Not to be outdone by the news that Harley-Davidson is adding traction control to models that don’t need traction control, Indian Motorcycle announced Wednesday that a number of its heavyweight big twins will be equipped with different riding modes from next year – kinda like traction control, but not really.
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Model Year 2019 Chief, Springfield, and Roadmaster models will be equipped with three riding modes, which can be changed on the fly: Tour, Standard, or Sport. Yeah, my eyebrows went up on that last one, but hold your thoughts – I’ll get back to that in a sec. The Chieftain – which is effectively a Roadmaster without a top box or lower fairing – is not mentioned in Wednesday’s media release, nor are any images of a MY2019 Chieftain presently available on Indian’s press website. The model is one of Indian’s most popular, however, and it’s mentioned in the video below. So, I’m taking that as a sign the Chieftain will be seeing even more dramatic changes and those will be revealed soon.
Anyhoo, according to Indian, the new Tour riding mode “features a smooth throttle response for relaxed cruising,” whereas Standard offers “crisp throttle response and well-balanced power delivery,” and Sport “features an instant throttle response and aggressive power delivery.”
It ain’t traction control, but it’s a step in the right direction. I have become a proponent of traction control on big twins like Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 bikes or Harley-Davidson Milwaukee Eight machines because it can serve as a workaround to the poor tire performance that tends to affect this genre of motorcycle.
The God-Blessed United States of America has long been the largest market for big V-twins, and riders there have traditionally preferred longevity over performance when it comes to the shoes they put on their bikes. Long-life tires are made with harder compounds, the primary disadvantage of which is less grip – especially in wet weather. Which means big twin bikes are particularly inappropriate for use in the United Kingdom, Ireland, or many other northern European countries.
For many years I made it a point to criticize the tires on these bikes in effort to shame manufacturers into pushing suppliers to develop better alternatives. But earlier this year I had an opportunity to meet higher ups at both Pirelli and Michelin, and they told me that making a soft-compound tire that can support the colossal weight of a big twin is a challenge. Full of fuel, a Roadmaster weighs in at 422 kg. Add a rider, passenger, and luggage, and you’re putting a lot of strain on those round things standing between you and the road.
So, my solution these days is to push for traction control, which can at least help to keep one of these torque-rich machines from kicking out when going in a straight line. It may be that the “smooth throttle response” of the Indian bikes’ Tour mode will serve as a good go-to option when wet stuff is falling from the sky.
Meanwhile, throttle maps only change a bike’s performance so much but it may be that the bikes’ Sport mode will help give Indians a bit of the more aggressive feel that Victory bikes once offered. The name of the riding mode is a little silly for a heavy motorcycle (Why say “Sport?” Why not use some other word, like “Active?”), but I look forward to trying it out.
Changes Made to Overcome Excessive Heat
In addition to riding modes, Indian’s 2019 models will also now feature rear cylinder deactivation. This is a feature that’s existed on Harley’s big twins for quite a while, but rather than waiting for a bike to get too hot before shutting down one of its cylinders, the Indian process will happen automatically any time the bike is at a complete stop (assuming the engine is at correct operating temperature and the external temperature is in excess of 59º F, or 15º C).
“The rear cylinder will automatically deactivate… resulting in less engine heat for improved comfort in slow-moving or stopped traffic,” says Indian. “The rear cylinder instantly reactivates when throttle is applied for a seamless transition to full power.”
Additionally, Roadmaster models will also now come with improved lower fairing designed to allow more airflow to the rider via a redesigned air vent. In fairness to Indian, though, when I spent several days with the Roadmaster in Southern California last year I had no complaints with the old system.
Because stereos are totally important on motorcycles and not at all made redundant by less-expensive, less-offensive, and easier-to-actually-hear Bluetooth headsets, Indian has made several improvements to its stock audio system.
The Chief and Springfield will be receiving some style tweaks, most notably in the sense the Springfield Dark Horse is now available in something other than all black. With 19-inch wheels and cut fender, the White Smoke option Springfield Dark Horse makes a viable aesthetic challenge to the sexiness of the Harley-Davidson Road King Special.