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A CRUISER FOR WHEN YOU DON’T WANT A HARLEY – I’VE never ridden a cruiser. Oh, I’ve operated motorcycles for years. Mostly sport bikes, and café racers: Ducatis, Hondas, Moto Guzzis. I first learned to ride on a Ducati Monster 796. I’m sucker for a dirt bike. I like them upright. I like them light.

It turns out that all this made me a prime candidate for conversion to the Scout, the US$11,000 easy rider that Indian Motorcycles developed this year as a way to revitalize and extend its 114-year-old American marquee.

I hadn’t planned on jumping on one in the first place. But I’m glad I did.

The intrigue is nothing new. The original version of this model, known as the 101 Scout, carries a reputation as the best motorcycle Indian has ever made. Produced for 30 years, starting in 1920, it earned respect for its agility and power, especially (and unexpectedly) during hill climb competition.

But Indian foundered in 1953, and 70 years would pass before Polaris bought the trademark. It produced three new versions of the flagship Chief last year, kicking off a massive double-digit surge in annual sales and prompting development of the Scout model for 2015.

The new Scout resembles the original, though it includes such modern technological upgrades as a low-fuel light and a lightweight cast-aluminum chassis.

It also defers to current aesthetic taste with thick rims and tires and a wide, soft seat that’s directly connected to the rest of the bike instead of being suspended above it on coils. Purists  may care about the change; anyone over 82 kilograms will be thankful for it. or so I hear.

The Scout also features the first liquid-cooled engine Indian has ever made: a 1133cc V-Twin that gets 100 horsepower and offered enough torque to thrust me comfortably up the hilly environs of rural New Jersey and through ragged, traffic-heavy backstreets in Brooklyn.

Part the reason I initially resisted trying the Scout is – put plainly – it’s not my style. At 25 inches off the ground, the ultra-low seat sits lower than the rims of some cars; the forward position of the foot controls and upright position of the stock handle bars force your body into a repose that looks too lackadaisical for any adrenaline rush. The curvaceous gas tank and fenders run against my natural inclination toward things that look edgy and sit forward, as if you’re ready to race. Or run.

But credit must be given: Indian did well in upgrading an icon so that it’s both instantly recognizable as the progeny of its forefather and relevant. I’m glad Indian kept the ingle head lamp in front, the solitary gauge between the handlebars, and the low-lying dual exhaust, not to mention the split engine configuration and the swept-back orientation of the body. Then as now, the Indian Scout looks as if it flows through space with the elegance of a wind-swept sail: soft, billowing, and smooth in its undulations.

Better yet – glory and the saints be praised – it rides the way it looks.

Indian has achieved an engineering feat in making this 253 kilograms bike feel featherweight. A gentle squeeze on the clutch and it’ll dip just the way you want it to.

The implication here is that the Indian rides much lighter than it looks and even those who don’t posses excess amounts of upper body strength will be able to handle it with real finesse.

Indian-ScoutThe Scout is more than manageable – it‘s easy. The machine leaves you feeling cushy as you cruise.

The engine rumbles, of course, when you press the start button, though the sound is dampened from the raw growl I’ve come to expect from cruisers.

The clutch is solid but not heavy, with a straight line of resistance as you release your left fingers, catch the gear, and move forward. The brakes feel comfortably squishy, which is different from feeling too soft – and they’re not at all ineffective.

Here are some things I wish were different: Would that it got better gas mileage (it gets only about 161 kilometers to its 12.5-liter tank, which is less range than the Harley Sportster gets with its 17-liter tank). I wish the exhaust pipes wouldn’t get searing hot a mere five minutes into a ride. I wish a standard version had a seat long enough to accommodate a passenger. I wish all the color options cost the same price.

I also wish you didn’t have to wait so long to get one.

As I suggested earlier, Indian made the modern Scout to appeal to buyers who might not otherwise consider the brand: women, newish riders, and short people.

If you do want one, you will have to wait. They sell out too fast.

Any wait longer than six weeks or so is dangerous – it leaves a sour taste in buyers’ mouths – especially when Harley has no problem filling orders in a more reasonable time frame.

Last year, so-called heavyweight motorcycles such as those Harley and Indian sell made up more than 60 percent of the American motorcycle market. Even more telling 80 percent of Indian sales in 2014 went to people who had previously owned a Harley, according to UBS investment research.

Here’s to a little healthy competition . Indian, it’s good to have you back.


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