Indian Chief Returns to the Black Hills

Thousands of people pushed against each other as the Texas band Uncle Lucius played on stage outside of the motorcycle museum in Sturgis, South Dakota, on Saturday.

It was the first of two weekends of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a raucous affair that fills the surrounding area with the buzz of hundreds of thousands of bikes and enough leather, if sewn together, to cover Montana. Officially, the rally didn’t even start until Monday. But don’t tell anyone lifting up his or her Coors Light and toasting the moon. The party was already in overdrive.

It was the perfect opportunity for Indian Motorcycle to take the wraps off three new bikes and resurrect a legendary name: The Indian Chief.

The Chief arrives as a true Harley Davidson fighter, coming in three distinct flavors and an all-new engine and a modern-retro design that can appeal to traditional bikers and new customers hoping to connect to a brand and the open road.

As the crowd cheered, the whopping sound of a dozen Indian’s 1.8-liter Thunder Stroke V Twin engines joined in the celebration as riders rode up

in front of the stage.

“This is a great American story,” said Scott Wine, CEO of Polaris Industries, the company that bought Indian in 2010.

The company’s chief operating officer, Bennett Morgan added, “This is the best day ever.”

The culmination of two years work, the new Indians are set to recreate the brand that honors its history with a motorcycle packed full of high-tech features.

And the bikes? Well, they’re nice to look at but even better to ride, I learned, after two days of testing them in South Dakota’s Black Hills.

The new Thunder Stroke 111 engine, which powers all three, provides that majestic V-Twin sound from 111 cubic-inches (1,811 cc) of displacement provides that thumping beat and 119 pound-feet of torque that digs through corners and blasts you up hills. Mated to a six-speed transmission, a rider is never left wanting for pure power. The Thunder Stroke 111 delivers, exceptionally so.

Here’s a break down of the new tribe of bikes.

Indian Chief Classic, $18,999

The pure cruiser in the pack, the Chief Classic adopts a more retro look than the other models. It’s valanced fenders, gauges mounted on the tear-dropped tank and leather seat maintain very clean lines from every angle. Additionally, Indian has adopted the philosophy to provide a host of standard features such as ABS, keyless starting, cruise control, dual exhaust, and more chrome than a ’57 Chevy.

Indian Chief Vintage, $20,999

The middle model may become the most popular with its distinctive leather saddle bags, complete with optional fringe, and removable wind screen, which pulls off faster than most cars can roll down their windows. Like the Classic, the Vintage includes an instrument cluster on its 5.5 gallon tank and all of the same performance features such as the keyless start, ABS and white wall tires. It adds even more chrome, such as the trim pieces on each fender.

However, the versatility of this bike makes it stand out. It can be a cruiser by quickly taking off the saddle bags and windscreen. Or it can take to the highway and comfortably carry two people across the country.

Indian Chieftain, $22,999

The Chieftain checks almost all of the boxes to complete the Chief lineup. It also has the most modern look, with its body colored hard bags, which can also be removed. The big fairing includes a power windscreen that can raise 4 inches with the touch of a button.

It also comes loaded with nearly as many features as many luxury cars. It has a complete stereo, including Bluetooth connectivity and a USB plug to connect a smart phone. The bike’s instrument cluster is moved off of the tank and into the fairing.  It features remote locks for the hard bags and even a tire pressure monitoring system.


One the road, I found all three bikes nicely balanced and easy to ride. The seating position is low and the hand position was excellent, making long rides very comfortable.

I prefer the windscreen on the Vintage over the adjustable windscreen on the Chieftain. The reason: My line of sight went through the top of the

Chieftain’s windscreen and the view becomes slightly distorted. It meant I had to move my head slightly to have a clear view. It was less so with the windscreen pushed all the way down, but then, you don’t have the advantage of the windscreen.

The Classic, which didn’t have a windscreen at all has that cruiser look and handles just as well as the other bikes. In fact, this was the bike I seemed to want to push the most, leaning forward slightly against the wind and gunning the throttle just a little bit more. It felt the most nimble, though, at 778 pounds, it’s only 23 pounds lighter than the Vintage and 37 pounds lighter than the Chieftain.

One noteworthy aspect of the Chieftain is that it has a slightly smaller fork angle, meaning it turns a little sharper, especially at lower speeds, which designers said was an important consideration. The work paid off.

The six-speed transmission was extremely smooth and the clutch was comfortable to squeeze, without being too hard or too soft. The throttle by wire system was also very responsive. There were times I found myself in a gear too high for the power I needed, but I attributed that more to my rusty riding skills than poor gear ratios.

I also found it difficult to quickly read the tank mounted speedometer. Because the tank is low to begin with and I was wearing a full face helmet, I had to tilt my head pretty far to see my speed. On the Chieftain, with its instrument panel in the fairing above the handle bars, I could glance quickly to see my speed and what gear I was in.

Really, my biggest complaint was the amount of heat the engine produced and how much it heated up my legs. On one 40 mile ride on the highway, my left leg felt particularly hot. It’s an easy fix, just open your legs up a little more, but then the wind will drag on them, so I found myself opening my legs so they could cool off and then closing them. It was probably good exercise, at least that’s what Suzanne Somers might say.

At 70 mph all three bikes were comfortable and instilled confidence. At slow speeds, they were all easy to handle. And the braking on the bikes was firm and responsive. (Though the rear brake peddle seemed slightly too high for me, delaying my response time as I lifted my boot to press down on it.)

But the question remains: Are these Indians ready to take on Harley Davidson? Absolutely. The Chief arrives at the same price, a slightly bigger engine, more power, and a classic look that seemed to even impress the most rugged looking biker in Sturgis.

And in the motorcycle world, where everyone wants their iconoclastic nature to conform to everyone else, the Indian Chief provides a muscle bound alternative that’s fun to ride, a recognizable name, and loaded features that will impress anyone wearing a leather vest.

Source: Motor Trend