2020 Indian Scouts and the Thunder Stroke 116 | Indian Sampler
We sample some of the latest cruisers, bobbers and choppers from Indian Motorcycle, including Anniversary Scouts and a bigger Thunder Stroke powerplant.
By Billy Bartels
Photography by Barry Hathaway
You’d think that between a soft motorcycle market and a brand-new liquid-cooled Tourer (the Challenger), Indian would be taking a rest on their legacy models, and you’d be wrong. Two new Scouts (complete with a raft of significant accessories) and big updates for their Thunder Stroke air-cooled models.
Scout is a versatile platform making for motorcycles that look and feel very different from each other. At one extreme, Indian’s FTR takes its basic motor and turns it into a dirt-track replica hooligan machine, but that’s not what we sampled. These are the cruisers, the bobbers and the choppers. We checked out a fleet of customized Scouts along with the new Bobber 20 and 100th Anniversary on a day’s ride.
A Pair of Custom Scouts
The first bike we hopped on was the Scout Bobber, with an aftermarket two-into-one pipe, lower bars, lowered shocks and a single tiny saddlebag (advertised on their website as the “Transit Package”). With this package, this doesn’t feel like the “bargain” Indian. To be fair, even the bone stock ones do not feel like a bargain bike—even the de-bored Scout Sixty for $2000 less.
Sitting down in that sleek machine feels very aggressive. It has a very hot-rod feel, without feeling like a sportbike engine in a cruiser as so many other “power cruisers” do. It’s rumbly, torquey, but also winds out with a satisfying top end. It handles well, with light turn-in and neutral handling, right up until you run out of ground clearance. Which was probably not helped by the lowered shocks. The sound of the opened-up exhaust was the right balance of rumble and snort, without too many decibels.
Then, to take it in a very different direction, we also tried a Scout decked out as a bagger, complete with crash bars (with extended pegs, of course), a fairing, and saddlebags (aka The State Line Package). With these simple changes, it went from boulevard bruiser to something I could see literally crossing a few state lines on.
The Scout is fairly versatile with its fitment to different riders; this one had a two-inch rearward extended seat, which was perfect for my six-foot frame. The highway pegs were, if anything, too far out on the outside of the highway bars, but they could be reversed and put on the inside, too. While the brief seat on the bobber was comfy enough, this setup was good for a few hundred miles at a clip. The setup itself is versatile as well, with a quick-release fairing, despite its substantial look. The one flaw with the fairing I found was that it makes the front end jittery (less settled) above about 85. While that is fast, that sweet motor delivers it so quickly you have to remind yourself you’re on a cruiser, especially with all that wind protection. Low-speed handling is slightly more cumbersome with the extra weight up front, but it disappears with more speed. The added cornering clearance is welcome (compared to the Bobber), but it’s still not fabulous. As different as these two custom Scouts are, they didn’t prepare me for the 100th Anniversary Scout.
Scout 100th Anniversary
One the 100th anniversary of the original Scout model, Indian wanted to create a bike with very much the same look and feel, but also the same intent. The idea of the Scout is a small bike with a big, powerful engine. It was true at its beginning, and it is to this day. The tall floating saddle and wide “beach” bars do an outstanding job of making a rider feel like they’re sitting on an actual vintage ride, other than pegs (versus the footboards that would have been standard 100 years ago). But it doesn’t end with the feel from the saddle; they nailed the look as well. The tan leather saddle, old-school logo and pinstriping on the tank, black wire-spoke wheels, and the rear fender rack all convey a real feel for a bike from that period, in ways that usually only a custom machine would provide.
It goes from Vintage to Retro when you unload the throttle. The thoroughly modern liquid-cooled powerplant (with a claimed 100 horsepower) immediately kicks you in the ass and revs out like most cruisers don’t. The 100th doesn’t encourage hooliganism like the Bobber, despite the same motor, but it is very easy to pass cars on the highway. The tall and wide riding stance just puts a rider in a more relaxed mood and posture. The floating saddle is small but supportive in its own way. The upright posture alleviates the need for back support, to an extent. In a nod to the modern era (and the 100th’s premium price tag), ABS is standard. Indian’s modern take on a 1920 Scout is a limited edition and priced like one (at $15,999), but a very impressive package in total.
While the Bobber 20 shares the floating seat with the Anniversary (an homage to the sprung saddles of days gone by), it feels like a very different motorcycle. I know, I keep saying that about these Scouts, but it’s true. To some extent, it traces its lineage to the 100th Anniversary, with which it shares the tall(ish) seat, and wire-spoke wheels, but from there, it takes a turn in a Bobber direction, stripped of all the nostalgic turns the 100th Scout takes. The floating seat, with a mini ape hanger bar and forward pegs, puts you “on” rather than “in” the machine, which changes it entirely from the original Scout Bobber, which feels like you’re sitting on the ground.
It has a unique (odd?) riding position, which, unlike the 100th, can be ridden quite aggressively, limited only by its shorter suspension (two-inch rear wheel travel to the 100th Scout’s three). Feet are well forward, but your butt is high, as are the arms. It feels like a modern machine, as the riding position doesn’t recall the “perfect-posture” seating position of ages past. The more modern ergonomics make for fun times on back roads, with the wide apes providing great leverage over the front end. Newer riders should take caution, though, as this also makes it more sensitive to input. The combination makes it a unique motorcycle with that sweet, torquey (and revvy) liquid-cooled motor.
Thunder Stroke 116
When it comes to big cruisers, there is no replacement for displacement, more is more, and it’s ever-increasing. What was an upgrade kit for the old (and continuing) Thunder Stroke 111—the first powerplant the current iteration of Indian produced—is now a standard configuration available on most Thunder Stroke-equipped models. There are still a few that rock the old (and still potent) 111 for pricepoint reasons. The new production version of the 116 has new head shapes to work with larger sizes and more efficient combustion flow at bigger volumes. There’s a new 60mm throttle body, along with new aftermarket products (exhaust, cams, intake, etc.) to enhance the new Thunder Stroke variant. No big-bore kit yet, though. The roughly six percent increase in claimed torque (119 to 126 peak ft.-lbs.) is significant, but is it the business?
Springfield Dark Horse
The least expensive way to get into the new 116 is this new stripped bad boy bagger. It’s also the best way to feel the lively motor at work. On a heavier bike, it’ll mostly just pass trucks and pull hills more insistently.
The Springfield Dark Horse is decidedly different from its base model. The Springfield is a mid-century modern nostalgia machine, with the fully skirted fenders Indian is known for, old-school windshield and retro furniture. Even its nostalgia is old fashioned, looking very much the part of a 1990s cruiser. The Dark Horse version keeps the same basic bones (a fairingless hard bags bagger) but turns it on its nose in 21st-century style: Slick design, blacked-out everything, mag wheels, sleek saddlebags and no windshield at all. Instead, fists are raised in the air with a pair of (basically) legal ape hangers. With the Thunder Stroke 116, the Springfield Dark Horse has six percent more torque and seven percent (45 pounds) less weight than the Springfield.
Just due to that light weight (okay, 758 pounds isn’t really light, but relatively), it’s the most fun you’ll have on a Thunder Stroke. The rigid aluminum frame does a good job keeping everything where it belongs while looking like a conventional steel frame. The triple black paint (gloss, satin and matte) makes a playground for the eyes. The tucked in saddlebags give a good dose of usefulness. For a company that makes less than five frames, this is a good departure for Indian. With a smaller, less ornate seat, less complicated paint, no windshield and briefer fenders, it does create one of those odd situations where a company seems to be charging more for less. In the name of fashion.
The new Thunder Stroke 116 comes with all the premium versions of the Chieftain: The Limited, Elite and Dark Horse; leaving the Base Chieftain and (retro-styled) Classic with the classic 111.
The Limited and Dark Horse are two sides to the same coin, the light and the dark, but both upgrades from standard. The only substantial difference is that the Dark Horse has ape hangers, while the Limited has more standard touring bars. Basically, if you like less chrome, you need to also have good circulation. Unlike the Springfield, the Chieftain Dark Horse (and its Limited twin) has extra stuff compared to the base model. All the Chieftains come with a height-adjustable power windshield, (at least) a 100w audio system, keyless ignition, cruise control, a stylishly brief seat and ABS. The Limited/Dark Horse adds the Indian Ride Command touchscreen suite with traffic and weather-enhanced navigation and smartphone integration. They also have tire pressure monitoring and the 116-engine standard.
The new-for-2020 Chieftain Elite takes it a step beyond. Playing off of last year’s Roadmaster Elite, the Chieftain Elite takes Indian’s high-luxury touring concept to a slightly lighter package. In addition to all the goodies on the lesser Chieftains, the Elite also rocks a 400w, four-way audio system with two additional speakers in the saddlebag lids. In addition, there are custom touches, like color insets on floorboards and engine, wheels unique to the model, and hand-drawn custom pinstriping and candy paint.
That 400w audio system is no joke. Lots of “serious bikers” question the validity of even having audio systems that go beyond a headset, but something about being in your environment, blasting the tunes just feels right. It makes spending time behind the motorhome that refuses to pull off the road a little more satisfying. And headsets are illegal in some places. Like it’s smaller brethren, the Chieftain is a solid ride, with fat 46mm forks keeping the front end stiff and four-pot calipers slowing the big bike with authority. But, really, just know that it’s torquey, it doesn’t do anything stupid, and that audio system is sweet.
However, if you thirst for more power, we also sampled a Chieftain Limited with a Stage Two kit (cams, intake, exhaust). Can’t say I cared for it, as the throttle response was abrupt when I rode it compared to the other bikes I’d ridden. Unless I’m on a track, I don’t need hair-trigger throttle response going around corners, especially on a cruiser. It just takes me out of my groove, and I can’t listen to Freebird for the 9000th time. Like so many other motorcycles, it has a power-delivery selector, which I never actually found in the infotainment display, that was set to “Sport.” That said, the power itself was impressive and noticeable, which is not always the case. Since the original motor setup had such a wide powerband, it mostly just helped with entertainment value. Nice to have the option, I guess?
In the super heavyweight division, you’ve got Indian’s Roadmaster. It’s a true heavy touring bike, right down to its top box and 200 watts of audio euphoria (600w if you upgrade to Elite!). Why so much focus on the tunes? Because that’s where it’s at. If you don’t care, you’re not the market. Handling? It’s heavy as heck but holds it together nicely once underway. This is the end of the lineup where those seven-extra ft.lbs. of torque are for getting out of your own way more than being a hooligan. Passing a truck in a civilized manner, not at “a buck-10.”
Speaking of Hooligans, the news in Roadmaster is the Dark Horse. As in its other incarnations, the Dark Horse Roadmaster is, well, dark. Black finishes on what’s frequently chrome, and unadorned paint (black or otherwise) on everything else. Finishes and details tend toward the modern and minimalist, seats with less stitching, one-piece saddlebag hinges, and the single-light fairing from the Chieftain. Unlike every other iteration of the Dark Horse, this one costs a little less money. Indian doesn’t hold back on features on their top-of-the-line tourer, so two fewer headlights and less complicated finishing add up to a grand less than the base Roadmaster.
To be fair, at most speeds, and in most situations, it’s hard to tell this from the other full-faired Indians. Sometimes, on a particularly curvy road, going from the side of one tire to the other, the extra pendulum effect of a top box and an extra 60 pounds over the Chieftain (85 on the base Roadmaster, turns out extra headlights are heavy) makes itself known. But usually, rolling a long highway, tunes ablastin’, you’d never know. CN