For those who are unfamiliar with a DEMO RIDE - Bike makers often attend the main bike shows and events with a trailer full of their motorcycles to let the public take out on a guided test ride. Often these rides are about 20 minutes long and follow a course determined by the company to offer a good sampling of roads. The intention is to let the consumer make up his mind by trying multiple bike styles or concepts.
Because my schedule did not permit me the chance to ride out to the event, the 8 hour flight from Reno to Florida afforded me a seemingly endless opportunity to contemplate which bikes I wanted to demo, and as I sat scrunched between a snoring salesman and a plus sized video game addict my mind tried to find a happy place wishing I was free out on the back-roads and byways. Eventually we arrived and despite my new found calling as a sardine, we made our way to the motorcycle mecca of Daytona.
Upon our entry to the show I was surprised that my inclination to ride the Harley offerings was waning as there was nothing new or that I had not already experienced but rather my gumption was to make my way to the Indian Motorcycles tent, where I had the opportunity Sunday morning to take out two of their latest models. The Dark Horse and Chieftain.
Ill break my thoughts down into a couple of categories so that you can see how I evaluated the bikes:
Stability, Balance, Turning:
Dark Horse - The stability in a straight line and in a sloping curve is spectacular, the bike is well balance especially compared to Harley, but this has mostly to do with the engine being better placed in the frame and the smoothness of its rotation, it has a better gyroscopic effect because the bike is light and sturdy. However in a sharp turn or really leaning it in I was surprised to find that is was not as limber or wield-able as most DYNA motorcycles in a similar class. I think possibly it was just because I didn't quite find the groove of the bike, but I had to concentrate to make it do my bidding, counter steer and leaning was exaggerated to make it move the way I wanted it to go.
Chieftain - Similar to the DH, this bike was well balanced in the straits and poor in the sharp turns at slow speed, however when in the long curves at speed I was able to scrape the foot boards with ease, while feeling very sturdy and safe. Compared to the comparable electra glide (Not street glide) it was equally if not more balanced due to the larger engine and better gyroscopic effect. For a bagger it was quite entertaining and stable all at once.
Dark Horse - Compared to the custom family by harley, or the metric cruisers of the early 2000's the suspension on the DH was controlled, suave and unexpectedly modern. Where on other bikes my body would prepare the rattling effects of a 8 inch pot hole the Dark Horse seemed to take the obstacles like a Baja trophy truck as if the hole was an optical illusion and the terrain was paved by engineers of the autobahn. Of course it was a new bike and I have no way of telling what it will feel like 30k down the highway, but I will say this was perhaps the most underestimated advantage I found in the bike.
Chieftain - I was constantly reminded of the VICTORY cross country tour while on this bike, except the feel was more solid and controlled. Compared to the standard harley bagger, it felt less mechanical, it was smooth refined with finesse and in some ways more solid and able to deal comfortably with the potholes, speed bumps and other hazards of the road. I think however that this might change when the bags are full and when a passenger is added to the equation... the jury is still out in this regard.
Dark Horse - When compared to a Dyna, or a CVO bagger, the power was on par with anything I had ever ridden. Although the exit from staging area to the roadway was monitored by the Daytona Police department - the Lead Guide Rider took off out of the parking lot like a bat out of hell, and so like any red blooded american- I LAUNCHED THAT BABY right after him! More surprising than the fact that the police did not bat an eye at 17 motorcycles breaking the speed limits in front of him, was the exhilaration of acceleration. I will say that the throttle controls felt slightly plastic, but that would be fixed with some aftermarket grips. Overall I was very impressed. The bike is longer than most comparable Dynas or metric bikes and so it felt like I was riding a torpedo.
Chieftain - The extra weight of the fairing, controls, bags and wheels made the bike less brazen that the DH however, for a bagger I was impressed, I would put it on par with some of the Screaming Eagles i have ridden, with the exception that the stock pipes hold back some of the potential of the engine. If you buy this bike for drag racing you will probably be disappointed, but out of the box it was still bike enough for my 268 pound frame.
Dark Horse - NO Stereo, Stock Pipes, Closed face helmet - are all things that put a damper on the sound of most bikes, however when compared to the stock pipes on most bikes these days including the Victory line, the Dark Horse is a bare chested fist fighter screaming bloody murder. If you could describe the sound as an animal it was the war cry of a lion, yeti and grizzly all in one. I have yet to see what options are available for this bike with regards to aftermarket pipes, but I would be very interested to hear them now.
Chieftain - The stereo won't win any competitions for sheer volume, but the sound is sincere and can be heard well even when wearing a full face brain bucket. The controls are obvious and easy to manage with gloves, however the bike was asking for a few upgrades. Whatever tally points this bike scores are not for rap star bass but rather the functionality of real mileage down the highway that can be enjoyed listening to AC/DC or Old Hank. As for the pipes, I was not overly impressed, and they do not warrant any real attention. If you want this bike to be louder you will have to shell out your Washingtons and Benjamins after you leave the stealership.
Paint and Finish:
Dark Horse - BLACK, DARK AS NIGHT, MATTE FINISHED - The bike was built for Christian Bale as batman. Im sure someone from indian broke into area 51 and stole the paint from the stealth technology unit file cabinet ---- BAD ASS - one thing to remember however is that this bike does not come with bags, and I wonder if it would retain the same look if you added more leather to it, I can't see hard luggage looking good either, unless it was made by someone like arlen ness, or perhaps the Alien scientists at area 51.
FOR BOTH BIKES: the bonnet over the front and rear wheel covers is as indian and classic as it comes, on both bikes, the two fender pieces are what make these bikes the memories of the last 100 years of motorcycling. The fenders scream of B-17 bombers and leather jackets taking a date to the sock hop.
Chieftain - I love all the paint designs for this bike but the classic red on white is my favorite, my one disdain is for the stupid power button on top of the tank, If I wanted to buy an IPOD I would get a Honda or Crotch Rocket, I'm sure if I owned one I would have to consistently defend it to my friends, but perhaps is is an acquired taste.
As I stated earlier there are some plastic elements to this bike that remind me of the 400 dollar KYMCO scooter I used in college when I went to the store to buy top rommen. But the overall feel of the bike is solid. It is well designed with classic twang, like a mid 60's martin guitar slung from the back of Dylan or Presley, there is some real american heritage in the flow of the design.... Until you get to the front fairing, which i'm afraid is the only part of the bike that I was not originally in love with... however like a naughty dog that lays at your feet at night it is growing on me bit by bit.
Dark Horse - This seems to be pretty devoid of bells and whistles. In fact I am fairly certain that the main ingredients to bake one of these is just motor and gasoline with a smidgen of sheet metal. It does however have Cruise Control, you would need the optional windshield however for any ride further than you local honky-tonk... because the bars are as good as ape hangers, leaving your chest and body exposed like paper bag in a hurricane.
It has auto cancel signals and some intelligent limiters in the engine, but it's mostly just about man meets rubber and road.
Chieftain - Lots of thought went into the technology of this bike, including the stereo and ergonomics of the bars. But my favorite bit of kit was the motorized up and down windshield system made famous by BMW and now finally brought to america ...... Next year we might have flying cars!
Dark Horse - You will get what you pay for, and the bike is very easy on the eyes, but at $16,999 you most certainly could consider other bikes. But to my knowledge the only bike that will let you infiltrate enemy airspace in such style is the Dark Horse. Because I ride touring more than bar hoping, I would have one unless I had a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket simply because it doesn't fit my touring needs..... But man does it look good!
Chieftain - When you buy this bike you are buying modern history, and perhaps if it weren't for the space age fairing up front it would be a bit more like buying artwork. I agree it would be nice to own a t-shirt that didn't say Harley on it.... and the price point is not as daunting as other american made bagers at $22,999.
For the money this bike will be a memory you cherish, as long as it can make it the required 50k down the road most of us require from a bike. Like any new engine, the Indian has yet to really prove its worthiness as tried and tested work horse.... but its like any other depreciating asset. The real value of the asses is the way the bike affects your enjoyment of the ride! For me and my touring needs, I'm not sure I would purchase any other ride.
-Not everyone has one
-Not everyone will want to get one
-Everyone will notice you when you pass them by riding one