By now you will have heard of the Indian Challenger – the big twin touring platform that Indian Motorcycle President Steve Menneto referred to as “one of the best, worst-kept secrets that we’ve had in a little while.”
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The rumors were that this bike would make its official debut at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, but with that event having now come and gone it’s anybody’s guess as to when we’ll see something more than grainy spy shots and surreptitiously filmed video. Probably sooner than later, though.
Traditionally, Harley-Davidson likes to roll out a new model (or models) in late August or early September. Indian has stopped being coy about its desire to go after its old rival, and with Harley having effectively given away its playbook for the next few years, it may be that Indian is holding its announcement until that can be used as an opportunity to crowd Harley out of the news cycle. Though, I’m not sure Indian is actually that devious. Also, there’s the simple fact that press events take months to plan; Indian wouldn’t be able to just sit around waiting for Harley’s news to drop so it could spoil the party.
I’m afraid I’m pretty out of the loop these days, so I genuinely don’t have any idea when the bike is coming. Though I’d think that EICMA (in November) is too far away and not really the right event for the Challenger’s reveal, anyway.
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We first started learning about the Challenger way back in December when news leaked that Indian was working on a number of bikes, with names like Raptor and Raven. Turns out that Raptor, at least, was a codename for the Challenger, which the internet first caught a glimpse of when test mule pics surfaced back in April. Fast forward to late July, when video from a dealer meeting surfaced on YouTube. In it, the Challenger is partially revealed.
As part of Menneto’s larger presentation on the future of the brand, a quick video shows the bike’s engine, right pannier, and unique headlight and Road-Glide-esque fairing.
“This will be an amazing bike, but I want to make sure we’re clear: it will be in addition to the Chieftain model,” Menneto says. “So, we’re not replacing the Chieftain, we’re going to be able to sell the Challenger right next to it.”
One wonders if the same can be said of the Roadmaster.
The engine driving the Challenger is an all-new liquid-cooled V-twin lump known as the PowerPlus 108 – as in 108 cubic inches, or 1770 cubic centimeters. According to numerous moto sites (all of which are probably copying off each other, so take all this with a grain of salt), the engine will churn out an impressive 120 horsepower. The folks at Motorcycle.com suggest the engine was originally slated for use as a Victory powerplant – replacing the Freedom 106 engine that had been driving its bikes since 2009 – but I doubt this is wholly true. The Challenger will presumably need to meet Euro 5 regulations being implemented next year; Victory probably weren’t focused on that back in 2016.
(If you’re new to the inside baseball of motorcycling, Victory Motorcycles was an American motorcycle brand that existed from 1998 to 2017. The brand was owned by Minnesota-based Polaris, which has also been Indian’s parent company since 2011. Victory was dropped by Polaris when it became clear to the company’s bean counters that Indian was a far better investment.)
“This will be an amazing bike”Steve Menneto
It turns out the name “Powerplus” was used by Indian from 1916 to 1924 for a four-stroke flathead V-twin that was impressively powerful for the time, putting out a mind-melting 16 hp. The last time a Powerplus bike made big news was 24-28 August 1915, when Erwin “Cannonball” Baker rode a Powerplus prototype from Vancouver to Tijuana in three days, nine hours, and 15 minutes, setting a “Three Flags” record. That event may give a hint as to when, and possibly even where, Indian will choose to reveal the Challenger. It might be next week, amid the 114th anniversary of that ride.
Either way, I really like that Indian is making a callback to its heritage here and I’ll admit that I’m pretty much all-in with the concept. I’m really looking forward to its official reveal, when we’ll get lots of pictures and info that I can drool over.
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Based on existing bikes and the way of things in motorcycling, it seems a given that the Challenger will be loaded with tech. We’ll have the excellent RideCommand system, of course, and multiple ride modes, as well as the usual bells and whistles, like cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, electronic screens, and some kind of goddamned app. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see cornering ABS on this thing and I’d be quite happy if traction control were also part of the deal.
It will almost certainly cost more than my gross annual salary, and I kind of have some of the same questions about a 1770cc touring monster as I do about a 2500cc power cruiser in terms of modern relevance, but, as I say: I really like the idea of this thing.
I also like the fact that we’ll be keeping the Chieftain. I think there’s a real opportunity now to shift the Chieftain toward being something on par with the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Standard – a more bare-bones big twin touring rig. Something that looks and sounds ridiculous (because that’s the whole point of a big twin moto) but costs less than the all-singing, all-dancing models. I still don’t have a garage where I could actually store a Chieftain, but hope springs eternal that I will one day own both of those things.
100 Years of the Indian Scout
Amid all of the hoopla about the Challenger it seems most moto sites overlooked something else in Menneto’s presentation to dealers: the fact that the Indian Scout will in 2020 be celebrating its 100th “birthday.” It was in 1920 that Charles B. Franklin first delivered the game-changing Scout that would largely come to define the Indian brand.
To mark the occasion, Indian is planning “new cruiser models, including a limited-edition 100th anniversary Scout,” according to Menneto.
That probably doesn’t sound all that special to you, but I’m intrigued by the picture that was up on the screen when Menneto said this. In the background of the photo there is a Scout as we know it, but in the foreground there is a very cool-looking beast that reminds me just a little of the Harley-Davidson Seventy-Two that I used to love so much. It has the Scout Bobber‘s chopped fenders but – it appears – the standard Scout’s taller suspension (a good thing) and tank. The bike has mini apehanger ‘bars and spoked wheels, making it one of the coolest-looking Indians I’ve seen.
Less attractive but arguably more interesting was the next slide in Menneto’s presentation, which came when he spoke of the brand’s plan to “continue to build around the Scout platform with extraordinary new accessories.”
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The bike pictured as he says this is something that I can only describe as a Scout Sport Glide, ie, it’s an Indian Scout that appears to have been hit with the same kind of accessories that make the Harley-Davidson Sport Glide one of the best bikes in that company’s Softail line-up (I’d still choose the Street Bob, but that really is personal preference). You’ve got a mini batwing fairing that, I have to assume, is easily detachable – like that of the Sport Glide – along with panniers that have the hallmark “these don’t quite fit the look of the bike” aesthetic of luggage that is easy to remove.
Throw in cruise control and I think you’ve got a pretty good package there. I mean, effectively it’s a Sport Glide that weighs less, costs (a little) less, and has more power. Yes, yes, and yes – especially if there’s an option to throw in the traction control and riding modes of the FTR 1200 S. I would genuinely consider getting such a bike as a replacement to my Triumph Bonneville T120 in a few years.
‘Still On the Gas and Coming With More’
“We’ll be launching a few new bikes the second half of this year,” Menneto says in his presentation. But the only new bike he eventually names is the aforementioned Challenger. That means there are a few unknowns still to be revealed.
A very, very strong possibility is that we’ll see a street-focused FTR 1200 showing up at EICMA. We know that when Indian was initially testing the FTR 1200 it was using 17-inch tires rather the taller flat-tracky ones it ended up with. And, thanks to quality digging by Jensen Beeler, we’re also pretty sure that Indian plans to release said street-focused FTR 1200 in 2020, followed by an adventure-styled FTR 1200 in 2021.
One thing that also seems inevitable to me is an electric motorcycle. Victory used to make one, you’ll remember: the rebranded Brammo that was the Empulse TT. Indeed, the brand twice raced a far better-looking (and probably better in all ways) Empulse RR at the Isle of Man TT. I’d find it hard to believe that Indian would just shelve this tech when the rest of the motorcycling world is stumbling over itself to deliver an electric model. Harley-Davidson’s already given us the LiveWire; Ducati and Triumph have both been pretty open about the fact that they’re also keen to throw their hats in the ring. Why would Indian sit on the sidelines when its parent company has already done a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of research?
I’ll admit that I wouldn’t necessarily expect to see an electric Indian this year. It’s coming, though. I’m certain. And I think it would be a great idea for Indian to go with the sort of race styling that Victory used with the Empulse RR. Perhaps one of the best places for electric bikes to win hearts and minds is as track bikes.
What else do you think might be on the horizon for “America’s First Motorcycle Company?”