Indian Motorcycle Version 3.0

Is the new Tribe for real?

"Hey man, where are all the T-shirts at?"

That's the question Indian brass said they most expected from journalists when they held meetings recently at the company's newly opened Kings Mountain, North Carolina, factory. The pow-wows were intended to update the industry on the status of the new Indian's long-awaited relaunch.

It was a good idea, because many had speculated that upon taking ownership of the Indian marque in 2004, new owner Stephen Julius would simply leverage the iconic brand into a T-shirt company. It had been done so many times before, and after all it was the easy way to make money. And the previous attempt at resurrection by Gilroy-based Indian Motorcycle Corp. had fizzled after producing unrefined bikes riddled with mechanical problems. The resulting bankruptcy left loyal customers high and dry, dashing plenty of hopes along the way.

What the naysayers didn't account for was that Julius was well schooled in the fine art of resurrecting old, beaten-down brands and restoring them to their former glory. You can count Chris Craft boats and Riva yachts among his success stories. At least that's the company line as dispensed by one Chris Bernauer, General Manager for Indian Motorcycle.

At our meeting in the new factory Bernauer said job number one is to return Indian to its once-lofty position as a premier motorcycle OEM; consumer research shows the brand recognition is still there. The new business model focuses more narrowly on the "ultra-premium" segment of the cruiser market, but the new Indian plans to get there slowly-Bernauer says only 750 bikes are set to be built for the '09 model year-then gradually ramp up as demand grows. The point was made that Julius is spending his own money here, so outlandish projections and lavish expenditures won't be part of the process.

At the company's core is a small group of 34 employees, all boasting a strong engineering and technical background. The team includes some heavy hitters poached from other well-regarded American motorcycle manufacturers. Vice President of Engineering Nick Glaja, for instance, comes straight off a multidecade stint with Harley-Davidson and Victory Motorcycles, and Bernauer himself was an engineer with the Motor Company for close to a dozen years. Bernauer emphasizes the new Indian's main focus on proper design and analysis-being absolutely certain the new bike is bulletproof before release and getting the brand right. He adds, "We sure don't want to bruise this brand any more than it already has been."

Initially the company will offer just the Chief, albeit four versions of it, which looks strikingly similar to its predecessor. But come in closer and you can spot the differences-some subtle and some not so subtle-between the Gilroy Indians and the new bikes. The real changes are inside, we're told. Things like fuel injection, an all-new one-piece tank, a wiring harness, brakes, exhaust and a reformulated frame mean it's as close as you can get to a complete redesign.

As for the PowerPlus 100 engine-which Indian inherited from the old Gilroy firm along with intellectual rights and brand-it's also been refined. Not because it was a bad design, says Bernauer. "The PowerPlus has fundamentally sound architecture, with the Harley EVO basis. It's the execution in the last bikes that was flawed." So the new PowerPlus engine was bored out to 105 cubic inches and received Nikasil-lined cylinders and lighter pistons. The crank assembly was completely replaced, the cam profile updated and new, integrated, state-of-the-art EFI was added. The new engine will be "the heart of the new Indian," according to Bernauer.

The Indian Chief will be available in Standard livery (solo seat), Deluxe trim (two-up seat), as the touring-biased Roadmaster (with shield and bags) or as the nostalgically styled Vintage, which comes complete with touches harkening back to the 1930s. Production bikes are expected to be introduced at Sturgis, and Bernauer says the first dealer shipment should come shortly thereafter-if all goes according to schedule. There are tentative plans to bring out a Scout model in the future as well. And yes, there will be a full line of parts and accessories available for those who want to customize their bikes even more.

We're pulling for this latest version of Indian; we really are. But the proof will be in the putting. Until we ride an actual production unit, we're gonna keep the confetti corked.

Visit motorcyclecruiser.com or indianmotorcycle.com for more details.-Andrew Cherney

Another Vision In Their Future?
In other big news, Victory Motorcycles celebrated the start of its 10-year anniversary celebration (which will officially kick off in 2009) by feting several shameless journalists at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design. Ever eager to score free grub and fancy notepads, we magazine editors flocked to the event like rats to a restaurant dumpster.

For our efforts we were rewarded with the chance to speak to a gaggle of Victory designers, all of whom gave in-depth background and summaries of the company's designs from the original V92C back in 1998 all the way to last year's mind-blowing Vision.

But Victory didn't just pass around some birthday cake-it also rolled out a catalog full of major upgrades to existing bikes as well as several new models for 2009. We're sworn to secrecy right now, but look for the official way-cool announcement on July 24. Only time will tell, but what we can say definitively is that the New American Motorcycle hasn't been taking the year off.