New Scout on Patrol
Indian Motorcycles Scout introduces the latest threat to the states quo.
It’s a clear, warm August evening in Sturgis, South Dakota during the early days of the Sturgis Rally that annually swells this otherwise sleepy town of 6,000 to the breaking point. Indian Motorcycle Company has fenced off a solid block on busy Lazelle Street—in the heart of the action. Behind the security fence are two grand stages, filming lights, boom mikes, platters of food, tubs of cold beer, speakers pounding out good times tunes and a hundred or more of us “VIPs” who’ve been invited to witness the uncrating of several very large red and blue boxes containing—in our best guess—the new 2015 Indian Scout. That guess was confirmed by evening’s end.
As the guessing continued, a pony-tailed and heavily tattooed showman named Charlie Ransom was strutting and waving on the one stage where soon he would enter a large cylindrical structure called the Wall of Death, climb aboard a Scout—his own are of the vintage variety—and whir like mad around the cylinder’s wooden staves, rotating in a rapidly ascending arc to the very top of the wall until inertia, like a marble in a centrifuge, holds him and the bike in a gravity-defying perpendicular angle. When velocity and angle have finally reached their most precarious points, it’s then that Charlie will begin his antics, moving from one position to another on the bike as it continues to wildly revolve, flamboyantly extending his arms to the crowd, and mocking the presence of death with ironic poses. Dressed in a white shirt with bowtie, and tan breeches tucked into black knee-high riding boots, Charlie’s quite the character: equal parts old-time carnival barker and 1920s barnstormer.
There are other celebrities on hand this evening, including Mark Wahlberg, but they pale in comparison to Ransom whose dress, Vaudevillian mannerisms, and death-defying trick rides are a direct link to the traveling circuses and broadly exaggerated entertainers of the early 20th century. He represents a slice of genuine old-time, county fair Americana, and that is precisely the point of his being here.
Ransom is in Sturgis this evening to help visually drive home the message that Indian Motorcycle is inextricably woven into the very fabric of America, and there are few places more red, white, and blue than Sturgis, the fabled Black Hills and the 74-year-old Rally, which finds its origins in the legacy of 1930s Indian dealer Pappy Hoel who first sponsored the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club and their scrambles and hill climbs that brought Sturgis worldwide fame.
Indian Motorcycles is now brand-managed by Polaris, an American industrial giant on a mission: to reclaim Sturgis as
Indian country from Harley-Davidson, which is by far and away the dominant marque when summer brings the rally thousands to South Dakota. The work is cut out for them. History may side with Indian through the precedent of Pappy Hoel, but the streets now belong to Harley.The Scout joins this turf war along with last year’s Chiefs and Chieftain, as well as the 2015 Roadmaster, a luxury touring Chieftain variation, which was introduced two days before the nails were pulled from the Scout’s crate.
It seems like Polaris has been chasing Harley’s market share for a long time, first with its line of Victory bikes, and now with Indian, a brand that we’re often reminded was “America’s first motorcycle.” To stay in lockstep with Harley requires some tricky footwork, and while the Victory brand is of very high quality the marque never has quite been able to make the necessary emotional appeal that might win over a traditional Harley customer. Victory does not have the benefit of history on its side—it’s really just that simple.
Then, there’s Indian, a brand with the history boxes fully ticked. The stage has long been set for Indian’s return, all that has been missing since 1953 is a quality product. That issue is now resolved with last year’s Chiefs, and the 2015 Scout, which will be in dealers in four colours by the end of 2014—that is, assuming you can find a dealer in a city near you. As of now there are only four in Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Oakville and Montreal, where they will start at MSRP $12,999.
But if the Indian marque has historical and emotional currency, what history are we really discussing? If it’s the story of the Chief, then the discussion must be about big bikes booming down American highways, fully loaded with the rider comfortably perched on a broad saddle. Indian history can mean Cannonball Baker making a 10,000-mile transcontinental run on a lightweight twin in 1914, or Indian’s fabulous “Wrecking Crew” waging legendary battles with Harley’s factory flat track teams of the 1940s.
Indian history means many things, but the Scout has long been synonymous with nimble, lightweight performance tailored toward sporting pursuits.
Indeed on the home page of his website, Charlie Ransom hails the Indian 101 Scout as “the undisputed Best mount for trick riding on the WALL of DEATH.”
The song remains the same for 2015, though Indian factory representatives such as product director Gary Gray insist that the development goal for the Scout was not to faithfully reproduce a period-piece model, but to re-imagine the bike as if its line of evolution had never been broken.
The question Indian engineers asked: if production of the Scout had never ceased, what would it look like today? Of course that leaves many doors of interpretation wide open, but there are definite visual cues to the 2015 version that stir strong feelings of déjà vu, especially when the front profile is seen in silhouette. The particular shape of the headlamp positioned high between the swept bars is dramatic.
The wrap of the fender, the angled leather solo seat, and the period-correct scroll on the tank summons images of much earlier Scouts—the raised badging on the 12.5-litre (3.3-gal) tank is in itself, a thing of beauty.
The liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin leaves very little of itself exposed so any reference to the parallel pushrod mills of yore is strictly wishful thinking, but on the other hand there is supposed to be an evolution going on (right?) and the structural ribbing throughout as opposed to faux finning is intended to reflect the “honesty and integrity” of the design, said industrial designer Rich Christoph during a tech briefing prior to the Scout’s media road test.
When viewed from afar, the Indian Motorcycles Scout program is an ambitious one. The target was to build the “best mid-size cruiser in America,” says Gray, whose parameters included class-leading power, and that meant diverging from the traditional push-rod air-cooled platform. “The Scout had to be small, lightweight, and with lots of power, so liquid cooling was clearly the path for us.” A chain-driven overhead cam along with gear-to-gear drive for the clutch meant a tighter powertrain package with less lash, coming on and off the throttle.
And if liquid cooling has long been a bug-bear for traditionalists who can’t abide the aesthetics of an ugly rad draped between the front down tubes, the Scout’s approach is to contain the radiator within a cast shroud that offers structural rigidity for the five-piece aluminum frame—a frame that is a blend of tubular structure and slab-shaped pieces that together wrap around the engine and contribute greatly to the Scout’s very tight and controlled road handling ability.
In some ways, this bike will remain an enigma for certain owners. While the intent was to build a light, clever, powerful cruiser that appeals to spirited riders, an alternate goal was to lure newer riders into the Indian fold by designing it to have the lowest seat height in the class. As an aside, I’ve always been puzzled by the energy put into building a bike with so-called low seat height (in this case 643mm/25 in).
After the first week with a new bike, even quite short riders quickly get used to its dimensions. Being able to plant both feet squarely is a safety blanket generally only required during the first few hours of operation. But having the lowest seat in the class seemed important to Indian, which perhaps explains the flat-trending position of the rear shock—a piece of suspension that is not the bike’s best feature. It’s quite soft with only a modest 76mm (3 in.) of travel, which means bigger riders such as myself are exposed to jarring on the harsher bumps.
Indian also envisioned a classic “rigid triangle” profile for the Scout, which may have brought inherent suspension limitations to the program. But, in truth, this is just the first Scout out of the gate for the new Indian company. Doubtless, there will be many more to come—and likely very soon. My sixth sense told me there might have even been another new model in Sturgis that the company was not yet ready to reveal.
The 69-cu. in. motor mated to a sturdy and silky six-speed adds to the enigma of the Scout. Ride-by-wire throttle assures smooth transitions with nearly every input and throttle rollback, but you have to be willing to chase after its peak factory-spec 100 horsepower, which is said to arrive at 8,100 rpm. There is truth in this: the more you roll that throttle, the harder it seems to hit. Few new riders will be willing to tach it up to the eight grand mark, so this performance bracket will belong to the previously mentioned “spirited riders.” For the newbie, the Scout’s beautifully mapped torque curve produces 72.2 ft/lbs. at 5,900 extremely useable rpm for a sense of controlled and mannerly street operations. There are two very different creatures living inside the Scout, though both new and experienced riders alike will enjoy the bike’s versatile, whippy nature, and how quickly it motors up to highway speeds in practically any gear.
Its light front end and low weight (244 kg/538 lb.) lend a high degree of maneuverability at both low and high speeds. A gentle push on the bars creates an instant change of direction with the Scout holding any line the rider dictates with no resistance.
At times, the front end felt perhaps even a little too light for my taste. But I wondered if that didn’t have to do with the ergonomics of the particular model I was riding. But a prospective owner is not constricted to one particular setup.
There are a number of handlebar and peg placement options that can radically change the seating attitude, which in stock form is contrived for persons ranging from 5’4” to six feet.
Through the use of OEM accessories, the Scout can fit riders from modest five-footers to strapping 6’4” dudes.
In terms of pricing, and comparative features, Indian referenced Harley’s Sportster 1200 Custom as a rival, but the comparison was lost on me. I don’t quite understand how the two bikes match up against one another—to me, they seem quite different, but perhaps your local dealer can explain this. Or perhaps, it doesn’t really even matter. The Indian Scout is priced to hold its own in a tough segment, but it doesn’t rely solely on an attractive sticker.
The ride quality is superb, the motor is intriguing and with many available fitment options, nearly anyone will be able to enjoy the time they spend in the Indian Motorcycles Scout’s genuine leather saddle.
Indian may not yet be ready to conquer Sturgis, but it certainly has sent out an excellent Scout to map the next step this interesting company is about to take as the brand continues to gather strength.
By John Campbell