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Bike Review - Posted 11th April 2014
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2014 Indian Chieftain

The new retro-styled Indian V-twin breaks new ground and recalls old ambitions. Roger Slater reports his first impressions of the Chieftain...

Indian Motocycles started building twin-cylinder machines in 1907, and the top-of-the-line 1000cc V-twin Chief first rolled onto the road in 1922. The firm's flagship model then stayed in production until 1953 when the company stopped building bikes. With its massive mudguards, protective panelling and unmistakeable engine, the post-war Indian Chief is for many motorcyclists the ultimate heavyweight Indian.

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 1947 Indian Chief

By 1950 the Chief's flathead motor had grown to 1320cc, and the model adopted both telescopic front forks and a 'modern' right-hand throttle twistgrip. However Indian's great competitor Harley-Davidson had moved on to using overhead valves in their big twins, and the sweeping style of the Chief wasn't enough to sustain the company's economic future. It wasn't cheap to produce, either, not with all that chrome, custom-painted pinstripes, and fancy fringed saddle with matching tan leather saddlebags.

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 1953 Indian Chief

In recent years, the marque has been reborn, and has now launched a retro model aimed squarely at those who admire the substantial style of the post-war Chief. The Indian Chieftain doesn't just mimic the appearance of the old bikes, it also introduces several new features to the marque. So it's the first Indian motorcycle with hard luggage and a fixed fairing as standard, as well as the obligatory acres of chrome, powered adjustable windscreen, LED running lights and keyless ignition.

The monster 1811cc fuel-injected engine produces almost 140 Nm of torque at 2600rpm, which puts it on a par with Triumph's big-twin Thunderbird but a long way behind the Rocket III's 220 Nm. The Chieftain weighs nearly 400kg fuelled (Tbird 350kg), has a wheelbase of 1669mm and a seat height just 660mm above sea level (Tbird 700mm).

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 2014 Indian Chieftain

However, we all know that the numbers rarely do justice to the riding experience so we're fortunate that RC regular Roger Slater (yes, he of Laverda fame) has just taken delivery of his own new Chieftain. It was delivered last weekend, and Roger wasted no time in unpacking it (Roger lives in a remote area of the USA, folks; UK customers can just pick up their bikes from their nearest dealer).

So. Does the Indian Chieftain live up to the hype?

'You really have to have a ride on one of these new Indians to appreciate what it is all about. All I had to do when it arrived was fit the screen and seat that I already had to hand. Fired it up, (no key to mess with), nervously and excitedly pottered down our long dirt drive to the lane at the bottom.

'As I went up through the gears I found myself grinning like a Cheshire Cat. The engine was the initial outstanding feature. Despite its solidly mounted 1800-plus dimensions, it was absolutely smooth as silk. There is nothing coarse about it; a Swiss watch comes to mind.

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 2014 Indian Chieftain Motor

'That is only the start of it. My second impression was one of steam-engine-type massive torque. Such grunt is aided by a transmission that has no less than three huge cush drives and an elastic "chain" which smoothes away any possibility of objectionable power-pulses at anything above idle. My Vincent Rapide had the highest gearing of anything at 3.5 to 1. This Indian is 2.75 to 1 on its fat 16-inch rear tyre, so just 3000 revs is a relaxed 80mph.

'The exhaust note is really something to write home about, nicely quiet with a mellow quality to it that is difficult to explain. Perhaps "woof woof woof", with a unmistakable timbre to it, very pleasant.

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 1948 Indian Chief Brochure - Happy Camper
Various 'Indian' Motorcycles on ...

'The ride comfort of the Chieftain is outstanding, provided by the single air-over-oil Fox unit at the rear and the very well calibrated front end. The panniers are quickly removable, single button opening with electronic control.

'Being a vertically-challenged geriatric, I am most impressed that I can place both feet flat on the ground. The low seat height combined with its very low C-of-G enables me to manage the Indian very comfortably. It can be ridden to a standstill feet-up, and moved off again in second gear.

2014 Indian Chieftain Road Test 2014 Indian Chieftain Panniers

'As to bells and whistles, it has everything my RT1200 BMW had and then some. ABS, electric screen, TPM, fuel consumption instant and average, range remaining, cruise control, real leather heated seat, oil life monitoring, etc, and the very high quality radio has voice recognition, incoming call monitoring, auto volume adjustment, Bluetooth, MP3, power outlets all over - it even gets BBC Radio4!

'The retro styling is absolutely excellent - just look at it compared to a 1950/52 Chief. The similarity is astonishing - well done to Polaris and their stylists. In short I am most impressed with the quality, design, execution and finish of the bike.

'I am a happy camper.'

Words Rowena Hoseason and Roger Slater
Photos Roger Slater / RC RChive

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