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Common Tread

The Scout is the biggest thing for Indian since the troops came home

Aug 04, 2014

The new Indian Scout just unveiled at Sturgis is the best thing to happen to the Indian name since well before the "real" Indian factory shut its doors in Springfield, Mass., more than 60 years ago.

Wait! How can I say that, when everyone knows the spirit of Indian is all about the big Chief, not the little Scout?

Hear me out.

A century ago, Indian was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer, but in this century, the Indian name has been dragged through the mud. I first rode an Indian in 2001, on a portion of a cross-country ride done to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the company's founding. Those "Indians" were built from Harley-Davidson aftermarket parts, such as S&S engines, with the essential lit-up Indian head bolted onto a big, swooping front fender. Every morning during that centennial ride, the mechanics were up early, fixing all the problems. Even filling up the Chief's dual gas tanks was an awkward process that risked self-immolation.

Unfortunately, the Indian name fell further from there. I came to believe that it would be better to let Indian lie undisturbed in the history books than to keep sullying it with inferior resurrections.

That changed when the brand was bought by Polaris, a company with the resources — financial, technical and human — to build something worthy of the name. Naturally, they had to start by building the Chief, but at least this Chief had a good engine to go with the required swooping front fender and Indian head light.

Now comes the 2015 Indian Scout. This, to me, is the really big news.

Some purists will scream. Ack! A radiator!

The new Scout pays homage to the original, but looks modern. As it should. Photo by Indian.

But let's break it down. With every passing year, there are fewer people who have a personal connection to the original Indians. Fewer people who saw a glorious Chief in the Fourth of July parade as a kid and had the hook set for life. Fewer people who believe an Indian has to conform to the configurations of the 1940s to be authentic.

Meanwhile, with the Victory brand, Polaris has shown there are people out there who want an American cruiser that isn't limited by the styling straitjacket Harley-Davidson must live with. For those people, a 558-pound cruiser with 100 horsepower and a low seat is a new entry in the game that's guaranteed to get a look, regardless of whether a 1947 Scout did or did not have a radiator. If the Scout works well at all (and I'm betting it will), can you imagine how badly it's going to trounce a Sportster? Sure, performance is not paramount in the cruiser, world, but it does count. Crucially, the Scout also looks good. And unique.

Polaris-Indian had to build the Chief, including a ponderous, fringed, nostalgia-wagon version. I understand.

But the 2015 Scout is the first Indian this century that doesn't rely on nostalgia to close the sale. That's why I think it's the best thing to happen to the Indian name since the troops came home from World War II.