The Indians are once again on the sales warpath in New Zealand, thanks to the reviving of the brand by cashed-up American powersports corporation, Polaris Industries.
A three-model Indian range will go on sale in a solitary Auckland dealership in July, and Polaris hopes to add further dealerships to its Indian/Victory New Zealand sales network in Wellington and Christchurch in the near future.
The Polaris-lead revival sees the return of the world's oldest motorcycle badge to New Zealand, a brand kept alive in recent times by the combined efforts of two men - the legendary late world speed record setter, Burt Munro, and film-maker, Roger Donaldson.
Polaris motorcycle manager for Australia and New Zealand Adrian Givoye says he doubts that Polaris would have been interested in acquiring the rights to the Indian brand had it not been for the global publicising of the embellished story of Munro by Donaldson's movie, The World's Fastest Indian.
"The film made Indian a household name again, and I doubt that we'd be here today launching these bikes without the huge lift in profile that it gave to the brand."
Polaris paid a yet-to-be-disclosed sum for the rights to the Indian name in 2010, and the purchase triggered a huge effort to develop an entirely new range of bikes in just three years.
Although Polaris had been actively engaged in the manufacture of heavyweight cruisers and tourers with Victory since 1998, the Indians needed a fresh, new approach if the brand's heritage was to be respected.
An entirely new engine needed to be developed to display traditional Indian features like a right-side final drive, heavily-finned rocker covers, and prominent pushrod tunnels. The new 111 cubic-inch (1819cc) 49-degree air-cooled "Thunder Stroke" engine drives via a six-speed gearbox and belt final drive, and develops a healthy 161Nm of torque at 2700rpm. It powers all three models of the rebooted Indian range.
The lineup kicks off with the $28,995 Indian Chief Classic, the most stripped-down of the models. However this isn't a motorcycle in any stage of denial judging from the well-chromed details, the extravagant instantly-recognisable fenders, the plush seating, and a host of nice finishing touches like the routing of the wiring for the handlebar controls through the middle of the bars.
ABS brakes are standard on all Indians, as is cruise control, keyless ignition, cast aluminium frame, daytime running lights, and a ride-by-wire throttle.
The Classic might mark the entry-point to the range, but it still gets the classic Indian head-shaped identification light mounted on top of the leading mudguard.
The $31,995 Chief Vintage adds a series of choice accessories to the Classic base - a quick-detach windscreen and a tassled seat and buckled panniers made of distressed tan leather. It's certainly the model that most looks like some throwback from the 1940s, and if tassles are your thing, it's the one to choose.
The $34,995 Chieftain features desirable touring equipment like a power-adjustable windscreen and quick-detach hard-luggage, along with a high-output audio system, Bluetooth connectivity, and a tyre pressure monitoring system. To allow the handling of Chieftain to shrug off the burden of all the added kit, the Polaris chassis engineers steepened the rake of the forks, and replaced the wire-spoked wheels of the Chiefs with cast-alloy hoops.
The Chieftain is easily the most contemporary looking design, with a handlebar-mounted fairing that pays little in the way of homage to the past, and carbon-black tyre sidewalls where those of the two Chief models appear to have been white-washed.
Heading out for a day-long sample ride on all three Indians, it quickly became clear that refinement was a high priority for the Polaris development team.
Rubber-mounted handlebars and footboards insulate the rider from intrusive vibration, and the six-speed gearbox shifts with more decorum than the transmissions of a certain American bike maker based in Milwaukee.
As for the Thunder Stroke V-twin, it has a smoother delivery than Victory's harsher offerings, and more than enough thump to go hunting the scalp of Harley's 1690cc V-twin.
Equally, the handling of the made-in-Iowa bikes feels a cut above the American-branded norm. Suspension action feels plush and cosseting, steering feels natural and intuitive, and there's more cornering clearance than expected. But make my Injun the Chieftain, for the heaviest bike in the range is also the lightest and friskiest to chuck around, thanks to the reduction of four degrees from the rake of the forks.
Indian began making motorcycles in 1901, the same year that Royal Enfield forgot about cars and also started to focus on motorised bicycles instead.
With Polaris having just signed a 50:50 joint venture to develop a new range of motorcycles with Royal Enfield's Indian parent company, Eicher Motors Limited, the two oldest brands in the bike-making world are now aligned and ready to hit the comeback trail with renewed vigour.
Givoye says that Indian will soon be releasing a new family of models with lower entry price points and more youthful-looking design cues. If I was Harley-Davidson or Triumph, I'd start circling the wagons now.
- The Dominion Post