We first reported on the new Indian Motorcycles after their introduction in Sturgis last August. We’ve shared with you our first impressions of the three Indian models after we experienced them in the Black Hills, and we’ve written about the design and development, detailing the tension of creating – from scratch – a thoroughly modern interpretation of a historic marque. With the Chieftain, the designers had the additional challenge of building Indian’s first motorcycle with a fairing while still making it look like a natural part of Indian’s heritage.
Until now, we haven’t actually had an Indian in our possession to sample over an extended period on our home turf, but we’re now happy to report that our recent time with the Chieftain has only increased our respect for what Polaris has accomplished while creating a premium motorcycle from whole cloth. In a mere 27 months, Polaris’s design crew moved from first research and sketches through development and testing to delivering a polished first-generation motorcycle. The task would be impressive for any motorcycle manufacturer. However, when you take the considerable weight of all the previous wrangling over the name and disastrous attempts at re-launching the Indian marque prior to Polaris’ acquisition of the name, the success becomes downright awe inspiring.
The Chieftain is a clear example of something being more than the sum of its parts. Still, when the parts are top-shelf items themselves, the whole endeavor is lifted to another level.
The Thunder Stroke 111 49-degree V-Twin’s undersquare bore/stroke ratio points to torque as a primary motivating force. The 101mm x 113mm cylinders combine for 1811cc, delivering power pulses through a single-pin crankshaft. With torque peaking at 3100 rpm at 102.8 ft-lb and around 75 percent of that available at 1000 rpm, the Chieftain meets those lofty torque expectations with authority. While the engine is relatively slow revving and the peak power is, surprisingly, only 74.5 hp, the Thunder Stroke never feels put upon. It just cranks out the thrust on demand with smooth fuel metering that makes the drive-by-wire connection to the right grip seamless.
While the transmission shifts easily under way, the Thunder Stroke suffers from two noticeable maladies. First, every gear change is announced with a fairly hefty clunk. Some people may feel that this implies solidness of build, to our ears this belies the sophisticated technology that went in to designing and constructing the engine. Second, at a stop neutral can be quite difficult to find, which is somewhat of a nuisance.
Other powerplant quibbles include the early engagement of the clutch (almost immediately after the lever leaves the grip) and the heat cooking the back of a right leg (which came as a surprise, given our experience at the Sturgis launch).
The Chieftain’s frame is constructed of forged and cast aluminum (yes, aluminum, not steel), helping it weigh a claimed 58 lbs. The frame’s construction makes it possible to use some of the frame’s backbone section as a hefty percentage of the airbox volume. With a 25-degree rake and 5.9 in. trail attached to a 65.7 in. wheelbase, you would expect the Chieftain to be stable, and it is. It also turns in and easily changes lines mid-corner (note that we didn’t say quickly) thanks to its wide handlebar. Indian’s other models (Chief Classic and Chief Vintage) have lazier steering geometry than the sprightlier yet heavier Chieftain.
The suspension consists of a traditional fork made super-zoot with tons of chrome. The single shock has air adjustable preload. Both do a good job of soaking up the bumps on a variety of road surfaces. Floorboard scraping cornering speeds are no problem, and when they do drag, they touch down cleanly. Unfortunately, you will run out of floorboard fold fairly quickly.
Braking from the dual front discs and their four-piston calipers and the single rear disc with a two-piston caliper is not as powerful as we’d like. Although they are mostly up to the task of slowing down the big, heavy Chieftain, they require a lot of effort when you want to get maximum power out of them. The ABS is helpful and unobtrusive when the road surface is slippery.
Touring cruisers are all about comfort, weather protection and carrying capacity. The Chieftain excels in all three categories.
The seat is wide and nicely shaped. The foam offers the right blend of softness and firmness for long days in the saddle. The weather protection provided by the fork-mounted fairing is ample and can be varied with the height of the electrically adjustable windshield. You can choose maximum air flow of the lowest position or the still air of the highest. The shield is distortion-free, so looking through it when in the full up position is not a problem.
Other comfort features, like the stereo with its Bluetooth connectivity, make long days pass by much more quickly and give vital information. Want to know your tire pressure or oil pressure? It’s right there on the LCD screen. The electrically lockable saddlebags are roomy, and the right one features a 12-volt socket for charging your electronics.
Indian has devised a fantastic package for a first-generation motorcycle from a newly revived marque, delivering exciting performance in an attractive, functional package. It has sparked our interest in what the company has in store for future models. If you feel we left some information out of this quickie test, you would be right. This is meant merely as an appetizer, to whet your appetite. We’ll soon have a shootout between the Chieftain and the best-selling motorcycle model in the United States, The Harley-Davidson Street Glide.