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2014 Indian Chief Vintage (Indian)
2014 Indian Chief Vintage (Indian)

Motorcycles

Indian Motorcycle back in business again Add to ...

After a dizzying number of bankruptcies, owner changeovers and legal wrangling, Indian Motorcycle is back. Again.

This time, it’s under the umbrella of Polaris Industries, which purchased the company two years ago. Polaris also manufactures the Victory line of motorcycles, plus various ATVs and snowmobiles.

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It’s been quite a ride. After going belly-up in 1953, Indian suffered through the manoeuvrings and shenanigans of a slew of owners. Many promises were made and thousands of T-shirts were sold, but actual product was pretty thin on the ground.

In the late 1990s, the Indian name was resurrected, accompanied by a protracted legal struggle that, at one point, involved almost 100 trademark copyrights. Several companies were brawling for the rights to manufacture the legendary bike.

There was also a Canadian connection; in the thick of the fight were two Toronto businessmen, Murray Smith and Mark Cooper, who eventually secured the coveted trademark asset rights, and Indians were once again manufactured, this time out of Gilroy, Calif. That, too, fell apart, and the California facility shut down in 2003. Indian, it seemed, was destined to be a footnote in history.

But the Indian name resonates with a lot of people, and the company rose again from the ashes and unveiled its newest line of bikes in August at the Sturgis rally in South Dakota.

“This time we have the financial capability to sustain the name,” says Steve Menneto, vice-president, motorcycles, for Polaris Industries. “We are starting off with a ‘white sheet’ of paper, and this is a completely new motorcycle, from stem to stern, with no shared parts from the previous models.”

That’s a good thing, as one of the previous incarnations of the Indian was essentially a repackaged aftermarket Harley-Davidson Softail. Overpriced and crude best describe that particular iteration of the bike.

The new Indians will be manufactured at Polaris’s Spirit Lake facility in Iowa, but will not, according to Menneto, be built on the same assembly line as Victory bikes.

“The design process is completely different and there are two separate teams. No components from Victory will be shared by Indian. We will be benefiting from Victory’s manufacturing expertise, yes, but these are two separate lines of bikes,” Menneto says.

Again, also good, as Victory motorcycles have an iffy reputation for reliability. I had two and they were the most unreliable motorcycles I have owned.

There will be three basic iterations of the new Indian – all 2014s. The Chief Classic is the entry-level version with no saddlebags or windscreen; the Chief Vintage will feature those, plus a few other odds and ends; and the Chieftain will have hard bags and a fairing.

All three are powered by a proprietary Thunder Stroke 111-cubic-inch (1,818-cc) V-twin that is fuel-injected, air-cooled and mated to a six-speed transmission. This engine, in stock trim, develops 119 lb-ft of torque and 68 horsepower. Like every other heavy cruiser on the market, the emphasis is on comfort and low-end grunt, rather than screaming high-rpm horsepower. Final drive is belt, with a gear-driven primary. Like all those that have come before it, this breed of Indian is festooned with chrome, with fully valanced fenders, a generously-sized leather saddle and the illuminated Indian “war bonnet” mounted on the front fender.

There are also a few surprises in the standard equipment roster, including ABS, floating disc brakes front and back, cruise control and keyless ignition.

Comparisons with Harley’s Heritage Softail are inevitable. The Chief is longer, heavier, and more powerful, but similarly priced. The base Chief starts at about $21,000, while a full-zoot Chieftain is going for $25,000 and change.

These are both attention-grabbing boulevardiers, with loud paint, more chrome than a hot rod convention, and all the presence buyers in this market expect.

Menneto says distribution is evolving on a daily basis. There is a dealer in Vaughan, Ont., with more to come. “It’s hectic,” he adds. Unlike Harley-Davidson, which runs its own show, Indian may, in some cases, be paired up with Victory and Polaris products, although there will be stand-alone dealers as well, according to Menneto.

Back in the day, Harley and Indian were fierce rivals and, between them, owned the North American motorcycle market. Today, upstarts like Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and even Triumph all offer similarly conceived cruisers that can match Indian point for point in terms of performance, comfort, and presence.

Will Indian permanently re-establish itself this time around? Only time will tell. Let’s get ready to rumble.

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