Best Cruiser of the Year: Indian Scout
If you’ve been following the latest cruisers, the selection of the Indian Scout as the Best Cruiser of 2015 should come as no surprise. If you haven’t, then you’ve missed how impressed we were with the Scout at its introduction last year at Sturgis. Appearing out of nowhere, like a left hook to an unsuspecting opponent, the Scout authoritatively took our preconceptions of what the revitalized marque would produce and put it on the mat for a ten count.
Yes, the 2014 Indian Chief had included the appropriate homage to Indian’s venerable past while adding a totally modern powerplant in retro clothing. Indian also incorporated enough premium styling and features to make riders favorably compare it to the dominant brand in the cruiser world, Harley-Davidson. The result was a motorcycle we named the Best Cruiser of 2014. Little did we know that three impressive motorcycle models (the Chief, the Chief Vintage, and the Chieftain) in Indian’s first year of its resurgence wasn’t the end of ways to impress us.
Instead, at the country’s biggest motorcycle rally, one that most motorcyclists have forgotten started as an Indian event, the Scout was unveiled at Sturgis to much fanfare. Purists were aghast. Riders who had previously been on the fence about cruisers were intrigued. Indian had created a thoroughly modern cruiser from the ground up. Both the aluminum chassis and the 1133cc liquid-cooled V-Twin engine are completely new items. The lines are classic cruiser, but the details are more modern. A response to the criticism that cruisers are literally being weighed down by all the retro styling, the Scout is designed to be a small, light, great handling cruiser. The proof is the way it works on the road.
In our shootout, a gathering of seven cruisers ranging from 1100cc to 1700cc, of which the Scout had the smallest displacement, the Scout ran away with the the win in six of the 11 subjective categories and won two of the objective categories (lowest price and weight). In all but two of the scorecard’s performance-oriented line items, the Scout easily dispatched the competition, with the limited travel of its rear suspension being the bike’s weakest point. The Scout’s greatest strength is an engine that produces power in an unintimidating way for newbies, but when spun up above the mid-range, delivers acceleration that can satisfy experienced riders.
While the Scout’s performance chops are clearly what the bike is about, Indian also lavished the premium attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Polaris’ motorcycle brands. The fit and finish are top notch. The styling of both the frame and the engine take their cues from what the piece is designed to do. Structural ribs are shown for the beauty of their function rather than being dressed up to mimic some past look as is often the case with cruisers and their faux cooling fins on liquid-cooled engines.
The Scout is a thoroughly modern motorcycle, featuring eye-catching, non-traditional cruiser styling wrapped around a superbly performing engine all while retailing for a class-beating $10,999 price, qualities that combine to make the Indian Scout the Motorcycle.com Best Cruiser of 2015.
Honorable Mention: Kawasaki Vulcan S
Our runner-up to the 2015 Best Cruiser was another new model that chose to eschew retro styling for something more modern. However, when Kawasaki introduced the 2015 Vulcan S, most of the conversation focused on the bike’s innovative Ergo-Fit, a concept that allows the dimensions of the rider triangle to be adjusted to suit riders varying in size from less than 5 ft. 6 in. to more than 6 ft. tall.
Ergo-Fit and modern styling weren’t the only places that Kawasaki challenged the cruiser hegemony. By selecting the amiable 649cc parallel-Twin that has powered the Ninja and Versys 650, Kawasaki committed what many cruiser traditionalists consider heresy – which was exactly the point. Team Green intends for the Vulcan S to attract riders who are on the cusp of buying their first motorcycle, and the parallel-Twin gave the engineers the freedom to tune the power and package the chassis in a way that made for a motorcycle that was friendly to new riders. Many newbies aren’t yet wed to the V-Twin engine configuration.
Still, it’s the Ergo-Fit system many – and not just new riders – have latched on to that make the Vulcan S stand above the bulk of 2015’s cruisers. Having the ability to sit down on a bike with a trained salesperson and decide what handlebar, peg, and seat positions give the most comfort and, ultimately, the most confidence can’t be understated. Additionally, for a new rider, the first experience of the bike is at a premium, so the low center of gravity of the Vulcan S making the bike feel even lighter than its 498 lb. curb weight as the bike is lifted off its side stand is another bonus. This feeling is supported by easy handling and unintimidating power delivery when they actually get to ride the Vulcan S.
By simply developing a cruiser with modern styling, a friendly engine, and a low center of gravity, Kawasaki would’ve produced an interesting motorcycle. Adding a low $6,999 ($7,399 for ABS) MSRP and then making Ergo-Fit peg, riser, and seat options available for no extra charge at the time of purchase, Kawasaki moved the Vulcan S into the Best Cruiser of 2015 Honorable Mention slot.