Abso-fucking-terrified is how I would describe my current psychological state. I’m squeezing the grips of my 2022 Indian Motorcycles' Chief Bobber like my life depends on it, because it does. Normally you think Arizona ride: warm deserts, sunny blue skies as far as the eye can see. Paradise on two wheels. Normally, but not today.
In the 17 Freeway heading into Sedona I’m getting shoved around by gale force winds like a freshman trombonist, squalls blowing me at speeds over 80 mph. The intermittent blasts are so powerful they’ve set up full matrix traffic message boards all over the highway: “Warning! 45-60 mph Wind Gusts!” I am shitting my Alpinestars.
Let me explain: I love motorcycles, but I hate highways. Loathe them — on a bike, anyways. I can push triple digits yawning in a V8-powered GT, but on a two-wheeler — even a big American cruiser like this Indian Motorcycle — all that runs through my mind as the lines whizz by is my pending mortality. As in, one mistake and I’m shuffling off the mortal coil and all that.
We’re all here, this small group, to launch Indian’s all-new middle-weight cruiser that makes up the backbone of the Minnesota cyclemaker: the Chief.
Sandwiched between the light cruiser Scout and the big-boy Chieftain tourer, this Chief launch is supposed to be a lark — an excuse to rumble through pristine swathes of the American West, share a couple laughs (and beers) at the end of the day around some remote firepit, and call it a trip. Instead it’s made me terrified to a degree I haven’t felt since childhood, focused on the road like a tightrope walker bridging skyscrapers.
Did I do something to piss of Niltsi, the Navajo god of wind, that I wasn’t aware of?? What blasphemy had I pulled the night before in Vulture City, the ghost town we camped overnight in, I wondered. What sacrilege had I committed? Had I pulled a Greg Brady and unwittingly taken some sacred totem (Google it, kids)? What the shit?!
Of course this terror has nothing to do with the Chief — the ride is fine. Better than fine, it’s actually a wonderful carrier of the American V-Twin Cruiser standard.
During our ride we’ve hopped around all three styles (Chief, Bobber and Super Chief) each in standard and premium trim (Dark Horse for the first two and Super Chief Limited for the latter), and enjoyed every one up till now. So all I can do to defuse the mental anguish and ease myself a bit amid this impromptu tornado is choke the handlebars like they owe me money and think of happier times.
Times like only the day before, when I took flight from the orange sandstone of Sedona on the Super Chief Limited, taking the smooth roads to Jerome only occasionally broken up by long lazy corners at mid-speed.
That Super Chief was the perfect bike for the day; what I wouldn’t give for the Limited’s 23.8-inch windshield to subdue exposure to the death-fortifying winds of the current Gale Force Ride. And its shiny, upgraded “116 cubic-inch engine’s 120 lb-ft of torque not only added speed, but would’ve come in handy battling these malevolent forces of nature.
Or later that day climbing the backside of the Black Hills on a Chief Dark Horse, snaking our way up the switchbacks towards Mingus Mountain some 7,700 feet above sea level, and back down toward Verde Valley. On these endless hairpins the Chief’s mid-mounted pegs — the other styles have forward-mounted pegs — allowed for better control and a more agile seating position.
While a big bike at around 650-lbs, the new gen shaves some 120 pounds and more than 4 inches from the body of the last gen Chief, lowering center of gravity and making for a surprisingly agile bike for a midlevel Cruiser. Sure there were plenty of foot peg scrapes on the ride down the snow-dusted mountain road, but the Chief Dark Horse never felt lethargic or ponderous.
I suppose the standard Bobber I had on this overlong Gale Force Ride would be OK on most days, but this was not most days. Maybe its standard ‘111’ engine — largely unmodified from the previous Chief — and its 108 ft-lbs of torque was underwhelming, but honestly the conditions were too ruthless to fairly judge it.
Regardless 90 percent of the three days of riding was everything I’d hoped from the Big American Twin Cruiser category — this 2022 being the first major update to the model in a decade, one crafted to celebrate 100 years of the Chief moniker.
Suddenly the wind blasts the sun visor clean off my Bell helmet, unsnapped and sent flying high into the frigid desert air. I gather my focus; think positive thoughts. My mind traces back to the evening before, when our small ad hoc motorcycle club rolled into the dirt road that takes you under the gates and into the Vulture City. There to that open fire, eating mash potatoes and grilled New York strip, toasting s’mores and slamming copious cans of MoonJuice Galactic IPA.
I recall with a wisp of joy sitting with an old friend and veteran motorcycle journalist and clinking a glass of High West Rendezvous Rye — we cheered to Indian for bringing us here. That memory keeps me sane as Niltsi does his best, playing his wily games on my bike, and I can’t help but smile even through this goddamn hurricane.