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2015 Indian Scout: MD First Ride

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I was sitting in a conference room in Sturgis, South Dakota last year while Greg Brew, chief designer for Indian, was answering questions from a large group of journalists about the first all-new Indian models developed under Polaris Industries ownership of the brand. A somewhat cocky journalist challenged Mr. Brew by asking whether he had ever designed any other products nearly as significant as the new Indian Chiefs. Mr. Brew didn’t skip a beat when he immediately responded that, while at BMW, he was asked to design the first Rolls Royce after BMW acquired that brand.

I will never forget that exchange for a couple of reasons. First of all, that journalist visibly bowed his head and never asked another question that evening. More significantly, I took Mr. Brew’s response as convincing evidence Polaris was taking every step necessary to achieve its stated goal to develop motorcycles worthy of the most premium brand in the motorcycle segment.

As a performance enthusiast, I expressed my initial disappointment that Indian’s first models were heavyweight cruisers, rather than sportier bikes that paid homage to Indian’s racing heritage. In the end, I understood the business reasons Polaris led with the Chief models, and MD found them excellent motorcycles for the category in which they compete.

Nevertheless, I anticipated higher performance models and technical innovation from Indian as it moved forward from the Chief models. As an enthusiast, I wanted “Indian to be Indian” and break away from targeting Harley’s huge market share with bikes designed to out-Harley Harley. I wanted Indian to do more than make a better Harley heavyweight cruiser or a better Sportster.  I wanted a modern, technologically advanced kick-ass Indian.

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The new Indian Scout unveiled on the streets of Sturgis last Saturday evening is a modern, technologically advanced kick-ass Indian. This is no Sportster wannabe. Comparing the performance and handling of the new Scout with any stock Sportster is literally comparing apples to oranges … the bikes are in two different leagues.

Harley-Davidson has been massaging the Sportster motor for decades, and even incorporated many of the high performance tricks learned from Eric Buell. Nevertheless, the stock Scout, with slightly less displacement at 1133 cc, makes factory horsepower numbers dramatically higher than a 1200 cc Sportster can from its air-cooled, two-valve engine.

To a great extent, this is controlled by the laws of physics. The Harley Sportster is simply incapable of revving as high as the Scout. Not even close. Indian claims to get 100 hp at the crank (at 8100 rpm) from this modern, narrow angle (60 degrees) v-twin, together with 72 foot/pounds of torque (at 5,900 rpm). The Sportster, on the other hand, reaches its torque peak at a lowly 3,500 rpm, and dyno charts show horsepower peaks at or below 6,000 rpm. The Scout also has a higher compression ratio, another common benefit of liquid cooling.

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On the road at Sturgis this last weekend, I can tell you that the stock Scout seemed to easily power past most air-cooled, pushrod, two-valve motors it encountered, stock or modified. In short, the average guy at Sturgis had absolutely nothing for the Scout with its fuel injected, DOHC, liquid-cooled, four-valve per cylinder engine. From a performance perspective, it generally felt like the Scout was a modern motorcycle toying with antiques.

But don’t think for a minute that the Scout’s new v-twin is tuned to maximize peak horsepower. I suspect this will be a great “blank canvas” for tuners. This engine is extremely flexible. It pulls as well off idle as any motorcycle I can recall riding … you can simply let the clutch out and pull forward without giving the bike any gas. Throttle response is essentially perfect.  Ride as low in the rev range as you like (and choose from among several gears in most situations).

The amazing thing is that the Scout also likes to rev. The engine pulls smartly from low rpm (even spinning up the rear tire on occasion), but just keeps pulling all the way up to its rev limit (9,000 rpm according to Indian).

The motor is also quite smooth, at least until you get above 6,500 rpm (an educated guess … although the Scout has a digital tachometer that you can scroll to in the small LED window, we did not use this feature) where, despite the existence of a balance shaft, you really start to feel the heavy vibes coming off that narrow angle v-twin. On the other hand, this is the rev range where the Scout really boogies … separating itself from the air-cooled crowd.

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As the day wore on, and the miles piled up, I got used to that high rpm vibration, and even began to enjoy it. It seemed to fit the character of the bike, and was never annoying.

The transmission is quite slick, with no clunk or judder when selecting first gear, and easy, almost sportbike-like snicks between higher gears.

The simple, cable-actuated clutch is not the easiest pull, but in typical Indian fashion appears to be overbuilt, and performed well (and consistently) despite the usual journalist thrashing laid out in those glorious Black Hills.

The short suspension travel, front and rear, is actually dialed in pretty well for most bumps. Even medium pot holes, and some railroad track crossings, will immediately bottom both ends, however, so avoid those or lift your butt off the seat on this bike.

The Scout is extremely nimble. Compared to the typical “cruiser”, it has a normal wheelbase  length and relatively standard steering geometry. Those unique tire sizes (both 16 inchers, with a 130 wide front and a 150 wide rear) seemed to contribute to the light, but stable handling. This bike really inspires confidence.

We had no problems with the braking performance during spirited riding, although don’t expect sportbike levels of bite and power.

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The ergonomics seem to work well for test riders of all sizes (including a 6’2″ journalist I spoke with), although Indian offers optional seats and bars, as well as both shorter and longer reach foot controls, to change reach for both shorter and taller riders.

This is a physically small motorcycle in the sense that an older Triumph Bonneville is physically small. Easy to throw a leg over and lift off its side stand, this only adds to the sense of confidence and control.

The feet-forward foot controls are an easy reach, and offer something closer to a standard position than they initially appear to.  We didn’t find this an issue during performance riding, and it undoubtedly increases the lean angle available during cornering (something Indian boasted about). We never worried about dragging parts.

The somewhat boldly contoured seat was surprisingly supportive and comfortable, although it tends to lock you in position. On longer stints, I found myself occasionally stretching my legs and putting my butt up on the back end of the seat for momentary relief.

Gas mileage among the various journalists I spoke with at the press event varied from roughly 40 mpg to 45 mpg. The 3.3 gallon tank therefore will run dry after approximately 130 to 150 miles. A small warning light on the instrument face comes on with approximately 20 miles left to empty (according to a journalist who ran out of gas during the event).

Those oddly sized tires, as I found out, are branded Indian, but manufactured by Kenda. I was not impressed with grip from the rear, although I suspect Indian was running higher tire pressures than I am used to. We will have to investigate this more when we get a longer term test unit here in Southern California.

So the Scout may be telling us where Indian is headed. Gaining confidence, and market share, Indian is becoming Indian and worrying less about confining itself to the elements typically available on other cruisers. We expect other versions of the Scout to come along, perhaps with different ergonomics and engine tuning. In the meantime, this Scout blurs the lines between cruiser and standard. It offers the kind of performance, styling and value that may substantially build the Indian customer base without having to draw too much from the Harley faithful. We see the Scout purchased by plenty of experienced riders that never considered a cruiser previously, as well as entirely new riders who want performance, light weight, styling and easy handling from a single package.

In our opinion, Indian also nailed the styling on the Scout. It looks industrial and purposeful, yet with a refined elegance that is hard to define. You have to see the bike in person.

Take a look at Indian’s web site for all of the details and specifications. U.S. MSRP is $10,999 for the Thunder Black edition, while the other three colors (Indian Motorcycle Red, Silver Smoke and Thunder Black Smoke) are priced at $11,299. Indian will offer several accessories at launch which are described on the website, including saddlebags, passenger seats and wind screens, among others.

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