Motorcycle of the Year: Indian Scout
What’s this? A cruiser claims the Motorcycle of the Year title even though we’ve called 2015 the year of the Superbike? Yes, it might provoke a little cognitive dissonance until you think a little further. First, because the Indian Scout was introduced at Sturgis this time last year, many riders mistakenly thought of it as a 2014 model. To qualify for a MOBO, a motorcycle must be on sale to the public prior to the nominating process at the end of each July, and the Scout wasn’t available until late last year. Additionally, our MOTY must be something special, and the Scout is more than just a class-beating cruiser.
First, the Scout shows that Indian is in the motorcycle production game for the long haul and that its parent company, Polaris, has the willingness – and the ability – to continue to invest in growing the marque into a potential challenger to that other huge American cruiser brand. For example, developing an engine is the most costly process in producing a new motorcycle, and having Indian release its second created-from-scratch powerplant in just two years speaks of the commitment and the understanding on Polaris’ part that it will take years to recoup the expenditure. Lets just say that, after decades of being the name of a former motorcycle manufacturer, the Indian brand has some unfinished business in the American-made cruiser market. We look forward to watching this play out.
Then there’s that little thing about the choice to move beyond being just another tribute band playing massaged versions of the Indians of yore. Yes, the Chief models are a look back at the classic Indian motorcycles through modern cruiser spectacles. Yet, when the Scout steps onto the stage, with its liquid-cooled engine and plainly visible die-cast aluminum frame, and announces it is the Indian of the 21st century, we know that the company is looking ahead to what the Indian line can be and not just counting on the golden oldies.
Hardware isn’t the only new material that Indian is performing before the riding public. The Scout’s $10,999 price tag undercut all of the competitors in our shootout and scored higher on quality than those six bikes, some costing several thousand dollars more. The fact that an American motorcycle can be manufactured domestically and sold at a class-beating MSRP, while still delivering a premium feel, in a time when many of the majors are looking to developing Pacific Rim countries for production savings should be praised.
Additionally, having the ability to share resources with other Polaris-owned entities will, no doubt, prove to be beneficial to them all. To see an example of this, just take a look at Victory’s recent Project 156 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb race bike that appears to use a Scout-based engine. Chief Editor Duke believes a version of that motor will power the next new Victory we see, as he theorizes here.
However, all of the lofty words about what the Scout portends for the Indian brand and Polaris’ future products recede into the background the moment the Scout’s starter button is thumbed. The Scout delivers strong performance in a lightweight chassis all wrapped in an attractive, yet non-traditional cruiser package – a fact that has caught the eye of riders who don’t necessarily want a retro motorcycle but are nonetheless looking to step in to the cruiser fold. Additionally, Indian somehow managed to provide premium fit and finish while still beating the price of the other cruisers in its class. For these reasons and more, the Indian Scout earns the title of 2015 Motorcycle of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Kawasaki Ninja H2
Kawasaki’s radical H2 is undoubtedly a special motorcycle – there is nothing else in production like it, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time. The H2’s unique supercharged engine is clearly the headline here. Kawasaki’s aerospace division was able to develop a centrifugal blower that doesn’t require an intercooler, a feat that manufacturers of superchargers said was impossible. The exquisitely machined-from-billet impeller is like jewelry for gearheads, boosting the 998cc engine to 194 horsepower at its rear wheel. Its torque output is even more incredible, pumping out 92 lb-ft. of twist, considerably more than any other literbike.
We’ve heard some critics say they’d never pay $25,000 for a Kawasaki, but we’ve never heard someone say that while looking at the H2 in the flesh. Its fit and finish detailing is nothing less than stellar, drawing in eyes from its LED-headlight nose to its butt-cradling tailsection. Its mirror-finish paint (with a layer of pure silver) is unique in the motor-vehicle world, and its trellis frame is created from laser-cut and robotically welded tubes that are lovingly finished off by skilled human hands.
No matter where one looks, the H2 demonstrates the high level of quality usually found only on high-end exotics from Italy. Brakes are Brembo M50s, calipers that are as good as they get, while clutch and brake master cylinders are advanced radial plungers also from Brembo. The inverted fork keeps its air and oil separate – a system used here for the first time ever on a streetbike – to reduce stiction as much as possible. Wheels are brilliantly highlighted by machined accents, the rear proudly exposed by Kawasaki’s first-ever single-sided swingarm. Upon close inspection, the H2’s $25k MSRP almost seems like a bargain.
Kawasaki also upped its electronics game with the H2, providing not only adjustable traction control, but also launch control, Engine Brake Control and Kawi’s first-ever quickshifter. The H2 also styles with bespoke switchgear and slick LCD gauges.
The H2 might not be the ultimate track tool that some enthusiasts wish it could be, but it’s important to remember Kawasaki bills it as “the ultimate road-going motorcycle.” Imagine a burly Star VMAX with 20 hp extra and 160 fewer pounds! With the H2, you’re swinging the biggest club on the block.
We appreciate the audacity of building something as outrageous as a supercharged literbike, and we hold in high regard technological innovation that push the boundaries of what’s possible. The uniquely fantastic H2 is a landmark motorcycle that will forever be seen as special. It’s an instant collector’s item.