Friday, 6 October 2017

Ride review: Indian Scout Sixty

As I laboriously made my way out of central Barcelona, which was already seething with demonstrations and protest marches in view of the independence referendum that was to take place three days later, I reflected upon how fate has a strange way of doing things. At the same time, one of the Indian's mirrors was reflecting - well, nothing much, at least nothing of what I wanted it to reflect. But that would have to wait until I got back to Thruxtonian HQ.

This was the weekend of the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride. I had originally planned to ride Black Douglas' new Euro-4 compliant 125cc Sterling, but minor technical issues sunk that option with all hands on deck. At first I thought about cancelling my participation in the DGR, but I thought that now that I was registered to ride, I might as well go through with it. Only one problem remained: what bike should I ride? One of my bikes (the one that gave this blog its current name) is currently off the road* and the other doesn't really fit in with the whole "Distinguished Gentleman" philosophy. It was obvious that I was going to have to beg, borrow or - umm no, we'll leave it at those two options - a ride from somebody. By the next day, Polaris España had kindly accepted to lend me a Scout Sixty for the weekend.

The Indian Scout Sixty is an extrapolation of the existing Scout model. The outward differences are less chrome, the removal of the "Scout" logo from the petrol tank and the absence of the little panel above the headlight, which is just there to hide the passage of the various cables coming from the handlebars. But the main difference between the Scout and the Scout Sixty are mechanical. The 60º DOHC eight-valve V-twin loses a bit of displacement, dropping from 1133cc to 999cc (or 60 cubic inches in American money, hence the model's name). Likewise, power output is somewhat reduced, going from 100hp to 78bhp. Finally the gearbox is a five-speed whereas big brother Scout has a sixth cog in the 'box. Otherwise everything is identical, from the counter-rotating crankshaft to the ride-by-wire throttle. Power is transmitted to the rear wheel via a drive belt.

The frame consists primarily of two attractive alloy castings. The front casting includes the headstock and also houses the radiator and coolant hoses, bolting onto the engines crankcases in its inferior part. The aft casting also serves as the rear subframe; the rear swinging-arm, suspension units, rear mudguard and seat all connect to this. Both castings are joined by two upper tubes, whilst the engine slots into the frame as a semi-stressed member.

The first thing I noticed as I sat on the bike's Gaucho-styled saddle (finished in vinyl rather than leather as on the Scout), was how low the bike was. For the first time in a quite a while, thanks to the 643 mm seat height, I had both feet flat on the floor, which made paddling the long (2.3 m) black beast backwards a doddle, helped, I must admit, by the bike's low centre of gravity that belies its 255 kg (with a tankload - 12.5 litres - of petrol).

As I threaded my way through the heavy traffic in the streets of central Barcelona, I was surprised at how instinctively I could switch from lane to lane in the heaving one-way avenues that make up a fair part of the city's road grid. Once again, the bikes low-slung C of G helps, as do the large pull-back 'bars, which you work like a tiller at low speeds. The leverage they offer does a lot to offset the slight resistance caused by the wide (130 mm) front tyre on its 16" rim. One thing I noted in urban riding was that one has to be fairly firm with the shifter: more than once a slightly too "soft-shoe" upshift from 1st to 2nd meant that I'd unexpectedly find myself in neutral.

Once I was on the dual carriageway I was able to pick up speed a bit and become acquainted with 3rd gear. Despite having the engine at just over 2,000 rpm, I couldn't feel any undue vibration - indeed later, when I got off the motorway, I dropped to 1,600 rpm in top and although I could feel both of the 499cc pistons, but it wasn't intrusive, and I was able to open the throttle and accelerate cleanly without any unpleasant shudders from the V-twin. One thing I did notice was that the bike started running out of puff towards 150/160 kph; then again the Scout Sixty isn't about top-end, although its healthy acceleration and capable frame do encourage you to pin it. I did also notice that at a constant opening, the Sixty's ride-by-wire throttle sometimes has a tendency to "roll off" of its own accord; I regularly found myself riding 10 kph below a chosen speed and having to open the throttle just a crack to get back up to speed; however the slightly brusque nature of the electronics transformed that into a sudden, unexpected surge of speed.

It was on narrow twisty roads that I came to grips with the Scout Sixty's dichotomy: a pleasant, vibration-free V-twin that is willing to rev, whatever gear you're in, mated to a frame and suspensions that give it the type of roadholding and handling that many custom cruisers can only dream of. Until the footpegs deck out on the tarmac. To be fair, once you have the measure of the Sixty, this doesn't happen too often, and relying primarily on the hefty rear brake to shave off speed before entering a turn will avoid loading up the front suspension and reducing ground clearance as the bike dives onto its nose. But It really is surprising to find out how pleasant it is to ride this bike on roads with bends and turns in them; thanks to its frame, and its relatively conservative rake (29º, which isn't a lot for a cruiser), it is a very intuitive machine and responds perfectly to inputs on the 'bars, placing itself on the line without any drama, and holding that line through the turn in a very neutral way. In that sense it handles much more like a retro roadster; I was surprised at how swiftly I was making progress along the impeccably surfaced B-roads that snake through the Penedés wine country some 60 km west of Barcelona. The only flies in the ointment were the Indian-branded Kenda tyres, which I wasn't overly fond of, to be honest: they're alright in straight lines and at a more sedate pace through turns, but when the rhythm became a bit more allegro, I could instinctively feel that the edge of their grip envelope was never all that far away, and I'll admit to being relieved not to have had to ride in the wet. I was also aware of a vibration coming from them at times, but I'm not sure if this was a tyre problem or if the wheels were improperly balanced. In any case, if this were my bike the tyres would be the first elements I'd upgrade.

Let's talk about the brakes on the Scout Sixty. Being accustomed to riding a sports roadster most of the time, I tend to brake mainly with the front brakes, just using the rear to "tidy things up" on some occasions. On the Sixty things are inverted: the rear brake (single 298 mm disc) is much more powerful than the front, despite having just a single-piston calliper, so you end up using it first and bringing the front brake (298 mm disc, twin piston calliper) into play afterwards. This perhaps explains why I initially found the rear brake to be a bit too grabby for my liking. The non-switchable ABS is unobtrusive and despite having to do one or two emergency braking manoeuvres, I never set it off, even if I did feel I was getting to the limit of the Kenda tyres' grip envelope. I personally consider that a linked braking system would be great on the Sixty.

The Scout Sixty's riding position is pure custom cruiser, particularly the footpegs, which are very far forwards and might be a problem for shorter-legged riders. Nonetheless the ergonomics do give you the option between a laid-back, "cruiser" position, and a slightly more upright position if you're guiding the bike through bends and turns on the open road. Globally I found the riding position fairly comfortable although after a couple of hours in the saddle I was happy to dismount and stretch my legs and lower back. After a weekend on the bike I did feel it across my shoulders and neck though, but I ascribe that to the fact that I don't ride cruisers very often and that I was perhaps trying to ride the Sixty more like a roadster. One thing I did notice was the unpleasant heat coming from the rear cylinder, which is due to the way the bike slims down towards the point where tank and saddle meet; at traffic lights I quickly learnt to keep my legs splayed out as much as possible to avoid roasting my upper inner thighs - not the most elegant of postures, I might add!

When I wasn't on the bike I spent a lot of time admiring its uncluttered lines. The Scout Sixty's design is dominated by the curvature of the petrol tank, which recalls the lines of the 1920s Scout. In its jet black paint job, the Sixty reminded me of a panther caught in mid pounce. This, combined with the chunky aluminium castings that constitute the frame, and the details on the barrels and cylinder heads, give it a contemporary "muscle-cruiser" image. At the same time, the shape of the tank, combined with the saddle and the lines of the front and rear mudguards give it a pleasantly neo-retro flavour. The designers were able to combine these two design inputs faultlessly, and the jet-black Indian turned heads and elicited compliments wherever I took it.

The view from behind the 'bars is quit nice, too. It's dominated by a single speedo that also contains a pretty exhaustive array of warning lights. The lower part of the speedo houses an LCD screen that displays engaged gear, odometer, a tripmeter, engine revs, temperature, and a clock. All of these can be accessed via a button on the left-hand instrument pod. At night, the speedo is backlit in red. One thing I would have liked to see was (at least) a fuel gauge, possibly backed up by real-time and average fuel consumption figures. There's space enough for a bar-graph gauge on one side of the LCD screen, and I suppose it wouldn't be too difficult to include the additional information in the scrollable elements. Speaking of fuel consumption, I filled the tank just the once, on the evening before the Distinguished Gentleman's Ride, and despite spending a fair part of the next day parading through Barcelona in 2nd gear at about 50 kph or so, when I returned the bike a couple of days later, the tripmeter showed 165 kilometres and the fuel light wasn't on yet, which surprised me for a V-twin.

After four days with the Indian Scout Sixty, my verdict is that it is a lot of motorcycle despite its entry-level status. Despite losing 134cc, one gear and 20-odd horsepower to the Scout, it has a very lively and willing engine that will happily take you well above motorway speeds if you can resist the wind blast, while also letting you crawl around at 50 kph in fifth without undue knocks and shudders before accelerating smoothly as you wind the throttle open. Novices and experienced riders alike can get along with this bike (it can be restricted for novice riders); novices will love its easy and forgiving nature, while confirmed motorcyclists will enjoy thrashing the engine and pushing the bike's very capable handling and roadholding to its limits without having to endure the sometimes excessive levels of vibration that one finds on some other custom cruisers. I would have liked to have a slightly more assertive exhaust note; as it is the bike's pleasantly muscular looks are let down by a much too discreet exhaust. I didn't really get along with the tyres either; I felt that I had gone back in time and was riding on late-Eighties/early-Nineties rubber, to be honest. Looks-wise, despite being less elaborate than its bigger Scout sibling, the Sixty has a personality of its own and has a definite less-is-more appeal to it. And at a price of 11,990 € (Spanish retail price), it's pretty competitively priced, too.

What we liked:
· Muscular yet retro design
· Handling & roadholding
· Build quality
· Lively & tractable engine
· Precise gearbox
· Riding position
· Overall value for money

What we liked less:
· Excessively muted exhaust note
· No fuel gauge
· Somewhat brusque throttle action
· Lack of luggage space
· Feeble front brake. 

*If anybody has a set of stock rear shocks for a 2005-2013 Triumph Thruxton (865cc) but doesn't have any use for them, please contact us! - Editor

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