A motorcycle with a befitting name, one that chews miles effortlessly while tackling the Indian highway system with ease.
The time is 06:00AM. The sun is just about beginning to rise from behind the horizon. There’s a nip in the air that’s unusual for the time of the year. I’m seated on the super-plush seat of the Indian Roadmaster Dark Horse, as its massive 1,890cc V-twin chugs at a relaxed pace. The deep burbles from the twin-exhausts intermix with Coldplay’s riveting music playing through the quad speakers of the 200W music system. I’m not sure about the American Dream, but riding a big, American touring machine is an incredible experience that’s firmly etched in my memory. Here’s why.
Take a stance
I think designing a large motorcycle like the Indian Roadmaster is a heap of a challenge. You’ve got this gigantic mass of metal to shape into something that not only stands out but is also pleasing to the eye.
To me, the first word that comes to mind on seeing the Roadmaster is ‘elegant’.
The enormous fairing is beautifully shaped, with its curves and creases, and since this is the Dark Horse version, it does away with the chrome outline around the LED headlight and the twin aux lights that flank it. Instead, the LED aux lights are placed on the indicators, outside the fairing, which contributes to its cleaner design.
Below this fairing is where you’ll find Indian’s signature war-bonnet ornament on the fender. While it adds a dollop of identity to the Roadmaster, it surprisingly doesn’t light up as on the Indian Chieftain – you have to buy the illuminated one as an extra here. You’ll also notice the large plastic bodywork around the front leg guard, which has vents that open to channel cool air to the footboard and the engine. The front end looks captivating, but it’s only when you move to the side that you are left gobsmacked at the sheer length of this machine.
Shaped like a tear drop, the 20-litre fuel tank flows neatly to the sofa-rivalling seats. Beneath the tank, the new Thunderstroke 116 V-twin occupies a pride of place; and then there are the huge panniers and top box that add up to about 137 litres of storage volume. The top box doubles up as a pillion backrest and can swallow two full-size helmets without a hiccup.
Brakes could do with a little stronger bite.
The wheels look particularly nice, with the contrast cut finish on the spokes adding a touch of bling to the bike’s appearance.
Moving to the tail-end, it’s an equally good-looking angle, with the curved fender, the neatly integrated tail-lights and those blacked-out dual exhausts peeking from the bottom of the panniers. The only issue I’ve got is with the top box being devoid of a light strip to improve visibility at night.
Now, with a motorcycle this big, dressed in this lovely satin white colour, and the fact you’ll find a needle in a haystack before finding one of these on our roads, the Indian Roadmaster is the epitome of being an attention magnet. Park the bike anywhere and you’ll see people appear out of thin air and stand mesmerised at this otherworldly looking motorcycle. Some enquire about the bike’s name, its engine capacity, its features and that’s all good until you see them drop their jaw on the floor upon hearing the half-a-crore price tag. Camera phones are quickly fished out for photo ops and, in an instant, you’ve become a celebrity of sorts. In the few years that I’ve been testing motorcycles of all kinds, I’ve never seen such levels of admiration and curiosity from road users.
What adds to the special feeling astride this motorcycle is the kind of features on offer. The 200W music system I’d mentioned earlier is incredibly loud, with two speakers in the fairing and two at the bottom of the pillion backrest. One can listen to songs clearly inside a full-face helmet and even at speeds beyond 120kph. Keep the audio levelling in dynamic mode and it’ll automatically adjust the volume to compensate for the rise in wind and road noise. The 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system in between the two front speakers is responsive to a gloved hand and shows a plethora of information. You’ve also got Apple CarPlay for added convenience.
200W music system is audible,even at high speeds.
Also, I’m a sucker for analogue dials and glad to see that the bike has one for the speed and the engine revs. The windshield can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button, the ignition is keyless and you can also remote lock the panniers.
Lastly, the bike has heated grips, as well as heated and cooled seats, as per the brochure. However, these weren’t functional on our test bike and the person who handed us the bike didn’t know how to connect them. Nevertheless, the Roadmaster is feature packed, as it should be, considering the money being splurged on buying it. And adding a sense of value to that money being spent is an absolute gem of an engine.
This super-sized, air-cooled V-twin engine is the hallmark of the Roadmaster, and it plays a pivotal role in the experience that the bike brings to the table. With 171Nm peaking at just 3,000rpm, you’ve got a wave of torque coming in from the moment you let out the clutch lever. It’s like the automotive equivalent of a locomotive. That’s required, considering the half-tonne of weight that the motor has to propel, along with the cumulative weight of the bike, rider, passenger and luggage. Once you get going, the Indian gets up to triple-digit speeds quickly, if you’re generous with the throttle. On the flipside, it doesn’t mind sticking to low speeds in higher gears, say while riding around town.
But the cherry atop this V-twin is the refinement levels, irrespective of the position of the rev needle. There are simply next to no vibrations in the handlebar or the foot pegs, and that goes a long way in making a short or a long ride a pleasant experience.
Cruising down the road with your favourite music for company feels relaxing.
The three ride modes – Standard, Tour and Sport – show a significant difference in power delivery. The good thing is that even in Sport mode, the throttle response isn’t uncontrollably sharp. Speaking of throttle response, the Roadmaster’s felt a lot more natural than the abrupt, disconnected feel of the Indian Chief Bobber that uses the same engine.
All being said, the downside of being seated on a motorcycle with such a large air-cooled engine is the amount of heat it radiates. There were times when I regretted riding the bike in Mumbai’s clogged streets, the heat getting to unbearable levels at times. The rear-cylinder deactivation function does help to some extent, but our traffic conditions and weather are at the extreme end of the scale for it to have a significant effect on heat management. So, if you’re thinking of riding the Roadmaster for your daily commute – don’t.
Looking at the specifications, it is only natural for you to feel intimidated by the 403kg kerb weight. But the moment you start moving, all that weight seemingly disappears. This motorcycle is so well balanced that you could be crawling at 5kph with your feet on the floorboards, or flying around a sweeping corner at 140kph with the bike sticking to an intended line. Part of the confidence in the bike is also down to the suspension set-up. It absorbs bad roads in a much better manner than one expects (certainly nicer than the big Harley Street Glide Special and Road Glide Special we also rode recently) and doesn’t get as unsettled by mid-corner bumps either. In fact, I was amazed by how easy it was to change direction, despite the 1,600mm+ wheelbase.
The only thing you need to be careful about is the limited cornering clearance on either side before the bottom of the footboard begins to scrape the road. Also, the 140mm ground clearance, though decent, still requires one to err on the side of caution while negotiating extra tall speed breakers.
Another aspect that one needs to bear in mind is that it takes some effort to bring the behemoth to a stop, especially from high speeds. Bigger discs, hence, should be part of the next set of upgrades on this bike.
One of a kind
Of the various motorcycles that we had the pleasure to experience, the Indian Roadmaster Dark Horse stands out as one of those that are truly special. There’s nothing like this motorcycle on our roads and nothing can compare to the experience of riding this bike.
Possibly one of the most special POVs from a rider’s seat.
At least, until Harley-Davidson brings its new CVO line-up to India. Even then, there’s a certain charm about the Indian Roadmaster. It looks great, rides well and there’s an air of exclusivity around it. Paying over Rs 50 lakh (on road, Maharashtra) for this motorcycle is certainly the preserve of the very well heeled, and you need to be at peace with a tiny service network as well. But if you fit that bill and if you fancy riding an American cruiser that’s kitted with all the bells and whistles, the Roadmaster is a must have. As for me, I’m just going to sit back and reminisce about that beautiful sunrise on that very special day astride the Roadmaster.