After unveiling the new Indian Chief motorcycles in Sturgis, S.D., in August, Polaris Industries Inc. had a Ride-The-New-Indian promotion at Twin Cities Indian in St. Paul, Minn.
“This is the first demo rides at an Indian dealership anywhere in the world,” said product director Gary Gray when Speedville visited the Twin Cities to take a 20-mile ride on the powerful, vintage-looking bikes.
A dozen sparkling examples of the 2014 Indian motorcycles were lined up for properly licensed enthusiasts to ride. We took an approximately 20-minute cruise, exiting the dealership going east on a service road and winding our way to the Interstate for a fast ride back in the opposite direction. Then, we sat down with Gray to hear the story behind how the bikes were conceived and designed.
Speedville: Is your background as an industrial designer?
Gary Gray: Actually, I’m a mechanical engineer, but I also have an MBA. So, I can design a bike, and then I can sell it. I’ve been designing bikes for about 18 years. Most of that, actually all of that, has been at Polaris.
S: What do you do most of the time, and where do you work?
GG: As Indian product director, I work all over. I work out of headquarters — the corporate office in Medina, Minn. — but I also do a lot of my job at the Indian Motorcycle Research & Development facility in Wyoming, Minn.
S: A few years back, we went to the Power Sport Institute in North Randall, Ohio and they had a Polaris school there to train service personnel. Will they be training techs how to fix the new Indians?
GG: That sounds right, but we don’t expect them to need much more than an oil change.
S: Do you have any vintage Indians yourself?
GG: Right now, I have a ’74 Indian Enduro, but I don’t count that. I am buying one of the new 2014 Indians that we designed and built.
S: Is that Enduro related to the Italian bikes that Floyd Clymer was advertising when he owned the Indian brand?
GG: It’s an Italian import, but I can’t remember if it was from Clymer or one of the other guys. I also want to buy a 101 Indian Scout. If any of your citizens has a 101 Scout and they want to sell it to me for a good price, I’ll take it.
S: How long have you guys been selling these Indians?
GG: Well, this is really our first from-the-ground-up new model. We bought the Indian brand in April of 2011, and we continued to build the King’s Mountain version of the Indian for two model years, 2012 and 2013, while we designed an all-new engine and all-new bike.
S: Was the Gilroy Indian made from ’99 up related to the one made in King’s Mountain, N. C.?
GG: A little bit … you know … some elements. They inherited the Power Plus, and I think they used the same Iron Horse Corral fenders and the same tank — but I believe they did a new frame and made some improvements to the Power Plus. But, I’m not an expert on all of that.
S: So, you guys totally redid the whole bike then?
GG: Yeah. We started at zero. We had three goals: 1.) Be honest to our heritage; 2.) Build a premium bike; and 3.) Design it to give consumers confidence that it was a well-built product.
S: How many bikes are you planning to build?
GG: We don’t release production numbers, but we’re going to build as many as we can sell.
S: Do you now own all rights to the Indian brand?
GG: Yes, we own the rights to the brand. At one point it had 11 different owners at the same time. It was consolidated down by Gilroy. Gilroy actually cleaned up a lot of the ownership of the company. They made it all much cleaner but for a while it was out of control.
S: Where is Polaris going with this?
GG: We’re going to continue to build more exciting models in the future.
But, we’re here in St. Paul to talk about what we’ve done in the last 27 months. We brought out the Indian Chief Classic for $18,900.99 with standard ABS and standard cruise control. It has standard chrome hand controls and foot controls, standard chrome front forks, real leather seats and an all-aluminum frame. The Thunderstroke 11 engine puts out 119 pounds to feet of torque. It’s a pretty amazing motorcycle for the money.
Customers can step up to the Indian Chief Vintage for $20,900.99. It adds quick release distressed tan leather saddlebags, a quick release windshield, highway bars, fender tips and vintage badging.
And this bike in front of us here is the $22,900.99 Chieftain, which is the first Indian ever to have a hard faring and hard bags. It also has a power windshield with 4 inch of travel and Bluetooth audio so you can play and display song titles on the dash. There are tire pressure monitors so you can check your tire pressure while you’re going down the road. Lock and unlock saddlebags let you lock and unlock your bags at the push of a button.
All of these bikes have keyless ignition systems; you walk up to the bike with the key fob in your pocket and you never have to take your key out. This is an example of the really amazing technology we were able to bring to the brand.
S: A lot of bikers think of the modern Indians as expensive machines but you’ve changed that.
GG: I think the price points we hit are amazing for what you get. That’s why we’re here giving people demo rides. We’re telling them the prices, letting them feel how good a bike they can get for their money.
S: How long will you be here?
GG: This is the first of many dealership demo rides we have planned. We have four demo trucks that will be going from Indian dealer to Indian dealer all across the country.
S: If you can’t talk about production totals, can you tell us how many dealers you have?
GG: We’re working towards a goal of 125 to 145 Indian dealers nationwide by the end of the year, and we’re on pace to hit that.
S: Thanks Gary.
GG: I hope you enjoyed the ride.
(We liked it very much.)