Long ago, my late father placed me between his knees on an Indian motorcycle, engaged its infamous so-called suicide clutch, and took me down the road in a happy mist of rumbling, thunderous, vibrating glee. I was four, the bike was a post-World War II model, my old man was wearing a grin and his aviator goggles, and I was in love.
Such images—whimsical conjurings, really—catch your imagination, your emotions, your longings, and put you in a place you’d far rather be than where you are (like your desk at work). They are personal choices that run a gamut from horse riding out on the open plains, to rock climbing in Monument Valley, piloting a glider over the Pacific coast, or—in my case—riding a motorcycle damn near anywhere.
Recently, I reconciled my nostalgia with the present day by test driving a bike that links the two: the Indian Roadmaster, a gleaming, jet-black, chrome-accented, nearly 1,000-pound, 1,811 cc (111 cu in) metallic land yacht that comes loaded with accessories ($29,999).
Founded in 1901, Indian has long symbolized the dream of the open-road—even since the original Springfield, Massachusetts, manufacturer shuttered in 1953 and the name stumbled along from owner to owner, some of whom simply rebranded their imports. The company’s most recent—and promising—incarnation builds a fleet of all-new Indians in Iowa that nod to the touchstones of its original design, but bring the bikes up to date.
Fittingly, I visited Dennis Bolduc’s Indian Motorcycle of Springfield to ride the newest Indian.
Dennis—a walking, talking, gregarious encyclopedia and collector of all things Indian—gave me a backroads route, and set me free. And while I’m here to tell you that visions of rock climbing never crossed my mind, that Roadmaster flew like a glider and handled like the best-trained cutting horse you’ve ever seen. Despite its weight, it handled far better than the 700-pound bike I’m riding these days. At all times it felt like a great pair of skis on a perfectly groomed slope. Wherever I leaned, it went—responsive, lively, hugely powerful, and—when pushed here and there—the tiniest bit skittish, but just enough to keep me aware and appreciative.
Throw in heated seats and handles, crystal-clear audio, cruise control for those open roads, and a large-screen GPS package with all the expected nuts and bolts—intuitively placed and easily manipulated—and you’ve got an idea of how much the Indian has evolved, and how well it’s matured from that first ride, now over 60 years ago.
It turns out that quite a few things improve with age.