An Indian Roadmaster is not the kind of bike I thought I would find myself riding. It’s not a particularly handsome conveyance to me, it’s big, heavy, and very expensive. But strangely, I kind of ended up loving it.
I’m not the demographic for this heavy highway hauler, it has a look that is more appealing to my dad—though he’s more of a Harley man. It’s aimed at well-to-do Boomers looking for the freedom they think they’ve somehow lost, with room for their significant other to comfortably come along for the ride. But when used for its intended purpose, this chunky motorcycle might be better described as a two-wheeled car. It has everything I want, and nothing I don’t.
(Full Disclosure: Indian Motorcycles loaned me the Roadmaster for an ill-advised winter trip to Portland with no mileage restrictions. The weather thwarted that plan, so they let me hang on to it until I had reason to take it on a long ride. I returned it with quite a few bug splatters on the front fairing, but otherwise in the same shape I got it in. While I have been riding motorcycles for most of my life, this was my first time on something quite this large for quite this long.)
What amenities do you look for in a car? We can’t go without cruise control, and power windows are a must. You probably want leather seats. Maybe heated seats, and a little heat for your hands? Definitely a bangin’ premium audio system with Bluetooth, and maybe a good navigation.
This bike has all that shit, my friend. Amenities are one of this bike’s strong suits. It’s chock full of ’em. ABS, heated grips, three riding modes, cylinder deactivation tech, three lockable trunks, keyless entry, and even a little cubby to hold and charge your cell phone.
“Robust” is the single best word to describe this bike. It feels very well put-together and rides like it’s hewn from a single boulder of granite. The gear shifter chunks into place like you’ve just pressed the stone in the wall that makes the fireplace spin around in a Scooby-Doo cartoon. The switchgear is big, with equally satisfying clicks you can feel through a set of leather gloves. The touch screen is also big, with large thick fonts that are easy to read even at speed. The windshield and full fairing provide shelter from the wind whipping around you. At highway speeds, the ride is calm and quiet.
The Roadmaster is based on Indian’s Chieftain model, adding a top trunk, front lower fairings, heated seats, heated grips, LED lighting, and floorboards for two up.
That means the same 65.7-inch wheelbase, the same 111 cubic inch engine, the same six-speed transmission, and the same belt-driven rear wheel.
The Roadmaster weighs over 900 pounds ready-to-ride, and considerably more stacked with gear and rider. It’ll still run from 0-60 in a tick over 5 seconds with a Cycle World dyno-proven 72.4 horsepower and 102.7 lb-ft of torque to the ground.
Even with all that thumping going on, I regularly saw fuel mileage in the high 30s without trying too hard. The 5.5-gallon fuel tank restricted me to about 200 miles per fill-up.
This bike gobbles up the miles with ease. So much so that instead of having Indian send someone to come pick up the motorcycle, I decided I’d deliver it to them in Los Angeles from where I live near Reno. For for those of you who aren’t from around here, it’s about 500 miles, if you don’t take any detours. Which I did.
Hopped on and headed West to the coast. There was a break in the weather across the Sierra Nevadas, so I took full advantage and shot over to San Francisco to stay with a friend for the night. Bright and early the next morning, I jumped back onto the big Indian and rode the length of Highway 1 from SF to LA.
I’d done the trip before in a car, but it’s a whole new experience on two wheels. This kind of riding is exactly what this bike was built for. Pack a backpack with clothes and hit the road for a weekend, a week... a month.
Leaving San Francisco I caught an hour or so of drizzly and cold rain from about Pacifica to Santa Cruz. It was early and I didn’t have coffee that morning, so I was immediately second-guessing my decision to make this ride. Even with heated grips and heated seats, cold and wet is cold and wet. Once the fog cleared and I’d made my way around Monterey Bay that notion was completely out of my head, however.
Indian has provided three riding modes: Comfort, Normal, and Sport, to adjust the bike’s throttle response. That’s all it does, but it’s still a noticeable change. Riding on the highway, or long stretches of open road, Comfort is nice as you can lightly roll on the throttle and it’s calm and easy. When the road gets more curvy, Sport mode is nice to have, as you get the instant response that you really want. I don’t see the point of Normal, which is halfway between both.
When the roads started to get twisty along the coast with very little separating me from a shaken-not-stirred tumble down a sheer cliff face into the Pacific, I wanted that immediate answer from my twist.
The grandiosity of the Pacific Ocean carries more gravitas on a motorcycle than it does in a car.
It’s like you can reach out and run your fingers through the vastness of it. Skirting the edge of a massive openness of pungent salt and wet feels heavier without a canopy around you.
Big Sur is the major highlight of many Pacific Coast Highway trips with gorgeous cliff faces, expansive bridges, and spectacular vistas around every corner. I couldn’t make it more than five minutes without quietly saying “goddamn” under my breath. If you’re a frequent rider and riding America’s left coast isn’t on your bucket list, get out a pen for chrissake, and add it forthwith.
And don’t forget to stop to visit the sea lions and elephant seals. Some of which weigh almost as much as this motorcycle.
For my entire life I’ve been preaching the connectedness of a low-slung two-seat sports car with a manual transmission and an open top. I bought an early Porsche Boxster and spent a lot of time and money on aftermarket suspension, wheels, and tires to get it to drive how I thought was ideal.
I wanted an analog experience that brought me closer to the outside world and closer to feeling the road through the steering wheel. But, weirdly, a cruiser motorcycle kind of got me closer to the feeling I was looking for, maybe even more so than a sport bike would have. I guess even the softest motorcycle can feel more hardcore than the hardest-core sports cars. You are, after all, perched on the engine no matter how many fairings are keeping you cozy.
Despite being about as big and hefty as a bike can get, the Indian Roadmaster still communicates a feeling of man-machine-outside world connection in a way that feels visceral but, also, pretty comfortable. You have to operate with this machine to get the most out of it, leaning and bending and flowing along with it to get through the corners.
While most motorcycle purchases are deeply emotional and influenced by the pleasure center of the brain, the Roadmaster almost makes a cerebral case for getting a bike. If you’re so inclined, depending on the climate where you live, I could see this big bike taking the place of a daily driver car. Sure, it’s $30,000, but I’d have a hard time choosing almost any new car in that price range over this thing if you’re looking for power and personality.
That’s the joy of it, it’s all of the open road perception of freedom that a motorcycle provides, but without many of the hardships that come with riding a motorcycle.
The grip heaters on high are hot enough to cook bacon. The seat heaters are nice, but could stand to be a little warmer.
Once you get used to it, the seating position is quite comfortable for all-day riding. This bike is most at home on the open road with no traffic for miles. Cruising at the low speeds of coastal roads is pure gloriousness.
The new adjustable air inlets in the lower fairings are super nice, too. You can get some air to your legs on hot days, or you can close them up on chilly mornings to keep your tootsies out of the wind. With my Alpinestars insulated boots on, my feet stayed toasty warm.
The infotainment touch screen is one of the best I’ve used. Not on a motorcycle, but full stop. Even with gloves on, it’s easy to know you’ve pressed the right button, and the four big chunky rubber buttons below the screen help make navigating screens super easy. The bluetooth is easy to pair and works like a charm.
The speakers, there are four of them, can be hellaciously loud. You can hear the music coming out of these speakers—even at speed with a helmet on—at a “2” but they go all the way to “20”. The crazy thing about them, however, is how crisp and clean the music sounds at high volume. I kept the volume around a 3 or 4 for most of my trip, but this system can really crank. This bike really broke my give-a-shit meter, because I was cranking Lady Gaga’s incredible album Joanne for much of the trip. Sing along, who cares? You already look like a dork anyway.
I’m 6’1” with a 32-inch inseam, and I have a hard time loading myself into the saddle of this bike. Where I would usually “swing a leg over,” that move is impossible with the rear trunk/passenger backrest. Make sure your pants have plenty of leeway at the crotch seam, because you basically have to throw your foot over the top of the seat and slide down into the seat. It’s very awkward to perform.
I like the trunk space, but I don’t like ingress restriction.
The big air-cooled 1.8-liter V-twin between your legs is hot. Even with rear cylinder deactivation, it’s hard to avoid that much heat sitting right under you while you trundle through traffic. I’m sure it would have been far worse with both pistons pumping heat on high.
The wide and shallow fuel tank requires a cowpoke’s bow legs, spreading a few inches beyond comfortable. Once you get used to it, you can easily deal with it, but it’s a strange position to be in for hours on end.
The fuel tank has two big chrome fuel caps on it, but the one on the left is purely for decoration, and I don’t appreciate the frivolity of the second cap’s existence.
And finally, because the tank is wide and shallow, California fuel nozzles don’t cooperate with it. I had to hold the fuel nozzle foreskin up with two fingers to get any dino-juice to come out.
And more a moderate inconvenience than a truly bad thing, but in the final 30 miles of fuel range, the number converts to just a glaring word that says “LOW” which is not exactly helpful.
The chunky running boards and full fairing make lane-splitting in Los Angeles a little extra challenging, also. After a full day of highway riding, I wasn’t feeling too bad, but an hour of lane splitting absolutely wiped me out. The bike is too big and heavy to maneuver without some meaningful inputs, which just killed my back and shoulders. It’s a tremendously stable and comfortable bike when you’re moving, but even moderate traffic is a nightmare.
In the same vein, the weight is unwieldy at low speeds. With no reverse gear, backing it out of my garage to go for a ride was a pain. And U-turns were manageable, but slightly frightening.
In the world of premium-priced two-up hard-bag rides, you have the choice between the old-world V-twin charm of an American bike, or the six-cylinder MechaGodzilla elongated sport-bike looks of something like a BMW K1600 Grand America or Honda’s new Goldwing. They all can run up to about the thirty grand mark. Not one of them look particularly good, but they’ll do more or less the same thing, which is consume miles in comfort.
The Roadmaster is pricey, but not significantly more expensive than its competition. Sure, there are a lot of bikes you can have for less, but if you absolutely must ride across the open plains of the U.S. you should probably do it on one of these. You get a great sense of quality and comfort for your money with this bike. This is made for a very specific set of customers, most of which probably won’t ride it enough to truly appreciate its capabilities.
Even if you aren’t the type of person who would go on 1,000 mile two-wheel rides, if you buy one of these, you just might become one. I doubled the odometer reading of this Roadmaster, adding 2,500 miles to the total in a couple months, and I easily could have done another ten if I had the time.
And yes, it’s also a good for a weekend ride to Starbucks.