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Ride Review: Indian Scout

“It reminds me of bikes from the 70s,” says a leather-vested balding man also test-riding the new Indian Scout. “I mean, it just feels like those bikes, you know?”

I don’t know. But from his enthusiasm I take this comparison to be positive. You can see it in his eyes; some part of him is back in another place, another time. The Scout is transporting him to that wonderful period of a man’s life when girls were so easy to get that you didn’t even care.
Some of us have never actually experienced that period in our lives, but as time puts more distance between the present and the past we start to think we did. Or that we could have. Especially if we had been riding around on a Scout.

I will credit the Scout that much. Deep within my soul I feel that if I had been riding this bike in my early 20s I would have had to fight girls off with a stick. The bike is nothing short of amazing. And that’s an important thing to note in this review: I think the Scout is amazing. Really. Genuinely.

I’m not the only one saying that. Motorcyclist recently named it Best Cruiser in its 2015 Motorcycle of the Year Awards. It earned the same accolade in Motorcycle.com‘s Best of the Year awards. And in Cycle World‘s Ten Best Bikes of 2015 it came runner-up in the Best Cruiser category (losing out to the incomparable Indian Chief Classic).

But despite that, I feel the Indian Scout is not as good as it could be. Because it is being hemmed in by the category in which it won the above accolades. The Scout is just too good to be a cruiser.

The Good

Let’s start with that engine. To describe it as a sportbike engine is pushing things just a little. Although if you’re particularly clever in terms of mechanics you could easily turn it into a sportbike engine. Polaris won’t say either way, but it’s generally believed that the engine used in Victory’s Project 156 was a modified version of the Scout’s.

The liquid-cooled V-twin engine is more rev-happy than something found in an old-school cruiser. Pushing the bike toward 8,000 rpm will reward you with catapult-like acceleration. Heading onto the motorway, I found myself in excess of 90 mph before I was even halfway down the entrance ramp.

Although the performance of the Scout is kind of Japanese (in a good way) its gearbox remains solidly American. Shifts are noted with a THUNK that I initially found to be a little annoying in light of the engine’s performance, but one that I quickly grew to appreciate. I’m not sure, though, that clutchless upshifts would be possible with such an agrarian set up.

The brakes are solid. I’d still prefer to have two discs up front, but I have to admit the bike had no problem coming to a stop, even when squeezing the front brake lever with just two fingers. ABS comes standard in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. In the United States it’ll cost an extra $1,000, because, uhm, freedom?

By and large, fit and finish are what you would expect from Indian. This is a motorcycle you will enjoy staring at. It’s beautifully simple from a distance but come close and you’ll spot all kinds of fantastic little details that let you know Indian put a lot of effort into this machine. This is something worth holding on to, something worth treasuring. The leather seat is certain to be an aspect that only improves with age (and care). If I had kids, I’d probably buy a Scout despite my reservations about it, just for the sake of being able to pass this piece of American history down to my children.

Instrumentation is pretty basic. The dash consists of an analogue dial speedometer, with a digital tachometer contained within. I’d prefer it the other way around, making it easier to switch from mph to kph when you ride across borders. You can switch the tachometer display to also show a trip meter or engine temperature. You’ll get no fuel gauge or gear indicator, however.

The Bad

One comment that comes up in a number of reviews for the Scout is that it’s small.

It’s not small. Take a look at official specs and you’ll see the Scout is longer, wider and heavier than my Suzuki V-Strom 1000. It is “small” only if you are using motorcycles to compensate for your personal inadequacies. What leads people to say it’s small is the fact that its ergonomics are quite compact. And the seat is particularly low to the ground.

If you are long in the leg (I’m 6 foot 1), these factors lead to your feeling a bit cramped. Indian offer different pegs and seat to help stretch things out somewhat, but I personally can’t see those fixes being to my taste. I don’t want to ride a motorcycle with my legs splayed out as if I were in an obstetrician’s stirrups. And for me, the Scout’s 25-inch seat height is just too low.

The vast majority of my criticisms of the Scout could be fixed if Indian were to answer the plea I made in RideApart for a Scout Scrambler. It doesn’t have to be a scrambler per se, but the Scout deserves a platform that better allows a rider an opportunity to really enjoy its amazing engine. Something akin to the BMW RnineT, perhaps: a retro-influenced roadster.

The engine makes you want to play; it makes you want to go. But in going around corners I found myself consistently scraping the Scout’s pegs. The awesomeness of the bike is diluted by the category of the bike.

I understand why Indian did this: it operates first and foremost in the United States, where the cruiser is the unquestioned king of motorcycling, and it wanted the Scout to succeed. But considering Indian had already delivered the Best Cruiser Ever in the form of the Chief Classic (and, if you like fringe, the Chief Vintage), you’d have hoped the company would be a little more willing to take a risk.

Make something that hasn’t existed within the American context for a very, very long time: a standard. My hope (and it seems a reasonable one, to be fair) is that the Scout is the first step toward a whole range of machines, similar to Triumph’s Bonneville platform.

If so, this first step is a very good one, but it still leaves you with a motorcycle on which you’re going to end up dragging pegs. You’ll probably also be rubbing your back after a long ride, because the suspension suffers from all the inadequacies inherent to a bike with only 5 inches of ground clearance. And the seat tends to lock you into a single position.

As good as the brakes are, I did find them to be just a tad off/on. Subtle braking was a challenge. Slow-speed manoeuvres were particularly awkward because the seating position makes it difficult to operate the rear brake with a great deal of finesse.

The lack of a passenger seat means you’ll have to risk damaging your marriage to ride a Scout, or you’ll need to fork out the extra cash to dig into Indian’s accessories catalogue. You’ll generally need to do the same if you want to carry any luggage (although, the Scout’s sturdy metal fender allows for the judicious use of bungee cords).

The gas tank is a bit small, but considering the Scout’s ergonomics you’ll probably be eager to stop before the bike demands it. Especially if you’re travelling at motorway speeds without a screen. The wind blast is pretty intense and will have you looking like a bobble-head doll when trying to make good time.

The Ugly

The Scout’s indicator lights are quite flimsy. At idle you can see them jiggling around. In RevZilla’s review of the Scout Lemmy points out that this is so they’ll give way, rather than break, should a rider accidentally drop the bike. When I heard that, I immediately thought: “Ooooohhh! Indian, you are so clever!”

But without knowing that I just thought they looked cheap.

Related to that, how much does a gear indicator and fuel gauge cost? The Scout doesn’t have these things and I think that’s silly. You get gear indicators and fuel gauges on Japanese 125s these days. Surely the presence of such simple, useful features wouldn’t have bumped up the asking price that much. If at all. Whereas the absence of them gives the bike a sting of cheapness. It feels like savings for the sake of savings.

This negates the quality inherent in the rest of the bike. I’d be happy to forgo the seat’s genuine leather (which will only soak up rain, anyway) in exchange for a gear indicator, fuel gauge, and better looking turn signals.

The three questions

Overall, the Scout is one of the best motorcycles to come out of the United States in the last decade. My frustration remains, however, because it really could have been so much more. I feel Indian was playing not to fail here, rather than playing to win.

Timidity seems to be a family trait amongst Polaris brands. Hopefully, though, the Scout’s success will convince Indian it’s on the right track and encourage it to step out of the cruiser box before too long.

So, that leaves the three questions I ask of every motorcycle I test ride:

1) Does it fit my current lifestyle/needs?
Not really. However, forking over great quantities of cash could equip the Scout with a screen, passenger seat and panniers, which would bring it more in line with what I want out of a bike. I’m not sure it would fit in my shed, though.

2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Yes. As much as I complain about the Scout not being exactly the bike I want there’s no getting away from the fact that I loved riding it. It is so much fun that I think it creates a slight flaw in Indian’s positioning it as an entry-level machine. A person who gets used to the fun of this engine may be disappointed by the relative sluggishness of a larger air-cooled V-twin. Thrill-wise, the Chief Classic might actually be a step down from the Scout.

3) Is it better than my current bike?
In terms of price, features, handling, usability and engine, no, the Scout is not better than a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 (some people would be surprised to find out what a hoot the V-Strom’s engine can be). But the V-Strom is not something I would ever consider holding on to for a really long time. I’m already daydreaming of what I’ll replace it with in two or three years.
Whereas the Scout possesses an intangible that you want to keep with you. There’s something in the Scout that speaks to the soul, that makes a person want to sink the time, money and effort into fixing its little flaws and making it one’s own. The Scout makes me think of the pickup truck I had when I was in college –– the GMC Sonoma I drove all over the United States. I can remember often thinking that all I needed in the world was that truck. And I can imagine a person feeling that same sort of thing toward his or her Scout.

For me, right now, at this time and this place in my life, the Scout isn’t THE motorcycle, but I can understand how it could be for someone else. I have to admit I’m just a little bit jealous of that person. And when Indian finally makes the Scout roadster I want, I’ll be joining them.