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.
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.
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.
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