Harley-Davidson is often referred to as the Ford of the motorcycling world. This is due in part to the fact that like Ford, Harley-Davidson is the oldest running American built motorcycle manufacturer. Sort of. See there is a new kid on the block, or at least it appears new. Truth is, the new kids’ lineage goes back even further than the good ol’ Harley-Davidson company. And now Indian Motorcycles is back at it, bringing the fight to Harley-Davidson’s doorstep once more, this time with a pair of special edition Chieftains.
To begin this Cowboy and Indian battle we have to go way back to the turn of the century. George Hendee had already established a successful bicycle manufacturing company, Hendee Manufacturing Company, which carried his flagship bicycle, the American Indian. Being a bicycle aficionado, George hired a gentleman by the name of Oscar Hedstrom to build a motorized bicycle to pace races. It took Hedstrom just 4 months in 1901 to complete the bike, one that proved to be quite impressive for its day. So impressive that Hendee Manufacturing built its first factory for motorized bicycles at the end of 1901.
With production starting in 1902 the snowball effect was underway, with the first Indian Motorcycle even winning its first race, an endurance event from Boston to New York City. Might not sound like much until you consider these things were bicycles with a really small engine attached. I mean, the speed record was set by Oscar the next year and it was a whopping 56mph. That must have been a long drive.
In 1903 Hendee and his crew were out breaking speed records while the Harley boys were just getting off the ground. Although they both had their own successes, Indian was always one step ahead, even beating Harley-Davidson to the V-twin engine design by 3 years. The two companies would compete neck and neck for the next few years, until WW1 came and went. While the Indians were still faster and slightly more refined, production was hurting from their efforts in the war.
Unfortunately Indian was unable to recover from their losses, forcing them to close their doors in 1953. Harley-Davidson was able to keep trudging along, at least until they merged with AMF in 1969. While the Period from 1969 to 1981 was not the most memorable period of Harley-Davidson production, they were still around, unlike the beloved Indian Motorcycles. Several companies tried to revive the Indian name throughout the years with little to no success. That was until 2011 when Polaris purchased the Indian namesake and redesigned the legendary Scout and Chief models from the ground up. And boy did they do it justice.
If you have been living under a rock you may not know this, but Harley Davidson’s modern baggers are considered the cream of the crop. They provide an excellent platform for long distance touring, blending comfort and utility into a well-handling package. But now the Indian Chieftain and Roadmaster have come out to play, posing as a serious opponent to the big HD. While the function has been there as well as a gem of a power plant, the Indians have fallen short in the styling department according to some. While I personally love the retro styling, I can see where someone might have that opinion. Worry no more though, because Indian has just the answer.
Indian has announced the new Indian Chieftain Elite and Limited models, an aggressive take on the standard Chieftain. Gone are the sweeping fenders and famous Indian head emblem. The two distinct models share some of the same features. Mainly the 19-inch front wheel that launches the Chieftain straight into bagger territory. The Limited edition is the more attainable model, while the Elite will be a production run of only 350 total units. Each of the Elite Chieftains will come hand painted, to a tune of 25 painstaking hours of detail. This means each and every Elite Chieftain will be unique to itself. On top of that you get a 200-watt stereo that features speakers in the saddlebag lids as well as the ones in the fairing. The layout of the fairing is already miles ahead of the pack, so adding a little more punch will go a long way.
Other amenities will include billet machined parts like floor boards and such, as well as a unique headlight on the Elite models. Other than that you are already on one of the more impressive platforms currently on the market. The Thunderstroke 111ci V-twin is an absolute marvel. This engine is not only one of the most gorgeous v-twins I have ever seen, it’s also an absolute workhorse, laying down 119ft-lbs of torque. The chassis is extremely sorted allowing you to maneuver the 1000lb bike with ease. Overall it’s the ultimate package. The Chieftain has unparalleled touring performance that is absolutely gorgeous to look at.
The Battle has been long and arduous, but it finally looks like Indian will win the war. We have a new king of the west, and its the beautiful Chieftain Elite.