Last week, I decided it would be clever to risk burning bridges with PR guys by sitting down to tell Harley-Davidson how to run its business. Because, you know, guys on the internet totally know everything. TMO even has a Twitter account, which is apparently the only requirement to being president.
READ MORE: Let’s Tell Harley-Davidson What to Do
Shortly after publishing the article, I received a very gracious note from the boys and girls in Milwaukee, thanking me for offering such guidance and wisdom, and promising to do all the things I suggested (NOTE: Some or all of that statement may be a lie). And this got me thinking I should share the love. It shouldn’t be just Harley that benefits from my genius, but any number of manufacturers.
So, why not turn a constructive eye to the brand seeking to become Harley’s biggest rival: Indian Motorcycle?
‘I don’t think it’s unrealistic to wish for a solid adventure platform’
Revived in 2013 by Minnesota-based Polaris Industries, the brand has seen growth in almost every quarter since. True, Polaris doesn’t release specifics, so it’s difficult to fully gauge Indian’s success against Harley’s more detailed numbers, but growth is growth; more is more regardless of whether it’s one more or 1,000 more and the execs seem happy with Indian’s direction. Meanwhile, Indian has gone all-in with its efforts to compete against Harley in the flat track arena, dominating last year’s American Flat Track series thanks to its race-focused Scout FTR750 and the shrewd recruiting of a pack of all-star riders for its so-called Wrecking Crew.
Along the way, the Indian Motorcycle model lineup has expanded to include up to 17 models, depending on your definition of a model (I’d argue there are at least five different models). Either way, a lot of money and time has been sunk into the brand. But has it been a wise investment? And what should Indian do as it looks toward the future? What would the brand be doing if you were in charge?
Let’s set the same ground rules here as with Harley; if your vision for what will make Indian a dominant force involves a sport tourer, a supermoto, or a supersport you are out of the game. I would love a sport tourer powered by an unbridled Scout engine, but I recognize I’m in the minority. Anything that’s not a cruiser will demand extensive research and development costs, and Indian won’t get its money back if it invests in a genre that people lost interest in half a decade ago.
I’ve never been coy about the fact I’m a fan of Indian. That’s not to the exclusion of other brands – I ride a Triumph, after all, and will always say yes to an opportunity to throw a leg over a Harley – but something about Indian Motorcycle strikes a chord with me. It resonates in a way that’s hard to describe.
Some of that fanboyishness stems from the Minnesota connection, of course (I went to high school in the Land of 10,000 Lakes and my parents, brother, and best friends still live there), but there’s also the simple fact that Indian makes really cool, really good motorcycles. However, a visitor to my house will notice a lack of said motos in my shed. Because although Indian is very, very good at meeting the criteria of a genre, the genres it’s chosen thus far don’t really meet my specific needs*.
What’s encouraging is the fact Indian has clearly stated its desire to extend beyond the cruiser realm; that’s always been part of the plan. Back when the first new Indian models were unveiled in 2013, now Indian Motorcycle Product Director Gary Gray told Cycle World: “We don’t want the brand to be pinned down into cruisers, baggers and touring like everyone probably expects. We want to go beyond that. That won’t be a quick process. It’s not going to happen next year; it’s going to happen over fives and tens of years.”
So, as we move past the four-year mark, my advice is simply: please actually do that.
It seems pretty likely. Talk of a street version of the FTR1200 has been so overt lately that Indian’s team doesn’t even bother to throw out the, “We don’t talk about future product,” line anymore. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when,” and I think we may see this bike (or at least a prototype) as early as March this year. Whenever it is unveiled, you can bet your boots I’ll be there, first in line to plead for an opportunity to ride it.
For a while there, it looked like the first naked/standard Indian produced was instead going to be a variant of the FTR750 flat track race bike. That may still happen, but I personally think it makes more sense to go with the larger, more powerful, more user friendly Scout engine. It certainly felt as if Polaris was leaning toward something like this back in the Project 156 days and I don’t see why the idea shouldn’t be carried forward to Indian. I’d love to see a bike with decent-ish power and attention-to-detail classic styling. Not a KTM 1290 Super Duke rival, but something on par with the BMW R nineT or Triumph Thruxton: something that speaks to the brand’s sporting heritage whilst remaining wholly enjoyable at legal speeds.
Meanwhile, whereas I acknowledge that a sport tourer is a dead end, I don’t think it’s unrealistic to wish for a solid adventure platform from Indian. My personal tastes lean more toward the road-focused adventure-touring side of the genre – in spirit with, say, a Triumph Tiger 1200 or Ducati Multistrada 1260 – but certainly Polaris has the knowhow to develop something far more off-road appropriate. Just about every manufacturer has thrown its hat into the adventure arena, but I don’t see it dying out anytime soon. Especially in Europe. Equally, I think such a bike fits with Indian’s heritage. Remember the tale of “Cannonball” Baker, whose record-setting 1914 trip across the United States was littered with knee-deep mud, floods, washouts, and riding on railroad tracks.
Stepping back into the realm of what Indian already does, I’d like to see it put a little more effort into developing a high-end touring bike. I’m a big fan of the Roadmaster, but truthfully it’s nothing more than a Chieftain with bolt-on accessories. That’s not bad – I think the Chieftain is great – but you want your deluxe model to feel a little more… well… deluxe.
Related to that, I hope the folks at Indian will continue to ignore the ancient dudes who show up at Sturgis every year and insist that Indian bikes should be equipped with CB radios. No, Rubber Duck, that is a terrible idea. Indian’s done a solid job in developing its Ride Command system and I don’t think it would hurt to be even more progressive when it comes to tech on bikes.
Lastly, I’d strongly encourage Indian to put a little more work into its European dealerships. There aren’t enough of them, and many of the ones that exist aren’t very good. The guys at Krazy Horse get it, but other dealerships I’ve visited… not so much. My nearest dealership is some 80 miles away, with the Indian bikes too-tightly squished into a small room in a multibrand dealership. Too often I’ve been in situations where I’m far more enthusiastic and knowledgeable than sales staff. This isn’t good enough. Harley, Triumph, and BMW are on the ball; if you’re going to ask for the same kind of money as them you should be providing the same kind of all-round experience.
*In fairness to Indian, although it doesn’t presently make a bike that meets “my specific needs” (ie, being affordable, being offered at a dealership that isn’t 80 miles away, and being equipped with tires that can actually function in British weather), models like the Chieftain and Springfield come close enough that I often debate whether it would be worth conceding a few things for the sake of owning one. If the dealership issue were addressed I probably would.