Back in February I was in Southern California to attend a super-duper top-secret Indian Motorcycle press event for the Indian Chieftain Limited and Indian Chieftain Elite – two very cool motorcycles that I’ll tell you about at some point in the future.
Equally cool was the standard Roadmaster (not to be confused with the new Roadmaster Classic) Indian lent me to get around during that time. I had the bike for four days, putting roughly 500 miles on the clock (riding from Los Angeles to San Diego and back, as well as all over San Diego County). That’s not as much seat time as I would have liked, but it certainly gave me a taste of what it would be like to live with such a beast.
It was at least enough time to make me wish for more. One of the criticisms of a motorcycle of this sort is that ginormous machines like the Roadmaster aren’t fit for purpose. They’re too big, people say – too heavy, too slow, too expensive. Yes, there are grains of truth in those criticisms, but, trust me, y’all: this thing lives up to the hype. This thing is a master of the road.
The longest stretch of interstate in the United States is Interstate 90, which runs all the way from Seattle to Boston. That’s more than 3,000 miles of nonstop road – no traffic lights, no stop signs – but I’m willing to bet that if you were navigating it aboard a Roadmaster you would think: “This road isn’t long enough.”
Because the Roadmaster is that good. Especially across those vast, long stretches that can be the undoing of other motorcycle experiences. The bike’s sofa-like heated seat is all-day comfortable. Massive floorboards allow you to move feet around, thereby adjusting seating position. Ten-setting heated grips are so effective that on a rainy, 50F morning (I had brought some British weather with me to SoCal), I only needed to click them up to level 2 while wearing summer gloves. That massive streamliner-style front end keeps every bit of weather off a rider’s torso, while the electronically adjustable screen does the same for his or her head. At 6 feet 1 inch tall, I was just at the limit of full buffeting-free protection from the fully raised screen but had no complaints.
The cockpit area is quiet enough (or, perhaps the stereo loud enough) that I was able to listen to Super Bowl pregame coverage at 80 mph, while wearing earplugs. The lower fairings, meanwhile, kept my legs from getting chilly/wet. A little plastic window of sorts on that lower fairing can allow in some airflow, but in really hot conditions I’d remove the fairings altogether – something the Indian folks tell me is a pretty simple process. Of course, then you’d lose the handy (although, not lockable) fairing compartments, each large enough to hold two 16oz water bottles, my wallet, and a baseball cap.
Cruise control on the Roadmaster is perfect. Locked in at 80 mph, it didn’t give more than 2 mph when tackling the up and down of San Diego County’s hills, all the while remaining smooth in acceleration and deceleration. However, the buttons for cruise control are ridiculous. Placed on the right grip (Why? It would make so much more sense to have them on the left), they require gigantic, Paul Bunyan-sized mitts to operate with one hand. The good news is that I shared my complaint with a member of Indian’s product development team and his response was a deep, knowing sigh.
“Yeah, we hear that from a lot of riders,” he said.
Which makes me think the team is working to change things. Indian makes quite a bit of hubbub over its Ride Command infotainment system and I’ll acknowledge it’s damned spiffy. The stereo (which, as I said, is surprisingly clear) allows the option of radio, or connecting a device through Bluetooth or USB. Connecting via Bluetooth is stupid easy. The system’s 7-inch touchscreen offers a poopload of information – everything from tire pressure and fuel usage to the number of miles until your next oil change. You can even navigate into all kinds of diagnostic info (though, you’ll want to come to a stop before fussing with any of that; it’s extensive). And, yes, Indian is telling the truth when it says the touchscreen can be operated while wearing gloves.
The Ride Command system’s GPS is pretty good; not as handy/intuitive as a bike-specific TomTom or Garmin, but damn close. The system is least agreeable when riding in a downtown area, among tall buildings, where it can sometimes lose your exact position. Indian issues updates to software from time to time, which a rider can install using a USB connector – no need to go to the dealer if you don’t want to.
The Roadmaster might not be top of my list when planning a trip to the Swiss Alps, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near the bottom, either. And on the curving, undulating California SR 94 – which cuts a meandering path from San Diego out toward the high desert, skirting the US-Mexico border – it performed without fault. My friend, Sash, had recently picked up a good deal on a Victory Octane and was leading the way on her much lighter 104hp machine. I generally had no problems keeping pace with her except once, on a particularly steep hill. Still, the almost-half-ton (Indian says 944 lbs wet) Roadmaster was able to accelerate around and past a pickup struggling up the same hill.
The stock Dunlop Elite 3 tires are poor in wet weather but that’s not Indian’s fault; it’s the fault of riders for failing to demand that tire companies produce cruiser/tourer tires that don’t suck (Come on Dunlop, we know you have the technology for better shoes; please make them for V-twin tourers). In dry conditions, though, I had no complaints; I was happy and confident when hustling into corners. The top box and panniers were filled with my stuff (which an airport scale recorded as weighing 18 kg, or 39 lbs), but I noticed no ill effects in handling. There’s no getting around the fact the Roadmaster is big – it will never handle like a KTM RC 390 – but its girth always feels manageable.
The fuel tank holds 5.5 US gallons (20.8 liters for all you metric fans). Considering how big the Roadmaster’s engine is, and all the weight it pulls around, it veritably sips from that tank. Which means you can easily make it all the way across the famously desolate stretch of road between Wendover, Nevada, and Salt Lake City without getting close to suffering fuel light fear.
Once you get to Salt Lake City you’ll still have plenty of dino juice to check out all the sights (Temple Square! The Capitol! That sculpture of a sphinx with Joseph Smith’s head!), but spend too much time puttering around downtown and your legs will get pretty toasty. The Roadmaster is a bike built for the open road and the continuous airflow that implies. Removing the lower fairings would probably help.
Beyond that, though, the bike is surprisingly adept in the city. It’s got a hell of a lot of presence and all that torque (about 107 lb-ft at 2100 rpm) means you’ll rarely, if ever, have trouble getting away from everyone at a light. The bike carries its weight well. At a meter wide (3.2 feet) port to starboard, it’s not your first choice for filtering (i.e., lane splitting) but is balanced well enough it can confidently squeeze through wider gaps in traffic. But make sure to back it into parking spaces; there is no reverse gear on the Roadmaster, so you do not want to find yourself trying to push it up any sort of incline.
It would be an interesting choice for a commuter, but not a terrible one. With tires better equipped to handle the realities of being outdoors (the new Bridgestone Battlecruise H50 tires claim good wet-weather ability but I’ve not had a chance to test them out yet), it really could be an all-the-time machine. But perhaps a risky one: it’s remarkable ability on the great open road would make you want to quit your job.
What Everyone Else Says
“On the open road, the Roadmaster handles like a dream. It is solid, planted, and undisturbed by crosswinds. It soaks up the miles, just like a touring bike should.” – Jason Fogelson, RideApart
“Similar to the rider, my passenger found accommodations to be ‘ultra-comfortable,’ the floorboards positioned ideally and vibrations at a minimum. My passenger stated that while some tourers have hollow spots because of speaker placement, the Roadmaster’s passenger seat supported her back fully. As we hit higher elevations and temperatures dropped, she appreciated having her own controls for the heated passenger seat.” – Bryan Harley, MotorcycleUSA
“Although wrapped in retro styling with acres of classic chrome and leather, the Roadmaster is a modern, elegant touring platform that lives up to its legendary name with an impressive list of standard features, generous rider and passenger accommodations, excellent weather protection and 37.6 gallons of total storage capacity.” – Greg Drevenstedt, Rider Magazine
The Little Things
I’m not a fan of the fact there is no lock on the gas cap. I’m pretty sure kids stopped putting sugar in people’s gas tanks back when my grandad was in college, but the paranoia of such a thing happening lingers. The challenge of setting cruise control annoys me more, though. The audio controls for the GPS are separate from those for the stereo and, unlike the stereo, don’t self-adjust according to speed. So, if you want to be able to hear the robot lady telling you to turn left when traveling at 80 mph, you need to have already set her volume to be ear-splitting at a standstill. Obviously, connecting via a Bluetooth headset rectifies this problem, so, be sure to include the cost of a good Sena unit when considering purchase of a Roadmaster.
Related to the stereo, the radio antennae sticks out quite far from the rear of the bike. This was something that both Sash and her husband (the two spend large portions of the year on the road) noticed and raised an unhappy eyebrow about. Personally, it didn’t strike me as a problem.
The Best Things
I feel I haven’t droned on enough about how capable this thing is on the open road. If you are like all true, red-blooded, freedom-loving people, you will have had countless fantasies about selling your stuff and taking to the road ad perpetuum. This is the bike for that (as long as you stick to the road; you might find the Kazakh Steppe a little challenging). The voluminous luggage capacity is enough to carry clothes for all seasons. The engine is tanklike and seemingly built to cross the continent of your choice many times over. Weather protection is top-notch.
Meanwhile, I discovered within 5 seconds of getting the keys that the Roadmaster’s highway bars will indeed prevent it from tipping over all the way if dropped. Thank you, Indian, for considering idiots like me. A deep breath and a bit of leg strength were all that were needed to get the bike upright again, with no scratches or dings to be found.
Would I Buy It?
Without question, my biggest complaint about the Roadmaster is the fact Indian didn’t just give me one to keep forever and ever. So, that means that any truly long-term experiences would have to involve my own wallet. The Roadmaster has a starting price of US $28,999 (£23,699 on my side of the planet). In the United States, if you’re active, reserve, or retired military, police or firefighting personnel Indian will knock $1,000 off the asking price, but it’s still hardly an impulse buy. Is it worth all that money? Well, yeah. Assuming the Roadmaster aligns with your picture of value.
It is a good-looking machine – especially in person – and although some haters are gonna hate, it comes with the intangibles of heritage. The Indian name has been around for 116 years. True, like Harley-Davidson and Triumph and Ducati and Moto Guzzi and quite a few others, the folks who now own that name are not the ones who established it, but it still has a strong emotional value. And for a lot of people, that’s worth something. From a functional standpoint, it is a solid machine. Built to a high standard, it gives every indication of holding up for a very long time. I feel it is not unreasonable to expect a (well-maintained) Roadmaster to outlast its original owner.
It has enough “go” to get your license taken away, and handles the duties of stopping and cornering with the drama-free ease you would expect from a modern machine. It’s an investment too great for my own paycheck, but for the person who is capable of meeting Indian’s asking price it is probably an investment worth making. Every time he or she settles into its massive leather seat, thumbs the start button, and hears the stalwart growl of the Roadmaster’s 1811cc V-twin, there will be no thoughts of money. Only of the open road – of all the places one can go – and the urge to use this bike to get there.
The Three Questions
1) Does the Indian Roadmaster fit my current lifestyle?
For the most part, yes. With better tires, the Roadmaster could meet all my current demands for a motorcycle, which primarily consist of getting me from point A to point B in relative comfort – the airport, an event in Europe, etc. The physical size of the Roadmaster is too great to fit through my gate but otherwise it would fit my lifestyle.
2) Does it put a grin on my face?
Without a doubt. I love Indian Motorcycle bikes – I’ve never hidden that fact – and this is atop-notch example of what the brand is capable of on the high end. The engine’s got a good growl, and I felt very cool and important riding around on this thing. I wanted people to see me.
3) Is it better than my current bike, a Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx?
In some ways, it is. The Roadmaster is certainly more comfortable and feels even better suited to really long hauls. My Triumph doesn’t have anything like Ride Command; there isn’t even a particularly good place to mount my TomTom. And, of course, the Tiger Explorer XRx can’t come close to touching the Roadmaster when it comes to intangibles. That said, if I were to own a Roadmaster I’d have to get used to even more weight (the Triumph is quite a pig in and of itself) and I would want to invest in some aftermarkets bits and bobs to get a little more power from the Indian’s massive Thunder Stroke 111 engine.