Review: 2017 Indian Roadmaster with Ride Command may be smoothest American bike made

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The Roadmaster may look top-heavy but it rides and maneuvers like a smaller, lighter bike(Credit: Aaron Heinrich/Gizmag)

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We had an opportunity to ride the 2017 Indian Roadmaster with Ride Command at this past week's Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and we were pleasantly surprised. At first look, that big trunk and ultra-padded passenger seat with partial armrests would seem to convey a top-heaviness that might leave the rider with a constant need to fight gravity. But an all-day ride on the back roads through the Black Hills with a passenger proved to have the opposite effect.

In fact, this 912-pound (dry weight) tourer was almost lithe, both through the corners, straightaways and the low-speed crawls that are givens coming out of Sturgis with the thousands of other riders doing the same during the rally.

The only time we felt the weight and the effects of both passenger and the trunk were when we came to a stop, but that wasn't a surprise.

Since we were on a new model year bike equipped with the Ride Command System that Indian announced in July, we had an opportunity to also put that to the test. A quick run through the screen and handlebar controls prior to hitting the road gave us a sense of how we could use it once we were on our way.

Riding without tunes seemed counter-intuitive at a motorcycle rally, so we quickly found a classic rock station and put the 100-watts-per-channel audio system to work. We quickly found out that we didn't need to crank the volume very high to get the feel for how well the system sounded. At speeds hitting close to 70 mph (113 km/h) on the freeway, wind noise was not a factor, and we didn't have the volume turned anywhere close to where it could go. And that was as a rider wearing earplugs and a half helmet.

Toggling through the different screens showed us everything from tire pressure to mileage to range left on a tank of gas. The screen is mounted at just the right height, so we never felt like we had to take our eyes completely off the road to make any adjustments. Indian also took into account readability in bright sunlight conditions, so we never had a problem making out what was on the screen in the bright South Dakota day.

The main function that avid tourers will like, though, is the navigation system. Since none of the rest of our party could remember how to get back to the hotel in Rapid City from Sturgis, we were put in charge with putting that function to the test.

It works like most navigation systems – enter the destination and it plots the course. The map and course quickly displayed, with the option of including points of interest and a list of nearby gas stations if we were going to get low on fuel.

Our only gripe is that some element of the navigation system may have frozen up on us, since at some point along the way it showed the intended route, but it stopped showing the progression toward our destination. But the freeway exit was also indicated at the top of the 7-inch screen, and the ability to "move" the map with two-finger touch and pinch-to-zoom let us manually adjust the map, so the lack of progression became a non-issue.

There are numerous other functions in the Ride Command System, like Bluetooth pairing and an assortment of phone features that we didn't put to the test, but we were content with listening to local radio stations and toggling through some of the other features.

In speaking with the Indian engineers about the Ride Command System, they've clearly already considered what else they could do to both add functionality and improvements in the future. But the intent, they said, was to get a system into the 2017 lineup that would at least meet if not exceed similar systems currently offered by the competition.

The Ride Command System aside, what we particularly liked about the Roadmaster overall was just how smooth it ran. At speeds that varied between 25 to 55 mph (40 to 89 km/h) through the Black Hills, we rarely had to take it out of 4th gear. The bike seemed to appreciate rumbling along at just under 3,000 rpm, and doing so meant there was never any annoying buzz in the handlebars or floorboards.

Once on the freeway, we had no problem quickly accelerating to the 65 mph (105 km/h) speed limit, and there was plenty of grunt left when we had to lay on the throttle. Acceleration and shifting was effortless and nearly downright quiet for a six-speed coupled to that big 111 cubic inch V-Twin. Maybe that's because at a claimed 119.2 ft-lb (138.9 Nm) of torque, the Roadmaster felt like it could pull a small car if it needed to.

While we rarely rode on anything resembling rough roads, the telescopic fork and single shock out back did a good job of smoothing out what few bumps and old asphalt we did happen to encounter. Thankfully, we never had to put the ABS system to a real test, but in average braking conditions it did a fine job of bringing the bike, rider and passenger to a stop.

Indian Motorcycles has priced the Roadmaster with the Ride Command System at a base of US$28,999 for the Thunder Black version, and the Steel Gray over Thunder Black model we rode comes in at $30,399. That might seem like a hefty price tag, but considering how easily this bike could chew up the miles while putting a perpetual smile on your face, either with a solo rider or with a passenger and gear, that may be a small price to pay.

Product page: Indian Motorcycles

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