Skip to main content

What it's Like to Crash a Motorcycle

“Damn it. John Burns thinks I’m a dick.”
That was one of the predominant thoughts going through my head as I slid down a Florida highway at 60 mph back in March.
It’s weird how the mind works. Time slows in a crash. Every tiny image burns into memory, so your brain can replay it over and over and over at night for the next who knows how many weeks.
In the moments before I crashed, I was riding the Harley-Davidson Street Rod along County Road 34 in central Florida. I’m not sure which county. The accident report simply records it as “County Code 61,” but the internet can’t agree on which county that is. Maybe I was in Indian River County; maybe I was in Suwannee County; maybe I was in Flagler County; I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t matter; I was somewhere. The road passing through that somewhere was long and straight – not the sort of place where one usually crashes – and the weather was perfect.

“My God, I am so happy,” I was thinking. “I am so incredibly lucky to be here – to live t…

Ride Review: Indian Chief Vintage


The Indian Chief Vintage is an interesting bike in the sense that it is simultaneously amazing and awful. The good news is that this awful can be fixed with a pair of scissors. The better news is that the awful of which I speak is completely subjective; you may, in fact, love it.

What I'm talking about is leather fringe. It is a prominent feature of the Chief Vintage and I hate it. Apart from one of those Babes Ride Out girls who would do so ironically, I cannot imagine the sort of person who would desire leather fringe on a motorcycle.

I mean, fringe. Leather fringe, for Pete's sake. Fringe.

What weird, fetishist pack of Minnesotans did Indian dig up for a test marketing group that the motorcycle company came away with the belief that bedecking one of their bikes in leather fringe was a good idea?

I don't even...

I think the reason I get so annoyed by the Chief Vintage's fringe is that it is otherwise a pretty fantastic bike. After all, the Chief Vintage is nothing more than the Chief Classic with a few bits of the Indian accessory catalogue thrown at it.

When I rode the Classic back in November I declared it to be the best motorcycle I had ever ridden. By and large, I still stand by that statement. (Though, having now also ridden the Indian Chieftain [review coming soon] I might be inclined to give that bike the top slot if something could be done about its screen.)


But back to the Chief Vintage. There is nothing subtle about this motorcycle. Dripping with chrome, it is oversized in every way. The handlebars are massive, the headlight fixture is the size of a Shetland pony skull, That famous valanced fender and war bonnet pull the eye, especially when accompanied by a two-tone paint scheme.

Stock pipes offer a pleasing sound reminiscent of family cars from the early 1960s, whereas the accessory Thunder Stroke Stage 1 exhausts offer a deeply satisfying but not-too-dickish rumble. Either way, however, it is not the sort of bike you want to ride if you are the shy, retiring type. Anyone riding an Indian should accept that every single stop will take three times as long because people will want to talk to you about it.

Weighing in at just shy of 380 kg, the Chief Vintage is a beast of a machine, but at anything above 3 mph it moves with a lightness that somewhat boggles the mind. It corners decently, as well; attempts to drag the pegs at sane speeds and cornering angles were unsuccessful.

Were you to be racing up Pike's Peak on the thing I'm sure all kinds of dragging would occur, but ride according to or near the speed limit and I doubt you'll ever hear scraping. And as more and more of the world becomes subject to the tyranny of speed cameras, I suppose having a bike that can tear through mountain passes at triple digits becomes less and less desirable.

Even within the limits of the law, however, the Chief Vintage is a lot of fun. Twisting the throttle produces oodles of smoothly delivered torque. Getting up to highway speed is effortless, and staying there is equally trouble-free. The bike's real oomph tapers somewhat above 90 mph, but there's still plenty of power left in the Thunder Stroke 111 to get your license revoked.


Not that you'll want to spend much time at that speed, however. At least, not if you're me. The actual motorcycle is steady enough at high speeds but the screen on the Chief Vintage makes it hell. I'm 6-foot-1, so I suspect those of shorter leg wouldn't mind so much.

I'm pretty sure the standard screen on the Chief Vintage is the tallest one offered by Indian, so it's a good thing the screen is easy to remove. In fact, I'd say it's a little too easy to remove. If you know what you're doing it will only take about 6 seconds.

To that end, if I were looking to get one of these bikes, I might choose instead to go for the cheaper Chief Classic and wait for an opportunity to steal a screen from someone's Chief Vintage. The Chief Classic starts at £18,500 in Her Majesty's United Kingdom, whereas the least you'll pay for a Chief Vintage is £19,700.

Admittedly, it's not just the screen you'd be missing out on with the Classic. You'd also have to live without the leather panniers that come standard on the Vintage. But in my opinion those bags aren't worth it. They are not wide enough to hold a full-face helmet, they don't lock, I suspect they are not waterproof, and they've got that damned leather fringe.

Indeed, when you think about it, the Chief Classic is the far better choice; it's cheaper and fringe-free.


So, with all that said:

The three questions

1) Does it fit my current needs/lifestyle?
Nope and nope. The bike in and of itself is a hoot but it is too big and too expensive to exist within my current situation. The presence of fringe, meanwhile, means that it is also ruled out of any lifestyle to which I might aspire.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Uhm. The bike itself does, yes. Getting beat up by the buffeting from the screen didn't make me smile, nor did the idea of riding around on a motorcycle with leather fringe. I talk a lot about the importance of aesthetics on a bike, how that aspect can vastly affect your psychology and how you interact with the bike. I would honestly have preferred to be seen on a bike covered with images of Disney princesses. Give me a Chief Classic, or even the fringe-free Anna & Elsa Edition and I'd be laughing in my helmet. The Chief Vintage, however; no lo quiero.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
Only in resale value. By the numbers, a V-Strom 1000 is lighter, faster, more powerful, more fuel-efficient, more nimble, has more features and better luggage, and is easier to maintain. Where it falls flat against cruisers is in aesthetics. Something like the Chief Classic or Victory Gunner or even Harley-Davidson Sportster will beat a Strom in the sexy game all day long. But fringe... By dressing up the Chief Vintage like a Dennis Hopper tribute act, Indian loses its trump card with this bike.


Comments

  1. if you did your homework, you would know at least have of the fringe is held on by velcor and could come off if you don't like it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Easier to maintain? An oil change with two sump plugs and a filter every 5,000 miles...and....belt drive, hydraulic valves, tubeless tires (on the Dark Horse) and no chrome (on the Dark Horse) and a five point five gallon (US) tank and...easier to maintain than an Indian? Gear primary drive no primary chain like Harley...easier to maintain than an Indian Dark Horse? I think not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't review the Dark Horse and I don't own a Harley. So, I'm confused by your comment. I own a Suzuki V-Strom, which is generally easier to maintain thain a Chief Vintage, despite having chain drive. It is certainly cheaper to maintain.

      Delete
    2. I own a red Vintage,The fringe was ok at first. Then it grew on me. Now the Bike is loaded with fringe and many well built accessories. Chris, your Suzuki would be virtually invisible if I come within 200yds.

      Delete
  3. Leather fringe has been a part of classic American bikes from the begining Some of us like it

    ReplyDelete
  4. The leather fringe is velcroed to the saddle bags. You can simply lift it off.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Ride review: Harley-Davidson XL 883 L (aka Sportster SuperLow)

Yes, as a matter of fact, it is like riding a tractor.
That's the criticism so consistently levied against Harley-Davidson motorcycles: that there is something agrarian to the experience. And I can now say from personal experience that all those critics are right. But I can also say those critics are leaving out a key piece of information, which is this:
TRACTORS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!
It's a tractor that hurtles forward with roller-coaster intensity, a tractor that goes really fast, a tractor that makes you feel like Brock Lesnar in a children's ball pit. A tractor from the Land of Bad-Ass, with which you can sow the seeds of awesomeness.
But let me back up a bit...
A few days ago, I decided to take the day off, solely for the purpose of getting a chance to ride around and finally make use of the free breakfast coupon sent to me by Thunder Road. As I was gearing up, I suddenly decided that since I was already heading west, I might as well push a few miles further and che…

Ride review: Yamaha XV950 / Star Bolt

Imitation, Charles Caleb Colton famously noted, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's true, the flattery the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 receives from Yamaha's XV950 is enough to make one blush. Put the two bikes side by side, and the inspiration for the latter is undeniable. Yamaha claims its bike has a "new neo retro Japanese look," but that's clearly just nonsense –– lorem ipsom that was used instead of "totally looks like a Harley-Davidson Iron 883."
Certainly the XV950 –– known as the Star Bolt in the United States –– isn't the first example of a Japanese OEM adhering faithfully to the styling cues of America's best-known motorcycle manufacturer. The orthodox members of the Church of Jesus Harley Latter-day Davidson write these bikes off as "wannabes," and tend to be pretty dismissive of anyone who would dare consider purchasing one. But I'm going to commit blasphemy here and tell you that the XV950 is unquestionably the …

Ride review: Triumph Bonneville

"OK," I said. "I want one." "Well, you know, maybe you should ask your wife first." "She loves Triumphs," I said. "Still, Chris. You should give it a think. Go home, discuss it with your wife, give yourself a chance to think clearly. After all, this is one of Triumph's most popular models; there's plenty of stock available."
The voice of reason in that conversation was Drew, the salesman at Bevan Motorcycles. He was doing his best to talk some sense into me after my test ride of the 2014 Triumph Bonneville. I was wild-eyed and yammering like a teenage boy who has touched boobies for the first time. This, my friends, is what the Bonneville does to you. It is an instantly rideable, instantly enjoyable, instantly lovable motorcycle that surprises you in just how good a simple motorcycle can be.

The Bonneville, of course, is a storied machine that's been around in one form or another for 55 years. It is a classic. Partially b…