While I like to think of myself as a bit of a motorcycle atheist, particularly in relation to the occasional religious zeal some of these tribes’ members exhibit, I’m largely a member of the Japanese sports touring fraternity, with some Italian waverings.
I am definitely not a Harley Krishna, a breed of American cruiser rider devotees who express their individuality by wearing the same clothes, revealing the same tattoos whilst astride large, low-slung, chrome adorned machines that rumble along going “potato, potato, potato”.
I had, however, noticed the recent arrival in town of a couple of new makes of American cruiser motorcycles – the Indian and the Victory. New to Wellington but not the rest of the world. While these two marques are siblings of Polaris Industries, they share little in common, apart from a parent. Indian has a long motorcycling heritage dating back to 1901. Victory is a more recent arrival, harking back to 1998. The styling of both marques is distinctly different. Indian motorcycles embrace an historic war bonnet logo, and design features like valenced mudguards. They certainly don’t look like any other brand of motorcycle cruiser. Victorys have sharper, more modern design cues.
Today I was presented with an opportunity to take the Indian Chief Dark Horse out for a spin.
Here is a naked cruiser that comes in any colour one likes, as long as that’s unpolished black. Chrome detailing and large muted silver war bonnet logos each side of the tank add some visual interest, with the 111 cubic inch (about 1,800cc) engine being beautifully finished, together with the chromed twin exhausts.
The seat is embracingly comfortable. The riding position is feet forward, on well-sized boards. The model I rode had a pillion squab and footpegs.
There is no ignition key. The rider has an electronic fob that they need to have tucked into a pocket on something they’re wearing. A large power button on the top of the tank needs to be pressed, and then everything works like a normal bike. Push the starter (no need to squeeze in the clutch) and the big V twin bursts easily into life. It’s smooth on the idle with no desire to walk off the mainstand or to shake one’s helmet off the seat.
Riding away, the clutch feel was good for such a large torque-rich engine. There was a bit of a clunk when shifting from first to second gear, but all other changes were clean and positive. The standard engine note is loud enough, although I suspect that many owners will prefer a more exhibitionist tone and opt for customised pipes. It’s hard in the absence of a rev counter, to really understand what the engine is doing. But this isn’t a Harley. It’s very smooth and willing, revving out as one would expect an Italian V twin to do, well, apart from the top end of the rev range.
Sixth gear is quite tall. In many conditions riding around New Zealand, fourth and fifth would be as far up the box as one needed to progress. Indeed the engine is quite happy indeed at highway speeds in fourth gear.
The real surprise was the bike’s agility. For something so large and heavy, it’s quite flickable. A favourite downhill, winding stretch of seal was easily navigated, with no sounds of scrapings from pipes or boards. Suspension is neither harsh nor plush but I didn’t have a chance to test it on a really rough surface.
Although this is ostensibly a naked bike, I was surprised by the level of wind protection provided by the front headlight unit. Today in Wellington was quite windy. While I was aware of the cross winds at times, the Dark Horse was well behaved.
Short ride, short review. I would welcome an opportunity to take this machine on a longer ride, including at night to test its headlight’s skills and panel illumination. I would also value feedback from an experienced pillion about levels of comfort on the back seat. Fuel range could also be explored.
So did I like it? Surprisingly, for a non-cruiser rider, I did. A lot. Would I buy one? Perhaps. I’d need to do some much longer rides, including in the rain and cold before making that call. Pricing is quite sharp compared with similar models with different manufacturer’s badges on. If you’re cruiser-curious, then definitely take the Indian Chief Dark Horse for a spin. I reckon you may well fall in love.
Many thanks to Clint at Wellington Motorcycles for providing today’s test ride.