2017 Indian Chieftains Elite and Limited

Editor Score: 86.5%
Engine 17.0/20
Suspension/Handling 13.0/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.0/10
Brakes 8.25/10
Instruments/Controls4.5/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.5/10
Desirability 9.25/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score86.5/100

Indian continues to bring the battle to Milwaukee with a pair of new baggers: the 2017 Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited – baggers being such a big deal they’ve spawned their own magazines and websites, and why not? They’re a great balance of form and function, combining the ability to cruise the dirty boulevard in style, then hightail it out of town without having to leave all one’s worldly goods behind. We could call them “American Sport Tourers,” really.

2016 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse First Ride Review

What’s new with these two Indians isn’t a lot functionally, but in a world where form is just as important, these two mark a significant departure. If you can’t put your finger on exactly why at first glance, here it is: These are the first modern-era full-sized Indians to do away with the company’s signature valanced front fender.

Removing it encouraged the engineers to come up with a spicy new 19-inch contrast-cut front wheel packing a pair of 300mm floating brake rotors squeezed by four-piston calipers bearing the Indian brand. Beyond that, a color matched headlight bezel and streamlined leather saddle complete a subtly sleeker, more aggressive look (which looks quite a bit more like Harley-Davidson’s best-selling Street Glide).

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Does the carpet match the drapes? Yes. What? These two Chieftains carry on with the same 111 Thunder Stroke V-Twin as before, rated at 119 lb-ft of torque by Indian and measured by our Dynojet rear-wheel dyno at 105 lb-ft at 2800 rpm, and 76.1 horsepower at 4500 rpm in last year’s Baggers Brawl. In that sweeping Western epic, we threw a Chieftain in against an H-D Street Glide and a couple others; the results were a tie for first between the Indian and the H-D.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite front wheel

The Chieftain Limited is the Thunder Black member of the new duo. In addition to the new wheels, it gets a contrast-stitched leather seat and a short power windscreen – also a pair of speakers in the fairing driven by a 100-watt amp that puts out ridiculously good audio even at 80 per with earplugs in. I have no idea how that works, but it does. Also a seven-inch color TFT display for its customizable Ride Command system, which includes GPS, Bluetooth, etc., and works even with a gloved finger. The Limited raises the Chieftain price tag to $24,499.

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited black

The Limited is the shiny black one.

Those for whom enough never is, however, will want to swagger all the way up to Indian’s new top-of-the-line bagger, the Chieftain Elite. Carrying a price tag of $31,499, you get the idea that with this one, Indian wants a slice of Harley’s rich CVO pie. In addition to another pair of speakers in the saddlebags driven by their own 100-watt amp, this one gets a “Fireglow Red Candy with Marble Accents” paint job, which is applied by hand at Indian’s Spearfish, South Dakota, works. The first coat is gold, over 25 man-hours go into each bike, and none of the 350 Elites produced will be exactly alike, says Indian.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite red

Liberal elitist aboard Chieftain Elite.

The chrome, the paint, the fit and finish on this thing is absolutely first-rate, the stereo goes to 11, and of course there’s every creature comfort including cruise control, remote bag locks, keyless fob ignition, tire pressure monitoring… the Elite’s elitism is driven mercilessly home via a host of premium standard accessories including billet aluminum driver and passenger floorboards, a flared, tinted windscreen, custom pinstriping as far as the eye can see…

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite entertainment volume up to 11

No, it really does go to 11 – and the Elite’s four-channel system is still remarkably clear and crispy even then. There’s even an equalizer. Use the handlebar controls or a gloved finger to do your bidding.

Nothing seems to have changed in the chassis/running gear department compared to the Chieftain we most recently tested in the above-linked Baggers Brawl: Suspension remains the same 46mm fork with 4.7 inches travel, mated to a rear single air-assist shock with 4.5 inches of wheel travel, all on a 65.7-inch wheelbase. Even the rear tire remains a Dunlop Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16. If the new 19 x 3.5-inch front wheel with its 130/60B19 tire affects the Indian’s really good handling, we’d need to ride further than my day-long spin around San Diego to find out: We never hit any 100-mph sweepers or tight twisties.

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite controls

Comfortwise, they are right there with the best baggers, better really, thanks to twice as much rear suspension travel as some of Indian’s, ahem, most popular competitors. The other untested elephant in the room is engine heat. Some 111 Indians we’ve ridden put out a lot of it. On this cool and sometimes rainy day, that was no problem at all. If Indian’s done anything to address that issue, nobody from Indian bragged it up at this press launch – and my bad for forgetting to ask. We will get to the bottom of it ASAP.

There it is. “The goal was to evolve the award-winning Chieftain platform with new models that elevated the overall style of this bike significantly, while still staying true to the signature design qualities that Indian Motorcycle is known for,” said Reid Wilson, Director of Marketing for Indian Motorcycle.

A good place to sit, and just 26 inches from the ground, says Indian.

A good place to sit, and just 26 inches from the ground, says Indian.

I think these bikes accomplish that, but of course beauty is in the eye of the beer holder. I’m definitely down with baggers, but even more down with some of the other places Reid Wilson said Indian would be going on the evening these two were introduced to the press in San Diego.

MO Interview: Reid Wilson, Director Of Marketing For Indian Motorcycle

Change is good. A lot of critics felt the Thunder Stroke engine and some of the bikes were a bit over stylized as they reached back to make the historical connection. Ditching the valanced fender on these two and bolting on those modern wheels really does turn the look of the whole motorcycle around. Here’s to even more Indians to come.

Check out my Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, my quad stereo, my police escort…

Check out my Pathfinder LED headlight and driving lights, my quad stereo, my police escort…

2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited
+ Highs

  • Great looks, if you like the way they look
  • Super comfy trawlers, great suspension
  • All the modern conveniences
– Sighs

  • The bottom line has moved upward
  • Clumsier at slow speeds than H-Ds
  • Engine heat can be a problem…

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  • Starmag

    It’s pretty funny that Indian is hat-tipping Spinal Tap with it’s sound system, but the real question for beer-sodden kidneys and hard asses everywhere is does it have more than 2.15 inches of rear suspension travel?

    Stay tuned for “Bagger Wars: The Empire Strikes Back”, wherein Emperor Levatich entices you to feel the power of the “Dark Glide”.

    • Auphliam

      “…does it have more than 2.15 inches of rear suspension travel?”

      4.5 glorious inches

      • Born to Ride

        Said no woman ever…

        • Douglas

          Oohhhh……

    • Born to Ride

      I laughed out loud when at first I read that the stereo “goes up to 11” as an idiom, then scrolled down and saw the picture that the damn thing ACTUALLY goes to 11. Well played Burns, that shit is legit funny indeed.

  • Auphliam

    Wine: Hey, what are we gonna do with all the guys from the Magnum design team?
    Menneto: I’ve got an idea

  • Ron Hayes

    It is nice to see them update their styling. I hope Indian will continue to make new bikes that do not revolve around the past and try to be more innovated in their designs. I own a Victory Cross Roads and feel that is what is needed to keep Victory owners as future customers.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Victory was a boondoggle that cost Polaris $100 million in 18 years.

      • Ron Hayes

        Yes Victory lost money due to poor marketing and R and D but they still produced very good motorcycles that had a non-traditional appearance and many loyal owners still enjoy. They finished on top in several comparisons here also.

  • I guess they had to do something with the leftover parts from the victory magnum.

    • Max Wellian

      I think they actually donated their leftover paint back to the Liberace Home for the Flamboyant.

  • 31K for a streetglide special. Wow.

    • Max Wellian

      Hand painted in liquid gold and housing a big screen TV and stereo that goes to 11.
      When it streams porn and tickles my buttocks, I’m there.

      • For a little less, I’d take the GTL Exclusive.

  • Old MOron

    “What’s new with these two Indians isn’t a lot functionally, but in a world where form is just as important…”

    Speaking of form, the custom JB helmet is a win!

    http://motorcycle.com.vsassets.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/040417-2017-Indian-Chief-limited-Indian_Motorcycle_Press_California_2017_3256-696×463.jpg

    • john burns

      a big thank you to Skratch, which probably isn’t his given name.

      • Born to Ride

        Did he clarify that it was Skratch with a K? or are you just assuming by the quality of his beard that a special K was required?

        • john burns

          He signed it. It’s my new Retirement Plan.

      • Starmag

        Well if one has an itch for a custom open face helmet, who better?

  • Jon Jones

    Only $31,499 for the Elite?

    Gosh, what a value!!

  • Gee S

    “…even more down with some of the other places Reid Wilson said Indian would be going…”

    Well, I wish they’d get the heck on with it. There’s a whole world of riders that could care less about overweight mobile Barcaloungers. Especially $31K overweight mobile Barcaloungers.

    BTW, JB, the new helmet is very reminiscent of some Big Daddy Roth artwork — think Ratfink. Not that you remind me of Ratfi…..never mind.

  • JMDGT

    I can’t keep saying to each his own. I guess for an interstate sled it appeals to some folks. I just don’t get it. I never will.

    • JWH

      What’s to get?

      • JMDGT

        Exactly.

    • Chuck Smith

      To each his own. It really is that simple. It is a motorcycle. Nobody is being forced to buy or ride one. Plenty of choices. As motorcyclists we have it pretty good in that regard.

      • JMDGT

        You bet. I have defended the undefendable when it comes to other rider choices. It is becoming much more difficult for me to do so. These bikes being a prime example of why. When it comes to motorcycles wine and women, all you need to know is what you like. That goes for a lot of things. Regardless of what bike someone rides it still makes them part of the brotherhood. Ride Safe.

  • JWH

    Can’t get past the fender change. It’s so un-Indian now. Not a positive change in my book.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Yes, the valanced front fender with the lighted chief was the easiest way you could identify a Indian. Now it looks like a Harley.

    • Douglas

      Well, it’s fine w/me…..that goofy fender nostalgia was one of the few things that’d keep me from a Roadmaster, if I needed/wanted one. When Indian was one of the “big two” in the 30’s & 40’s, that fender made sense other than as a trademark. Roads back then were for the most part, unpaved, and tires threw gravel and small dirt clods everywhere. The fenders “fended” those things away from the rider. Not much need for that now (tho’ I won’t ride w/o a windshield on the road after having been behind gravel trucks and semi’s and been tagged by even a penny-sized pebble).

  • CFLAP

    Motorcycles for those who value “conspicuous consumption” over practicality.

    • Chuck Smith

      Not all of us dream about clapped out CB’s with a milk crate bungeed to the rear fender. Sorry.

      • CFLAP

        You’re right, not all of us do.

        “Theres a sucker born every minute”
        PT Barnum

        • Chuck Smith

          Must really burn you that the average person buying this bike wouldn’t give you or your bike a second look. It is a tough road looking for personal validation through others and obviously it has left you a bit bruised. It is too bad your frugality and practical nature aren’t enough to take away the sanctimony and bitterness of being left out of the cool kid club. Unfortunately for you, being left out of that club has little to do with your choice in bike. If you need to slag these folks to make yourself feel better then more power to you. They still won’t care if you take another breath any you will still be….well you.

          • CFLAP

            If I was to believe that voluntarily taking it in the rear by buying an overpriced motorcycle would put me in the “cool kids club” then, I’m more pitiful than your limp wristed attempt to make me out to be. Fortunately, I know the difference between frugal and stupid.

          • Chuck Smith

            Projecting again CFLAP? It is ok to be who you are. Embrace it.

  • John B.

    Perhaps I’m finally seeing merit in baggers and cruisers.

    The past two weekends I visited four motorcycle dealerships to look at, and sit on, the bikes that interest me most. Many of the motorcycles I like are too small for my 6’3″ 235 pound frame. I honestly don’t think I could shift a Kawisaki ZX-10 or Zx-6R. The new Z-900 is tight for me, but I could ride it. The Ninja 1000 was surprisingly tight. The Yamaha FZ-07, FZ-09 and XSR-900 are very small for me, but manageable for around town rides. The Triumph Street Triple, BMW S1000R, and Aprilia Tuono are too small as well. I would hesitate to buy a motorcycle that felt uncomfortable standing still.

    Fortunately, most adventure touring bikes feature an upright riding position with plenty of legroom. Sport-Touring motorcycles like the BMW K1600GT also offer plenty of room. Otherwise, baggers are the only other option for tall riders looking to ride long distances in relative comfort. Never say never I suppose.

    PS – The dealerships that sell Waverunners and Side-by-Side all terrain vehicles focused their showrooms and outdoor displays on these vehicles. Motorcycles, were not prominently featured. Moreover, dealers said the Side-by-Side vehicles were blowing out of the showroom, while motorcycle sales were sluggish. I suppose Waverunners and Side-by-Sides are more family friendly than motorcycles.

    • That’s why they make bikes like the R1200RT. Hundreds of pounds lighter than big cruisers and does everything well.

    • Old MOron

      I don’t recall how the leg room felt, but the S1000GS had a very open-feeling cockpit when I rode it. Have you tried Aprilia’s Caponord? When I sat on one, I found it very comfortable – but I’m only 5’10”.

      • John B.

        The Caponord has plenty of room. The BMW S1000XR is much bigger than I imagined, and has plenty of room. Same for the R1200GS, and the KTM adventure motorcycles (1290, 1090, and outgoing 1190). Sport tourers, adventure tourers, dual sports, and big cruisers all have plenty of room. The KTM Super Duke has the most room among the super nakeds, but the Tuono and S1000R are too cramped for me.

        • Old MOron

          Let’s see: S1000XR, R1200GS, KTM Super Duke and adventure motorcycles (1290, 1090, and outgoing 1190), sport tourers, adventure tourers, and dual sports have plenty of room.

          Gee, not much choice. I can see why you’re throwing yourself at big cruisers 🙂

          • John B.

            Okay OM, you got me! I should have said something like, These large baggers are no longer at the bottom of my list. They’re ahead of all the motorcycles too small for me.” I’ve been trying to keep an open mind. I can see now that’s a two edged sword!

          • Old MOron

            Ha ha, I might tease you, but especially nowadays, and ESPECIALLY on internet fora, an open mind is a precious thing.

            So in order to play fair and everything, I can tell you that a few years ago I went to the moto show intending to score a demo ride on one or more Yamaha sport bikes. When I got there, everything was booked up except for some Victory cruisers. So I took a lap on a CrossCountry SomethingOrOther. I was pleasantly surprised. For a 15-minute ride around downtown Long Beach, the thing felt like a big scooter. I guess I can see why people ride these things to the Starbucks and back. Maybe even the straight roads of the Midwest. God help you if you took one to the Twisted Sisters. Actually, they’re not that twisted, but still.

  • Old MOron

    Okay, I can’t watch video at work, so I’ve only just now seen the video part of this review. I think is perhaps your best vid, JB. Very nice tone, nice editing. Fun to watch. Good job, MOrons.

    Oh, the fit and finish on the bikes looks impressive. Not enough for me to spend that kind of dosh, but impressive to look at just the same.

    PS: your playful tone reminds me of the “Goodnight, deer” comment from one of the comparos a while ago.

  • Tanner

    if you want a bike like this style and you are willing to pay this much, you might as well get the real deal and get a Harley. Fit and finish is so much better. Plus water cooling.

    • Gary Latessa

      Fit and finish is not better on a Harley. Have you actually sat on an Indian.

  • Buzz

    You should have told me you were in San Diego JB. I would have traded you a pack of smokes for a quick spin on that thing.

    You’re probably vaping now though.

    • Old MOron

      Ha ha, I appreciate your running gag about negotiating everything with cigarettes. It’s like a prison movie or something!

    • john burns

      still smoking OPs, especially w new + $2 tax! Ahh, do Indian dealers give test rides? I bet they do. You’d like it.

      • Born to Ride

        The one off of the 78 freeway does. Been meaning to get over there and ride the scout.

  • Wally

    “These are the first modern-era full-sized Indians to do away with the company’s signature valanced front fender.”
    Define “modern-era”. As recently as 2011, Indian Chief motorcycles were available without valanced fenders.

  • Wally

    “We could call them “American Sport Tourers,” really.”
    No.
    There’s are REAL American Sport Tourers out there. They’re called Motus.

    • A lot of money for what it doesn’t have, which is an american tradition. FWIW, the term american or any nationality of marque is overrated. American assembled maybe.

      • Wally

        Tradition doesn’t make a motorcycle a sport tourer. There is absolutely nothing sport about an Indian Chief. He might as well have called it an adventure bike.

        • The context of my comment was Motus.

          • Wally

            And the context of mine was American Sport Tourers.

  • spiff

    It (the stereo) goes to 11. Indian rocks.

  • Craig Hoffman

    So we have a “Limited” and “Elite” versions. How about a “Cheap Son of a Bitch” version. Same bike, no stereo, because who needs a stereo on a motorcycle, paint it flat black with Rustoleum, charge 6 grand less than the “Limited” and I could be in.

    Or, better yet, I will let someone else eat the depreciation and buy used. Turning 55 soon, figure I have at least 5 good years in me before going bagger, because it is critical in my life’s moto journey to wait for full physical decepidation to set in, and to not to go bagger too soon. By then new Limiteds could depreciate into my price range. Sounds like a plan then. See you in 5 years…

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Why not have everything? I have a Harley Softail cruiser, a KTM 1190 R adventure bike and a Suzuki Bandit 1250S sport tourer. No bagger since we have lane sharing in CA. The KTM has removeable Mosko Moto soft panniers and a KTM top case.

      • Craig Hoffman

        Kid in college has sapped my moto budget. Damn kids…

        Love your stable. Add a new KTM 300 two stoke dirt bike and I would go so far to call it perfect really.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          The problem with a dirt bike is you have to take it everywhere in a pickup or trailer. I like leaving home on a bike and coming back on a bike. I wouldn’t be averse to a 350 EXC-F but gotta pay off the 1190 first.

  • I have a 2012 Victory Hammer and a 2015 Indian Chief in the stable, next to three
    Europeans and one Japanese. All keepers. I have spent a fortune on them.

    I was very disappointed to hear that Polaris pulled the plug on Victory. But it was inevitable with only one motor being used across a dozen different models. Adding the Scout-cloned Octane was a cop-out.

    Indian only has two – the Scout Sixty is not different enough. The TS111 fits the retro Chief Range like a glove. Tarting the Chiefs up into something else is not going to work and veers down the same failed Victory Route. Just sell basic Bikes as affordable as possible and leave the choice of options and farkles to their owners – ‘making it their own’.

    Polaris is in an ideal position to upgrade the proven reliable and virtually unbreakable 106 Freedom Motor into something befitting a new large-capacity performance-oriented Indian range.