2018 Indian Scout & Bobber Ride Review

Finally able to ride after recovering from a wreck in June that totaled my ’05 Suzuki Boulevard, I am on the search for a new motorcycle to fill the empty spot in my garage. The Indian Scout was already on my wishlist of bikes, and when Indian expanded their offerings in July with the brutal stunner that is the Scout Bobber, it catapulted Spirit Lake, Iowa’s line of sporty midsize cruisers ever higher on my list. While the Bobber naming my come across as cynical; an eyeroll-inducing cash-in on an Instagram scenester trend; when you put the name aside, the idea of a stripped-down, blacked-out, and lowered Indian Scout with a tighter, more-aggressive rider triangle, in practice is anything but cynical. When my local Indian dealer (who is not only great, but less than five miles from my house) called to give me a heads up that they’d have a fleet of demo machines on hand in a few days, I cleared my schedule to make time to ride the latest Scouts.

Indian Scout Bobber

The Bobber makes a strong first impression. It’s a menacing beauty; industrially raw, dripping with a low, mean, blacked-out style and attitude. The Bobber eschews much of the Scout’s streamlined blend of modern and Art Deco cues in favor of a more contemporary, rugged, and mechanical appearance. The combination of slammed tracker-style handlebars fitted with bar-end mirrors, dropped rear suspension, chunky tires clawing at the road from under chopped fenders, and thick headlight nacelle give it a low muscular stance, and aggressive look of a predator crouched in wait of prey.

Engine & gas tank detail

It’s minimalistic, yet with thorough attention to detail. Premium finishes dress the Bobber in rich blacks and grays. The paint used throughout is predominantly matte with a few gloss accents providing contrast. There’s very little bright silver metal or chrome to be found, other than the brake and clutch levers, fork tubes, and machined details on the engine. Indian’s adherence to the stripped down, garage-built bobber ethos extends to removing items like the chrome ignition and thermostat covers from each side of the engine, leaving the black powder-coated underpinnings and brackets exposed.

It may not seem like much to remove existing components and leave nothing in their place; however, it contributes to the Bobber’s raw aesthetic, and gives one the sense that Indian’s release of this motorcycle may not be as cynical as its trendy name may seem; that perhaps their designers and marketers actually understand and take the idea of garage-built bobbers at least somewhat seriously. The entire package is tight, with every component hugging the ones next to it or being chopped backed or removed altogether to reveal as much raw mechanical fury as possible.

Even the thermostat cover is removed

After taking some time to soak in the aesthetics of the machine and to gear up, we were briefed on the route we were taking; roughly 15 miles of North Texas roads, being made up of mostly twisty (and at times rough and uneven) country backroads with a stretch of highway riding toward the end; which while short, should be good for putting the Bobber through it’s paces. I fired up the engine and took off behind the Indian dealer rep who was leading the ride.

 

The changes Indian made to the riding position is evident the moment you saddle up. The bars are lower and the footpegs are closer to the rider than on the standard Scout, making it feel much tighter and more aggressive. My legs were bent at near 90° angles at the hips and knees, and I was leaned forward somewhat in order to reach the bars. Being hunched over the bike in this manner looks and feels bad ass, and gives a strong sense of connection to the bike, the feedback unfiltered, giving the ride a feeling of immediacy, as you rip the road to shreds. Weight is shifted forward and more directly over the bike, yielding great leverage over the Bobber, for quick easy steering. The stock seat’s padding was firm, thick, and wrapped in rich leather. The seat locked me in place and further contributed to the feeling of primal connection to the motorcycle below.

Seat detail

The dual rear shocks are bolted to the frame just below the seat, which, despite their nearly non-existent 2” of travel distance, were remarkably well dampened and delivered a smooth, firm ride. They carried my 250 pounds with ease, without harshness or bottoming out, even over railroad crossings and larger bumps. The rear offers preload adjustment. It was fine for my weight at the factory setting, leaving ample room to dial it up for a passenger or heavy luggage. Complementing the rear shocks were premium cartridge forks up front, which, with 4.7” of travel, were the star of the suspension show. They kept the front end in line with a compliant stiffness. They don’t offer any preload in front, but it’s not needed. It all added up to a competent and well-sorted suspension package that soaked up the bumps in the road (and if you’re familiar with DFW roads, this is no small task), and kept everything in place while under hard acceleration or being pushed hard through corners. The chassis held up between these suspension components utilizes the engine as a stressed member of the frame, and is light, rigid, and superb in its agility.

That stressed member engine is unchanged from that featured in the Scout since its inception. It is the same 69ci (1,133 cc) liquid-cooled v-twin, and this is a good thing. The engine exudes the character you’d expect from a modern, liquid-cooled mill with dual overhead cams; which is to say, not very much. It purrs and hums in a way that belies its true fire-breathing nature; what it lacks in character, it more than makes up with smooth, linear delivery of its 100 horsepower and 72 ft/lbs of torque. Responsiveness from the ride by wire throttle was snappy and smooth with no jerkiness, flat spots, or delay between hammering on it with my right hand and the engine’s revs boiling up higher. This demo Bobber was equipped with Indian’s stage 1 kit, which included slip on mufflers which produced a more pronounced snarl from the exhaust, as well as an improved program for the fueling. I’d consider the stage 1 fuel map (or an aftermarket controller) an absolute necessity for anyone who wants to make the most of the Scout’s engine (more on this later when I move on to the standard Scout).

Stage 1 slip-ons and fuel map improved performance

This gem of an engine is perfectly matched to a smooth-shifting, well-geared six-speed transmission. Clutch pull was light. Upshifts were quick, smooth, and positive feeling. Neutral was always easy to find. Downshifts were met with a reasonable amount of engine braking. Like the engine, there were no surprises with the transmission. The engine and transmission working in tandem yields a responsive powerplant that is predictable and workmanlike in its refinement; it got the job done and got out of my way so I could focus on riding.

The raw performance the Bobber puts to the pavement needs to be put in check and brought to a stop from time to time, and the Bobber’s brakes handled the job well. Single discs work both the front and back, and are squeezed by calipers fed with braided stainless steel lines, another nod to the premium nature of the bike. With two fingers on the lever, I found the front to be a bit soft, likely due to my weight being canted forward, requiring more work from the front brake. The back had much more bite. Both brakes combined with well-timed down shifting made it easy to bring the Bobber to a stop from any speed.

All of this adds up to a motorcycle that is lightweight (around 550 lbs. wet), powerful, and agile. It confidently carved through the twists and turns of these country backroads at speeds well in excess of anything deemed legal. I held back so as to not overtake the ride leader atop an Indian Chieftain, through both straightaways and turns.

On the final stretch of the ride, we pulled out from the country roads onto a highway, and turned onto a sweeping on ramp to link up to the stretch of highway that would take us back to the dealership. A quick fistful of throttle rapidly pushed the Bobber above the posted highway speed, and we motored back to the dealership and concluded the first ride.

With my time on the Bobber over, I was happy with the riding experience it delivered, as the ride, however brief, was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on two wheels. It was, however, pockmarked by a few quirks and drawbacks. While I dug the aggressive riding position for the most part, at 6′ tall, I found it a bit cramped. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was awkward at times. The shift lever, for instance, seemed to be positioned too high, bending my foot at a sharp angle. Oddly, the brake pedal was in a neutral position, so I chocked it up to perhaps needing some adjustments to the shifter.

It also required more effort from my legs and core to hold the riding position, and put more of my weight on my wrists and forearms, compromising the leverage at the handlebars somewhat, and putting some stress on my wrists. Were it mine, I’d put some taller bars on it for sure. At highway speeds, my torso caught a fair bit of wind and became a sail. The Bobber in its stock form may not be the best choice for long distance highway touring duty, unless you’re willing to take a bit of a beating, or make some modifications.

If you plan on taking a passenger, you’ll need a few hundred dollars to add a seat and pegs for your pillion.

The blocky dual sport Kenda tires, while contributing to the Bobber’s bad ass looks, were the worst part of the package for me. They liked to squirm, especially at low speeds, as their thick off-road tread searched for every rut, groove, and irregularity in the pavement. This behavior undermined the quality of the ride, and did a disservice to the otherwise taught and agile handling. The knobby tires did shine through somewhat on the stretches of road that were more rough, gravely, and littered with tar snakes. Given that much of DFW is covered in roads that are so awful they verge on deadly, the tires may be a blessing in disguise.

In the interest of performing proper due diligence, I hopped over to the standard configuration of the Scout to take it out on the next round. This Scout was painted in Indian’s new Metallic Jade color. This paint is one of the most striking factory paint jobs I have ever seen. It was offset by a mix of chrome, polished aluminum, matte and gloss blacks, and the rich saddle brown leather of the seat. The Scout wears more classic styling over its Bobber brethren, with nods to Indian’s history, through stylish Art Deco lines sweeping through its gas tank (reminiscent of the profile of Indian’s war bonnet logo) and fleet-sided fenders. The blocky cast aluminum composing its frame and finless liquid-cooled engine illustrate its thoroughly modern nature.

Metallic Jade paint looked amazing, and went nicely with my Biltwell Gringo S in Gloss Agave.

Once rolling, the Scout is clearly the more comfortable of the two bikes. With higher bars, further forward set controls, and what felt like a slightly larger seat, the riding position was more upright and neutral. The Scout trades in the Bobber’s raw aggression for a more relaxed take on things. An additional inch of rear shock travel makes the ride more forgiving. The Scout shares the same cartridge forks as the Bobber, and they perform equally well here.

The engine is the same between the two bikes, though the Scout on hand lacked the stage 1 upgrades. It remained smooth, and powerful, with quick acceleration, though comparatively speaking, the throttle response was a bit more twitchy and uneven, and acceleration didn’t have the same forceful punch to it when turning the wick.

Braking on the Scout felt more even. The front had more bite, though the rear had a bit more softness to it. Given that the braking hardware is identical, and the bike’s had fairly equal mileage on them, I suspect a more even distribution of my weight across the motorcycle, with more of my weight back in the seat, and less over the handlebars contributed to the braking feel. It stopped just as well as the Bobber, though I was able to work the front brake more, and the rear brake less, which I preferred.

Rounding out the package and providing contact to the road are Pirelli Night Dragon tires. They outperform the blocky Kendas by a wide margin. They feel more connected to the road and go where they are supposed to at low speeds, high speeds, and in corners. Even where the Kenda tires were at their best; when the asphalt got rough, pitted with gravel, and woven with tar snakes; the Night Dragons give up very little ground to the Kenda tires. They’re a stellar performer, and worthy of the Scout’s agility and power.

Pirelli Night Dragon tires were the clear winner.

The result of the Scout being more laid back and neutral is an extra heap of confidence injected into the ride, and resulted in a bike that I actually ended up riding more aggressively than the Bobber before it. I tore through corners faster, reached higher speeds on the straights, and despite restraining my inner hooligan, even accidentally lifted the front wheel up briefly. At highways speeds, the Scout exhibited better manners, owing to its better tires and more upright seating position. Long term comfort on the Scout would certainly be better, making for a more capable tourer. The Scout is also outfitted from the factory to carry a passenger.

There’s comfort for two, without sacrificing the classic, stylish lines.

The Scout platform overall produces remarkable machines that pump out a thrilling and thoroughly modern ride coupled with great throwback aesthetics. Days after riding it, the Bobber, with its raw, menacing aesthetic, was a soul-stirring machine, and remained stuck in my head like a catchy song. A part of me wants to put it in my garage to prove my conclusions about comfort and touring capability wrong. On the other hand, the standard Scout, though more staid in its styling, is effectively the same bike as the Bobber, and is more comfortable, practical, and well-rounded out of the gate. I dig the Scout in either of its forms, and know it would make a superb addition to anyone’s garage.

Keep it on two wheels.

About the Author:

Graphic designer for J&P Cycles. Started out riding vintage Japanese motorcycles. Has a thing for metric v-twins.

5 Comments

  1. Scott Wieskamp October 2, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I rode one, and like it. I’m 6’2″ and it’s a little small but there is room to move the seat back and make it mine. It’s not top heavy like the Sportster I rode. It hauls and sounds sweet, great for a short trip or around town bike. I imagine with some forward controls I could ride it on the highway too. Great job Indian.

  2. John G. October 1, 2017 at 8:15 pm

    Dont care how well it performs – for styling it has nothing on a sportster – the cylinder/head covers plates look ridiculous – makes the engine body as a whole look cheap – black or white would be best color because overall paint quality with Indian is poor

  3. John September 30, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    Indian designed the Scout too small. I am also six feet tall as was the writer of the article and after having only sat on a Scout I immediately felt “cramped” and “arkward”. That’s a shame because I might have bought a Scout. However, it’s no fund riding a bike feeling cramped and there’s lot of other competition than doesn’t feel small and cramped. Rather than develop the even more cramped and lower bobber perhaps Indian would have better sales if they added a “large” Scout that would feel comfortable for riders 6 feet and taller.

  4. Bobby Sargent September 30, 2017 at 11:49 am

    My main motorcycle is a 2016 Harley breakout model. With the upgrades I added I couldn’t think of another motorcycle I would rather own. The evaluation above would make me interested in an Indian Scout if my Harley Breakout was not available in 2016. My Harley came stock with 240 tire on the back and a nice wide 21 inch tire on the front. It was my first motorcycle with ABS braking and that sucker will stop on a dime. I have ridden with some Scout riders and a couple of them were women that traded their Sportster’s for the Scouts. They are definitely good bikes for a woman. They could not say enough about how satisfied they were. It’s always good to hear a woman say that!!!! The 2018 Harleys have made the biggest change since the Knucklehead Engine.. The V Rod and Dyna Models Have Been Totally Eliminated causing major shock to many of its riders. I presently have three Harley-Davidson’s 1969 sportster, 1964 pan head and my Breakout model. I may have to make room for an Indian when I am convinced they are going to stay in business unlike the past. I would definitely take a long look at the Scout. Stay Safe

  5. Steve September 30, 2017 at 6:33 am

    The blacked out scout looks awesome can we see some more photos

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