On And Off Again For 98 Years, The Indian Scout Is A Persistent Image Of Motorcycling

Classic, custom, and cutting-edge

Indian Scout against a brick wall
In this series, we’ll explore classic, custom, and modern versions of some of our favorite motorcycles. One model three ways. Here, we take a look at the Indian Scout. Up against a wall, the Scout fought back and returned to showrooms floors. Thanks, capitalism.Indian Motorcycle

For close to 100 years, the Indian Scout has been an icon of American motorcycling. As a military model for WWII to Burt Munro's record breaker, the Scout has been adapted for varied uses, proving it's not just a great American motorcycle but a great motorcycle, period.

History and legacy are precarious things to meddle with. Sometimes the best way to honor a legacy is to leave it in the past—that it may reside untarnished by modernity’s reinvention. Tributes can veer toward the trite; imitation can slide into pandering.

Unlike former attempts to revive the Indian name, when Polaris plucked the famous marque from the consignment of history, it breathed new life into it, and with sufficiently stocked coffers, has seen it through. With the reborn Indian, came the reborn Scout.

The struggle to balance form and innovation is a constant battle for cruiserdom; even more so with a brand that carries the weight of history. But if sales figures are any indication, Indian is pulling it off. And the Scout—as a capable box-stock machine straight off the showroom floor or as a prototype tracker—has managed to balance old and new by glancing in the rearview mirror but keeping its eyes on the road ahead.

Here, we remember the historical Scout, a prototype newly destined for production, and the contemporary version that’s ready for whatever you want to do with it.

Classic: Indian Scout

1929 Indian Scout
1929 Indian Scout.Mike Calabro

Talk about heritage. The Indian Scout was first introduced in 1920, the same year the Hendee Manufacturing Company was renamed the Indian Motocycle (sic) Company. The 36.4ci (596cc) V-twin Scout produced 11 hp that carried the 260-pound machine to a top speed of 50 mph. In 1920, 50 mph on that thing must have been terrifying. I want to ride one.

In 1927, Indian updated the Scout with a 45ci engine, and cemented its reputation.

It remains a beautiful machine to this day—physically tiny by today’s standards, and universally appealing.

The thing with these classic bikes is that they aren’t just antiques. Because of the motorcycle’s elemental form, their shapes persist as recognizable structures that aren’t really that distinct from today’s machines. A 2018 Scout bears the same skeletal image of a ’29 Scout because humanity hasn’t, at the end of the day, changed that much, in spite of scientific progress and the shifting of cultural mores. That we can see ourselves in our own recent past—riding a brand-new 1929 Indian Scout, for instance—reminds us that for all the world’s attempt to reinvent itself and to think our way out of the imperfection of existence, not that much has really changed. And with a motorcycle in the garage to ride, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Custom: Indian Scout FTR1200

Indian Scout FTR1200
Indian Scout FTR1200. Of course, a production version of the FTR750 flat-track racebike would be ideal, but this works too.Indian Motorcycle

The Scout FTR1200 isn’t exactly a custom, and isn’t exactly a formal factory concept, but if Polaris’ goal in building it was to gauge interest in a production model, you’ve gotta think that goal was met, given the emphatic response of the drooling multitudes.

If "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" is a real thing, Indian's all-in approach to thrashing Harley (and everyone else) in the American Flat Track series should make a Scout-based tracker a showroom hit and properly tempt new customers interested in more performance-oriented motorcycles.

Indian FTR1200
How strongly will the production version resemble the factory’s teaser bike?Indian Motorcycle

Crucially, the production FTR has to be the real deal, not just some flat-track look-alike with a farty engine and not-right geometry. From the sounds of it, the custom/concept Scout FTR1200, though using an essentially unfettled powerplant from the production Scout, is a nimble machine that’s lot of fun to ride. Cycle World EIC Mark Hoyer has certainly been enjoying flogging the thing (see CW issue 2).

I’d be hard pressed to imagine the production version will have all that flash carbon fiber or Öhlins springers, but in tracker form, the Scout will be tempting on its own. Show of hands of who can’t wait to ride one?

Cutting-Edge: Indian Scout

The 2018 Indian Scout
The 2018 Indian Scout.Indian Motorcycle

When the new Indian Scout debuted in 2014, it deftly balanced heritage and modernity to become an instant hit for parent company Polaris—so much so that Polaris dropped Victory to focus on Indian. The Scout, obviously, isn’t culpable for Victory’s demise, but the Scout’s success suggested how much growth potential is inherent when a brand is able to captivate an audience’s imagination.

It’s not like Indian’s legacy is as strong as Harley-Davidson’s. After all, Indian went bankrupt in the ’50s, while Harley was cruising right along. Still, the Indian name carries so much cultural cachet, many riders are willing to buy in to the heritage of the name and let their imaginations fill in the rest.

More importantly, the Scout’s 69ci liquid-cooled engine and cast aluminum frame ever so slightly nudge the needle away from the conventional cruiser archetype, bringing an air of modernity to its baked-in pseudo-heritage-authenticity.

The 2018 Indian Scout Bobber
The 2018 Indian Scout Bobber.Indian Motorcycle

It's not exactly a Ducati Diavel, but even a "born on a sportbike" guy like me can see the Scout's appeal. Whenever I visit the local motorcycle mega mall near my brother's house, I'm surprised how drawn to the Scout I am.

In addition to the “new original” from 2014, the Scout line has grown to include the Scout Sixty (smaller 61ci engine, smaller price tag) and the Scout Bobber (blacked-out bobber looks, improved suspension).

In whatever guise and however old or new, the Indian Scout is an icon of American motorcycling.