9 Common Problems with Indian Motorcycles (Explained)

Indian motorcycles were the first motorcycle manufacturers in the United States, with roots that go as far back as 1901.

After over a century of iconic designs and innovative engineering, including decade-long lapses of inactivity due to a change of ownership, Polaris resurrected Indian Motorcycles in 2013.

Since then, Polaris has proven to engineer some of the highest-performing motorcycles in the industry while also staying true to the brand’s unique aesthetic roots, but no manufacturer is perfect.

If you’re in the market for an Indian motorcycle, you’ve come to the right place – we’ve listed the most common problems with Indian Motorcycles so you know what to look for.

1. Corrosion Bubbles Forming on Fender

One of the most common issues Indian motorcycle owners report is corrosion and paint bubbles forming on the chrome fender strips, where the fender skirts are tack welded. Consumer reports note that it can happen on both the front and rear fenders.

How severe the issue is and whether it hits both fenders depends on the make and year model Indian bike and whether or not its fenders have chrome plates.

While the warranty often covers these corroding chrome strips on newer Indians, that’s not much help to owners who buy their bikes without a warranty.

While this may seem a cosmetic issue at first glance, more than a few riders claim the bubbling chrome stripes allow water into the resulting open seams, which can cause rusting to the strip and the fender skirt.

  • If you’re in the market for a used Indian and it has chrome fender strips, inspect them to be sure there aren’t any bubbles forming in the chrome.
  • If you notice the chrome is bunching up along the strip, inspect the surrounding area of the fender for any rust and corrosion.

Some Polaris warranties offer lifetime coverage on any problem component that’s been replaced.

Some rider reports indicate that Indian replaced this part long after their contract expired.

This means that if the seller of the Indian you’re looking to buy had the chrome strips replaced while the bike was still under warranty and it’s in the Polaris system, you may be able to have it replaced free of charge.

But why does the chrome on Indian Motorcycle fenders bubble up and rust?

Sometimes, the fenders weren’t painted thoroughly around the chrome strips welded to the skirt.

In other cases, the chrome strips are vinyl or plastic wrapped in chrome tape.

Light changes in heat and moisture cause the chrome tape used on 2017 models to bubble up – corrosion can form around it.

2. Mirrors Don’t Stay Tight

One of the common complaints with Indian Motorcycles is that the mirrors come loose while riding. Unlike other motorcycle mirror designs, Indian mirrors don’t use screws where the mirrors attach to the stems. Instead, there are sliding adjustment nuts that vibrate loose.

  • On Indian motorcycles, there’s a nut that tightens around the part of the stem that connects to the mirror.
  • Once you get the mirror where you want it, you tighten the bolt to hold the mirror in place.
  • However, engine and wind vibrations often rattle the mirror stem back and forth, and eventually, it works itself loose.

At highway speeds, a loose Indian motorcycle mirror will flap back and forth and sometimes even hang upside down, which can be a safety hazard.

So Why Do Indian Motorcycle Mirrors Come Loose While Riding?

While many blame the design of the mirror tightening mechanism’s lack of the alan-head tightening bolts, others say the issue comes from riders overtightening their mirrors with a torque wrench and stripping the nuts.

3. Side Stand Hinges Crack and Peel

While some owner reports claim that cracked and peeling side stands were only an issue in the first year, 2014 Polaris Indians, others claim the problem has happened on bikes as new as 2017.

In the early Indians, while Polaris’s expert engineering team designed all the components in-house, the production was outsourced to mass-manufacturing plants.

  • On some models, the motorcycle side stand’s outer chrome layer would start to chip, eventually peeling off in large strips, revealing the rustic, untreated metal underneath. In time, the peeling stands rust and deteriorate.
  • Other reports noted chronic cracking in the hinge of the side stands on earlier Indian motorcycles, where the side stand pivots to go up and down.

While some riders re-weld the side stand cracks and re-chrome their kickstands, others replace the side stand with a newer, more rugged Indian design.

Others still bypass Polaris altogether and replace their Indian motorcycle’s cracked side stand with an aftermarket one explicitly designed to fit onto their year-model bike.

Related: 9 Most Common Harley Davidson Problems (Explained)

4. Clutch Cables Snap Easily

One of the most notorious common problems with Indian motorcycles that have affected most of its models at one point was how easily the clutch cable snaps while riding. While some owners report poor dealership installation as the culprit, others say the cables aren’t adequately lubricated during services.

That said, more than a handful of mechanics site the unique design of the Indian clutch cable actuator as the reason why Indian motorcycle clutch cables keep breaking:

The anchor point at the actuator end is hard to inspect compared with the clutch lever end… how quickly your clutch cable snaps depends on how well your cable has been cleaned and lubed at every service (and if you regularly travel on a dusty road, additional lube in between).”

  • Your Indian motorcycle’s clutch cable is protected from harsh weather by a rubber boot at both ends.
  • After a long ride, mechanics suggest you pull back the rubber protector and inspect the anchor points at the end of your cable.
  • The clutch hand lever anchor point is more accessible to inspect than the anchor point at the bottom actuator end, which is why many riders often neglect to check both ends of the cable.

Even if you only see some slight fraying, the cable has already begun to lose its integrity. We suggest you bring this to your dealership’s attention at your next service. If you see multiple frays, we suggest your take the bike in asap, as a snapped clutch cable can cause an accident.

Many Indian clutch cables break off inside the actuator, where the weld houses the clutch cable.

If the clutch cable lacks lubrication, it can snap off close to the anchor points at either end from the friction incurred during clutch disengagement.

5. Headlight Plug Cover is Prone to Melting

On some Indian motorcycle models, the headlight plug cover melts and shorts out due to a bad electrical connection or exposed wire. The headlight will display similar symptoms to a dead H4 light bulb, but the light will still fail to illuminate once the bulb is replaced.

After much troubleshooting, riders and their mechanics inspected the headlight circuits’ wiring and found the plug cover was melted.

“[Our] workshop manual confirmed it was a faulty headlight globe, but I had a look tonight and found the cover melted. One side terminal was coated in melted plastic. I cleaned it up and got the headlight to work.“

6. Drive Belt Makes Squeaking Sounds

In 2014 Indian Motorcycles, the rear drive belt pullies were known to make intrusive squeaking sounds while riding due to a design flaw. The original drive belt pullies Polaris installed in the first-year Indian motorcycles had vertical walls, which caused a squeaking sound while riding.

Indian engineers later revised the part by changing the vertical walls into v-cut grooves, which solved the problem.

Still, more than a few 2014 Indians are on the used motorcycle market. If you’re in the market for one, ask the seller if they’ve upgraded the drive belt pully to the new, v-grooved model.

If not, see if you can shave a few bucks off to save yourself the annoyance and get a more quiet part installed at the dealership.

7. Tan Leather Seats and Saddle Bags Fade

The leather fading problem was most common on the 2014 models; the reason was that Indian initially set out to fit all their bikes with genuine leather. Still, leather fades in the sun, and many riders complained that the faded tan leather changed the iconic image of their Indian.

To compensate for the customer backlash, Indian fitted their bikes made from 2015 onward with bonded or manufactured leather that ages much more slowly.

So, while the 2015 models onward have seats and saddle bags that are more fade-resistant, the common problem Indian riders have with them is that they’re not genuine leather.

8. Rusting/Browing War Bonnet Fender Light

Some early Indian Motorcycle models came stock with a fender light fitted into a 3d mold of the iconic War Bonnet Indian logo. One of the common issues riders reported was that the chin area of the chief logo’s glass face would turn brown with corrosion.

  • The War Bonnet light was powered by a power cable wired to the bike’s light circuit.
  • For the cable to reach the light, a hole is cut into the front fender.
  • On the earlier Indian motorcycles, the hole punched into the rubber grommet that prevented water from penetrating was too broad.

When the Indian motorcycle is ridden in the rain or on wet roadways, water would splash into the chief’s head. In time, the glass corroded.

Indian upgraded the grommet with a smaller hole from 2016 onward, making this an issue on 2014 and 2015 Indian motorcycles.

9. Engine makes Clanking Sounds.

While the legendary Thunderstroke Engine Indian Uses on most motorcycle models is a brilliantly designed, performance-based torque monster, one of the most common problems riders have with their Indian motorcycles is engine clanking.

Listed below are the most common reasons why Indian Motorcycle engines make loud metal noises.

Wet Oil Sumping

The most common diagnosis for Indian motorcycle engine sound is due to the unique semi-dry oil sump. If oil sumps inside the crankcase and isn’t adequately pumped out, the counterbalance weights slap against the oil pool, causing a loud and rapid engine slap sound.

Piston Slap

A piston slap during a cold-engine start is expected on a motorcycle with short-skirt pistons, like many Indians.

That said, if the slap doesn’t go away once the engine, oil, and pistons heat up, a piston slap is sometimes caused by improperly installed pistons.

If they’re not put in tight enough at the factory, loose pistons can make a slapping sound, wear your piston rings out fast, consume more oil, and cause a power dip via compression loss.

 Timing Chain Slap

If you or the previous owner stacked miles on your Indian Motorcycle, a worn chain tensioner could be failing to keep the timing chain tightened to spec.

In this case, the slap you hear is a loose timing chain.

Excess Oil

The most common reason an Indian Motorcycle makes a loud engine clanking noise is the presence of excess oil in the crankcase slapping your cam’s counterweights.

While oil sumping can happen on any motorcycle with an air-cooled V-Twin, pro mechanics say that some Indian engines have defective scavenger generators in their oil pumps.

Additionally, the oil pumps on Indian motorcycles are much harder to get to than on other bikes, where pumps can be realigned, and O-rings can be replaced easily. This makes the defective oil pumps frustrating on Indian bikes.

One pro-engine builder and Indian owner/fan had this to say:

Everyone unfortunate enough to have a [Thunderstroke] 111 Clacker has to determine their own ‘worry and acceptance level’.  I can say this: An adequately built engine, whether air-cooled with pushrods, will not make this clicking noise!  There’s a boatload of normal quiet Indian TS-111s to prove this is true.”

Pros and Cons of Indian Motorcycles

Pros

  • Industry-Leading Adjustable Suspension Packages.
  • Powerhouse, performance-based engine designs on all bikes.
  • More torque than other brands.
  • Unique and classic American aesthetic.
  • Impressive ECU-governed accessories on many bikes, including live weather, GPS, and Bluetooth.
  • Multiple upgrade packages are available for all types of riding, offered from Indian and most of the unique aftermarket brands.
  • Fun to ride.
  • Dependable.
  • Long Lasting Engines.

It lasts for a long time if well kept.

Cons

  • Side Stand Hinges Crack and Peel
  • Corrosion Bubbles Forming on Fender
  • The Clutch cable snaps easily.
  • The kickstand switch is in a vulnerable location.
  • Accessories like heated grips should be standard at the price point.
  • Mirrors Don’t Stay Tight

Sources:

7 Most Common Indian Chieftain Problems (Explained)

Indian Scout: 7 Most Common Problems (Explained)

Indian Motorcycle Won’t Start? (Solved & Explained)