Indian’s Roadmaster Gives BMW’s Sport Touring Bike a Run for Its Money
An Indian Roadmaster carries its rider along South Africa’s scenic coastal roads to the country’s private game reserves.
An hour into a 10-day journey across South Africa, the Indian Roadmaster full-dress tourer was already proving its prowess as it powered up the cliff-side curves of Chapman’s Peak Drive, a highway at the southwestern extremity of the continent. When the floorboard scraped the pavement, it was a signal to ease off the throttle and reduce the bike’s lean on the switchbacks. The 1,811 cc V-twin Thunder Stroke engine adjusted smoothly, enabling the bike to effortlessly trace the coastal road as it crested and dipped down to Hout Bay on the Atlantic coast, about 12 miles south of Cape Town.
The scenery evoked California’s Big Sur, with clouds pouring over sheer mountain faces in slow-motion waves, and breakers crashing on the wind-scoured beaches below. There was a chill in the air, but seated in the heated saddle and behind the bike’s wraparound fairing, I barely noticed it.
South Africa is an Eden for big-bike riders; I would pass dozens of BMW GSAs and Harleys as I covered the 310 miles from the Taj Cape Town hotel (a granite structure built in 1932 as a bank) to the coastal resort of Knysna. And the Roadmaster, with its tapered art deco lines and gorgeous cherry-and-cream paint job, would draw double takes from most of the riders.
The original Indian Motorcycle Company, which was based in Springfield, Mass., built some of the most comfortable and attractive bikes of its day before shuttering in 1953. The brand went through a series of resurrections and owners until 2011, when it was acquired by Polaris Industries, which is the parent company of Victory Motorcycles. Polaris relaunched the Indian marque in 2013 with the Chief standard model and the Chieftain bagger.
The Roadmaster, which was developed before the Chieftain but introduced after it, in 2014, includes such additional features as the aforementioned heated seats, a trunk, front fairing lowers, heated grips, LED headlights, passenger floorboards, and a rear tip-over bar. Priced at just under $27,000, the Roadmaster is the flagship of Indian’s retro-looking lineup, offering eye-catching looks and enough comfort to stake a claim as the ultimate long-distance tourer.
This baby rhino of a bike continued to lap up the miles on the coastal highway before reaching the Phantom Forest Eco-Reserve outside of Knysna in time for sundown. The lodge was named Africa’s Leading Green Hotel by the World Travel Awards three straight years, from 2010 through 2012. It overlooks the Knysna River Estuary, which is home to fish eagles and the endangered Knysna seahorse. The property’s suites are set in a forest of gnarled trees, on slopes that are often steeped in mist.
Vervet monkeys scampered across my suite’s roof and trailed me to the hotel’s lantern-lit restaurant. The restaurant’s rustic appearance is not indicative of the menu. A dinner can include Moroccan-spiced ostrich carpaccio with griddled eggplant, and a pistachio-chocolate tartlet with pomegranate-white-chocolate sauce. The menu exemplifies what Phantom Forest chef Robyn Stein calls South Africa’s “rainbow cuisine,” which combines local produce with multicultural “creativity and sensation.”
From Phantom Forest I headed east toward Port Elizabeth on the Garden Route—the scenic stretches of the N2 and other roads that run from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape province to the Storms River at the western edge of the Eastern Cape province. In this wilderness of dense subtropical thicket, there is not a town for miles, and service stations are as rare as the Knysna seahorse. The Roadmaster, which is equipped with a 5-gallon tank and has a 185-mile range, was cruising on fumes before reaching a fuel stop outside of Humansdorp, a small town at the west end of the Eastern Cape.
The next stop was the Gorah Elephant Camp, a Hunter Hotels property in Addo Elephant National Park that houses guests in 11 tented suites. The park covers 447,000 acres of wilderness, making it South Africa’s third largest. It is also home to one of the world’s densest populations of pachyderms.
Near the beginning of the dusty dirt road that leads to Gorah, a tusker lumbered out of the bush. While I cast a long stare sideways at the elephant, the Roadmaster’s front tire dug at a rut—a jolting reminder that this bike is not designed for off-roading. When a warthog dashed across my path, I felt a rush of adrenaline—or maybe panic—and wondered whether the Roadmaster’s torquey V-twin would do the job if I needed to outrun a lion.
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