The red-bricked road between the Franklin Hotel and Silverado Casino in Deadwood started filling up early last Monday, motorcycles parked at least six deep in front of the white-columned promenade. Music bounced off walls as the procession continued to pour in throughout the morning, the motorcycles ranging from stock Harleys and Victorys to one-offs built and ridden by the likes of Arlen Ness, OCC, John Shope and Jessi Combs. Star power and the ability to mingle and ride with those personalities is one of the allures of the annual Sturgis Legends Ride, from reflecting on the days of Headbanger’s Ball with guest Dee Snyder to discussing muzzle loads and velocities with Rich Wyatt from American Guns.
A record crowd turned out for this year’s gathering, with the Black Hills Special Olympics and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame the benefactors of the $81,000-plus raised by the charitable event. Last year, a bus was purchased for the kids of the Special Olympics to get them to and from practices and events. Meanwhile, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is growing exponentially, going from a modest collection to housing over 100 historic motorcycles and counting. It is in dire need of more space, plans for a modern, more eye-catching building are in place, and anyone who was on hand for the unveiling of the 2014 Indian Chiefs on Main Street Sturgis last Saturday night could see the potential the facility holds. Indian totally revamped the building, placing motorcycles on top, erecting high-def video screens to broadcast the party high above the crowd, and circling it with stages where the likes of Don Emde and Laura Klock rode the new Chiefs up and on in front of the raucous crowd.
So it seemed only fitting to participate in this year’s Legends Ride on a motorcycle from a company with a legendary history. The Indian Motorcycle Co. opened shop in Springfield, Massachusetts back in 1901, and has seen its share of ups and downs. But there have been big hopes for the company since Polaris Industries bought it in April 2011, and the introduction of the first Polaris-created Indian Motorcycles was the storyline of Sturgis 2013. So when presented with the opportunity to represent Indian in one of the marquee events in Sturgis, we gratefully accepted the invitation to join the 50-mile parade around the Black Hills on a 2014 Indian Chief Classic.
But we were in for a treat. Ours was a small and intimate group, led by Indian Motorcycle’s External Relations Manager Robert Pandya. We’ve had the pleasure of riding with Robert many times in the past, and know how he likes to ride fast and hard. Our journey would begin with a slow ramble through downtown Rapid City, stoplight-to-stoplight action until we could get out of town and crack the throttle on the new Indian Chief Classic.
Before rolling out, a visual inspection reveals it’s a solidly built bike, a cast aluminum, six-piece modular frame with the airbox integrated into the front section seemingly built around the muscular Thunder Stroke 111 engine. Its 46mm fork is short and stout, while its skirted fenders establish smooth lines, front to back. Chrome is abundant, from the aforementioned fork to its bars, headlight housing, engine, pipes, console and covers. Its bars are internally wired,
The Legends Ride had a record turnout in 2013. We felt like a rock star rolling into Deadwood on a 2014 Indian Chief Classic.
The 2014 Indian Chief Classic is built rock-solid, has a torque-filled powerplant, and a chassis that shines when the road starts to twist up.
Guitarist Jared James Nichols was one of the special guests at the 2013 Legends Ride and later was the opening act at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip.
adding to its tidy disposition, and more chrome comes in the form of its control housings, levers, and mirrors. Spoked, laced wheels and whitewalls contribute to its “Classic” designation.
Sitting in its saddle for the first time, the front end initially feels heavier than the front fairing-equipped 2014 Chieftain. The chrome headlight housing has an attractive design with a big fin running down its spine, but its weight is centralized which does add a bit of heft to the bars. The pullback arrangement places the grips within easy reach of the rider, but during our photo stop where we make numerous slow speed U-turns, we quickly learned that they have a limited range of motion and the motorcycle requires a generous berth to turn around under these circumstances. At 29 degrees, the fork on the 2014 Indian Chief Classic is also kicked out at four more degrees than the Chieftain’s and sports a 2.4-inch longer wheelbase at 68.1 inches.
On the backside, the progressive linkage suspension used on the 2014 Chief Classic’s tail section is a first for the company, the single shock ranging through 3.7-inches of travel. It comes with mechanical preload. The rear fender also comes with a new twist, serving both form and function in its role as a structural member of the modular frame, helping stabilize the rear over bumps. Indian engineers have made servicing the rear as easy as possible by making the rear tire accessible with the removal of a single pin that allows the entire rear suspension to drop out.
In a Polaris presentation, the new Thunder Stroke 111 is compared to the Indian Power Plus from the 1940s. The two share many features in common, from multi-directional finned valve covers to downward firing exhausts so it looks like a Flathead. Both feature big parallel pushrod tubes, asymmetric fin styling, right-hand drive and right-hand cam covers.
Once out of town, chasing Robert allows us to finally open up the 2014 Indian Chief Classic for the second time. The first came the day before when we got to do some freeway miles on I-90 between Sturgis and Rapid City. The 2014 Chief Classic pulls hard and heavy, Indian PR stating it hits top torque numbers at only 3000 rpm. Twisting the throttle to its stop, first gear tops out at 40 mph while second gear will propel you up to 60. Considering the tremendous power of the 1811cc engine, we would like to have seen a wider powerband in the lower gears, at least enough to shoot riders above freeway speeds in second gear. Fifth gear is wonderfully wide, capable of pulling up without stutter from low rpm while providing excellent roll-on in the 3400 – 3800 rpm range, and this gearing is just about ideal for the bike.
As wide sweepers begin to wind through the rolling hills on SD-44, the Dunlop American Elite tires are gripping tight as the Indian Chief tilts into the turns. At 26 inches, seat height is low and beyond the top-heavy bars, the motorcycle’s mass is centralized and riders can confidently carry plenty of momentum into turns. And while it handled the sweepers well, the Indian Chief Classic impressed us even more in the winding county road to Silver City. This stretch is loaded with sharp switchbacks and 20 mph turns. We did our best to stay on Robert’s back wheel as he set an aggressive pace. The bike’s chassis is dialed-in tight as the motorcycle constantly felt stable and sure. There’s no flex coming out of corners, the suspension doesn’t squat and the bike just digs in while the torque-filled engine pulls you out from lean. The amount of lean angle is commendable as it takes quite a bit to scrape the bike’s boards. Its composure and maneuverability in the tight stuff was an unexpected surprise that put a broad smile on our face.
A mid-corner adjustment allowed us to sample the Indian Chief’s standard ABS. Despite the anti-locking agent, the two-piston caliper on the rear is still sticky enough to lock-up the rear. The ABS is set so that it’s not intrusive, deferring braking power to the standard arrangement unless you dab the pedal hard, which suited us just fine. When engaged, it doesn’t pulse in the ball of your foot much as it’s pumping the brakes, a marked improvement from the systems on both Harley-Davidson and
Victory. After a stop at the ‘50s-style roadside diner known as Boondocks, we were give free reign to ride wherever we wanted for an hour or so. We took advantage of the opportunity to return to that stretch to Silver Springs in order to push it hard in the twisties again which only reinforced our observations at how surprisingly well the 2014 Indian Chief Classic handles.
On our way to Deadwood, we did feel that the instrument cluster nestled in the fairing of the Chieftain is more useful than the tank-mounted one on the Chief Classic. The analog speedo is large and designed like the one on a 1938 Indian but it does require a downward glance and a moment where your eyes aren’t on the road directly ahead of you. Considering the speedo dial contains most of the diagnostic indicators like high beam, cruise control and neutral indicators and displays info like odometer, tach, and tripmeters, there’s a lot of information in a little area that’s not easy to see. The electronic fuel gauge is also mounted on the tank console a little higher up in its own dial, but it’s something riders can glance at when stopped.
Rolling into Deadwood for the 2013 Legends Ride, we feel like royalty pulling in. Admittedly, it dons traditional Indian styling, but it’s been done properly. It adheres to heritage but is injected with an artistically crafted engine with torque galore and a chassis that shines in the curvy stuff. On the slow speed, 50-mile run through Vanocker Canyon to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, we felt like a rock star as Michael Lichter snapped our photo while capturing the entourage through the lenses of his cameras. We were staying at The Chip in a rented RV parked on the outskirts of the campground, kick stand down on a slab of pavement adjacent to our temporary home. When we left temporarily to go to the media center, our lone Indian Chief Classic had been joined by five other 2014 Indian models, the crew from the Indian demo rig somehow finding its brethren in the maze of dirt roads that make up The Chip. Many of these Chieftains and Vintages were decked out in Indian aftermarket parts, and one Indian Classic was equipped with a rider’s backrest, fishtail tips on the pipes, and a solo luggage rack. With acres and acres of RVs and motorcycles everywhere, we bet they were surprised to find a 2014 Indian Chief Classic already parked in the spot they had
The 2014 Indian Chief Classic was one of the stars of the show last Saturday night during the world debut on Main Street at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame.
selected to do the same. Far as we know, they’re still scratching their heads trying to figure out who had one of their bikes considering the 2014 Chiefs haven’t even hit the market yet.
We took in the Kid Rock show that night, one of the perks of attending the 2013 Legends Ride, and got to take one more spin on the 2014 Indian Chief Classic the next morning as we returned it to the warehouse in Rapid City. It was indeed a legendary day, from record attendance and record money raised at the Legends Ride, to partying at the Legendary Buffalo Chip and witnessing a memorable performance by Kid Rock, to getting to do it all from a motorcycle with a legendary history that has the makings of being a legend in its own right.