Watson On: Indian Motorcycle, A Triumphant Return



Watson On: Indian Motorcycle

Over the years, I have lost count of the number of motorcycle companies that have come and gone. Some went down in a blaze of glory and despite having some terrific motorcycles, shut up shop due to lack of finance, poor management, or a combination of both.

Some definitely deserved to close their doors as they were woefully out of touch with their customers and consequently consigned to the history books. I do struggle a bit with famous motorcycle names from the past being resurrected. A storied brand, set up again in name alone by well-meaning enthusiasts who plan to make expensive, oddly engineered bikes that have absolutely no connection with the company of the past.

Most of them, I think, will never make it simply because the huge costs involved in manufacturing good modern motorcycles that people will want to buy is beyond their reach. A senior executive once told me that in order to make a small fortune in the motorcycle industry you have to start with a very large fortune.

Chances are most of these brands of the past will disappear again until someone else comes along with a great plan on how to restart a motorcycle company using an old name and I’m afraid it will all go the same way again with the inevitable consequences. I really can’t knock them for trying though.

Watson On: Indian Motorcycle

Things are a little different at Indian Motorcycle. This is, as we are constantly reminded, America’s oldest motorcycle company. It officially shut up shop in 1953 but then went struggling on for years and years as myriads of inept owners and consortiums tried to make it a success and failed miserably. The company went bust more times than I can count and quite honestly should have been consigned to the history books too.

But then along came Polaris Industries in 2011 with a vision of the potential of the brand. Polaris purchased it, invested in it and has worked out a long-term plan that looks like it might actually succeed.  Finally, one of the most enigmatic motorcycle names looks like it’s back on track. In less than two years with Polaris’s money and engineering expertise, Indian has a range of proper motorcycles again that went on sale in October of last year.

Before some of you reach for your guns, yes they are cruisers and yes they rely heavily on the look and style of Indian’s past, but these first motorcycles under Polaris’s stewardship are genuinely good bikes if cruisers are your thing, well designed and very well executed.

Watson On: Indian Motorcycle

Last week RideApart was invited to come and see some of the things Indian Motorcycle is working on for the future and to my eyes it looks pretty exciting. However, there was an unfortunate caveat to our invitation by Indian, we’re not allowed to write about their plans until the summer. However, what I can tell you is this.

At the beginning of last year Indian Motorcycle had just 13 dealers in the U.S. At the end of the year it had 70 retail stores and there are now a further 140 dealers signed up that will open in the near future. Indian won’t tell us who they are or where yet as it says that it wants to announce them as and when the dealerships are built and ready for business.

This media meeting was held at one of the newest dealerships in the U.S. in Southern California and purely on aesthetics and layout of the dealer showroom alone it’s clear that the current Indian Motorcycle management understands the brand. It’s modern, different and with a nod to the company’s past and even if you’re not into Indian I promise you it’s well worth going to visit your nearest dealer just to take a look.

But what about new bikes? Indian Motorcycle executives said that in the 12 months it has spent $20 million of Polaris’s money on a new production plant and has doubled the size of its Wyoming R&D facility (serving both Victory and Indian) both in terms of people and the facilities. This we’re told is for future motorcycles that we can expect to see from Indian Motorcycle in the coming years.

When you ask them what type of bikes, the Indian Motorcycle executives remain coy and simply state: “We can’t tell you that. But what ever we do next has to be done right. Going faster as a business doesn’t necessarily mean better.”


Watson On: Indian MotorcycleMy money is on the next bike being something similar to the Indian Scout that the original company was built upon and proved to be exceptionally popular. Smaller capacity than the current Indian Chiefs, lightweight, nimble and a blast to ride. There’s also the motor sport heritage tied to Indian Motorcycle. It comprehensively ruled the roost on the flat tracks of the U.S. in its hey day, so would it really be too outlandish to think that maybe a sport bike could be considered in the secret R&D base in Wyoming? Indian Motorcycle is not saying or confirming anything except to suggest that we haven’t seen anything from them yet by a long chalk.

I’m not one to always accept a motorcycle company’s PR blurb at face value, but there is a genuine quiet confidence amongst the Indian motorcycle team. They clearly have a plan that is based on a respect for the brand, an understanding that Indian can’t live in the past and needs exciting modern motorcycles to succeed. On top of that, with Polaris’s money and huge expertise across the whole group there seems to be a genuine intention of putting Indian back in its rightful place as America’s number one motorcycle company. Time will tell but I’m excited for its future. Indian Motorcycle has never looked so good.

  • Jason Channell

    I’m glad they came to play ball as a company, and are doing it right.

  • Twin Verb

    V4 Supersport plz…

  • Jonathan Berndt

    this is a fantastic company and i have a feeling they are going to do really well!

  • William Connor

    I truly hope Indian succeeds. That said I was not overly impressed with the motorcycle on my test ride. Acceleration compared to Polaris’s other brand is underwhelming, the motor was a real let down. The fit and finish is outstanding, the ergos are compact for such a large bike, and the built in electronics caused interference with external blue tooth devices such as the headset I was using. My wife was happy I didn’t like it like I had hoped, that way I didn’t “need” to buy one.

    • Fava d’Aronne

      I agree. Paying homage to your history is important, but ONLY paying homage to your history will not take you far. Look at Triumph and – to a lesser extent – Moto Guzzi.

      • William Connor

        Both brands are flourishing currently with Triumph setting it’s own personal sales records.

        • Fava d’Aronne

          That’s exactly what I am saying: both companies pay homage to their past, BUT they also come up with new stuff.

          • William Connor

            Gotcha. It didn’t read that way.

    • Scheffy

      Hopefully that’s the direction they’ll take with the Scout (assuming they make one), though my guess would be it would still be a twin. If they’d go a step further and make a Scout Scrambler version, I’d like as much advance warning as possible so I could start selling furniture and other unnecessities for a downpayment.

      • William Connor

        Seconded. I doubt they could take my money fast enough.

    • Richard Gozinya

      Won’t happen. Indian’s foray into 4 cylinders had as much to do with handling as one of those Harley trikes. If they build another four, it will undoubtedly be in that same vein. A big, heavy bike built for long trips and straight lines.

  • Fava d’Aronne

    I can see a flat track inspired bike, similar to the XR1200X, coming out of Indian…if they manage to market it right (not like the clowns at Harley, who never knew what that bike they themselves made was about, it could attract younger people and even a lot of non-American buyers.

    Also: how do I apply to work for one of their dealers???

  • Reid

    A factory street-tracker would be the ticket. I’d at least try it.

    • Ken Lindsay

      With the way that cars have one platform that serves different models, you would think it would make sense that they could get a motor and frame combo that, with a swap of shocks, forks, subframe and bars, they could have one platform that could be easily tailored from standard to scrambler to cafe racer to street tracker, etc. Look at what Ryca can do to the Savage or Sportster. It would knock down production cost and you could either order it the way you want ala HD or you could buy whatever version is on the used market and buy the factory kit to transform it to the version you want.

      • Reid

        That’s precisely the idea I was thinking of! Great minds think alike. How great would it be to have an American option for something other than a cruiser.

  • Nemosufu Namecheck

    I really like Indian Motorcycles and would love if they made an adventure touring bike with that big engine. That is an awesome look for an adventure bike. For me it’s a bummer not being able to buy an adventure bike from an American company like HD or Indian.

    • akaaccount


    • http://motorraderdreams.blogspot.com/ Eyvind Mondragon

      They don’t make it for a very simple reason. ADV bikes must be light. The latest ADV bikes, are pushing 500lb. Those are touring, fire-road capable, but not true off-road.
      What you want is a poser, and that’s what HD and Indian are making.
      So you can pose your shiny, behemoth motorcycle outside the bar.
      An ADV bike must have low weight, and some technological prowess that HD is not know for.
      Hey, actually Buell did that (Ulysses methinks). To advanced for HD… That had a 1,200cc Sportster Evolution engine. Not bad at all… There you go, your wish come true.

      • Nemosufu Namecheck

        500lbs isn’t too heavy for an adventure bike. I can throw that around with 100lbs of gear on the back all day long. I think that HD and Indian – if they want to (feel they would have customers/make money), could make an amazing machine. Adventure touring bikes have never been as popular as they are right now. Buell was a cool experiment and gave birth to EBR, which could turn out to be a great little company.

        I don’t want a poser bike, but if I could get away from BMW and KTM I would in a heartbeat for an American made motorcycle.

  • Luke

    It’s all about the engine. Will they do a new one, or just small the existing twin into something else? I’d like to think a new small displacement engine on a light frame would be on their list, but that’s not what American companies tend to do, and when they do, it’s in hope that the rider will “trade up” to a “real” sized bike. I’d love to see them build a smaller bike for people who like smaller bikes. Mini has proven that people will pay premium $ for premium small cars. I think the same is true for bikes. I know I’d pay a premium for a really well designed smaller displacement, stylish, and light bike.

  • Richard Gozinya

    I really don’t get why people are hoping for anything performance related from Indian. Their styling cues won’t work on anything performance oriented. Not the giant sized fenders with that disgusting indian head, not the ridiculously long pipes, not the tassles. And Indian, more than anything else, is a styling exercise.

    • zedro

      It’s all about looks and image? Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!¡!!!¡!!!!!

  • Doug Erickson

    a posh, mid-weight (less than 500 lbs), torquey scrambler wouldn’t be amiss…

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope

    I’d be surprised to see Indian wondering too far from the cruiser platform. I can see them using the Triumph Bonneville trick of using one basic bike offered with five different names (Bonneville, Scrambler, Thruxton, Speedmaster, America). They could do that with the Scout and, I think, find quite a lot of success. But things like a V4 or an adventure bike, no, I just don’t see it. That doesn’t fit with the whole AMERICAN HERITAGE thing they’re doing.

    I’d like to believe that perhaps the field is open for Victory to produce different types of machine, and certainly they need to. You’re splitting hairs too fine trying to have two cruiser marques. But the release of the Victory Gunner this year was so deflating to me — it made it seem Victory is willing to whither on the vine. There is talk of a new Victory powerplant in the works, but that, too, looks to be for a cruiser.

    Honestly, I think that if Polaris were to produce an adventure bike it would make the most sense to release it under the Polaris name — a brand that, via RZRs and the like, has a pretty damned good reputation for adventure/offroad vehicles.

    • Piglet2010

      Indian should make an adventure bike, but with scrambler styling instead of transformer meets preying mantis styling. This means NO BEAK!

      • LS650

        Amen. The Triumph Scrambler is a very handsome looking machine, far, far easier on the eyes than most ‘adventure’ bikes.

  • charlie

    I want an American company to build affordable standard and maybe sportbikes. Indian seems to be the only company around with the passion and ambition for great things.

  • LS650

    Indian Fours used to be known as very fast performance bikes. I’d like to see them use a longitudinal four in a good frame.

  • Hot Stuff

    I would have preferred the name “Indian Motocycle”, as it was known back in its heyday. I’d like to see the resurrect the Indian Four as well.