Story and photos by Ronald Ahrens
Last December when I first beheld the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage at the Long Beach Motorcycle Show, I wouldn’t have nominated myself as a candidate to ride it just three months hence.
But the call came from Robb Report to write a review. That’s how the Chief ended up adding its luster my garage for a week in late-March.
I put about 500 miles on it then. Nearly half came on a reporting trip from my place in the desert to a TV studio in Long Beach. The 125-mile homebound leg after dark was a fine experience. With its powerful driving lights and winking indicators, the Chief is as bright as an artificial offshore island.
The Chief gobbled up the freeway as if skimming for plankton. Because it’s the size of a runaway steer, if not quite a cetacean, I felt confident about my noticeability to other drivers. In the unlikely event they failed to see me, a blast from the mighty horn would put them in their place.
A comfortable ride and low-end power
With its long wheelbase of 68.1 inches, stiff cast-aluminum chassis, and premium suspension components, the Chief achieves its primary mission: delivering a comfortable ride. The enormous 1.8-liter V-twin makes its claimed 119 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm, and revving beyond this level is as pointless as arguing whether the hailstorm brought stones the size of golf (42.67 mm) or Ping-Pong (40 mm) balls. I revved anyway, which made me think the cylinders were trying to commit fratricide. Trimming your toenails with a Howitzer is about as efficient as this engine.
Going 80 mph on the freeway is relaxing, though. The Chief ambles along. I sat up straight in the well-contoured, soft, and leathery saddle—or else my lower back stiffened up. Then, with the U-shaped highway bar and the broad floorboards completing the three points of the basic riding position, I engaged cruise control, and the miles melted away. But when I parked at journey’s end, the left floorboard made it a pain to find the sidestand with my toe.
Whether galloping along or pausing at an intersection, the Chief was always the object of admiration. Bystanders marveled, people in cars gave the thumbs-up—and I gave myself a compliment after stopping this 801-pounder on the mark. Let’s face it. Delicacy and maneuverability aren’t the long suit of such an XXL bike. Legislation passes through Congress quicker and easier than this cruiser over a mountain road.
But a female friend who sat on the back became uncustomarily giddy.
Convenient features, appealing trim
The Chief pleases with features like keyless start and a useful information display, although the latter draws the eyes far from the road. It’s better to wait for the news that fuel economy is 36 mpg. The detachable bags are easy to use, although my helmet wouldn’t fit inside and my computer satchel barely did.
The optional heated grips would have been welcome on the 51-degree morning ride to Auto Club Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Auto Club 400. (Heated grips are standard on the ’14 Honda VFR Interceptor DLX for $13,499.) Although the hands were exposed, the Lexan shield rerouted the wind away from my body. Optional lower deflectors seem unnecessary.
Bringing back the Indian brand with a line of three Chief models is right on target. The Chief Vintage excites the senses and stirs emotions.
As a sage who owns a Honda Gold Wing put it, in an ideal world we would have four or five bikes, each for a different purpose.
When I can spare $20,999, the 2014 Indian Chief Vintage would be in the pack with a standard and an ADV bike, ready to make a long dash down the freeway or just chug along Palm Canyon Drive at sunset, reflecting the last twinkling light on a warm evening.