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American Bruiser

Eight years down the road the rare and obscure Indian Chief Vintage still makes us happy, despite a few twists and turns

(by Guy 'Guido' Allen, June 2023)

indian chief
              vintage 2009 kings mountain

You might have missed this, unless you cared and/or were paying attention. Before Polaris relaunched the Indian Motorcycle brand around a decade ago, there were all sorts of weird and wonderful things going on. And this motorcycle is one of the results: a 2009 Chief Vintage, number 183 of maybe 400 of that model. Can't be sure.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

In an era marked by detailed digital record-keeping, and vehicle manufacturers often with the resources run the equivalent of a small country with no real problem, it's a little weird to deal with the product of a maker with sketchy records. I'll hasten to add we're talking of Indian Motorcycles circa 2009, not today.

This bike was screwed together by the Indian Motorcycle Company (then owned by international investment firm Stellican), aka the Kings Mountain factory. It was at the tail end of a colourful history which saw the Indian name fought over in USA law courts, go broke, then find a long-term investor in Polaris.

Confused? Here's an abbreviated timeline:

Original Indian company at Springfield, 1901-1953;
Indian Company of America at Gilroy, 1999-2003 – which went broke;
Indian Motorcycle Company at Kings Mountain, 2006-2011 – sold to Polaris;
Polaris at Spirit Lake, 2013 (for the 2014 model year) to present.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

According to Kings Mountain boss Stephen Heese, once Stellican invested in cleaning up the worthy but not-quite-done Gilroy design based around the modern-day Powerplus engine, it was doing fine: “We created a lot of happy customers, didn’t have a lot of warranty claims. We attracted a lot of attention. The company wasn’t for sale, and Polaris made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.”

As Heese said, when this machine was built, things were traveling along pretty well. Volumes were small, the bikes hand-built, and prices high at US$35,500 (in 2009!) for this model. It was part of a greater long-term plan which envisaged Indian becoming primarily a merchandise/clothing label in addition to a motorcycle brand.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

By the time Polaris bought out the marque, and eventually closed production of the Powerplus-engined bikes (replacing them with a clean-sheet design), they were rare birds. Here's the breakdown that includes all variants:

2009 – 460
2010 – 340
2011 – 109
2012-2013 (assembled by Polaris) – 225
Total = 1134

A handful of them made it to Australia over the years as grey imports – the numbers are unclear, though I suspect 50 would pull it up.

Of course having a rare bike is nice, until you need certain parts. For example when the body control module goes to lunch and you of course discover this bike missed the USA recall because it was living on the other side of the Pacific. Fortunately, we tracked down the updated replacement part via Megazip online.

Speaking of electrics, the sometimes painful-to-hear struggle between starter motor and big V-twin (hardly unique to this bike) was getting on my nerves. With a claimed 450CCA (cold cranking amps) the lithium battery under the seat shouldn't have been a problem as it was in theory above original spec. However given the bike can sit unused for weeks at a time, it was sometimes reluctant to play. 

Slow-to-start engines, regardless of vehicle, tend to have this cascading set of issues. For example, fouled plugs, starter working harder than ideal as a result, battery then flogging out and maybe even the sprag clutch on the starter copping a hiding.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

My solution involved brute force, which was a second lithium battery hooked up in series and sitting in a pannier. Not subtle, but it works a treat. Because it's lithium, it's light and there is no issue with spillage, and I like their ability to throw everything they have at the problem despite sitting for several weeks. It now starts instantly.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

Mechanically, the engine is similar to the equivalent Harley-Davidson both in architecture and its relatively low-stress maintenance. It's air-cooled with hydraulic valve lash, so really you're looking at oil and filter changes as the main priority. Filters are readily available and probably common to several other machines out there. Oh, and the drive belt is common to H-D.

Displacing 1732cc, the fuel-injected engine claims 72 horses and is matched to a six-speed transmission by Baker. Performance is hardly eyeball-flattening but it's fine for the task as a cruiser.

Suspension is halfway decent, with a front end by Paoli and rear shock by Fox, all of which is set up at the firmer end of the scale for a cruiser.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

This thing is longer overall than any equivalent Harley of the period – it's almost as if someone got the scale of the drawings out by five or more per cent. For example, it's 1737mm in the wheelbase compared to 1612 for a 2009 Road King. The upshot is that it's roomy, but needs just that little extra forward planning for corners.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

Braking is by Brembo, with twin four-spotters up front. ABS? Err, nope.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

There are a lot of upgrades in the design update from Gilroy to Kings Mountain, including more robust mechanicals, fuel-injection in place of a carburetor, different wheels and brakes, better-designed luggage that's quick to dismount...you get the idea.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

Instrumentation was okay for the time, but nothing to write home about.

indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

I picked it up with just a few hundred kays on the odo and have since added a few thousand. Hardly record-breaking use. It's really a Sunday feel-good toy when muggins is in the mood for – coincidentally – a cruise.

With a 20-something vehicle fleet at Chateau Guido, one of the issues we're facing is replacing tyres based on age rather than wear. And this was a prime example. The Indian was riding on the original rubber, now heading for its 14th birthday, or probably about double its useful life.

Feedback from the tyres was non-existent and when cold you could hear this hair-raising squeaking noise as the tread attempted to engage with the tarmac – a bit like dragging a running shoe down a sheet of glass. Not good.

Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

The issue of finding the time for a change-over to fresh boots was brought to a head by a puncture on the rear. Right, now's the time to finally do something.

Speaking on the blower to my usual rubber emporium, I was asked to bring in the wheels rather than the complete bike. That's because they were operating as a one- instead of two-person band and workshop time was in short supply. I agreed...but never again.

Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

On a motorcycle this size, weighing 350-plus kilos, lobbing it onto a lift and wrestling the wheels in and out has some risks attached. Doing one wheel at a time is relatively straight-forward, two at once is a very different game.

Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

Oh, and do you have any idea what one of those wheels weighs with tyre et al still attached? Let's go for a guess at 30-plus kilos, which doesn't sound like much until you're squatting, juggling it, the assorted spacers and axle, with the whole lot waving around gently on an hydraulic lift. It's character-building.

That was the day I decided that any more dual wheel/tyre changes (I nearly always do them as a set) are happening in a real workshop.

The choice of rubber for 16-inch motorcycle cruiser wheels isn't huge once you add in the condition they have to be whitewalls. Despite the fact I've owned two bikes like this, I swear I'm not usually a tassels-and-whitewall-tyres kind of person. Check my wardrobe – it's tassel-free. Honestly! However I'm tragic enough to want to stick with original visuals on this bike, of which the ye olde whitewalls are an influential part.

Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

We ended up with Shinko rubber, brought to you by those wonderful folk in Osaka, Japan. I forget what I paid, but around $600 for the pair with new tubes seems about right.

Of course the end result felt bloody wonderful compared to the old hoops. Suddenly we had decent road feel, with none of the strange runners-on-glass sound effects.

As for the Chief Vintage, eight years down the ownership track I'm pretty happy with it. There are the usual ageing motorcycle issues, such as trim losing its shine or the simple fact it's been comprehensively overtaken in the dynamics department by more modern designs. Both Indian and Harley now produce far more powerful and capable gizmos.

Not that I'm concerned. In cruiser world, or at least my cruiser world, these things are interesting to watch and experience but are not going to change my life. The Kings Mountain Chief Vintage will do just fine for that Sunday morning coffee run.

Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

See our previous story on this bike, which has more background info on Indian, the series as a whole and the Indians that have been through our shed.

Indian chief
                vintage kings mountain

Indian Chief Vintage 2009


TYPE: air-cooled, two-valves-per-cylinder, 45-degree V-twin

CAPACITY: 1732cc

BORE & STROKE: 101 x 108mm


FUEL SYSTEM: sequential fuel injection


TYPE: Six-speed, constant-mesh, 
by Baker
FINAL DRIVE: Toothed belt


FRAME TYPE: Steel cradle

FRONT SUSPENSION: 41mm conventional telescopic fork by Paoli

REAR SUSPENSION: single preload-adjustable shock by Fox
FRONT BRAKE: twin floating discs with 4-piston Brembo calipers

REAR BRAKE: single floating disc with 2-piston Brembo caliper





FRONT: 130-90-16
REAR: 150/80-16


POWER: 54kW (72hp) @ 5000rpm
TORQUE: 136Nm (100lb-ft) at 3000rpm


Indian chief
              vintage kings mountain

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