For motorcycle riders, cruisers have an inimitable attraction all their own. The low, laid-back seating position, wheelbase as long as a locomotive and thumping V-twin engine gives every cruiser a specific style that appeals to a certain type of rider.

The template for what a cruiser should like really started with Harley-Davidson, the epitome of American iron, as such bikes are sometimes termed. While Harley-Davidson does rule the US market as far as cruisers, and motorcycles, are concerned, there have been attempts to usurp the king.

One of these was Victory Motorcycles, formed by Polaris Corporation, to provide an alternative to the American brand. Despite its best efforts over the best part of a decade, nothing was gained in terms of real market share, and a recent corporate decision was made to shut things down.

But Polaris had another card up its sleeve, in the form of the recently-revived Indian Motorcycles. Based on the engine and some shared mechanicals from Victory, Indian Motorcycles showed a slow but steady resurgence in the public consciousness over the years.

Coming into 2017, Indian has indeed emerged as a serious contender to the throne, out-parleying Harley in the cruiser game, with the Indian Classic Chief. We were given one of these cruisers, designed in the classic mould, recently, and put it through the paces.

The rivalry between Harley-Davidson and Indian goes back over a century. Indian, back in the day, had a racing pedigree, and was known for its power and handling, especially on the board tracks.

Today, though, the market for big American iron is pretty much focused on the cruiser market, and for a while there were three big brands on sale. Of the three, two – Indian and Victory – were owned by one company, Polaris Corporation.

Recently, Polaris pulled the plug on Victory, saying that the brand had failed to achieve significant market share. This left the riding public with two illustrious names, Harley-Davidson and Indian.

While Harley-Davidson may have set the mould for the quintessential American cruiser, Indian Motorcycles has been trying hard to out-Harley Harley. And by some accounts, they might just have succeeded.

The Indian Chief Classic is very much a cruiser in the traditional, long and sculpted, with flowing lines from the Art Deco headlight to the fully covered rear fender. Approaching the Indian Chief Classic, you are struck by how long the thing is, almost like a locomotive.

It certainly feels like it as well, when you plonk your butt down into the 660 mm-tall leather seat. Getting both feet on the ground is important for some riders, and the Chief Classic delivers in this regard.

Settling down into the well-padded seat, we were acutely aware of exactly how long the Indian is. With a 1,730 mm wheelbase, there is a lot of machine in front and to the rear. Needless to say, manoeuvring the Chief in some of the sorry excuses shopping malls in Malaysia call a bike parking lot made for heavy work.

Which brings us to the one of the things we liked about the Chief Classic. Despite weighing not far short of a boat anchor – we prefer our motorcycle slim and svelte, like our women – the Chief Classic disguises its 357 kg wet weight well.

Starting up the Indian Chief Classic was easy. There is no key, and the transponder key fob sits in the rider’s pocket, with starting done using a large push-button in the tank centre console, which also houses the gauges.

Bringing the Chief’s engine to life brought forth the cacophony of noise that is typical of large V-twins, in this case a 1,811 cc lump – 111 cubic inches for those of you still thinking in imperial – that quickly settled into a muted lope. Anyone hoping for the “potato-potato” soundtrack typical of Harleys will be disappointed, because this mill is balanced.

And balanced well, it is. Grabbing a fistful of throttle, there was a low frequency vibration from the tips of the handlebars… and nothing else. The Indian’s fuel-injected engine is mounted well in the frame, and there is no extraneous vibration to fatigue the rider on long rides, as we were to find out.

Shooting off on the Chief, you are aware of the mass of the bike, but it in no way feels lethargic or ponderous, unlike some cruisers we’ve ridden. Riding it along city streets, in moderate traffic, the bike felt fine, albeit long, making changes in direction and splitting lanes an exercise in thinking ahead a little.

Certainly no swift changes of lanes or slicing through traffic with this one, but this is not what the Chief Classic is designed for. Taking it out on the highway, revealed two things about the Chief: one, this is its element, and two, this thing can move.

While Indian Motorcycles doesn’t publish a power figure for the Chief Classic, torque is rated at 161.6 Nm at 3,000 rpm. Take-offs and roll-ons were immensely entertaining, the rush of torque from the V-twin making overtaking and getting ahead of slower traffic easy and effortless.

The “choose a gear, any gear” flexibility of the engine’s torque made riding the Chief Classic more of sitting back and relaxing to enjoy the scenery instead of hustling a hippopotamus through a herd of zebras. We put this to good effect during an out-station ride organised by the Victory and Indian Riders Group to Jerantut, Pahang.

Turning off at Bentong, we took the narrow back roads to Jerantut, and the Indian Chief Classic handled itself well in the handling department. The tight corners were executed with ease, merely by leaving the bike in fourth gear and rolling on and off the throttle.

This is, of course, the best way to use the Chief Classic, letting the rider concentrate on the ride instead of the bike. The seat, with enough space to move around, lets the rider find a comfortable position for those long rides, while letting him or her stretch to relieve any muscle soreness.

Riding the country roads did little to upset the Chief’s composure in corners, and the thing could corner. While we did manage to grind off a little from the floor boards, under 75% of our riding style, nothing touched down, even with a (small) pillion on board.

Grinding down the Chief Classic will take commitment and a determined hand on the throttle, and it will handle such abuse, and while not asking for more, will take it in stride. This was, for us, a big surprise as big cruisers really don’t like being hustled through the twisties, but for the Chief, it felt like it was all in a day’s work.

Helping with matters are the brakes – ABS is standard – a four-piston dual calliper setup in front and a single 300 mm disc at the back. However, despite the dual-discs, stopping the Chief took use of both front and rear brakes.

This was not surprising considering the length and weight of the bike, but if there was a case for installing a combined braking system that activates both the front and rear brakes, this would be it. As a rider that grew up using only the front brake, with the rear only used to settle the suspension or hold the bike at a stop, this required some readjustment of braking technique during the first few hours we had the Chief Classic.

Moving out on the highway for a high speed run back to the capital city, together with a big bunch of bikes, speeds were high, and definitely on the extra-legal side of things. We found the Chief holding its own, with it keeping pace with the bigger full-dresser cruisers.

The lack of a wind screen did not help things, as we were completely exposed to the wind blast. Despite this, we found a position that took the upper body out of the worst of the wind, and could, with some effort, maintain high-speed cruising.

Long distance on the Chief Classic is enabled with the 20.8-litre tank, that went some 200-plus kilometres between fill-ups. We apologise for not providing more accurate fuelling figures, as we were having too much fun riding the Chief, and going on the warpath with it.

Warpath, you say? Yes, for despite its length and weight, the Chief most of all surprised with its good manners and road holding. No matter what the road condition or bike speed, the Chief Classic never misbehaved for a moment, the only shortcoming being the rather short suspension travel.

Now, this is not a negative if you ride the Chief the way it was intended, as a cruiser, and take things somewhat easy. Pushing hard made the suspension quickly eat up its travel, and there were a few times the shocks hit the bump stops.

Do note that this is not a negative, just something to bear in mind when riding bikes like these, with short travel shocks and low-to-the-ground ride height. In other respects, the damping, compression and rebound were spot-on, dialled in for highway cruising and occasional spirited backroads riding.

Riding the Indian Chief Classic did reveal another issue for the author, in that the gear shift and side stand are designed for a rider with a somewhat long inseam. This made for some strange contortions in leg position when trying to lift up or put down the side stand and while changing gear.

Not to fear, as Indian as addressed this issue with a short-reach side stand in its catalogue, along with an add-on toe shifter. There is also a short-reach seat listed, for those without gorilla arms, but we didn’t have issues with the handlebar reach or layback.

As for the styling of the Indian Chief Classic, this is not for the rider who prefers to stay in the background. Lathered in lots of chrome, along with the classic Indian 50s styling, this bike draws a lot of attention to itself.

Aside from the full-coverage fenders, the Chief Classic comes ready to accept an entire series of accessories from the official Indian catalogue, as well as extensive coverage from the aftermarket. This includes ready mounting points for bagger-style panniers and passenger seat-pegs, as well as various types of seat.

We found this out while waiting at a fuel stop, when a wedding entourage drew up and the groom asked to take a picture with the Chief Classic. We made the joke that this might be the last time the groom would have fun between his legs.

Because what the Chief is, is fun. It is a bike meant to be ridden, to be taken out on the open and the scenery enjoyed. That the ladies found the looks of the Chief Classic welcoming is a plus point in our books, and for the lady riders, if you ride the Chief, rest assured that the guys will be very envious.

Priced at RM158,00 including GST, but excluding road tax, insurance and registration, the 2017 Indian Chief Classic goes up against the Harley-Davidson Springer Soft-tail, which retails for about RM20,000 more. It isn’t exactly a direct match, but it’s the closest we could get.

So, who needs an Indian Chief Classic? Well, if you’re in the market for a cruiser, and want one that actually handles, then put the Chief Classic on your list. It isn’t a Harley-Davidson, and it does attract a lot of attention, make and female alike.

The buy-in price is high, especially for something without the brand recognition that comes with the other American brand. But, what you do get is a comfortable, fast cruiser, ready for customisation, and it goes, handles and stops well.