Here in the U.K. we often lament the loss of our status as an industrial powerhouse, especially when it comes to motorcycling. Being a rose tinted nostalgist the demise of brand names steeped in history certainly pulls on my hearts strings, and it saddens me to see letters or a logo painted on the tank of a cheap knock-off as it masquerades heritage, seeking attention in a crowded market. Back in 2011 when Polaris bought Indian Motorcycle I presumed it’d be another unsuccessful attempt to revive the beleaguered ex-manufacturer and sentimental Americans would share my melancholy.
Polaris are at least American and therefore star spangled to their core, and certainly anyone I’ve met from the new Indian is passionate about their inherited history, well beyond the branded apparel and hoopla. It’s as if everyone who works for the company had a grandpappy on the production line way back when.
In 2013 Indian Motorcycle pitched up at Sturgis with their heads held high and unveiled to the world their brand new range of bikes. Since then the fairytale morphed into a runaway sales success. In four years they’ve launched 15 models and here in the UK are up nearly 50% up YOY in bike registrations, in fact the sales folk in dealers are kicking back, sipping piña coladas and enjoying their bonuses as they’ve made target with a whole quarter of 2017 to spare.
Right, that should cover it. Some pleasant words to pay for my nice meals by the seaside and ride along the Côte d’Azur, I can now tell the truth about the new Scout Bobber.
I haven’t tried the Scout Sixty (998cc) or Scout (1130cc) but fell in love with the sight and sound of the all-new V-twin engine at Wheels & Waves last year when Dimitri Coste and Roland Sands ripped their Hooligan flattrack racers around El Rollo and not only gave the crowds a visual spectacle but an insight into Polaris’ engineering prowess behind the scenes. This is no lazy twin slapped into a cruiser chassis, it’s a beautifully engineered masterpiece – the thing sounds feral on open pipes, especially when skimming across the dirt, popping off the limiter. The Bobber utilises the larger displacement 94hp version.
The frame is essentially the same as the current Scout but lowered for a sleeker stance. Shocks and forks are a tad shorter and the seat is ever so slightly less bulky too. To achieve the bobbed look at the rear the Scout’s mudguard was trimmed considerably and the subframe redesigned to mount the guard inside the rails rather than outside. Despite the stock version appearing to be a selfish solo-rider machine there is enough structural rigidity to support a pillion – a pad is available from the accessory catalogue.
The front mudguard has also been cut-down, leaving only just enough protection to remain practical. On the regular Scout there’s a Bates style headlight but the Bobber’s is shrouded in a sleek metal housing. When viewed side-on the silhouette the designers were trying to achieve is obvious, a grand job they’ve done too – the Scout Bobber is a really good looking motorcycle. In fact one guy in our office was eager to lay-down a deposit on one having only seen the pre-press ride images. Sadly he’s six foot twenty and will swamp the thing.
It looks good from afar, and up close too. Now I don’t want to instigate a war but American bikes are generally not that well finished. Ok, so I’m used to Japanese and German levels of quality control but I was expecting the Bobber to feel a little bit cheap. Sure, there are some bits that I’d prefer were milled from grade T46 Unobtanium but this is a motorcycle for the mass market. On the whole it’s well put together and thought-out. None of the small parts felt plasticky and the finish on the engine and chassis are top notch. The paint is decent and comes in black (gloss & matt), silver, bronze (the one I chose) and traditional Indian red, which is more like a nice burgundy.
Packaging is where the Bobber’s designers have excelled. It’s a tiny motorcycle. A near 1200cc V-twin American made cruiser conjures notions of lardy lollops along Route 66 but this is a more versatile piece of kit. The powertrain team wanted downdraft induction to fuel their showpiece and insisted on robbing real estate beneath the tank for the airbox, yet the side portions containing the fuel aren’t bulbous. And there isn’t an annoying air filter sticking into your right knee either. To make the most of the capacity the fuel pump lives below the swingarm pivot, just ahead of the reg/rec. Under the seat you’ll find the battery and associated gubbins and somewhere there’s an ABS pump. Every spare inch has been stuffed with something or other, even the horn position is neat, rather the the usual afterthought.
Radiator hoses are nearly invisible and the radiator sits snuggly between the wide frame castings, a much neater solution thanks to the lack of traditional tubing. I had a poke around behind the headlight shroud to find a specific fabric sleeve to shroud the dash electrics, far nicer than the stuff-it-in-and-forget employed by many manufacturers. Anyway, as usual this is turning into a perfectionist’s diatribe.
Astride the Bobber its weight and size shrink further. With a puffed chest I’m 5″10′ and the bars felt perfectly positioned, not too far forward but not too sit-up-and-beg either. There’s a degree of hunch required which suits the aggressive stance. Foot controls are forward mounted, an inch or so closer to the body so aren’t too highway cruiser. The clutch is plenty light enough without feeling overly assisted and the biting point gentle enough for carefree town riding. There are six gears which all snick-in smoothly with a satisfying clunk, not a transmission shattering jolt that you’ll find on similar machinery. The belt drive certainly helps in that department. I did manage a few false neutrals but I’m often a bit too gentle with the controls and perhaps unused to shifting without the full weight of my leg. Once away from stop-start traffic there’s not a lot of point using the clutch either, ratios will pop in and out with little need for technique.
Fuelling at urban speeds is spot-on and gear selection largely irrelevant. Pull away in third with barely a slip of the clutch and you wouldn’t need to shift all day, there’s enough engine braking and plenty of crisp throttle response to split lanes and hunt gaps. Even if you let the engine labour it’s hard to make it slap and chunter, little more than the weight of three digits on the clutch lever will smooth things out.
Comfort wise I didn’t love the seat. It sure looks the part but my delicate rump prefers more cosseting. Most of the other journos found it plenty squidgy and the shape is nice (the saddle) so I’d just pop the stitched cover off and slip-in a sliver of memory foam or a gel pad. The rear shocks have a short 50mm stroke which concentrates the damping into a rather small range which makes for a slightly choppy ride when the road surface is all but Sliverstone smooth, but you don’t buy a bike specifically lowered for a bobber-esque stance if plush cruising luxury is of paramount importance. There is preload adjustment but we didn’t fiddle with that.
We didn’t fiddle because we were busy having too much of a good time. Once out of town the Scout Bobber revealed it’s fun side. The engine is fantastic! I forgot to press buttons on the speedo to bring-up the digi-rev counter and spent the first couple of hours riding the torque, occasionally letting the revs rise to where I’d imagined a red line to be. Ever curious I stretched the throttle cable and waited but never quite reached the 8250 rpm max. In second gear 120 kph showed on the dash before I was rubbing elbows with the guy in front. On some of the faster, sweeping sections the Indian motor really comes into its own, begging to be revved hard. Hopefully there are plans afoot to stick this powerplant in some form of crossover/café racer-ish type something or other. If not I think I’ll buy a smashed-up Scout and keep the engine for a rainy day.
On stock pipes aural pleasure is somewhat subdued, not Indian’s fault, they fitted the loudest cans possible but the regulators are pinching and squeezing every decibel these days. A couple of the press sported the Remus upgrade option but these weren’t exactly loud either. A 6mm drill bit and some imagination would go a long way but one of our readers sent us a vid of his Scout running Vance & Hines Grenades and that sounded awesome – naughty enough while remaining refined. Although at speed these would have to fight for ear time with the induction roar, at full chat the engine sounds like an E30 M3 hill climb special.
The pipes though are a bit of an achilles heel. The front header is routed down and around the right hand engine case making for scraping noises on full lean. The French journos had kindly worn all the pegs down for us the day before so the first thing to touchdown was the underside of that lower curve, followed by the silencers for the eager among our group. Granted, most Scout Bobbers aren’t going to be spanked along the French Riviera by unsympathetic hoodlums but a smidge more clearance would be nice.
The Bobber is somewhat of a victim of it’s own success in that respect, it urges you to ride it hard. If the marketing men had told me it was a 200kg bike I’d have believed them. The weight and CoG is of course hung low but flicking side to side it felt lighter than my Triumph Street Twin, most corners needing little more than hip movement. Lift a cheek to flatulate and the Bobber will tip-in like a faux-cruiser 125. And once over, the tyres are pretty good too, specifically produced by Kenda with a dual-sport pattern. Obviously nobody is going to take one of these off-road but they do suit the overall aesthetic and ride like something a good bit narrower.
Changing lines mid corner isn’t an issue either, at no point did the Bobber feel anything other than planted and compliant. And if you’re more of a bar tugger than waist wiggler the Bobber will come alive in your hands. Simple stuff but the grips are firm and the rubber in the bar clamp mounts made from similar stuff resulting in positive feedback. This isn’t always the case with new bikes these days, it’s as if slop is engineered into perhaps the most important part of a bike. Here, just push and pull to your heart’s content and count the smiles.
All that excitement is easily abated by the brakes thanks to a generous rear disc and a well setup front. Braided lines and a simple 2-pot caliper and single disc are all that’s needed to haul the Bobber to a stop without fuss. Initial bite is reassuring and all but the most snatchy four finger grab on rippled tarmac left the ABS pump dormant. In fact it’s lucky the lean angle is a bit restrictive or we might have landed ourselves in trouble.
So, would I buy one. Well no, I’ll just borrow one from Club Moto London (shameless plug) but some friends of mine definitely should, it’s just the sort of thing they’ve been waiting for. There’s already a bountiful array of aftermarket parts available and the catalogue of embellishments and upgrades direct from Indian is growing all the time. The obvious for me would be the official wire wheel swap, in black, which at 500 quid an end isn’t bad value.
Nearly all the big name suspension manufacturers offer a plusher, more adjustable shock for the normal Scout so it’ll be a matter of days before the shorter versions are on sale for the Bobber. I haven’t tried them but I’d go for the springless Bullit from British outfit K-tech – there’s a proper review of them here. I’d also fit sprung pegs as I found the stock ones a little floppy.
Indian engineers had experiemented with an alternative routing of the exhaust headers to increase ground clearance but found heatsoak for the rider an issue. Arrogantly I know better and reckon the front header could easily run up and over the right hand case and then tuck in tight before kicking out again around the shock and into a pair of stubby silencers. I’d rather have a toasty leg and bleeding ears. There’s a gain to be had with the pegs too if you don’t mind the heat. The bracket could shrink an inch inboard each side, there’s space but I obviously haven’t checked to see what would ground-out next. I’d gladly find out though.
Looks wise there isn’t a lot to do. If there’s enough clearance under the mudguard I’d fit a plasma LED indicator and stoplight strip and do away with the sticky-out originals. Whilst there the number plate bracket would go. I’d sooner risk a tug from the feds and stick a curved plate on the mudguard. A pair of Motogadget pins up front and that’s about it. Short of going all-out the Scout Bobber is a great looking motorcycle straight out of the crate.
An American vehicle that looks good and goes around corners, I hope this Stetson tastes good. Thanks Indian!
The Scout bobber is already available to demo and order in dealers, and they’re laid back when it comes to swinging a leg over one, in fact they’ll probably just toss you the keys from their hammocks.
Photography by Felix Romero
Jeans – Tobacco
Here’s what Roland Sands did to a regular Scout, radical but it shows the potential from a full-on custom perspective.