I think everybody, by now, knows that I like old stuff. Old bikes that you can actually fix in your driveway. Old houses that have some history and craftsmanship in them. I love old guns made between World Wars. In every industry, there is a period when labor costs and material costs hit a perfect balance and the craftsmanship produced then is amazing.
When it comes to bikes, and V-Twins especially, most of us want to think that period was in the fifties or sixties. No way. Jump on a scoot from those days and you are going to be tinkering at some point in your ride. Personally, that period for Harley didn’t really show up until the Evo motors of the eighties and nineties and the wiring harness after ’94.
So as much as it hurt to do it, I checked out and took an Indian Chieftain for a spin last week. Brand new. Big. Fast. And it could not only haul ass, it could haul all the stuff you’d need for a weekend. First impression? I like baggers but really don’t want one, but this was an amazingly well built bike. Indian got the styling cues right in this one – balanced fenders, the headdress logo on the tank, and the War Bonnet emblem on the front fender pay tribute to its predecessors. The Chieftain’s thunderous V-Twin does likewise as the design of its fins and parallel pushrod tubes were borrowed from Chiefs of the early 1940s.
It really was styling cues like that which caught my eye – it looks like an old bike. Turns out, though, it has a host of new goodies – power windscreen that raises and lowers at the push of a button, cruise control, saddlebags that lock remotely, keyless ignition and ABS. Yes, Indian has done a bang-up job of finding the happy median between old and new.
The nice thing was that, for a touring bike, everything felt right. The seat, the acceleration (Indian claims a 5.3 second 0-60 mph and I’d believe it), the positioning of all the controls. The front fairing not only looks slick, it shields riders well. The solo seat from the Indian accessories catalog is shaped sound and supports riders with no pressure points. The floorboards are long so you can shift your feet around on those occasions when fatigue does settle in and the riding position is open and relaxed for a six-foot-tall rider. The suspension set up also makes long stints in the saddle that much easier. Though it runs a single shock on the rear, the ride is smooth and rebound feels ideal. The pneumatic rear is preload adjustable but requires a hand pump and the removal of the left side cover below the seat to access the air fitting above the fuse box.
The best part? While I was running it, hustling through some of the tighter bends in the road the Chieftain required constant input at the handlebars to keep it on the desired line. Not every rider wants that, but to me, that is what makes a bike an experience. If you want a car, get one. I still didn’t have to put any real effort into initiating a turn because the front fairing doesn’t inhibit steering despite being fork-mounted and cornering clearance is fairly ample. With a little pressure on the rear brake and just the right amount of friction on the clutch, the big bike is manageable at low speeds. Its center of gravity sits low thanks in part to a laden 26-inch seat height. Add in the fact that the seat is fairly slim where it meets the tank and planting two-feet firmly on the ground is a fuss-free affair.
Simply put, this is a really well designed bike. Am I going to trade in my old Evo-powered Harley? Nope. But for a computer bike with all the gizmos, this one is worth a look. Especially if you can’t ride yours right now.