Indian motorcycles ride wave of nostalgia into Tucson

2014-07-20T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T22:01:11Z Indian motorcycles ride wave of nostalgia into TucsonBy David Wichner Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

It’s easy to spot Indian motorcycles by their iconic swoopy skirt fenders, chief’s-head front-fender light or their long-fringed leather saddlery.

And you may see more Indians rumbling around Tucson, now that the city has its first Indian Motorcycle dealership in 62 years.

Indian Motorcycle Tucson opened Thursday at 4037 N. Oracle Road. The dealership is owned by Tempe-based RideNow Powersports, which has opened three Indian dealerships in the Phoenix area and operates some 25 dealerships of various brands in eight states.

The new Tucson dealership offers Indian’s three cruiser models, ranging in base price from $19,000 to $23,000, as well as service and a full line of Indian accessories — including plenty of blond-leather fringe.

Thursday’s “soft opening” — a big grand opening event is planned for September — was a testament to the Indian’s mystique, attracting more customers than the dealership could comfortably handle at times.

“I could not have had a better opening day, considering we didn’t advertise anything,” said Chris Chesnut, general manager of the new dealership as well as the RideNow Powersports store on West Ina Road. “We put on our website that we’re opening on the 17th, and here’s our phone number, and we had just this outrageous turnout.”

Among the friends, family and regular RideNow customers who made it out for the opening were several old-timers who reminisced about their original Indians — including a man who brought his father in a wheelchair, Chesnut said.

Indian was one of the first American motorcycle makers along with Harley-Davidson in the early 1900s and was a major brand through the 1940s. Tucson had one Indian dealer, Musselman Indian, from 1948 until 1952, a year before Indian went bankrupt.

A succession of groups tried with varying success to revive the Indian brand, including a North Carolina group in the early 2000s that positioned its hand-built Indian as a luxury brand, with a price tag to match starting at more than $30,000. Minnesota-based power sports giant Polaris Industries acquired the brand in 2011, and the 2014 Indian model line featured Polaris’ first in-house designs, complete with a new 111-cubic inch V-twin engine.

The new Indian is now competing head-on with Harley in the market for heavyweight “cruisers” — road bikes built with classic styling and comfort in mind — that are popular mainly with 40-and-up riders. Harley commands more than 80 percent of the North American market. Polaris also owns the American-made Victory line of big cruising and touring bikes, which has a small market share.

Indian’s three 2014 models are the Chief Classic, with a base list price of $18,999; the Chief Vintage ($20,999) and the top-of-the-line Chieftain ($22,999), roughly in the price range of comparable Harleys. The Indians’ styling may be retro but underneath they’re not your grandaddy’s Indians, with standard features including electronic fuel injection, cruise control and anti-lock brakes.

“There’s such a need for some real, true American muscle to really make a run at H-D, and I think they’ve done it,” said Chesnut, who personally rides a Harley but plans to get his own Indian.

The Tucson dealership sold a couple of Indians on opening day and had four or five customers arranging financing, he said.

Meanwhile, Indian dealers and fans are eagerly waiting for Polaris to reveal the 2015 Indian model line during an annual dealer meeting next week in Minnesota, ahead of its planned live public unveiling at the 74th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

Except for announcing new two-tone paint options, Polaris has kept its 2015 offerings under wraps, but industry observers have guessed a new Chieftain upgraded for touring, and perhaps a smaller bike along the lines of Indian’s old Scout, might be in the offing.

“I think we’re going to see something at the top end of the spectrum and something at the bottom,” Chesnut said, adding that even dealers don’t know what’s coming.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@tucson.com or 573-4181.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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