Dear Indian: Please make a smaller bike

The Chieftain's fairing is inspired by Streamliner trains.
It is also quite train-like in size!
I got a chance to see the new Indian motorcycles in the flesh today –– both the Chief Classic and the Chieftain. They are incredibly beautiful machines, but great googly-moogly are they massive. It is comically huge. I mean, this thing is gigantic. Colossal. Monumental. It is an informal monster.

Take, for instance, the Streamliner-esque fairing on the Indian Chieftain. It is beautiful and stylish, but it also contains a dashboard larger than that which you would find in an economy car. It is just this whopping great console right in your face. It is so big, and so loaded with bits of information, that I'd be worried about its obstructing my view. Since you really sit "in" a Chieftain rather than on one, it seems the Chieftain's dash would eat up 40 percent of your vision.

The Chief Classic struck me as even more enormous. Its alien laser cannon of a headlight is incredible. In-credible. It is too large to be a credible bit of a bike. I'm pretty sure that headlight assembly is larger than the entire tank on my Honda CBF600SA.

Beautiful and ridiculous. And in that Indian is the most American motorcycle I've ever seen. It is a perfect representation of a beautiful and ridiculous country. There's no doubt that I love both the Chief Classic and the Chieftain, but I'll admit my heart sank a little upon seeing them. Because there is no way in hell I would buy one.

At least not in Britain. As I mentioned in reviewing the Triumph America, cruisers are not well suited to the roads of Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Omnipresent roundabouts, and needlessly twisty, pothole-ridden narrow roads mean constantly having to shift a bike's weight and launch it into teeny gaps. I suppose a spirited and determined individual could perhaps get away with manoeuvring a small cruiser like the America around (I'm keeping hope alive for one day owning a Triumph Speedmaster), but anything larger is a fool's game.

On this tiny island of rain, I feel the Chief or the Chieftain would be an idiot's game. You could only ever ride the thing on the motorway –– all other roads are too small. Though, in riding back from the dealership I found myself on the motorway and even there thinking how inappropriate are Indian's products for this landscape.

Traffic on the M4 backed up to an almost complete stop for at least 12 miles. I slipped easily between the lanes, filtering, and passed car after car after car after car after car after car. At one point I found myself squeezing through a space in which my shoulder actually touched a semi-truck (it was stopped) and one of the guys in the van opposite (also stopped) said through the window: "Ya got balls of steel, mate."

That, and I've got a bike that can fit in such tight spaces. I'm pretty confident I could have cut the same line through traffic on a Bonneville. I might have been able to do the same on a Harley-Davidson 883. But had I been astride a Chieftain, I would have been several miles back, waiting in line with everyone else.

It got me thinking about what bike Indian will next produce. There are rumours that a new Scout is on the horizon, though only one website has reported the rumour. And there's no idea of when it might exist or what it might be. I know I've talked about this before, but my deep, abiding hope is that Indian will produce a machine to rival the Bonneville and 883 –– a machine that I could actually ride in Britain.

If they don't, I'll have to keep buying Hondas...


  1. I demo'ed the Chieftain last year at the Progressive IMS and I almost took it home with me that day.... I just didn't have the dough. And even if I did, there's no way I would be able to explain it to my CFO. Chris.... you are right, these machines are ginormous in size.... but I have compared it to the Harley Street Glide and I will pick the Indian in a heart beat because for my size (5'5"-155 lbs) the HD is way too heavy for me.

    1. Is "CFO" code for "wife?" That's hilarious.

  2. I'm with you in hoping they'll build a more compact, maneuverable (and affordable) bike. The last iteration of Indian that actually built some bikes had a Scout that was still a pretty darn big (and fairly expensive) bike.

    The original Indians were actually pretty compact, relatively light weight, and maneuverable. It's interesting that somehow that origin has morphed into a two-wheeled land-yacht.

    But whatever, I still love 'em. This spring/summer I'm going to have to go demo a Cheif. It's a very small risk to my checkbook, since I can't buy one anyway. ;)

    1. My deep hope is that this new, stronger version of Indian will see itself as an actual motorcycle company, rather than a purveyor of fine vintage goods, and as such will offer things somewhere closer to affordable.

      My fear is that they won't really think too much beyond the Victory box, which offers nothing under $10,000. With its Sportster and Street models, you have to commend Harley for offering something that is (sort of) attainable to people not spending their children's inheritance. Victory doesn't do that. I'm hopeful that Indian will, but my cynical side fears they'll just re-brand the Victory Judge and call it a Scout.

  3. Chris,

    I see your point about the size and its inappropriateness in the UK. So do you see many Harley touring bikes there? Based on your description of the Indian it sounds bigger than the Harley Touring bikes...and I thought they were big. I'm very happy with my Sportster but some day I'd like to have a Road King, Street Glide, or Road Glide (if they bring them back).

    So, do you think you'll ever return to the States? I know you'd love the riding opportunities here. Good luck on your hunt for your next bike.


    Live Free. Ride Hard. Be Happy

    1. I've seen only one HD touring bike over the past year and one Goldwing. Big bikes are really, really rare. To give you an idea of how rare, take the example of the BMW K1600. It's apparently a great tourer -- my dad's best friend owns one and has ridden it everywhere -- but here in the UK there are only 921 of them on the road (according to this story) and I've never seen one of them. Generally, the largest bike you'll see on UK roads are things like the Triumph Sprint, with the most popular big bike being the BMW RS1200.

      I do indeed plan to return to the United States. Earlier this year I set out a five-year plan to get myself back home. So, the goal is to return in summer 2019. Maybe once I'm back in the land of straight roads I'll reconsider things like the Chieftain.

    2. I'd love to see the new Indian (Polaris) bring back an iteration of the venerable Scout. Something more in the middle displacement range and about 200-300lbs lighter on the scale. I'm thinking something sized between the Harley Sportster and Dyna line. Polaris could surely price it to compete, and I think such a bike would sell like hot cakes.

      Look at Harleys recent push into the 500-750cc range. Their typical older crowd is dying off, even HD realizes they need to appeal to and have a bike affordable for the younger and entry level crowd.


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