Indian Scout Bobber test

With the demise of Victory earlier this year, Polaris Group’s now standalone motorcycle brand, Indian, has come late to the party at the Bobber bash. The new-for-2018 blacked-out lowrider version of its mid-size Scout model platform which carries that name is only now reaching dealers around the world. But Indian surely hopes to be better late than never in expanding its Scout troop, capturing an ironically more youthful customer corps than the many thousands who’ve so far bought this best-selling model with its liquid-cooled 1133cc/69 cubic-inch 60º V-twin eight-valve engine.

Since making its debut in 2015, that platform was then joined last year by the entry-level
Scout 60, with its smaller 999cc/61ci motor.

However, unlike the authentically-styled Triumph Bobber released last year, which screams ‘Bobtail’ at you aesthetically as soon as you lay eyes on it, its Indian counterpart is much more restrained – low-key, almost.

Thanks to the bulky and definitely unlovely stock rear numberplate holder fitted to Euro-compliant bikes and reaching back behind the cutdown rear mudguard, it doesn’t even look particularly well ‘bobbed’ unless you go shopping in Indian’s aftermarket catalogue, or fit the side-mounted licence plate holder that comes as stock in the US. It’s more of a stripped-down single-seat custom coming from the dark side, though it’s no worse for that. Just that the term ‘bobber’ used to be applied to a very definite type of motorcycle that kick-started the post-Second World War custom bike culture, whereas nowadays it’s just a designation that manufacturers attach to a model to broaden its clientele – the term scrambler is heading the same way, down the same road that café racer once followed. So, is this variation of the Indian Scout really a bobber? No, not really. Is it a cool-looking variant of the chunkier-styled stock Scout, minus the chrome? Absolutely.

To achieve this, Indian’s 31-strong design team led by ex-Fiat and BMW stylist Greg Brew, now the director of industrial design at Polaris Industries, took a scalpel to the stock Scout in search of a darker, more muscular appearance obtained by stripping away any frills and going light – or dark – on chrome. So essentially, almost everything on the original Scout that was previously painted silver, chromed or made in polished alloy has gone black on the Bobber variant, including the tubular steel frame and hefty chassis castings, the long twin-stack exhaust silencers and headers, both 16-inch cast alloy wheels, the fork sliders and tripleclamps, the radiator shroud, the laydown Showa shocks and coil-over springs plus the swing arm they’re mounted on, the entire engine except for the welcome contrast of the bare alloy cylinder head covers and cylinder ribbing, the taper-section one-piece handlebar and grips, the footpegs, rear brake and gear levers, the clutch cover, ignition cover and headlight nacelle, the drive belt and all its related hardware including the large front pulley cover and the 12.3-litre fuel tank carrying a new Indian badge with the name in a different font, plus both mudguards on the two black models – glossy and matte. There’s also a black speedometer face instead of the usual red and cream on the stock Scout. Phew! That’s a lot of black, Polaris.

Still, going dark obviously does make for a moodier-looking motorcycle than the chromed-out stock Scout, and that’s really the whole point of the exercise in creating a bike whose minimalistic style embodies touches of drag racer and flat tracker worked into its design. This is a styled-up Scout special, not really an outright new model, and it’s available in a choice of five colours – red, glossy black and matte black, silver smoke and bronze smoke – for £11,299 on the road. That makes it the costliest of the so-called bobber bikes now available in the marketplace, with the Triumph that’s the class benchmark retailing at £10,660, the Harley Forty-Eight at £9,995, the Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber at £9,002, and the Yamaha XV950 at a bargain-priced £8,399. It’s a pity that at that premium price the Indian’s brake and clutch levers should be non-adjustable, while the bar-end mirrors fitted to the test bike are in fact options in Europe (though stock in America). Having them underslung beneath the handlebar grips as on the test bikes is dangerously useless if allegedly cool-looking, but if you really want to see what’s behind you, they can be reversed to sit above the ’bar ends. The stock mirrors come mounted in the conventional position inboard of the grips – check out the studio photos to see what these look like. Worth noting however that all the lights on the Scout Bobber are LEDs, including the self-cancelling direction signals, which is a nice touch.

The six-speed liquid-cooled 60º V-twin motor measures 99 x 73.6mm for 1133cc, the same that powers the stock Scout. It develops a claimed 94bhp at 8,000rpm with torque peaking at 5,800rpm, where 71.54ft-lb is on tap from what in spite of those revvy dimensions is a pretty meaty motor. Add in almost supernaturally well mapped fuelling, with a liquid-smooth pickup from a closed throttle, and this makes for an engine package that’s a delight to use, whether pootling round town trying to avoid getting overrun by an Italian wedding party’s array of exuberantly driven Fiat Abarth 500s that had taken over downtown Cannes for the afternoon, or getting it on good and hard in the glorious riding roads leading into the hills behind the Cote d’Azur.

The Indian’s buttery-smooth gearchange and light-action clutch make it easy to always be in the right gear at the right time on the Scout Bobber, but the real surprise came after switching to the revcounter reading in the digital panel set into the analogue speedo, and discovering that the Indian pulled strong and hard from as low as 2,500rpm, all the way to the 8,500rpm limiter, and minimal vibration other than a pleasant subdued thrum through the footrests.

Equally subdued, however, is the sound issuing from those twin stacked silencer cans, which is so muted as to be practically non-existent – and even the slash-cut Remus performance exhaust that one of the bikes in our group was carrying didn’t sound a whole lot louder. Pity. Still, this is a superlative powerplant that’s frankly more European than American in nature, making it no surprise to discover it was developed in Switzerland by Polaris Corp’s wholly-owned subsidiary Swissauto, which also concocted Indian’s FTR750 flat-tracker that’s just blitzed Harley and Kawasaki to dominate the 2017 AFT/American Flat Track series on the historic marque’s return to racing. Inevitably, the next variant on the Scout platform will indeed be a Street Tracker paying homage to the FTR750’s AFT dominance!

So, 10 out of 10 for performance and character as far as the Scout Bobber’s engine package goes – but sadly the rest of the bike is more of a compromise, dictated by the need for it to appear cool. To obtain those hunkered-down hotrod looks, Indian’s stylists have lowered the rear end and reduced the stock Scout’s rear suspension travel by a third, from an already hard-assed 78mm to a mere 51mm on the Bobber. They’ve also created a far more aggressive riding position by fitting a much flatter street tracker-style handlebar to replace the Scout’s more pulled-back equivalent, while at the same time moving the footrests 38mm closer to the rider, and paradoxically increasing the seat height slightly, from 643mm on the stock Scout to 649mm on the Bobber, thanks to the reshaped two-tone leather seat that’s better padded than the stocker’s.

What this means is that while the low-slung stance will allow riders of almost any height to put both feet flat on the ground at rest, for a 5’10” rider the riding position feels slightly curious at first, though you do eventually get used to it, on the needs-must basis. The seat is well enough padded to avoid it delivering numb-bum syndrome, but while your upper body leans forward to let you grasp the wide, flat handlebar, your feet are pulled back towards you in a slightly unnatural position, so that you’re more stretched out up top, but your legs are more cramped down below. It’s not nearly as bad as Harley’s downright unsatisfactory Street Rod stance, but it’s not ideal and you can’t help wishing that the footrests were mounted even further rearwards for a more natural stance that doesn’t fold the rider in half – an option which doesn’t exist because of the lower exhaust pipe getting in the way if you were to move the rearsets further – well, rearwards. What essentially happens is that you end up leaning forward over the fuel tank into the wind in a more aggressive stance that at least has the side benefit of loading up the front wheel better with your body weight. Call it sportbike ergos in a cruiser context – a real blend of opposites but you do get used to it in the end. The sidestand is super-functional, by the way – easy to access with your left toe, and the Indian is very stable sitting on it. It’s a lesson to other manufacturers on how to do this.

 

Read more in the January issue of CBG – on sale now!