2014 Indian Chief Vintage: Review

This Classic Tourer Combines Heft and Grace

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.

Riding Deals Gap

Saddle Up

On day rides and tours that included rural roads, highways and interstate riding, I found the seat to be comfortable, with good lumbar support, even on 10-hour plus days. The Vintage has an almost “standard” riding position, with a pullback handlebar and grips angled slightly inward for a comfortable rider’s triangle, and floorboards that are not far forward but still allow for foot position changes. The Vintage also uses a standard shifter (rather than a heel-toe unit), which allows more room for the left foot. Even the standard 18 inch windshield did a good job of keeping wind at bay, although a small amount of air flow did make its way underneath. Although my stock test bike didn't have the optional fork lowers, the envelope behind the windshield was reasonably quiet. Given the height of the windshield and the low seat height, all but the tallest of riders will be looking through, rather than over it. Fortunately, it’s distortion-free, but the generous chrome on the speedometer console does reflect off the back of the windshield, which can be distracting at high noon.

Torque screws on the control pods make for easy positioning of the clutch and brake levers, and two adjustments on each mirror allows your rear view to be customized as well. Extending and retracting the kickstand while seated was a bit of stretch for me, and riders shorter than 5 feet, 8 inches (like myself) will likely have the same experience. A redesign of the kickstand end, and moving it up, would give better accessibility.

The right hand controls include an emergency flasher button, the run-stop switch, the starter button, and cruise control system switches. The brake lever features a rotating wheel and pin adjustment that allows its distance from the handgrip to be dialed in for the individual rider. The electronic cruise control is simple and intuitive, and uses a separate on-off button coupled with a single pivoting switch for cruise control operation. ‘Resume’ and ‘Accelerate’ functions are paired together, and activated with an upward press, while ‘Set’ and ‘Decelerate’ activate with a downward press. However, the function button is located to the lower left of the control pod, making for an awkward reach from the throttle. Moving the switch closer to the grip would allow the rider to use it without taking their hand off the throttle, or eyes off the road.

Right hand controls

The left hand controls include the horn button, and turn signal and high beam switches, all in their usual places. A button inboard from the front side of the left grip changes the digital display through a range of useful features. These include the odometer, two trip meters, engine RPM, volts, average fuel economy, range in the tank, and even ambient temperature. The gear indicator and digital clock displays are always on.

Not quite as well thought-out is the clutch lever, whose outer tip is almost 5 inches away from the handgrip, making it a long reach for any hand size. It also necessitates greater effort to pull in the clutch. As the brake lever distance is adjustable, why not incorporate the same feature on the clutch lever ? Adding that adjustability and using a lever angle that's more parallel to the grip (and a hydraulic actuator) would both shorten the reach and lower pull effort.

In nighttime riding, the speedometer and fuel gauge are clearly visible, but using a red dial indicator on a red illuminated display does make them harder to read. Also, backlighting the pod controls would be a welcome addition.

Check and Fill

With the saddlebags removed, both the bags and rear section of the bike are easily cleaned, but the valanced fenders do limit access to wheels and tires. Fortunately, the front tire valve is angled outward, so there's easy access for checking air pressure, but the rear tire valve's standard vertical stem is more difficult to reach due to the drive belt and exhaust. Removing a saddlebag does make things easier, but why not use an angled stem for the back tire as well? Checking the oil is a somewhat complicated procedure, requiring the engine to be warmed to operating temperature, the knurled knob to be loosened with the included tool, then holding the bike upright while the knob is unscrewed, the dip stick wiped clean, then screwed back in until fully seated and screwed back out again to check the level. A sight glass for checking oil level might be a good addition to the bike. The oil filter and oil pan drain bolts (there are two) are easily accessible, and this should make for easy oil changes for the DIY crowd.

Rear wheel air valve

While an 835 pound motorcycle may not be for everyone, in the segment of large cruisers, the Indian Chief Vintage is a marvelous feat of engineering, and a welcome new addition to the stable of American-made motorcycles. The styling is one-of-a-kind, the engine’s performance is a treat for the motorcyclist’s soul, and the well-sorted suspension makes it ride like a smaller motorcycle. The New Native American motorcycle company got this one right, and you’ll know it on your first ride.

2014 Indian Chief Vintage

Base Price: $20,999 ($21,399 as tested; Red color option) Warranty: 12 months, limited miles; 5 year service contract with $50 deductible, unlimited miles

Engine

Type air/liquid-cooled 45° V-twin

Displacement, bore x stroke 1811cc, 101 x 113 mm

Valve train OHV; pushrod actuated, 2 valves per cylinder

Compression ratio 9.5:1

Fuel system EFI (closed loop); 54mm throttle bodies

Transmission 6-speed; wet multi-plate clutch

Final drive: belt

Chassis

Frame

Overall length 103.7 in.

Wheelbase 68.1 in.

Wet weight 835 lbs.

Seat height 26.0 in.

Rake/trail 29 ° / 6.1 in.

Wheels 40-spoke steel

Front tire Dunlop American Elite 130/90 B16

Rear tire Dunlop American Elite 180/65 B16

Front brake 300mm dual floating discs, 4-piston calipers, w/ABS and electronic linking

Rear brake 300mm disc, 4-piston caliper w/ABS and linking

Front suspension 46mm telescopic fork; 4.6 in travel

Rear suspension: single adjustable shocks; 3 in. travel

Fuel capacity 6 gallons

Instruments

Electronic speedometer with odometer; dual tripmeters; digital tachometer; air temperature; fuel range; average fuel economy; battery voltage; gear position display; clock;

trouble code readout; oil pressure; LED indicators for cruise control, neutral, high beam, turn signal, ABS, check engine, and MPH or km/h unit designation; fuel gauge w/fuel indicator

Performance:

Peak torque (claimed) 119.2 ft-lbs. @3000 rpm

Fuel mileage: low, 36.77mpg; high, 43.6 mpg; 39.1 mpg average

Average range: 220 miles