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The Indian Chief Classic Review by xBhp in India.
This Indian comes to India from the land across the proverbial seven seas. And something as stately, imposing and majestic the red Classic inadvertently makes a grand entrance. Longer than most hatchbacks sold here, this 8 ½ ft long cruiser on two wheels makes for an involuntary visual magnet – a sure head turner. We met the big guy on a foggy winter morning and rode it around for a few hours only to walk away suitably impressed.
Text: Sandeep Goswami/ Old Fox
Photos: Ashish Guliani
Indian Motorcycles was started in 1901, built some successful models for around 50 years, with the Chief and Scout being the most popular among the lot. The brand built its sales on the basis of its racing exploits and successes, at one point even being the largest manufacturer. The racing and performance aspect greatly emphasized and immortalized by Burt Monroe’s lone-ranger act leading to the legendary World’s Fastest Indian. But in 1953, the company manufacturing the motorcycles filed for bankruptcy. In the successive years they were many failed attempts by various owners to kick start the brand, but it never took off. Finally in May 2011, Polaris Industries, world leading manufacturer of Power-sports vehicles bought over the almost defunct brand. In a shockingly short period of time (27 months to be precise) Polaris showcased a brand new engine which its bikes would feature. The Thunder Stroke 111 was put to use and three complete models were launched in August 2013. An impressive engineering feat, shadowed only by the fact of how good the motorcycle really is, once you throw a leg over the saddle, but more on that later!
This engine built by Polaris is the first new engine that Indian has seen in the last 70 years! Though Polaris built it from the ground up, they have effectively put their experience with the Victory range of motorcycles to full use. The three models that have been launched by Indian are the Classic, Vintage and Chieftain. With the Classic being the straight cut cruiser, the Vintage is a soft bagger featuring soft leather panniers and a windscreen, while the Chieftain is the top of the line model with hard panniers and a different sharper rake and steering geometry, as well as some more bits and bobs which makes it stand out from its smaller siblings.
The Thunder Storm 111 is as thoroughbred as motorcycle engines go and remains true to its traditional Indian lineage in external architecture while incorporating most modern gadgetry that comes with engines nowadays. A 111 cubic inch or 1811 cc unit, this 49 deg V-twin runs two valves per cylinder via three cams. The push-rod activated valves are moved by self-adjusting hydraulic lifters. The engine remains air cooled via massive cooling fins much in line with what it was like with the original Indian motorcycles. There is a small inconspicuously placed oil-cooler for better reliability, thermal stability of the oil and thus longer intervals between oil changes (around 5000 miles or some 8000 kms). A good thing since the big engine needs almost 5 ½ litres of oil. Running an apparently mild 9.5:1 compression ratio, this nevertheless is close to the usual limit for large capacity air-cooled engines. Allied with a knock sensor, fuel quality will not affect engine performance to a large extent. The bore and stroke chosen (101 mm bore and 13 mm stroke) indicate the ability to rev quickly further accentuated by those short skirt pistons, thin optimized connecting rods and a relatively light counter-balancer – light considering the 1800 cc plus credentials of the engine. And rev well it does with Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection though the red-line stays at a low 5500 rpm. But there’s no dearth of power or torque with 161 Nm being the peak value for the latter at a mere 2600 rpm. Polaris have not declared any power figures ( they say it makes around a 100 bhp but no specific value given) but the engine produces more than 135 Nm of torque anywhere above a 1000 rpm or so. A flatter torque curve could possibly only be found on bull-dozer engines eh!
A CAD rendering showing the wet multi-plate clutch, helical cut gears, crank-shaft counter weights and the 3 cam layout with the centre cam running the intake valves of both cylinders while the outer 2 cams lift the exhaust valves of each cylinder.
Heat should be a problem for this large an engine depending primarily on air cooling but the reality again is different. Ceramic coated exhaust headers, an exhaust shield and dual layered valve covers do a good job of keeping the heat where it belongs, away from the rider. Though its effectivity would only be seen once the bike hits Indian roads in peak summer. Throttle by wire is another modern tech bit and makes for easy interface with a nice cruise control that can be adjusted in 5 kph increments from a handlebar mounted switch. The engine had already gone through a million miles of testing before the bike’s US launch a few months ago, with quite a large part of those ‘miles’ having been done on-road in actual riding. Power goes to the carbon-fiber reinforced drive belt via a heavy duty but light action wet multi-plate clutch with an integral damper and a 6-speed gearbox. The ample torque produced by the engine is also typified by the fact that the top two ratios of the gear box are overdrive being 0.94 and 0.81 respectively.
Take a walk round the bike and you see a motorcycle which exudes class, power and panache. The bike and rider are not to be trifled with. Aboard this, you feel as if you have arrived and how. The big headlight assembly fuelled with an abundance of chrome, with the fog lamps standing as sentinels gives it an extremely purposeful look. The front fender has the iconic chrome and glass lit monogram of the Indian Chief. The fenders, front and rear, are skirted and cover the wheels just as the original Indian Chief 60 years ago. The spoked wheels with whitewall tyres complement the yesteryears’ look. Rubber covered floorboards, leather seats with chrome studs, a leather tank strap, chrome everywhere you look, the levers, headlight housing, disc oil holder, switchgear unit, mirrors forks. The richness is almost palpable and not just tactile.
Throw a leg over the saddle, rest your derriere on the genuine leather seats and you immediately feel at home and ready for chasing the distant horizon. To get the Classic going you need to have the entry fob in your pocket or you can use your customised sequence to start the engine. Press the digital styled modern on/off button and thumb the starter and enjoy the sound of the twin exhausts. Indian has minimised the engine sounds, so that the only prominent aural pleasure you derive is from the exhausts. The handlebar is of the stretched out long arm variety, which adds to the classic cruiser feel. This 368 kg motorcycle is no problem to get off the side stand, as the weight of the machine is low and centred. Moving the bike in a parking lot is a ‘two feet’ down affair though, but once you start rolling at reasonable speed, then the bike’s weight all but disappears. At 26 inches saddle height, the Classic is easy to flatfoot. The engine is smooth and without too much vibration, but does get noticeable around 3000 rpm in the handlebar and footboard and is a deliberately engineered part of engine design to give that special feel and character to the bike. The clutch is light to pull, had a wide friction zone and shifting gears, though a trifle notchy which is more of a norm in this class of motorcycles, is nevertheless firm and positive.
Thanks to the oodles of torque, this Indian pulls cleanly from as low as a 1000 rpm. Gearing is tall enough for you to hit almost 70 kph in 1st and gets you past a 100 kph in 2nd! Overtaking manoeuvres are a breeze as one can easily accelerate out of a tight situation without the need of downshifting. Low mass centralization and great leverage from the wide handlebars make for easy and effortless steering, the directional control greatly aided by the superlative stiffness of the frame. Beefy 46 mm front fork tubes (no adjustment up front) and a mono-shock rear (with pre-load adjustment only) suspension is capable enough with only a hint of skittishness felt when cranked over in a turn at speed over badly rippled tarmac. The overall ride is plush and yet firmly controlled, a difficult combination to achieve.
Cruise control switches on the RH side bar end switch cluster. The bottom left button with a clock-face is the ‘cruise engage’ button while the toggle switch on top lets the rider dial in the cruise speed increasing and decreasing it in 5 kph chunks. The bottom right hand button with a lightning bolt within a looped arrow is of course the starter switch.
Brakes have excellent effectivity and great feel. The 4 piston twin floating disc set-up at the front and 2 piston single disc rear brakes do a fantastic job of stopping this nearly half a ton bike. The standard ABS cuts in and out gently without a very prominent pulsing of either the front lever or the rear foot pedal. The 130mm front and 180 mm rear Dunlops decidedly chip in with their substantial contribution to the traction equation, immensely helping both braking and handling. Ground clearance is sufficient for some spirited riding Slow speed manoeuvres though are an issue with U-turns necessarily being a ‘both feet out’ move. The wide turn radius needs to be kept in mind and parking lot turns need a ready hand on the clutch that allows you to ‘power-walk’ the bike into tight places. The Chieftain with its sharper rake and lesser trail would be a tad better than the Classic and the Vintage in turning around. But off vertical, allow it to tilt a little beyond upright and getting it back upright while static is a big task. Weight and bulk need power and motion to become manageable.
The built-up frame and chassis is a complex multi-segment assembly that uses the engine and even the rear fender as stressed members. The force distribution has been so well optimized that the entire structure, built like a bridge, weighs a mere 58 lbs! And that for a bike weighing in excess of 800 lbs with rider, pillion and bags aboard.
The ergonomics of the bike are typical cruiser and feels comfortable and ready for a long ride. The rider seat (26 inches up and away from Mother Earth) is especially plush and well contoured. The rubber covered foot-rests are large enough to allow for a range of foot placements though traffic in India will rarely let you stray your right foot very far from the rear brake pedal. Wind blast is an issue on the Classic but then sustained speeds fast enough for that aerodynamic beating pretty well negate the true charm of an easy cruiser. The tank mounted dial incorporates an LCD Screen which shows gear position, ambient temperature, fuel economy, estimated cruising range, and all this can be toggled with a trigger button on the left handgrip. The 55 W main headlamp and twin 35 W auxiliary lights flanking it should be more than enough for piercing the darkness and lighting up the road well at any sane speed. The 710 W alternator also leaves enough reserve electrical power at hand for the user to mount accessories of his choice. The 21 litre fuel tank should provide enough juice for at least 200 kms between top –ups. The mirrors give a clear view of the past and all handlebar mounted switchgear falls naturally under hand.
In all probability, Polaris realized post its experience with the Victory range that the only way to fight an icon (read Harley Davidson here) is with another icon. And the Indian is in no way junior or subordinate to HD in that respect. It is true that this staid brand is usually not envisioned with tattoos on biceps and bandanas on bald heads but a sense of community can nevertheless be garnered by its historic lineage, iconic exclusivity and sheer majesty. The Indian in India for now is a small step towards what we wish becomes a thousand mile walk. Let history unfold.
Compare the engine architecture of the present day Thunder Storm 111 with that of the 1953 model Indian in the pic above and you’ll realize how close the modern design is towards maintaining that classic look.
Clay model of the engine side covers at the development stage. It took Polaris a mere 27 months to bring out these 3 brand new bikes. the usual time for a new model in this category is about 40 months.
The clutch assembly. Aluminum basket, oil-immersed multi-plate type with the torsion damper also visible. Note the protruding shaft pointing downwards used to operate the clutch via a bell-crank
The two valves seen nestling in the combustion cavity. The larger one is the inlet, the smaller exhaust. Actually a simple reason for this – the exhaust stroke happens under positive pressure and so a smaller orifice is needed to get the gases out. Comparably the inlet is mere suction needing a bigger orifice to let the air fuel mixture in.