First Ride: 2015 Indian Roadmaster

<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below </i>

Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycles wowed the motorcycle world a year ago when it rolled out its first new road hogs in years -- the Chief Classic, the Chief Vintage and the Chieftain.

Now they’ve kicked it up a notch with the introduction of the Indian Roadmaster, another classic from the historic motorcycle company’s vaults, modernized to 21st century standards for comfort and road-worthiness.

Essentially a Chieftain with ups and extras, the Roadmaster uses Indian’s 111-cubic-inch “Thunderstroke” engine, which pulls hard at the low end and produces 119 foot-pounds of torque, attached to a 6-speed transmission.


The Roadmaster adds to the handsome Chieftain’s frame and bodywork includes more than 35 gallons of storage -- hard side bags, a trunk bag and two small “glove box” areas up front -- and a very substantial full faring.

Like the Chieftain, it features an electrically adjustable windshield, keyless ignition that also locks the storage areas, onboard sound system and ABS brakes.

The leather rider’s seat is matched with a similar passenger seat, which has a backrest as part of the trunk bag set-up that is lighted on the inside and includes a luggage rack for carrying even more stuff.

Throw in heated seats and hand grips, and the $26,999 price tag and the weight -- $4,000 more than the Chieftain, and 100 pounds heavier -- begins to make sense.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said heated hand grips were optional. They are standard.

It’s a thumper. Going slow or going fast, there is very little vibration. At 80 mph, the engine turns at only 3,000 rpm. At 100 mph, it doesn’t even hit 4,000 rpm. And the strong low-end torque makes an easy job of putting the big beast in motion. A little rev, a little clutch release and this battleship of a bike slides away from the dock.

Braking and clutching are one-finger operations. The 5.5 gallon gas tank makes for a range of 185 miles or more.

And inside the rider’s space, it’s so still you could light a cheroot and deal a hand of solitaire. Under 80 mph there is almost no wind, and very little noise. The combination windscreen and upper and lower faring keep all the weather off the operator. I rode through heavy fogs in Big Sur and a light rainstorm in Monterey and didn’t even get damp.

There’s a downside to that. On a hot day, that rider cockpit turns into a fire pit. The Roadmaster has baffles in the lower section of the faring, but even with those open I found the experience of riding in 90 degrees a little like riding a Weber grill down the hibachi highway.

It’s also heavy. Fueled, it weighs 930 pounds. I found out exactly how heavy that was when, having just filled the Roadmaster with gas, I bumped the bike off the kickstand and could not hold it up as it slowly leaned over onto the highway bars that protect the side bags and faring.

I know various techniques for uprighting a heavy bike, but standing on slick, greasy gas station concrete, I don’t think I could have gotten the Roadmaster back on its kickstand without assistance. Luckily, a strapping youth was gassing up next to me, and offered to help.

It will be a long time before Indian begins to take any significant market share away from that motorcycle company from Milwaukee, which dominates the heavy bagger scene. But the Roadmaster is an attractive option for someone who can spend $27,000 and wants to ride a Native American motorcycle that’s not a Harley.

Twitter: @misterfleming