The single-biggest USP of the newly-launched line of Indian Chief Motorcycles is heritage: and it screams itself hoarse in the cruisers. All three—the Classic, Vintage and Chieftain—have the uniquely-Indian valanced fenders, retro paint jobs, detailed logo engravings, and the classic front-to-back sloping line of the ‘original’ American cruisers. Indians have been around since 1901, and if you’ve didn’t know that then here are three bikes to drive the fact home.
Given that, ‘Vintage,’ is too uni-dimensional a name for the middle-of-the-range Indian motorcycle: what’s the point of stating the obvious? A bit like Ferrari launching a car called the Italian Stallion.Sure, the retro-chic has been turned up a bit in the Vintage (and to stunning effect): ‘saddle’ is not a euphemism for the lovely tanned brown leather seat—this is more bronco saddle, than motorcycle seat. Then there are the period-style saddlebags with the fringes. And that’s the point—every iota of this hefty cruiser—all 365 kg of it—screams retro. There’s no missing that. And for that reason alone, it should have been called bird-of-prey or something—it certainly has the plumage.
The finer nuances of the older Chiefs’ design which have been incorporated in the new line are too self-evident to require further elaboration. But away from all these hosannas of authenticity and nostalgia, the biggest virtue of the Vintage is far more practical—this leviathan is completely out-of-character nimble. Hardly the adjective you expect to use for a two-wheeled mass of chrome and metal which, when combined with the weight of rider and pillion, translates into a half-a-tonne projectile. But that’s what stays with you after manoeuvring 500-odd-kilometres on the Vintage: the obligatory straight high-speed-run on the Yamuna Expressway to Agra; through the precious few twisties in the Aravallis; and bumper-to-bumper in the Capital’s rush hour traffic. On the second day as you find yourself negotiating traffic comfortably, it dawns upon you: “I could use this bike.”
The styling is absolutely gorgeous, and the 111-cubic-inch (1811cc) ‘Thunder Stroke,’ powerplant is a fine-piece of modern engineering which looks and sounds fantastic. It’s also the most understated part of theVintage: the crank is directly connected to the shaft which means that mechanical noise is low and you can hear the muted deep-bass throaty rumble of the exhaust. It’s not loud, and it’s not manic: no petulant low-end torque but a fairly robust mid-range means you’ll only be able to push the Vintage when you genuinely have the space for it. And considering the heft of the bike, that’s really the way to go—irrespective of the riding confidence it induces, throwing this motorcycle around in traffic would be downright foolhardy. A bonus is that this keeps the engine temperature relatively down—that doesn’t mean that there’s no perceptible heat, just that you won’t singe your thighs.
So does the big Chief zip? Yes it can, although it doesn’t feel like it when the V-twin burbles along a touch over 2500 rpm at 140 kph in sixth gear: although this writer pretty much capped it there, 160-170 kph on a highway should be fairly simple. The windscreen doesn’t exactly make for cutting-edge aerodynamics but you’d still need to swing both feet to one side off the saddle and pull with all your might to unsettle the bike at that speed. The weight sits low and it’s difficult to get the Vintage to subscribe to your puerile notions of swing and swerve at high speeds. No sir, this is the Chief, and you’re not going to rob it of its grace and dignity.
But once you and the Vintage shake hands on riding style, then the size is becomes relative and the ride—arguably the best sprung on any cruiser on the road—is sublime. The only issues you’re likely to face are the unprecedented attention the bike attracts, and the fact that the saddlebags can’t be locked. There’s also the bugbear that plagues most imported bikes in this country—high-octane gas. The Vintage, like all Indians, is calibrated to perform best with 91-octane which is impossible to find outside the metros. But a little tinkering with the ECU-tuning should make the bike usable on regular gas. The 21-litre gas tank is good for 300 km and there’s plenty of ground clearance to allow you to handle less than-perfect-roads without breaking a sweat. The Vintage conjures up free range more evocatively than most bikes out there even at standstill. It is very pretty, but that’s just the start of it.