Our bikes: 2003 Indian Chief Vintage

Date 07.7.2014

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  • Motorcycle Trader


2003 Indian Chief Vintage


It was time for the rubber on my 2003 Indian Chief Vintage to go. The Avons still had tread but the shape was getting a little weird – inevitable after lots of highway miles.

There’s little to be gained by hanging on to rubber any longer than absolutely necessary. The handling goes off and, as any tyre shop will tell you, something like 90 per cent of punctures happen in the last 10 per cent of tyre life.

Admittedly, I probably went a little early with the Avon Venoms that were on the bike but the Chief is a big machine with an incredibly long wheelbase that takes a bit of persuasion to get into a corner even at the best of times. Having squared-off rubber really doesn’t help your cause.

While I was happy enough with the Venoms, they suffered the usual cruiser tyre problem of being fine in the dry and having only barely acceptable grip in the wet. As someone who rides regularly on sportsbike tyres, it’s a source of frustration. The Venoms are, in my experience, better than average but still don’t fill me with confidence when the heavens open.

This time I’ve gone for the Metzeler ME888, which came out about a year ago. The company claims improved mileage as well as better wet-weather performance over the ME880 series it replaces, which might seem contradictory – we’ll see.

What interested me more was how a professional tyre shop like Pablo’s on the east side of Melbourne would handle the big Chief. They’re buggers of things to remove wheels from, thanks to their sheer size, weight (around 330kg) and those deeply-valanced guards.

Pablo’s solution was to use a decent trolley jack under the front, employing the sidestand as a third leg. Simple and effective, but I’d be wary of getting directly underneath it. And here’s a tip for anyone working on the front end of these machines: beware breaking the wire to the Indian mascot lamp in the front guard.

For the rear, the Pablo’s crew combined the use of a cruiser jack, with the bike mounted on a conventional hoist. This would work at home, too.

You can buy a Chinese-made hoist for $500 these days, while a decent hydraulic cruiser lift will set you back another $200. So the set-up is within reach of the home mechanic. It’s a significant expense, but means you could get the bike up to eye-level, which makes many of the servicing and cleaning tasks far easier.

Along the way we discovered the rear brake pads were wafer thin. In fact, had the shop been on the bottom of a hill, we would have had metal-on-metal! That’s how close it was.

The rear brake works hard on this bike, in part because of the usual cruiser weight bias that means you have to use the rear a lot more than you would on a conventional naked or sports machine.

Plus, the deep fender means it gets sod-all cooling air – I have succeeded in overheating it a few times – which probably accelerates the wear.

Rear pad condition is difficult to check with the machine on the ground but replacement is simple with the wheel out. This model uses the same type front and rear (we went for SBS) and I’ve now got a spare set.

Back on the ground and the bike is steering better, while the ride is good. I’ve yet to hit a wet road, which will be the real test.

All up the Chief is proving to be pretty easy to live with. Servicing is restricted to the usual oil (with separate engine and gearbox), plugs and filters, while valve lash is automatic thanks to the hydraulic lifters. I keep an eye on the main drive-belt tension, as this is a big job to replace. You’re talking about removing the primary drive and swingarm to get to it.

This Gilroy-made Powerplus engine series had a major reliability issue (crankpin failure by around 6000km), though the later Kings Mountain Powerplus bikes and the earlier Gilroy S&S-powered machines were fine. There is a fix by Blackhawk Motorworks for the Gilroys, and my example has been done. It’s now a reliable and enjoyable unit, which I don’t hesitate to take on a long trip.

In fact, it’s my preferred touring mount.

If you’re in the market for one of these, it pays to ask about the engine. Most of the local imports have been done, but check.

You can also get free workshop manuals online for the entire 1999-2003 model range, via an American dealership. Go to http://www.indianmotorcyclecharlotte.com/.

So far the Chief has been a surprisingly fuss-free bike to live with – we’ll let you know how those tyres go.


2003 Indian Chief Vintage

air-cooled pushrod V-twin with two valves per cylinder
Bore & Stroke: 98.4 x 108mm
Displacement: 1638cc
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel system: Mikuni HSR 42mm carburettor

Five-speed constant-mesh
Final drive: Belt

Frame type:
Single downtube – welded steel
Front suspension: Paoli 41mm fork, no adjustment
Rear suspension: KW monoshock, preload adjustment
Front brake: Four-piston Brembo single disc
Rear brake: Four-piston Brembo single disc

Dry weight:
Seat height: 724mm
Fuel capacity: 21L

50kW (67hp) at 4750rpm
Torque: 106Nm (78lb-ft) at 3800rpm

Price when new:


More reviews:

>Our bikes: Guy Allen’s 1947 Indian Chief

> Road test: Indian 2014 range