2009 Indian Chief - Native Pride

The Newest Version Of America's Oldest Motorcycle

By Alan Cathcart, Photography by Tom Riles

Riding west toward the Appalachian foothills from Indian's new home in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, one thing is immediately clear: The new Indian Chief is one of the most comfortable American V-twin cruisers built. The riding position is relaxed, with your legs stretched comfortably forward, though not so far as to sacrifice control. The high-quality, low-slung leather saddle is firm yet accommodating, and admirably prevented numb-bum syndrome even after 200 miles. Though it's a reach to the pullback handlebars, it's not disagreeable, and the controls feel great-even if clutch action is a tad stiff. The Chief is a very pleasant bike to pass miles on, just as a cruiser should be.

The newly relaunched Indian, now led by British-born Chairman Stephen Julius, offers four variations of its basic Chief platform. In addition to the Standard we tested, there's the Deluxe with a higher-spec trim package and traditional, deep-welled fenders; the light-touring Roadmaster with windshield and soft bags; and the top-of-the-line, ultra-retro Vintage. All four models share the same steel-tube frame, suspension, running gear and 105-cubic-inch Powerplus V-twin.

Outfitted with closed-loop, sequential-port electronic fuel injection and paired to a Baker six-speed transmission, the Powerplus mill has a lazy, loping manner synonymous with the American V-twin experience. A hefty, 1.5-kilowatt starter motor instantly fires the 1720cc twin, which settles into a lilting rumble that sounds both muscular and pleasing. The engine feels quiet and refined in operation, with minimal mechanical noise, and while the six-speed transmission has a rather noisy shift action, it works well with the standard heel-and-toe lever. A meaty torque curve and optimum fueling help the Standard accelerate so well off the mark that you'd never guess it weighs a claimed 738 pounds dry.

Of course, the tradeoff for such impressive low-end power is top-end speed. Top-gear roll-ons from 60 mph on up felt sluggish compared to other American V-twins of equivalent displacement; you need to kick it down a gear to get anything resembling acceleration. The Chief isn't gutless, but expect to work the gearbox if you want to keep your speed up. Without a counterbalancer, vibration from the solid-mounted, 45-degree V-twin is also an issue. At 2600 rpm (which equates to 70 mph in sixth gear) vibes invade the floorboards (but not the seat or bars), and by the 5000-rpm power peak become unbearable-especially compared to, say, a counterbalanced Harley-Davidson Twin Cam motor.

Turn your attention to handling, however, and the Chief compares favorably to any other cruiser, with taut, precise steering that is surely aided by the rigid-mounted motor (though rubber mounts might cancel some vibes). In spite of minimal, 2.9-inch rear-wheel travel, the Chief shrugs off freeway expansion joints and cracks in the pavement well. The Paioli fork proved very compliant, if softly sprung, and the Brembo brakes deliver outstanding stopping power. Michelin Commander tires grip well enough to confidently deck the left footboard or right-side exhaust clamp under moderately enthusiastic cornering. All things considered, test boss Jean-Marc David (formerly of Victory) did a fine job R&Ding the Chief.

Performance and handling are well and good, but the amount of attention the Chief attracts is an even better measure of the new Indian experience. Not since I rode a prototype MV Agusta F4 750 more than a decade ago has a motorcycle provoked so much open-mouthed gawking. Indian owners surely will have to get used to passersby pointing at the Chief and remarking favorably on its classic American lines. This might be the ultimate "hey-look-at-me" ride.

There's no disputing the Indian Chief has significant presence, whether from the curb or the saddle. And the huge, chromed headlight shell flanked by twin spotlights conveys an undeniable sense of status. The overriding impression after my day aboard the '09 Indian Chief is how well made it is. Build quality is very high-just look at the deep, richly polished acres of chrome, the lustrous, smooth paint job with beautifully applied pinstriping and decals, and especially all that luxurious leatherwork. Indian is back in business-this time, hopefully, to stay.

Tech Spec
Indian Chief Standard
Evolution

An updated version of the Gilroy Indians from eight years ago, with improved build quality and subtle mechanical refinements.

Rivals
Harley-Davidson Softail Deluxe, Victory Kingpin.

TECH
Price $25,999
Engine type a-c 45-deg. V-twin
Valve train OHV, 4v
Displacement 1720cc
Bore x stroke 100.7 x 108.0mm
Compression 9.0:1
Fuel system Magnetti Marelli EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower na
Claimed torque 100 lb-ft.
Frame Tubular-steel cradle
Front suspension 41mm Paioli telescopic fork
Rear suspension Single Fox shock
Front brake Brembo four-piston caliper, 292mm disc
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 292mm disc
Front tire 130/90-16 Michelin Commander
Rear tire 150/90-16 Michelin Commander
Rake/trail 34.0 deg./5.9 in.
Seat height 27.9 in.
Wheelbase 68.4 in.
Fuel capacity 5.0 gal.
Claimed dry weight 738 lbs.
Colors Indian Red, Thunder Black
Available Now
Warranty 24 mo., unlimited mi.

Contact
Indian Motorcycle Company
116 Battleground Rd.
Kings Mountain, NC 28086
704.937.7333
www.indianmotorcycle.com

Verdict 3.5 stars out of 5
Inimitable American style, iconic heritage and superb fit and finish-but the Powerplus engine could be more refined and powerful.

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