2018 Indian Roadmaster Review: Corn-Fed Luxury on Two Wheels
Classic styling, modern engineering, and long-distance comfort all come standard on this luxurious leviathan.
We Americans have always had a different idea of luxury than our friends in Europe and Japan. Our unique brand of luxury involves big engines, a cushy ride, and historically, lots of chrome. Perhaps no vehicle currently in production exemplifies those distinctly American principles of luxury than the Indian Roadmaster.
Sure, American luxury cars are—in many ways—the best they’ve ever been. But many of them have taken to copying international rivals rather than keeping the characteristics we love about their classic counterparts. No matter how good the Cadillac CTS gets, it will never have as much personality or American charm as a '59 Eldorado.
Cadillac could never make the ‘59 Eldorado in 2017 because, well, they just can’t, but things in the motorcycle world are a little different. American motorcycles can get away with classic styling and old-school-cool in a way that cars can't. Take Harley-Davidson, a brand that's closely held true to its iconic image and style, arguably to a fault. While this philosophy would be easy for another brand to copy, Polaris-owned Indian Motorcycles takes that ethos and brings it to the modern era in a way that it's Milwaukee rival has fallen short.
Enter the Indian Roadmaster. This full dresser is the biggest, fanciest, most expensive motorcycle in the current Indian lineup save the swankier Roadmaster Elite with 23K gold trim. When Indian Motorcycles offered to send me a bike for a week in November, I was hesitant. I live in Northeast Wisconsin where riding season is pretty much over due to dropping temperatures, shorter days, and generally inclement weather. To accommodate my less-than-ideal climate, Indian sent me one of the most cold-weather-friendly rides in its stable via the good folks at Indian Motorcycle of Green Bay. Over the course of a week, I learned that riding season in Wisconsin was far from over from behind the handlebars of an Indian Roadmaster.
The Indian Roadmaster makes a statement and in many ways, it’s a symbolic vehicle. But what is one of America’s most luxurious motorcycles like to ride?
Features and Amenities
This baby is loaded. With a starting MSRP of $28,999 (mine was $30,399 after taxes and fees), you get premium features such as keyless ignition, ABS, Horizon Power Shield adjustable windscreen, remote power locking hard saddlebags and trunk, heated seats and grips (which were greatly appreciated), and the Ride Command infotainment system with Bluetooth, USB, navigation and a 200-watt four-speaker audio system.
Ride Command is better than most car infotainment systems I’ve used. It’s snappy, user-friendly, and easy to control whether you’re parked or riding. The screen is extremely configurable with an almost overwhelming amount of ways to option your screens. Once you have them sorted out just the way you like, it’s very easy to scroll through them while riding thanks to trigger buttons located on the back of the handlebars near the grips. You can easily use these triggers with your index fingers to scroll through audio, navigation, and bike info.
The seven-inch Ride Command screen is flanked by an analog speedometer and tachometer. The analog gauges seemed to aim a little too low, but that didn’t bother me because the information they display could be displayed more clearly on the lovely TFT screen. I found my default screen preference to be simple info on the left half (mph, rpm, fuel range, and gear indicator) and a navigation screen on the right half. Is it necessary to have a map on the screen even when you're not navigating anywhere? Of course not, but excess is the name of the game with the Roadmaster.
On top of the fuel tank is two sets of up-and-down arrow buttons. One controls the heated grips which are adjustable on a scale of one to 10, 10 being the hottest. I cannot emphasize enough how nice these were to have while riding in November in Wisconsin. Most of the time I rode this bike it was between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and I was never uncomfortable.
Another thing contributing to my luxurious comfort is the heated seat. The nice wide, cushy leather saddle with gorgeous white stitching which would accommodate even the huskiest riders comfortably heats up to a temperature so toasty, I actually had to turn it down while riding on the highway in the rain. This brings me to one of my few complaints. The controls for the heated seats seem like a tacked-on afterthought. Kind of like they finished designing the bike and then thought “oh...we forgot to put in controls for the heated seats.” They’re controlled with two simple toggle switches, one for the driver and one for the passenger, located on the left side of the bike underneath the passenger seat. It’s impossible to see these switches while riding and you really need to feel around for them. At no point did this feel natural or instinctive and it got a little frustrating when it felt like my ass was on fire. When you eventually do find the heated seat controls, the only settings are high, low, and off. It would be nice to have a wider range of heat like it does with the heated grips.
Yes, I know it’s a little silly of me to complain about heated seats on a motorcycle, but the placement of those toggles was enough to feel incongruous with the premium nature of the rest of the bike. I get that they need to be accessible to both the rider and the passenger, but I can’t help but feel the design could have been better executed. Can you tell I’m struggling to think of anything bad to say about this bike? My gripes with this beast are few and forgivable and they're greatly outweighed by the Roadmaster's luxurious merits.
The Indian Roadmaster was designed for long-distance comfort and that’s exactly what it delivers. Power comes from the 49-degree Thunder Stroke 111 ci V-twin engine which makes peak torque of 119 ft-lbs at 3000 rpm. It doesn’t have an official horsepower rating because Indian won’t say, but estimates put HP in the 70s. It’s air/oil cooled and has two pushrod-actuated valves per cylinder. The engine is smooth and has plenty of guts without ever feeling like it’s getting away from you.
What’s just as impressive as the engine is the six-speed manual transmission. This is one of the easiest bikes to shift I’ve ever ridden. The clutch is forgiving and every shift comes with a satisfying click. There was never any significant jerking with shifts in my experience and it’s happy to shift just about anywhere in the rev range. When cruising in sixth gear, no downshift is required to pass on the highway, but popping it into fifth certainly doesn’t hurt.
When talking about an American V-twin, it’s impossible to ignore the sound it makes. The Indian Thunder Stroke 111 has a satisfying growl that justifies its badass name. To me, it's just the right volume never seeming too loud or too quiet. Obviously, more throttle makes more volume, but even when really getting on it I never felt like I was waking up the neighbors. It’s capable of making enough noise to get noticed, but it's not loud enough to rattle any windows. The sound of the Thunder Stroke 111 is right in the V-twin sweet spot.
I'll admit, I was cautious at first with the Indian. I'm used to middleweight, sub-1,000cc standard and sport bikes and the Roadmaster is far from a middleweight. This Indian tips the scales at just under a half-ton and you can feel all 929 of those pounds at low speeds. However, as soon as this bike hits about 10 mph, it suddenly feels like a much smaller, lighter machine. It's nimble and makes no fuss in leaning turns or quick lane changes. Every turn I took had a little steeper of a lean and a little more throttle than the last and before long I was whipping this behemoth around with almost as much agility as my Suzuki SV650.
But the Roadmaster's lack of finesse in parking lots is worth addressing. I'm used to being able to chuck around sub-500 lb bikes fairly easily with my six-foot, 185 lb frame when they're in neutral, not so much with this gargantuan Indian. Anytime I had to park this leviathan it made me wish I didn't know the upcoming Yamaha Star Venture will have an electric drive with both forward and reverse specifically to make it easier to lug the thing around in parking lots, garages, and driveways.
This is a legitimate barrier to entry for bikes this size and if that's important to you, then keep an eye on the new round of big touring bikes coming out. A lack of low-speed agility is certainly not exclusive to the Roadmaster, but it's something that competitors have found a solution for. It's not exactly a slight against the Roadmaster, but it's something to keep in mind if you're in the market for a bike like this.
Even though I’m not quite the size of the stereotypical American touring bike rider, I fit very well on this bike. The riding position was neutral, I liked the reach of the handlebars, and the floorboards are enormous. Pegs might indicate a more fun, spirited riding experience, but there’s something about having some real square footage under your feet on a motorcycle that makes a more relaxing ride.
In fact, “relaxing” is one of the words I would use to sum up the Roadmaster. But it's not relaxing in the Lincoln Town Car sense of the word. It's relaxing in the sense that it delivers comfort and convenience that improve your ride without compromising the visceral experience that comes with riding a motorcycle. Normally my priorities on a motorcycle are to see how fast I can go or how far I can lean, but when the cruise control is on, my hands and butt are nice and toasty, the power-adjustable windscreen is deflecting wind away from me, and Lynyrd Skynyrd is blasting through the 200-watt sound system, my priorities change. It’s such an actively enjoyable experience riding such a luxurious bike that it makes you never want to get to your destination.
In 1962 President John F Kennedy famously encouraged us to do things (like go to the moon) "not because they are easy, but because they are hard." Maybe Indian wasn't consciously heeding President Kennedy's inspirational words when designing the Roadmaster, but the brand has successfully created an all-American luxury touring bike that's extremely competitive while being anything but a copycat. Indian didn’t simply imitate its rival of over a century, that would have been too easy. Instead, it created a motorcycle that stands on its own merits. Cutting into the American big bike market share is hard and maybe that’s exactly why Indian is taking on that challenge with tremendous results. The Indian Roadmaster is redefining American luxury on two wheels while staying true to form. All in all, the Roadmaster is a superb example of why Indian Motorcycles is growing while the competition struggles.