the Indian and a lot of cheer leaders hoping for the success of Buell. Both are priced about the same, but the Indian will sell TONS more because the customer feels it’s good value for the money.

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    • Norm G. says:

      re: “the Indian will sell TONS more because the customer feels it’s good value for the money.”

      value schmalue. the Indian will sell more because the customers HAVE money.

      Report this comment

  17. Starmag says:

    Really beautiful. I’m not in the market for cruiser, but if I was this would probably be it. No dealers needed a comeuppance more than the self-righteous Harley dealers with their virtual monopoly on the high profit, high end cruiser market. Harley riders and new customers might even start getting better customer service. Well played Polaris. As for, “it’ll never be a Harley!”, all I can say is thank God. I think there’s enough of those around already. Lots more Indians and California 1400′s would be a great change of pace from the ubiquitous Road Kings and Soft Tails at bike night.

    I’d say Polaris made a mistake if most high-ticket American motorcyclists wanted sportbikes, but they don’t.

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  18. Blackcayman says:

    If I win the Powerball tonight (I’ve got a good feeling this time)#sarcasm (for all the literalists)…I’ll buy the Classic in black.

    Other than that a heavy cruiser is about 4 bikes down on my multiple motorcycle ownership plan.

    Its Beautiful, IMO

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  19. VLJ says:

    Since this is after all a large cruiser and, therefore, the entire focus seems to be on the styling, I’ll add my two cents. That’s the best-looking V-Twin cruiser motor I’ve seen. Also, the overall detailing appears top-notch.

    The one obvious flaw? That unfortunate extra fairing beneath the seat and just forward of the rear wheel. I realize the rear fender has to have that Old West bordello whore skirting to match the signature Indian look of the front fender, but the extra plastic surrounding the passenger footpegs is simply awful. Open up that area to give it a more masculine, mechanical, motorcycle-ish appearance, which will also serve to highlight the front and rear fender skirting that much more.

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  20. Karlsbad says:

    I am the demographic this bike is aimed at, so I went and looked at one. As a previous HD owner (Road King,Road Glide) I was lets say underwhelmed. Everyone is talking about Polaris/Indians wonderful engine and I personally found it ugly, I guess no accounting for taste on my part. Here in lies the dilemma buy another HD, guarantee great resale value put up with outstanding customer support and dealership support nation wide. Ride a legend, or look at a Polaris/Indian I wish them well but at the end of the day there is a reason HD has done and continues to do so well. The metric bikes have done there best and still continue to fall short. Indian will sell make no doubt about it. Just not to me and I will guess not to the majority of HD owners and future cruiser owners. I would guess they will take more sales from the metric market and there own Victory line then they will from HD.

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    • Dirck Edge says:

      H-D fans in Sturgis came up to me in droves to look at the Indian I was riding (a few asked to have their picture taken with the bike). Many said they were thinking about buying one. I see very little resistance to the Indian brand from the H-D faithful, if any. This is very different from their typical reaction to metric cruisers. Nevertheless, the H-D brand will continue to have the lion’s share of the market, no doubt, but I think Indian will do well at eating into that market over time.

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      • Doug says:

        Dirck, to say that is to throw a large blanket over the whole HD market. Sportster, Dyna, and V-Rod riders may not be interested. Personally, I do think the new Indians look nice, but they’re not on my list. I’m hanging with my ’07 FXD. There are a lot of different facets to the cruiser market that the “power rangers” moto-journos miss, or misrepresent.

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        • Dirck Edge says:

          Do not understand your comment other than you are apparently calling me a power ranger.

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          • Doug says:

            “Even MD test riders who are not typically fond of cruisers commented”, apologies to the test riders.

            “I think Indian will do well at eating into that market over time”, current economics, and demographics may have more to say about what succeeds in the global market. It will be interesting to see how many “thinking” potentials actually lay down their cash if they have it.

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        • MGNorge says:

          There’s nothing I like more in motorcycling than stereotyping and name calling. Classic!

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  21. fast2win says:

    I have yet to see the bike in person, but from what I can see in pic’s and read in reviews they are setting the new bar above Harley in fit,finish and detail. All for a small premium over Harley. But I think The new Guzzi 1400 Touring is on my list of new used bike’s in a few years when they are more affordable for me.

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  22. cmc1891 says:

    Anyone heard word of new Indian models for 2015? What I’d like to buy is a Chieftain minus the batwing fairing. Keep the cast wheels, rear air shocks, steeper front fork angle, hard bags. Replace the batwing with the Classic’s chrome headlight nacelle and driving lights. Add a tachometer somewhere on the tank gages or integrate a new speedo/tach gage into or above that headlight nacelle. Basically a Cross Roads/ Road King competitor with hard bags instead of leather bags.

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  23. Auphliam says:

    Polaris might have a bit of a dilemma on it’s hand with regards to keeping two marques alive.

    Point being, if the closest Indian dealer weren’t aver 180 miles away from me, I probably would’ve already traded in my 2012 Cross Country Tour for the new Chieftain.

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    • motowarrior says:

      I have said from the start that Indian will replace Victory as the Polaris brand in the next few years. Indian IS a brand just like H-D is a brand. Victory is the name of a motorcycle. It may well be a very good motorcycle, but in this segment it is all about style, tradition and bragging rights. Indian will prove to be competitive with H-D, and Victory will fade away.

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      • Auphliam says:

        I believe, if Polaris continues to position Victory in the Heavy Cruiser market, you may very well be right.

        In my perfect dream world of ‘merkin motorcycles…
        * HD will continue to do what they do
        * Indian will be positioned to be direct competition for HD
        * Polaris will FINALLY tap into their expansive resources and design capabilites to develop Victory into a real performance brand

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        • motowarrior says:

          So far Polaris has been in the Harley Alternate market with both Victory and Indian. I think most people agree that Indian has the best chance of being successful in this market, for the reasons I cited previously. It would be nice to have an American competitor for BMW or Ducati or Honda, other than Modis which seems to be struggling. I could be wrong (first time for everything), but I just don’t think that is where Polaris is headed.

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          • Gronde says:

            Have yet to see a Motus on the street or anywhere for that matter. With it’s high asking price, it will never be more than a footnote in motorcycling history. That’s too bad, as everyone was hoping for a successful bike produced in the USA that wasn’t a boring, overweight cruiser.

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  24. Erik says:

    I rode the chief on a demo ride last fall and I was very impressed. I am not a cruiser guy, my bike is a big single dual sport, about as uncruiser as it is possible to be. That Indian motor makes the best sounds the rider hears of any bike I have ever been on. It is excellent in fast moving heavy traffic, undisturbed by crosswinds or turbululence. It is the Kenworth of motorcycles. If I lived beside the interstate and my driveway was fifty wide with a six car garage at tne end of it, the Indian would be on my shopping list. But I don’t have those things, and so I will have to pass, it is just too damn big.

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  25. Hair says:

    I had a chance to look at one of these guys on the street. They are good looking bikes. It’s not my style of ride. But they are still very good looking bikes. For the first time in a long while I found my eyes were drawn to the motor. Which is refreshing since most none H-D V-twins are not the best looking motors.

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  26. Jeremy in TX says:

    To my eye, cruisers are to motorcycles what clown shoes are to footwear. And I only say that to give gravity to the opinion I am about to offer: this Indian is a very good looking bike. I don’t know if the fact that someone who finds cruiser styling distasteful thinks the Indian is a looker is a good thing for the brand or not, but there you go.

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  27. B Buccio says:

    Does anyone see the Yam Roadliner comparisons only with half the cc’s.

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  28. ApriliaRST says:

    This is definitely a bike I would consider buying rather than a Harley. I was indifferent to Harleys until I followed my friend through a high speed gentle radius curve and saw his bike flexing at the swing arm pivot. Granted H-D rectified this issue in 2009, but surely Harley knew for years about this handling deficiency. What other issues might Harley hide behind their excellent paint and chrome?

    These Indians are every bit as stylish as Harleys, the paint and chrome look as good– at least in photos. Their handling seems to receive good reviews. There is bound to be an issue or two turn up, but if I were in the market for a long wheel base, heavy weight bike, Indians would be my choice, pending an in-person viewing and a ride comparison.

    One other intangible I cannot overlook is the unjustified smug arrogance of Harley riders who seem to think that by signing some paperwork, they are now a cut above other riders. Time for a slap down. LOL

    Seriously, I’d give these bikes a close look.

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  29. Tom Shields says:

    The Indian is a beautiful machine – and I say this as someone who is not a fan of big cruisers. It’s much more attractive than anything HD has on offer. It’s well-integrated visually and looks all of one piece. I betcha they sell very well.

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  30. paul says:

    Man… that engine is gorgeous.

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  31. Buckwheat says:

    A gorgeous fair weather, wind in the hair, take your baby for a ride piece of motorcycle art history.

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  32. John C says:

    Schmitz……did you live in an apartment as a kid next to David Bowie?

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  33. Maria Rossi says:

    I agree with goose!!!!! If any motorcycle company listened to Schmutz they’d all go under!!!! Also, Schmutz states “stop trying to take a piece of the Harley pie” Then what pie is there else to take? The sport bike pie, The Henderson/Excelsior pie???? It’s all been done before!!! There is no more “original” pies to eat of!! But some will insist on being original for the sake of being original…. Well ok….. For all those who want to jab in on me and ask “Then you come up with something original Maria!” Ok here goes: Make a great big smartphone with a touchscreen GUI with a motor and 2 wheels….. there! Now that’s F&%*ing original!!!!!! Come on Harley! Polaris! Honda!! Wanna piece of me!!!!! Huh? Do you ya!?

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    • Schmutz says:

      Take it easy Francis. Have you heard the saying “If you’re not number one, create a new category”? Well, HD is number one…..in a big way. I’m merely suggesting innovation is the way forward for new ventures.

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  34. Tom K. says:

    Any word on production numbers and sales? Are there any metrics that may provide some indication of public interest, if not future sales, such as showroom traffic or web hits or requests for information? (how do manufacturers even measure customer response outside of sales – maybe focus groups?) Are they doing better, or worse, than Polaris’ initial expectations? I am impressed by the team’s efforts, but my opinion doesn’t count for much, not ever having owned a cruiser, or ever having had any interest in owning one. But they sure have some pretty bits on them. I would love to get a job as the Polaris night janitor, and while cleaning thier design department, come across the sketches of Indian’s vision of a modern standard. But since I signed that darned non-disclosure agreement, can’t share….

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  35. Big Papa in AZ says:

    As a 3 time former HD rider, I can’t wait to get a barely ridden Indian next year. I think it will compliment my 2013 F6B. I have ridden the new Indians twice and they are very smooth and powerful. Fit and finish is great, and the dealership that carries them where I live is also a great BMW shop. IMHO, they are an alternative to Harley Heritage or Ultra, depending on which model you are talking about.

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  36. Schmutz says:

    I worked for E-H back in the day and they made the same mistake you see here. “A modern interpretation of the Classic machine”; “It’s about marrying heritage with modern technology”. Hogwash. Stop trying to take a piece of the Harley pie and be different already. If E-H had built a V-Rod like we all suggested to embrace the Henderson heritage and added something like the new EBR to embrace the Excelsior racing heritage….that’s something people might have embraced in return.

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    • EZ Mark says:

      Why should Indian aim at the V-rod instead of the Softail?
      That would be like aiming for the toe instead of the torso.

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      • Schmutz says:

        They shouldn’t. But this is what, the second or third attempt at an Indian revival? I was pointing out, from first hand experience, the mistakes E-H made and wondering why all brand revivals seem to have the same philosophy.

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    • goose says:

      So true, I guess that is why air cooled (or now “Twin cooled”) Harleys don’t sell sell and the V-Rod has been such a bell ringer in sales. That must also be why the Japanese haven’t built any copies of HDs.

      Americans want cruisers, Polaris is a well run company so they are, to paraphrase what Willie Sutton may have said, going where the money is. Sorry that troubles you and many others on this site.

      Goose

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      • Schmutz says:

        Different boat. This is the revival of a brand, not an additional line item. The V-Rod was not a good move for HD because it carries a different philosophy from their core business. But, imagine if the V-Rod was not built by HD but rather said Super X on the tank and was a new take (American power cruiser) on the most popular category in motorcycling? We had Ducati’s in house to explore the concept but it was abandoned. Too bad. I would have liked to see what could have been. E-H was an exciting company with a flawed philosophy. Hopefully Indian doesn’t suffer the same fate.

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    • John C says:

      Schmitz…read my post above. Lived next to David Bowie as a kid

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    • Michael H says:

      Totally agree. Every motorcycle I have owned has had two wheels, some cylinders, brakes and a seat. Indian is just totally ripping off this concept. There is nothing new or original here at all. Besides, everyone knows HD and E-H invented everything on the planet, and since the MoCo rolled it’s first bike out of the shed, all motorcycles have been derivative. Even though HD doesn’t have overhead cam big twin engines, they THOUGHT of it one day, so FIRST!!1!!

      Polaris should stop pretending. Or something.

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  37. Scotty Guzzisti says:

    I know you are fans of Guzzis, so how does it compare to the 1400 California? Just asking :-)

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    • Dirck Edge says:

      Very different beasts. The Indian very much fits into the heavyweight cruiser mold, although it goes right to the top of that category in many respects. The Guzzi, as we said in naming it BOTY, is category busting, particularly in its spunky handling and quick-revving, eager engine.

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