Being big doesn’t mean you can’t be an athlete. Six foot-plus, 200-pound NFL wide receivers can run the 40 yard dash in under 5 seconds, and turn on a dime doing it. After riding the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage for this long-term, 3500-mile test, I found the same combination of qualities can also be found on certain large motorcycles. The Vintage is a large motorcycle with an athletic personality; it has managed to combine power and nimble handling without sacrificing either.
Taking its cues from the Indians of yesteryear, the Vintage can be configured in solid “Indian Motorcycle” red paint, with a tan distressed leather seat and saddlebags, or you can choose Springfield Blue, or a more basic Thunder Black hue. The colors chosen for the Chief series are not generously clear-coated, rendering a finish that emulates the original bikes of the era. Stylized badging and detail work abounds, from the lighted War Bonnet on the front fender, to the Indian head relief on the frame, to the knurled oil reservoir knob and the etched script on the brake reservoir covers. At stoplights the Vintage certainly turns heads, with bystanders often smiling and giving a thumbs up.
While the style is gorgeously old school, many of the bike’s features are not. Thanks to keyless ignition, the fob stays in your pocket, and starting is disarmed when you’re 15 feet away. Throttle-by-wire, cruise control, ABS brakes, self-canceling turn signals and a multi-functional digital information display are all standard on the Vintage. The saddlebags have a “period correct” three-buckle strap system (with plastic latches behind the buckles) complete with leather fringes, and at 15 pounds of capacity, are large enough to pack for a several-day getaway. They are easily removable via two attaching points inside each bag, but they do not lock, which does pose a security issue.
Born to Perform
The 111 cubic inch Thunder Stroke engine is simply a joy - to look at, to listen to, and especially when you twist the throttle. The power and torque of the locomotive-like engine is prodigious, and readily on tap. After my occasional roadside photo stops, I would sometimes forget to downshift, and pull away from the stop in third gear, but the engine never lugged, and by the time the clutch was engaged, I was approaching 20 mph and there was no need to downshift. In slow roll-ons and hard acceleration, as well as small changes to throttle position to adjust lines in curves, the throttle-by-wire system was smooth and predictable. On a ride through Deal’s Gap, keeping the Vintage in third gear for speeds from 20 to 40 mph through the continuous curves for the 11-mile stretch, I never needed to shift, and rarely used the brakes. On the Interstate, I locked the cruise control on 75 mph, and the engine sung its sweet tune at 2800 rpm, rock solid. In short, the engine never failed to deliver in every circumstance. While the engine does require 91 octane fuel, economy for my rides was surprisingly good.
The Indian’s transmission has 6 speeds, all nicely spaced for the powerband of the engine. As with most American motorcycles, first gear engages with a heavy “thunk,” and clutch operation requires a strong hand. Shifting from first to second gear when the bike was cold did prove difficult, but once it was up to operating temperature, I found the bike shifted smoothly and easily, and over the course of riding 3600 miles, gear changes became progressively smoother.
With a wheelbase of 68.1 inches, a wet weight of 835 pounds, and a load carrying capacity of 425 pounds, the Chief Vintage is a big bike. That being said, when sitting on the 26 inch high seat, well into the bike’s center of gravity, you do not feel its size. Although it has a fairly wide turning radius, the Chief Vintage was easy to handle in slow-speed maneuvers, and never felt top-heavy or ungainly. And while it’s not a motorcycle that is intended to be ridden like a sportbike, it will lean over and cut a line quite willingly. In aggressive riding through mountain roads, ‘S’ curves and diminished radius turns, changing a line in mid-curve required simply adding a bit more countersteer or throttle. The suspension soaked up bumps and small potholes easily without upset, and the bike always felt firmly planted, exhibiting no shakes, shimmies, or frame flex (though you could easily touch down hard parts). On highways and interstate riding, the Indian Vintage tracked straight as an arrow, and felt intuitive and confidence inspiring in all situations.
The rest of the review is here: 2014 Indian Chief Vintage: Review | Motorcycle Cruiser
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