2018 Indian Scout Bobber – First Ride
Indian Motorcycle’s take on the bobber genre shows brand deserves place among the best
Shut up. This thing is gorgeous.
I know what your complaints about the new Indian Scout Bobber are going to be, and we can talk about them in a bit, but for now could you please just shut up and admit that this is an actual thing of beauty? This is a work of art – art that excels beyond previous efforts, art you want to be seen on, and, most importantly, art that is joyously fun to ride.
Unveiled amid the hullabaloo of the Minneapolis X Games, the target audience for this particular work of art is pretty easy to guess. With the Scout Bobber, Indian Motorcycle is looking to extend beyond the heritage foundations upon which it has rebuilt itself over the past few years. The old guys who remember the Indian Motorcycle of the past can see the brand is back; now it’s time to start chasing after their children and grandchildren.
To do this, Indian has followed in the footsteps of Harley-Davidson and Triumph in delivering a bobber version of one of its stalwart models. “Bobber,” of course, is a word for which the definition appears to have changed in recent years. These days it’s a word that describes a certain look and spirit. So, in the same sense that the Triumph Bonneville T120 Black is so called because it’s a Bonneville T120 that’s black, the Scout Bobber gets its name from the fact it’s a Scout that is… uh... a bobber. Bobberfied? Bobberlicious? Well, you get the point.
Fenders have been dutifully bobbed and most of the shiny bits have been “blacked out.” Giving a bike the blacked out treatment is cliche perhaps, but, damn it, it works here. This is especially true when combined with the Bronze Smoke color scheme – my favorite of the five colorways available. Chrome accents on the engine and a block-letter logo on the tank also draw the eye. A new headlight nacelle addresses what was previously my biggest aesthetic complaint about the Scout (puny-looking front), and creates a nice visual link to larger bikes like the Chief Classic/Vintage/Dark Horse and Springfield.
So-called tracker bars combine with closer (by 1.5 inches – still not quite mid-set) pegs and a rear suspension that’s been lowered 1 inch to create a more assertive riding position. My deep concern upon first observing these changes was that they would create clamshell ergonomics similar to those found on the Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight – a sexy machine but not one I enjoy sitting on. I am happy to report, though that Indian’s entry in the bobber race does not cause immediate discomfort.
The seat is mighty low (although, according to Indian, it’s oh-so-slightly higher than on the Scout). For a 6-foot-1 guy like me, throwing a leg over is more an issue of taking a big step. I found it to be the source of quirky fun, and having all the weight way down low meant it was easy to push the bike around in parking lots and such. Whether I’d want to ride that low all the time, though… I’m not sure.
Fire up the Scout Bobber’s 1130cc liquid-cooled V-twin and the (blacked out) stock exhaust does a decent job of communicating the engine’s potential for badassery. It won’t upset the neighbors but offers enough growl to trigger the kid part of your brain that makes you want to shout, “Yeah!” like James Hetfield.
The engine is the same 100-hp beauty found in the Scout – one of my favorite powerplants across the board. It’s far and away the best cruiser engine I’ve ever experienced (Oooh, controversial), but I’d be equally delighted to see it housed in anything from a naked to an adventure bike. I love its perfect mix of the visceral and the refined. There is growl and rumble to emotionally remind you that you are sitting astride a big metal box of explosions, but there is also an all-day smoothness and usability; I never get sick of it.
The six-speed transmission seems to have improved since I last rode a full-size Scout back in 2014. It is less clunky than I remember, now on par with a Kawasaki gear box in terms of feel, and wholly reliable.
In sixth, revs don’t touch 4,000 rpm until 75 mph, and it does a good enough job of sipping from its 12.5-liter (3.3 US gallons) tank that ~140 miles can be had before needing to fill up. Throttle response is generally smooth but when holding a steady 30 mph things can get a little jumpy. I had the same quibble about the Indian Scout Sixty.
So, What’s it Like to Ride?
Indian held its press ride for the Scout Bobber in the misleadingly named Twin Cities area of Minnesota. (Locals use the “Twin Cities” moniker to describe not just Minneapolis and St. Paul, but an area comprising some 218 cities, towns, and municipalities) The area is near and dear to my heart – I went to high school in Bloomington and lived for a number of years in St. Paul – and my immediate family still calls it home.
I ended up staying in town after my fellow moto-journos had hopped on their flights. Which meant I got to spend two extra days playing on the bike, hustling it down roads I know and love. So, I rode this bike not just in a pack of mo-jo loonies, but also on my own and at my own pace; I got more of a chance to connect. When it came time to finally return the bike to Indian’s Medina, Minnesota, headquarters I was feeling genuine pangs of sadness.
Before you even turn the key on the new Scout Bobber, you’ll want to fix its mirrors. Indian will sell the bike to you with the bar-end mirrors in dropdown position because the designers think that looks cool, but this renders the mirrors useless and annoying. In attempting to ride the bike this way, mirrors were completely hidden from view by my forearms. In turns they would bang into my knees, and when I moved my knees they would bang into the tank.
Fortunately, if you pull up the seat you’ll find an Allen wrench to detach the mirrors and swap them around. Doing this took me approximately 90 seconds, so my biggest moan about the bike isn’t really much of a moan at all.
As I say, the seat is low, but the riding position comfortable enough to handle a decent stretch of miles. The closer pegs didn’t make me feel squished; if anything I had a greater sense of connection with the bike. Indian’s team sees this very much as an urban tool and although I offered to ride it across the country to prove the bike has touring chops (I may have been drinking when I said that), they’re probably right. It is not as all-day comfortable as the Triumph Bonneville Bobber, for example.
That changes somewhat with the addition of accessory mini ape-hanger ‘bars. Ape hangers aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but let’s not get lost in a discussion of their merit or lack thereof. If you hate them, I understand; but for me – Chris Cope, the guy who is writing this – the accessory ‘bars make the bike more comfortable, easier to maneuver, and even better looking.
The stock seat is good, though firm. It locks you into place but that’s the way of things with the bobber style. I personally prefer the accessory springer-style seat that was on the ape-hanger-equipped model I rode; I found that to be more comfortable. I may have a weird butt, though. Motorcycle Cruiser’s Morgan Gales spent some time on that bike and was quick to pass it to me after about 20 miles.
Meanwhile, the front forks and rear shocks of the Scout Bobber are of noticeably better quality than those on existing Scouts (don’t be surprised to see these improvements come to the Scout for model year 2018), but that doesn’t fully make up for the loss of an inch of travel in the rear. Cruising the weather-beaten roads of the North Star State gave me opportunity to pine for that missing inch. It’s not an awful situation, but I think that as an owner I’d look into restoring the three-inchers.
Despite weighing 251 kg wet (554 lbs) – roughly the same as my Triumph Tiger Explorer XRx – the bike feels light and nimble. Within this, though, comes my standard lament that the engine’s ability can exceed that of the chassis. Get too excited heading into corners and your pegs will touch down.
With the ergonomics canting you forward slightly, 75 mph is about the maximum point of comfort. Nothing surprising there; I haven’t encountered too many fairing/screen-free bikes that could be described as relaxing at high speeds. The sweet spot for the Scout Bobber is in the 40-60mph range. Sure, the engine can easily clip along at twice that pace, but you’ll be happiest riding more in line with the wishes of your local constabulary.
The single discs front and rear do a good job of providing all the necessary whoa for the Scout Bobber’s go. I would love to have seen an additional disc up front – and said as much to every Indian engineer, designer, and exec I could find (poor Gary Gray, vice president of Polaris’ motorcycle planning, got stuck sitting next to me at dinner and had to hear me tell him this at least four times) – but I will admit it would be mostly for aesthetic purposes.
Aesthetics are the the raison d’être of a factory-made bobber, of course, and it’s here where the Scout Bobber excels. The fit and finish, the attention to detail exhibited on the Scout Bobber is in some ways greater than that seen on Indian’s most expensive models. If you’ve ever heard me swoon over Triumph’s most recent offerings you’ll know I’m a sucker for attention to detail and Indian gets it right here. A simple logo on a lever or seat or ignition housing lets you know that someone put a whole hell of a lot of care into this bike and that makes you feel special when riding it. I wanted people to see me on this thing.
As you might expect from a model that sells itself on being “stripped down” there aren’t a whole lot of bells and whistles. By and large, what you see is what you get. In the United States, ABS is available on the Thunder Black Smoke model only. Europeans, living under the yoke of socialism, get ABS with all five color schemes. A single dial gives you an analog speedometer as well as digital tachometer, odometer, trip meter, and gear indicator. There’s a low-fuel warning light but no fuel gauge.
In Defense of the Scout Bobber
As much as I love the Scout Bobber, I am fully aware that many people won’t necessarily feel the same way. Unfairly, much of that criticism lies not in what the Scout Bobber is but what it isn’t. It isn’t the street version the FTR750 for which people have been baying. It isn’t the scrambler/standard/naked that I’ve personally been wanting ever since Indian was resurrected in 2013.
Indian is hinting as strongly as it can that one or both of those things are coming in the near future (I suspect we may see something as soon as EICMA this year), but it is, as I say, unfair to complain about this thing on the basis of it’s not being that thing. Take it for what it is, y’all.
I mean, yes, I am an acknowledged fan of Indian so perhaps I’m hard-wired to think this way, but the Scout Bobber is a stand-alone awesome bike. It would be awesome if it had come from Harley or Honda, and if either of those companies had produced this motorcycle we’d probably be giving them kudos (Harley for delivering such an awesome engine, Honda for finding the cojones to make such a beautiful motorcycle). In real-world terms, despite Indian’s eagerness to connect with a heritage extending back to 1901, this is a group that’s only been producing motorcycles for four years. In light of that, I think it’s fair to give it praise for producing a motorcycle this good, this gorgeous, this on-point, and this affordable this quickly.
Equally, as was my feeling when the Chieftain Limited and Chieftain Elite models were released earlier this year, I think it’s fair to allow Indian to flesh out its platforms. Why not have several kinds of Scout? If Triumph can have 16 models that look almost exactly the same (Tiger Explorer and Tiger 800 lineups), surely it’s OK for Indian to have two types of Scout.
Would I Buy It?
So, we’ve established that I love the Scout Bobber. I have several pictures of it on my phone and have shown them to every friend and family member I’ve encountered. The picture above, in which I’ve banked the bike over to scrape all kinds of bits, is definitely one that I’m going to print out and hang on my wall. I could sing this motorcycle's praises for days. But would I actually spend my own money to buy one?
The short answer is yes. The longer answer is “maybe.” Certainly, for what the Scout Bobber is, I feel it is worth the money. Being a fan of ABS, let’s take a look at how Indian’s ABS-equipped offering stacks up against the closest competition (also all ABS-equipped versions):
– Scout Bobber: US $12,499 (£11,299)
– Harley-Davidson Forty-Eight: $12,094 (£9,995)
– Harley-Davidson Street Bob: $14,644 (£12,245)
– Triumph Bonneville Bobber: $11,900 (£10,600)
So, it costs less than a Street Bob, but is more expensive than a Forty-Eight or Bonneville Bobber. It is more powerful than any of the others mentioned, maintains a fit and finish on par with the others, and equally holds its own in terms of overall styling and look. It is more comfortable than the Forty-Eight, while its engine is less annoying than the Street Bob’s and more characterful than the Bonneville Bobber’s.
If I were in the market for a cool, fun, easy bike, my love of the brand and my excitement for where it’s going would probably see me sending my money Indian’s way. Probably. Maybe. But that Triumph, though…
Whatever your feelings on what Indian should be doing there’s no arguing that the Scout Bobber is a top-notch offering. On its own it is gorgeous, within the context of the brand it is solid step forward, and as a tease of what the future may hold it is pretty damned exciting.
Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch tall
Experience: I got my license the same year Warren Moon started as quarterback for the Vikings