I sort of clocked out in December, so it wasn’t until just last weekend I learned Indian Motorcycle has applied for a trademark of the name “Indian Raven” through both the European Union Intellectual Property Office and the US Patent and Trademark Office.
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The trademark is set to be used in connection with a motorcycle “and parts therefor” but no other information has been given about what sort of motorcycle (and parts therefor) it will be. All we have is a name. In other words, this news is exactly the sort of thing we love here at TMO, providing yet another opportunity to speculate wildly on what Indian is or could be doing.
With the recently unveiled FTR 1200 serving as solid evidence that Indian is serious about wanting to be more than just a maker of big cruisers, the mind really can run wild here. But to help us ponder the possibilities, let’s first consider the following truths regarding any bike Indian makes:
1: It needs to be “on-brand.” Any time Indian launches a bike it spends an excessive amount of time explaining to journos why the bike makes sense. The brand is deeply proud of its history and heritage, and thoughts of how a model fits within the line-up as a whole is a big part of the product development process. So, don’t expect the Raven to be a supersport.
READ MORE: Indian Motorcycle: Europe’s Newest Brand
2: It needs to have a good chance of success. Polaris, Indian’s parent company has a long history of being somewhat tight-fisted with its entities, unwilling to pony up the dough for big gambles. This was always Victory‘s biggest challenge, leaving the brand struggling (and ultimately failing) to live up to its potential. Polaris learned a thing or two from how it handled Victory and is now a lot more supportive of its motorcycle operations, but still I wouldn’t think the Minnesota company would throw money at projects that aren’t relatively sure bets. So, don’t expect the Raven to be a supersport.
3: The company with which Indian compares itself is not necessarily the one you’d think. Most people assume Indian primarily compares itself with Harley-Davidson. It’s easy to understand why, and certainly the very earliest of Indian’s (Polaris-era) marketing made allusions to that idea. You may remember the commercial in which a group of Harley riders politely give way to a pack of Indian riders. But in chatting with Indian’s higher-ups at Intermot, the brands referenced most often were Ducati and KTM. But still don’t expect it to be a supersport.
So, what is the Indian Raven?
It’s a Base-Model Big Twin
Pound for pound, the best motorcycle Harley-Davidson makes is the Street Bob. I know I’ve just said we shouldn’t necessarily expect Indian to try to match Harley but if we accept the premise that there’s still gold in them South Dakota hills we can guess Indian won’t be abandoning its big twin platform any time soon.
KEEP READING: A Love Letter to the Harley-Davidson Street Bob
If we further accept that big twin cruisers (as opposed to big-twin baggers and big-twin tourers) are a viable enterprise then there’s a big gap in Indian’s offerings. Consider this: what’s the Indian equivalent to the Street Bob?
Answer: It doesn’t exist. The most affordable – and only – big twin Indian cruiser at the moment is the Chief Dark Horse, the Chief/Chief Classic having been quietly dropped from Indian’s line-up at the start of the new year. At £18,000, the Chief Dark Horse costs a robust £5,600 more than the Street Bob. In fact, Harley’s Low Rider, Fat Bob, Sport Glide, Softail Slim, Breakout, Deluxe, Fat Boy, and Heritage Classic are also less expensive than the Indian Chief Dark Horse.
Indian’s dropping of the Chief/Chief Classic suggests the brand may be uncertain about the viability of cruisers made by someone other than Harley. There may still be money to be made in heavy cruisers but it may be that the interest in them has shrunk enough that Harley-Davidson will be the only brand anyone wants – a bit like the way no one but BMW is selling flat twins. I’ll admit, though, that I find it difficult to believe Indian would look at the still very cruiser-focused American market and come to the conclusion it should gracefully bow out.
So, it seems the company needs a base model, something barebones and simple that customisers and cheapskates can work with. Victory had the Gunner partially for this purpose and I can’t help but wonder if Indian would go so far as to revive plans for whatever was supposed to have replaced the Victory Freedom 106 powerplant, offering up a more aggressive “mid-size” big twin while at the same time boosting capacity on the baggers and tourers to 116 cubic inches (which, conveniently, is 1901 cc).
It’s a Performance Cruiser Based On the FTR 1200 Platform
The big twin cruiser market may have some question marks hanging over it, but Indian’s definitely seen success with its Scout platform. Meanwhile, one of the things I’ve noticed in considering the FTR 1200 as my next bike is that it has a hella long wheelbase (Do people say ‘hella’ anymore? And do Mormons still sanitize it by saying ‘hecka?’). At 1524 mm it is quite a bit longer than bikes with similarly sized bodywork. Consider the Triumph Street Triple, which, in terms of bodywork is the same size as the FTR 1200, but has a wheelbase of 1410 mm. In other words, the FTR 1200 platform appears to be built to support multiple styles of bike.
You don’t have to extrapolate from wheelbase stats, however. Anyone could have figured that out simply by listening to the words that come out of Reid Wilson’s mouth. He’s the senior director of marketing and product at Indian and has said the platform has other potential uses, one of which he identified as a cruiser.
Considering Indian’s quiet desire to compare itself (in certain ways) to Ducati, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Raven turned out to be a performance cruiser of the sort to go against the Diavel. Nor would I be disappointed; there’s nothjing wrong with comfy bikes that can hustle.
We know Triumph is in the final stages of working on a new Rocket III, so Indian wouldn’t be alone in seeking to offer a fast, better-handling cruiser.
It’s an Adventure Sport
In recent months I’ve half decided, with no real evidence one way or the other, that Indian will not build a mega ADV moto of the type like the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R or BMW R 1250 GS. At first glance that seems like a missed opportunity because Indian is a Polaris subsidiary and, as such, most people would assume it capable of creating such a moto – Polaris has the experience and expertise to know what it takes to get a vehicle to kick ass off road. But it occurs to me that precisely because Indian/Polaris have that knowledge they may feel that heavy off-roading motorcycles are a dumb idea, and they won’t want to put in the R&D to develop a true enduro.
However, with the FTR 1200’s already-present adventure-style ergonomics and wheelbase it occurs to me the company might be interested in developing the sort of adventure sport that’s incredibly popular in Europe at the moment, something to go head to head against, say, the Ducati Multistradas and KTM 1290 Super Duke GTs of the world.
Bolstering this theory is another bit of knowledge gained from listening to the words that come out of an Indian Motorcycle exec’s mouth. At a dinner in Germany back in October, Jensen Beeler of Asphalt and Rubber asked Gary Gray – vice president of racing, technology, and service at Indian Motorcycle – whether Indian was interested in picking up Victory’s banner and racing again at Pikes Peak. The answer was an enthusiastic yes, with a caveat.
“That’s what we’re about. Racing is a part of our heritage,” Gray said. “But we’re not going to go to Pikes Peak unless we feel we can really compete. We don’t want to be there just to make up the numbers… At the moment, we don’t really have a platform that can go against [power figures produced by Ducati and KTM bikes].”
At the moment…
It’s an Electric Motorcycle
Don’t forget that Polaris has a number of electric vehicle entities in its portfolio. It wasn’t that long ago that it bought Brammo and repurposed the Empulse as a Victory. That tech obviously won’t have disappeared. Three years ago, it was good enough to deliver roughly the same mileage on a charge as the forthcoming Harley-Davidson LiveWire. It is not at all hard to imagine that Indian would have been working on it all this time and the Raven will be an electric motorcycle that pulls that “10 percent” trick that infuriates Harley folks.
KEEP READING: Shocker: Harley-Davidson LiveWire is Expensive
(A few years ago, a Harley engineer dismissively said of Indian: “They take whatever we do and then just make it 10 percent better.” To which my response was, “Maybe, but that still means it’s 10 percent better.”)
- It’s a 1200cc Bagger: Unlikely, but I’ll never give up hope that Indian would manufacture its own version of the BMW R 1250 RT.
- It’s a V4: Indian famously made an inline four back in the day. Such an engine configuration doesn’t seem to fit with the modern Indian ethos, but a raucous and psychotic V4 would delight and thrill.
- It’s a Chief Dark Horse With Cut Fenders: Don’t discount the possibility of a classic Polaris troll in the form of delivering an old bike with a new name and different paint.
- It’s a Motorcycle Dedicated to Scott Levy: Levy is a professional wrestler who performed as Raven through the 1990s and early 2000s.