Indian Chieftain: Things don’t get much better

  • K Hari Warrier, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2015 11:21 IST

ABS; cruise control; driving lights; keyless start; power windshield; genuine leather seats; remote locking hard saddle bags; tyre pressure monitoring; 100 watt stereo with am/ fm bluetooth and smartphone compatible inputs...

No, we are not going through the specs of the latest luxury car from BMW or Mercedes. This is the list standard equipment of the Indian Chieftain, which till the other day was the top-of-the line offering from Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycles in India. The introduction of the granddaddy of touring, the Roadmaster (Rs. 37 lakh exshowroom Delhi) ended that, but the Chieftain is still one of the plushest ‘baggers’ in the country, even though India does not quite have the unending stretches of undulating highways that make riding these bikes a memorable experience.

Despite its forbiddingly huge physique, the Chieftain is quite nimble once you get going. The handling is smooth all the way from powering up to putting it in gear and throttling off. It’s like taking a hot steak knife to a slab of butter – the bike just cuts through everything, and leaves the rider melting from the experience.

At least, that was our takeaway. On an extended ride across terrains and traffic conditions in the National Capital Region, we found the Chieftain amenable all through, even while negotiating horrible traffic in and around Gurgaon. “Once the front end goes through, you can be assured the rear will follow,” as the wise man said.

Even wheeling the bike backward is not so tough once you get the hang of it ( just leave the side-stand on), and with hours of practice, a tight U-turn without putting the feet down becomes possible. Wheelies? Well yes, the engine has enough muscle to pick up the 450-plus kg of mass (including the rider), though with great disdain, Indian refuses to give out the engine power specs. What’s truly spectacular, though, are the long banking turns with the footpegs scraping the tarmac and sending out sparks.

The infotainment system, Bluetooth-paired with the cellphone, attract as many stares as the bike itself, and the 100watt speakers are sufficient to make the music heard above the engine roar. On quiet country roads, it would probably be possible to hear even the finer notes.

Interestingly, though, the main competitor for the Chieftain, Harley Davidson’s own premium bagger, the Touring Street Glide Special, has an even better infotainment system with a 6.5” touchscreen. In terms of rider comfort, the Chieftain has its nose ahead, but on price the Harley is streets ahead, at about Rs. 3 lakh less.

What sets the Chieftain apart from its lesser stablemates are the standard accessories listed at the beginning, especially the power windshield, the hard saddlebags, the folding floorboards for the passenger, and the entertainment system. But what puts Indian’s bikes out of the numbers game is the pricing. Till recently, its range started at ` 26 lakh, but the launch of the smaller Scout at ` 12 lakh a few months ago, and the more recent all-black Dark Horse, shorn of much of the chrome, at Rs. 22 lakh, are indicators that Indian is keen to expand its customer-base in the country.

If it wants to bring more buyers into the fold of its undoubtedly classy motorcycles, however, the company undoubtedly needs to start assembling in India and bring down the priceline. No harm in being hopeful.

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