The word “vintage” gets tossed around a lot, but when a company with a history as long as Indian Motorcycles uses it, you can believe they mean it. Though the company has changed hands many times, the Chief model family, in one form or another, has usually been part of the Indian lineup since its inception in 1922. Indian Motorcycles, under Polaris Industries Inc., keeps that tradition alive with its 2017 Chief Vintage. The designers build upon 95 years of Chief tradition with this ride, and while all Indians show their historical roots in varying degrees, none is quite as overt as the aptly named Vintage. Join me while I look at Indian’s latest effort to bring “old-school” to the 21st century.
At a glance, the Vintage looks like it was torn from a page in history. The full front fender, with its traditional figurehead, takes us all the way back to 1940 when Indian first started using their now-iconic, skirted fenders. Cast your eye down the top lines. Follow them down the fat fuel tank and across the saddle, and you will come away with the impression that there really could be a rigid rear end under all that sheet metal. It’s an illusion of course, but it adds to the suggestion of antiquity.
The fat front forks, headlamp nacelle, pimp lights (passing lamps) and over-sized windshield give the front end a retro look that reinforces the overall classic vibe. Even the engine design attempts to capture the look of the flathead, side-valve V-twins used by the early Indians – down to the cooling fins across the rocker boxes and the pushrod tube geometry. The tan saddle and saddlebag leather is the icing on the cake, and the fringe is attached with Velcro, so you can easily remove it if tassels ain’t your thing.
Indian makes a wide variety of accessories that can enhance this illusion significantly, and tipple into the “classic ” custom zone. I think my favorites so far would have to be the mini-apes, and the fishtail muffler tips available for the Stage-One exhaust system, but there are literally hundreds of accessories to choose from, so you can make a Chief Vintage that is “all you.”
Low, wide and stable are the words that best describe the rolling chassis. Good thing too, ’cause all this sheet metal and classic design elements come at a price – it’s fairly heavy. The Vintage weighs in at 801 pounds dry, and will weigh around half-a-ton once you add 5.5 gallons of fuel and a rider. Bottom line here is: when you have a lot of bike, you need a lot of support, and the designers knew they were making a heavy cruiser when they started.
Let’s start with the hoops. The 16-inch, laced chrome rims mount 130 mm, and 180 mm Dunlop tires on the front and rear, respectively, and the whitewalls play right into the dated look the designers were going for. Too bad the all-around, 300 mm brake discs all but completely obscure those beautiful chrome spokes, but chrome won’t get you home, and I will trade aesthetics for safety any day. The dual front brakes come with big, four-pot pistons up front, and a dual-pot caliper in back, all managed by an ABS so you can use those big brakes with confidence.
On paper, the 46 mm front forks and rear monoshock would seem to be barely adequate with 4.7 and 3.7 inches of travel respectively, but as it turns out, the ride is quite cushy. The suspension and mass just absorb the jolts, passing little to no energy on to the rider. Result: a bagtastic cruiser that will keep you comfortable on rough roads, and in the saddle longer during road trips.
It takes a lot of power to get big bikes moving, and even more to make them as responsive to the throttle as the Thunder Stroke 111 engine. This 111 cubic-inch (1,811 cc), air-cooled V-twin grinds out 119.2 pound-feet of stump-pulling torque at a mere 3,000 rpm, and surprisingly rapid acceleration that seems to belie the weight of the bike. Part of this is due to the relatively long, 4.449-inch stroke, and part because of the heavy flywheels tucked away in the cases. I’m sure the 54 mm throttle body with closed-loop fuel injection doesn’t hurt, either.
Power flows through a wet clutch to the six-speed transmission that helps keep the cruising rpm low and near the peak in the powerband for instant throttle response and a strong, 60 to 80 mph roll on with its 2.789 to 1 top-gear ratio. The final drive is a quiet, and low-maintenance, belt drive system that runs with a 2.2 to 1 final-drive ratio. Bottom line here: the engine won’t be frantic trying to keep up with (or keep from being run over by) traffic on the highway.
Right off the top of my head, the Cross-Country from Victory seems to be the closest thing we have to a direct competitor in the American market, in engine size at least. Before I start, I realize that I am comparing a fairing bike to a windshield bike, but (detachable) windshields that big are almost as good as a full fairing. Also, forget about the visuals, Victory looks to the future while Indian embraces the past and the two are as chalk to cheese in that department.
I would argue, however, that they are closely matched where it counts the most. Both mills are over the 100 cubic-inch mark. The Thunder Stroke comes out on top at 111 inches (1,811 cc), with the Victory nipping at its heels at 106 cubic-inches (1,731 cc). The Cross Country weighs in at 845 pounds dry versus the 801-pound dry weight of the Indian’s mill. I’m sure this difference in weight and displacement is felt in the throttle, but probably not by much.
Victory wins the sticker war, barely, at $18,999 – just under the $19,999 for the Vintage. To be fair though, the antique look warrants a little more cash for some customers and the Indian pedigree has to be worth something.
You can score a Vintage for $19,999 in the base color and get a lot of bike for the money. The ample sheet metal comes shot in Thunder Black or Willow Green over Ivory Cream. For 2016, you also have the option for Indian Red (my favorite) or Star Silver over Thunder Black. For 2017, we have three new two-tones: Indian Motorcycle® Red over Ivory Cream or Springfield Blue over Ivory Cream. All of the leather components stay in character with a natural-looking, tan finish.
“I always do like historical — or historical looking bikes — and the Chief Vintage is definitely a big ol’ slice of Americana. If anything, they went a little too far. The full sheet metal along the flanks of the bike is just a little too much for me. I prefer to be able to see what a bike’s got going on in the back and the full body panels leave too much to the imagination. Still, it’s a good-looking bike and the sheet metal is definitely not a deal-breaker.”
My wife and fellow writer, Allyn Hinton, says, “The Indian Chief Vintage is my dream bike. The green and ivory two-tone paint with tan leather seat and bags is just beautiful; and yes, I even like the fringe. I especially like it because it doesn’t have a fairing and that Thunder Stroke 111 engine is so awesome. Someday if I can afford to have a second bike — a bike that is in addition to my everyday ride, one that I pull out of the garage when work is done and I just want to relax and cruise, it would be the Chief Vintage.”
|Engine Type:||Thunder Stroke® 111|
|Displacement:||111 cubic inches / 1,811 cc|
|Bore x Stroke:||3.976 x 4.449 inches (101mm x 113mm)|
|Compression Ratio:||9.5 to 1|
|Electronic Fuel Injection System:||Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore|
|Final Drive:||2.2 to 1|
|Primary Drive:||Gear Drive Wet Clutch|
|Peak Torque:||119.2 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm|
|Drive/Driven Clutch:||Wet, Multi-Plate|
|1st:||9.403 : 1|
|2nd:||6.411 : 1|
|3rd:||4.763 : 1|
|4th:||3.796 : 1|
|5th:||3.243 : 1|
|6th:||2.789 : 1|
|Front Fork Tube Diameter:||46 mm|
|Suspension: Front – Type/Travel:||Telescopic Fork/4.7 inches|
|Suspension: Rear – Type/Travel:||Single Shock / 3.7 inches|
|Brakes/Front:||Dual / 300 mm Floating Rotor / Four-Piston Caliper|
|Brakes/Rear:||Single / 300 mm Floating Rotor / Two- Piston Caliper|
|Tires/Front:||Dunlop® American Elite 130/90B16 67H|
|Tires/Rear:||Dunlop® American Elite 180/65B16 81H|
|Wheel, Front:||60 Spoke 16 x 3.5 inches|
|Wheel, Rear:||60 Spoke 16 x 5 inches|
|Exhaust System:||Split dual exhaust w/ cross-over|
|Seat Height:||26.0 inches|
|Overall Length:||103.7 inches|
|Overall Width:||39.4 inches|
|Overall Height:||58.7 inches|
|Ground Clearance:||5.5 inches|
|Fuel Capacity:||5.5 gallons|
|Curb Weight:||835 Pounds|
|Standard Equipment:||ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Highway Bar; Indian® Script Tank Badge; Keyless Start; Light Bar; Desert Tan Genuine Leather Seats; Quick Release Lexan Windshield; Quick Release Vintage Leather Saddle Bags; Vintage Fender Badge|
|Gauges:||Tank mounted electronic speedometer with odometer; dual tripmeters; digital tachometer; ambient air temperature; fuel range; average fuel economy; battery voltage; gear position display; real-time clock; vehicle trouble code readout; heated grip level (if heated grips installed); low engine oil pressure; and 9 LED telltale indicators: cruise control enabled, cruise control set, neutral, high beam, turn signal, ABS, check engine, and MPH or km/h unit designation; Tank mounted electronic fuel gauge with low fuel LED indicator|
|Color / Graphics:||Thunder Black, Indian Motorcycle® Red over Ivory Cream, Springfield Blue over Ivory Cream and Willow Green over Ivory Cream|
|Price:||Thunder Black: $19,999, Two-tones: $20,999|