Earlier in the month we interviewed bike builder and Indian Motorcycle design lead Ola Stenegard about the 2022 Indian Chief. Now it’s time to talk to the bike builders the company recruited to make the Indian Chief their own. We got to interview all of them for their thoughts on the Chief and their personal approaches to customizing one. Up first: Carey Hart.
VTV: How’d you get involved with the Indian Chief project?
CH: It’s just been a fun opportunity to kind of take the stock bike and do some upgrades that I think are a little bit better looking and more low-key.
VTV: Why did you choose to get involved?
CH: You know, I’ve kind of specialized with the baggers for the last couple of years, and I want to step out of my comfort zone. I want to jump to a different platform that’s maybe not so much handled and hidden with paint how a bagger can be; I have to get down to the nuances and show those little details. And tell the story of ‘why I did this’ or ‘why did I relocate the lights,’ or ‘what’s the purpose of this chin strap.’ Just, again, try to do these subtle, minimalist changes that separate this Indian Chief from the production model.
VTV: Going into the overall concept and design for this bike, coming from that bagger-centric mindset, do you take the bike all in at once, or do you approach it a little bit at a time and go, “Okay, if this was a bagger, I’d do it this way, but it’s not, so I want to go this direction?” What’s the thought process on that?
CH: For me personally, it’s the same for any of my projects. I’m a little late to the game. I just received my Indian Chief a couple of weeks ago so I’m gonna roll it up on the stand, sit and stare at it, have a couple of beers, then a couple of cups of coffee in the morning. Just really walk around it, kind of pick it apart from my standpoint of how I can improve on it. But without jeopardizing handling, aesthetics, or performance.
Then once I get an overall plan, I’ll go and test my skills a little bit. I don’t want to say that I’m one dimensional but you know, most of my influence is performance and/or club-style bikes. With this, I have an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone a little bit and go a different direction. I haven’t had those beers or coffee yet, but when I do, I’ll have an idea of what direction I want to go.
Indian Chief as Custom Platform
VTV: As a platform in and of itself, say you were a consumer looking at this bike on the showroom floor. What would appeal to you immediately?
CH: When was walking around the bike, I thought they did such a great job on this motorcycle from a production standpoint because you don’t immediately walk around looking at it and your eyes don’t go to one section and go, ‘Oh, they fucked this up’ or ‘Oh, man, I wish they wouldn’t have done that.’ You don’t feel that there’s any one eyesore, or ‘Man, they got so close but they screwed up here…’ In general, it’s a great looking (and performing) motorcycle.
Fortunately before stripping mine down, I got to ride maybe fifty, sixty miles on it. Where I live I got to take it on some windy roads. I got to test the floorboard clearances or the footpeg clearances. I got the chance to put a little bit of time on it. Cuz that’s the other thing, too. It’s like so many people might say, ‘It needs to sit lower, or sit higher, the bars need to be closer…’ You make all of these decisions about changing the motorcycle and approaching it backwards, which I’ve been guilty of in the past.
CH: So I think for me personally it’s about being able to ride the bike and then just really stare the bike down. There wasn’t any one spot where I was like, ‘I gotta change that.’ And for me as a customizer/builder, it actually was a little tricky because you’re going, ‘Aw, shit, there isn’t anything major that I have to change that’s gonna be a standout.’
I don’t have to do an inverted front end on the thing because it works so damn well as it is. It’s a bigger dimension front fork, there’s no flex, the chassis’s really stiff, so there wasn’t anything that I necessarily had to fix. Which I think from a consumer standpoint is great because you can pick up the bike and run it stock or you can be like, ‘Hey, I want to change the seat, the bars, and the pipe.’ For the most part, it’s damn much aesthetics as opposed to performance.
VTV: So would it be accurate to say that there’s nothing wrong with the bike and that it’s just a matter of getting the bike right for yourself?
CH: I would one hundred percent agree with that. I think that anybody, beginner versus a veteran motorcycle rider, will get on this bike, ride it, and say, ‘Oh, man, there’s one thing I have to change.’ They’re just gonna do the work on the bike to suit themselves. They might want a taller bend bar. They might want a forward control versus a mid control. Or they may want a little bit louder exhaust or a different seat setup. But I can’t tell you that there’s one part that you’re gonna bolt onto this bike and be like, ‘Wow, that was a huge change for the better.’
VTV: Having said that, is there anything that stands out to you as a single greatest strength to the bike as a customization platform?
CH: From a customization standpoint, I’d honestly say, how they did the triple clamps to where you can get really creative and run a bar riser and a three-piece bar setup, if you want to run mini-apes, or a cafe setup, it’s really, really user-friendly from the bar mounting and handlebar position. Especially since this bike, at least the bike I have, has the 1-inch clutch perch and front brake master which is really nice. It gives you a lot of opportunities for the different handlebars, as opposed to running that 1 1/8-inch mounting platform.
And honestly, I think it’s awesome that they stuck with the dual shock. The reason I mention that is that if you want a little bit taller stance, you can hit up FOX and get a taller shock. If you want to lower the bike, you can do that too. On top of that, the way the frame geometry is, with how stiff the frame is, plus that dual shock, there’s no flex to the bike so you don’t get that wobble through the turns.
VTV: Going forward, is there anything you’d like to see Indian do with the Indian Chief platform next?
CH: I’m not privy to their rollouts but I think that obviously with how they did the performance motor but with the nostalgia of the dual shock (and certain other things), and the conventional front end, I think it would be cool to see a performance-oriented club-style version. Inverted front end, dual front mount radial calipers, a little bit taller bar, going in that direction.
Because as we all know, that look is pretty popular in that mid-size platform. And for a person to be able to go into the dealership and just pay a couple of bucks extra versus coming home and spending an extra five or six grand extra to do the work, it would be pretty nice to see something like that come off the assembly line. Then that person that’s maybe not that knowledgeable or who doesn’t have that deep of a bank account can have that style of production motorcycle.
VTV: Now I have kind of a weird question for you. I don’t expect you to tell me the direction you’re going with the bike now. Because we want everyone to be surprised and all that. But if they’d given you two bikes, instead of one, what would you have done with the second?
CH: (laugh) It’s funny you say that. Obviously we know how popular hooligan racing is, and then there’s some of the V-twin off-road stuff that’s happening. I would love to take this platform and not just go hooligan but do a motocross/adventure front end on it. A legitimate 10 inches of travel, single rotor, inverted, like a WP Husky front end on it. Run a longer swingarm, get some serious old school travel out of the back of it, even though it’s a dual. Really just strip the bike down and come up with some different peg mounts to get the pegs up a little higher.
And ever since I got this bike I’ve had an idea to build an off-road version of this and do a complete off-road trip from San Diego to Cabo. Yes, obviously V-twin bikes like this are heavy but I think that with just a simple front end, rear end, do like a 21/18 tire combo Moose tires, I think this would be a really fun off-road bike. Not saying I’m going to win The Mint 400 with it, but spend seven days leisurely making my way down the beaches and doing a little bit of hill climbing and rock bed stuff I think would be a blast. If I had a second I would probably focus on doing that.
VTV: When and where can we see the one you’re working on now? Or is it like barbecue: it’s done when it’s done.
CH: You know, for me, it’s kinda like barbecue. I’m hoping to get elbows deep in this thing here in the next week. I have to get a direction and the way I work with it, I start with a basic direction. I tear the thing completely down, basically to the frame and motor, then start chipping away. And there might be a change in direction as assembly is happening or to the aesthetics along the way.
I wish I was talented enough, probably like Roland and Ness and those guys, to do a rendering and have a direction, but I’m just not that artistic and I’m not as skilled as those guys because sometimes I change direction halfway through (laughs). But with this one, I’m branching out and trying to challenge myself a little bit, without pissing anybody off (laughs). It’s kind of impossible these days, but you know what I mean.
We’ll run the rest of the interviews over the next week. Meanwhile, get over to Indian’s website to check out the Indian Chief and their full lineup of iron.