Test rides

2015 Indian Chief Vintage – First Ride

1811cc V-twin makes for a great bike with a few easily fixable problems

The Indian Chief Vintage is an interesting bike in the sense that it is simultaneously amazing and awful. The good news is that this awful can be fixed with a pair of scissors. The better news is that the awful of which I speak is completely subjective; you may, in fact, love it.

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What I’m talking about is leather fringe. It is a prominent feature of the Chief Vintage and I hate it. Apart from one of those Babes Ride Out girls who would do so ironically, I cannot imagine enjoying the company of the sort of person who would desire leather fringe on a motorcycle.

I mean, fringe. Leather fringe, for Pete’s sake. Fringe.

When you think about it, the Chief Classic is the far better choice.

What weird, fetishist pack of Minnesotans did Indian dig up for a test-marketing group that the motorcycle company came away with the belief that bedecking one of their bikes in leather fringe was a good idea?

I don’t even…

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I think the reason I get so annoyed by the Chief Vintage’s fringe is that it is otherwise a pretty fantastic bike. After all, the Chief Vintage is nothing more than the Chief Classic with a few bits of the Indian accessory catalogue thrown at it.

When I rode the Classic back in November I declared it to be the best motorcycle I had ever ridden. I still stand by that statement. Though, having now also ridden the Chieftain I feel it has some string competition.

But back to the Chief Vintage. There is nothing subtle about this motorcycle. Dripping with chrome, it is oversized in every way. The handlebars are massive, the headlight fixture is the size of a Shetland pony skull, and that famous valanced fender and war bonnet pull the eye – especially when accompanied by a two-tone paint scheme.

READ MORE: 2015 Indian Chieftain – First Ride

Stock pipes offer a pleasing sound reminiscent of family cars from the early 1960s, whereas the accessory Thunder Stroke Stage 1 exhausts offer a deeply satisfying but not-too-dickish rumble. Either way, however, it is not the sort of bike you want to ride if you are the shy, retiring type. Anyone riding an Indian should accept that every single stop will take three times as long because people will want to talk to you about it.

Weighing in at just shy of 380 kg, the Chief Vintage is a beast of a machine, but at anything above 3 mph it moves with a lightness that somewhat boggles the mind. It corners decently, as well; attempts to drag the pegs at sane speeds and cornering angles were unsuccessful.

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Were you to be racing up Pike’s Peak on the thing I’m sure all kinds of dragging would occur, but ride according to or near the speed limit and I doubt you’ll ever hear scraping. And as more and more of the world becomes subject to the tyranny of speed cameras, I suppose having a bike that can tear through mountain passes at triple digits becomes less and less desirable.

Even within the limits of the law, however, the Chief Vintage is a lot of fun. Twisting the throttle produces oodles of smoothly delivered torque. Getting up to highway speed is effortless, and staying there is equally trouble-free. The bike’s real oomph tapers somewhat above 90 mph, but there’s still plenty of power left in the Thunder Stroke 111 to get your license revoked.

Not that you’ll want to spend much time at that speed, however. At least, not if you’re me. The actual motorcycle is steady enough at high speeds but the screen on the Chief Vintage makes it hell. I’m 6 feet 1 tall, so I suspect those of shorter leg wouldn’t mind so much.

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I’m pretty sure the standard screen on the Chief Vintage is the tallest one offered by Indian, so it’s a good thing the screen is easy to remove. In fact, it may be a little too easy to remove. If you know what you’re doing, it will only take about 5 seconds.

To that end, if I were looking to get one of these bikes, I might choose instead to go for the cheaper Chief Classic and wait for an opportunity to steal the screen from someone’s Chief Vintage. The Chief Classic starts at £18,500 in Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, whereas the least you’ll pay for a Chief Vintage is £19,700.

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Admittedly, it’s not just the screen you’d be missing out on with the Classic. You’d also have to live without the leather panniers that come standard on the Vintage. But in my opinion those bags aren’t worth it. They are not wide enough to hold a full-face helmet, they don’t lock, I suspect they are not waterproof, and they’ve got that damned leather fringe.

To me, those bags look like the purse of a woman from Arkansas. I expect to open them up and find dozens of used tissues, two mostly empty packs of Marlboro Lights, a bottle of perfume stolen from the demo counter, a $2 poker chip from the local casino, and an out-of-date KFC coupon.

Indeed, when you think about it, the Chief Classic is the far better choice; it’s cheaper and fringe-free.

So, with all that said:

The Three Questions

Does the Indian Chief Vintage fit my current lifestyle?
Not so much. I don’t own a car and rely on my bike as my sole means of transportation in all weathers, year-round. The Chief Vintage in and of itself is a hoot, but it is too expensive and too narrowly focused to exist within my current situation. The presence of fringe, meanwhile, means that it is also ruled out of any lifestyle to which I might aspire.

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Does it put a grin on my face?
Uhm. The bike itself does, yes. Getting beat up by the buffeting from the screen didn’t make me smile, nor did the idea of riding around on a motorcycle with leather fringe. I talk a lot about the importance of aesthetics on a bike, how that aspect can vastly affect your psychology and how you interact with the bike. I would honestly have preferred to be seen on a bike covered with images of Disney princesses. Give me a Chief Classic, or even the fringe-free Anna & Elsa Edition and I’d be laughing in my helmet. The Chief Vintage, however; no lo quiero.

Is it better than my current bike, a 2015 Suzuki V-Strom 1000?
Only in resale value. By the numbers, a V-Strom 1000 is lighter, faster, more powerful, more fuel-efficient, more nimble, has more features and more functional luggage, and is easier to maintain. Where it falls flat against cruisers is in aesthetics and intangibles. Something like the Chief Classic or Victory Gunner or even Harley-Davidson Sportster will beat a Strom in the sexy game all day long. But fringe… No. By dressing up the Chief Vintage like a Dennis Hopper tribute act, Indian loses its trump card with this bike.