2014 Indian Chieftain Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Re-born Indian impresses as a worthy competitor to Harley's Street Glide

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.

2014 Indian Chieftain

Editor Score: 82.55%
Engine 16.5/20
Suspension/Handling 12.92/15
Transmission/Clutch 7.5/10
Brakes 8.25/10
Ergonomics/Comfort 9.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.13/10
Desirability 9.25/10
Value 6/10
Overall Score82.55/100

2014 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special Vs. Indian Chieftain – Video

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.

Retro styling on a thoroughly modern motorcycle. The Chieftain carries the vintage Indian heritage but performs like a modern cruiser.

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.

2014 Indian Motorcycle Review: Chief Classic, Chief Vintage and Chieftain


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.

High-tech design and manufacturing meets old school oil- and air-cooling – complete with downward exhaust manifolds.

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.

2014 Harley-Davidson Touring Motorcycles Review

Capable of nonchalantly dragging floorboards, the Chieftain handles well for a big, relatively heavy tourer.

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.

Expect to see this tank emblem around for a long time.

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.

Best Touring Motorcycle of 2013

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.

The war bonnet takes a well-deserved place at the front of the Chieftain.

+ Highs

  • Beautiful, torquey engine
  • Surprising handling for a big bike
  • Tons of touring features as standard equipment

– Sighs

  • Brakes require a big squeeze
  • Engine heat on right thigh
  • Transmission thunks when shifting
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

More by Evans Brasfield

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5 of 14 comments
  • Lanbrown Lanbrown on Nov 21, 2013

    While the 12volt plus sounds nice, having a few USB ports would have been a nice addition as well. There are plenty of devices that use USB and having some ports would remove the requirement to have a 12v charging adapter and a splitter if multiple USB ports were offered.

    • Evans Brasfield Evans Brasfield on Nov 22, 2013

      There is a USB connector and a pouch to safely hang your device inside of the lower righthand side of the fairing. The player can be controlled via the left grip.

  • Paul McM Paul McM on Oct 20, 2016

    I just rented an Indian Chieftain 2016 out of Las Vegas. Put 580 miles on it in three days. Before I comment on the Chieftain, telling the truth as best I can, let me provide this background. I have ridden for 41 years. I own three motorcycles, and ride 5-6 days a week, year-round. I have ridden over 200,000 miles on motorcycles in my lifetime, including everything from 100cc two-strokes to a K1600. I have ridden across the USA twice and across Canada once.

    OK, here goes -- I couldn't wait to get off the Indian. It handled miserably and required constant steering input in any kind of curve. Basically it was nerve-wracking to pilot the machine. The motor is good, the brakes weren't as bad as this review suggests, but this machine is stupendously heavy and I found the handling to be "twitchy" and weird to the point that I could only enjoy the machine in a straight line. The front end simply would not hold a line, the slightest bump in the road caused a wobble or the bike to go off-line. It felt like the front tire was on ball bearings -- it simply had no stability in a turn. I just hated the way it behaved in corners.

    If you were on the throttle (uphill) the bike would steer around a curve not so badly, but in decreasing radius downhills the bike was downright scary. NOTE: The front tire on my rental bike was pretty worn. However, I can't believe the skittish and really disturbing front end was all attributable to the tire. I resorted to lowering my leg off the floorboards (Rossi style) to lower the COG and get the bike planted. As for the windscreen, it appears that Indian reduced the screen height. I've seen earlier Chieftain screens that had a much taller top with a rounder radius. The screen on my bike was pretty short, even in full raised position. I am an honest 6'1" and the wind protection was bad. There was a LOT of turbulence off the top of the screen -- not good. If possible I would retrofit an older screen. The seat was reasonably comfortable, but after 20 miles or so my lower back began to hurt. I honestly don't know why people like this seating position.

    I should note that the worst handling was observed with a 25-30 mph quartering head-wind. It may be possible that the batwing fairing was developing lift and causing the front end to go light and wobbly.

    BAD Ergos: As for controls, the front brake, IMHO, is way too high and too far forward. I have long legs, and it was awkward to engage the front brake on a hill, and I had to consciously lift my whole leg to get a solid feel on the front brake. The audio and screen controls are simply awful. Oh, and it was almost impossible to read the central screen in bright sunlight.

    After the skittish "deal-breaker" front end, I would have to say the bike's worst quality is its weight. This thing is a big, heavy beast. I am 6'1" 200 lbs and pretty fit. I struggled to roll this bike backward on any kind of incline. Too f'ng heavy! Low speed in a gas station etc. this bike is a handful. Once you get up to a few MPH the bike does seem to lighten up, but once you hit some bumpy curves, you'll have your hands full -- fundamentally this machine was NOT FUN because the handling was so weird and the front end so twitchy. To be honest, I was delighted to leave the bike at Eagle Rider -- I couldn't wait to get off the thing.

    As a test I went back up a road in my car, through some corners where I had piloted the Chieftain at the posted 25 mph corner speed and the Indian felt worrisome even at that slow speed. In the car I took the very same corners at 40+ with ease, and I know, had I been on my 660-lb ST1100, 40 mph would have been a breeze. My ST holds a line and feels planted but you can instantly change your Apex point with just a small bit of counter-steering. With the Chieftain I felt I was constantly working hard just to get the damn bike to get around the corner in one piece. Awful... just awful.

    I'm posting this because honestly I think there is something really fundamentally wrong with this machine (not enough trail or caster angle maybe). It was probably the single worst riding experience I've had in the last decade.

    When I compare riding the Chieftain to my 15-year-old ST1100 I honestly can't understand why anyone would buy the Indian. My ST is much more comfortable, has better wind protection, better passenger accommodations, way better brakes, 20% better gas mileage, has a centerstand, has guages that you can read all the time, has actual usable storage in the fairing, better side bags, and much of your body weight is carried on your thighs so you aren't compressing your lower spine.

    OK, I know guys will say you can't compare apples to oranges. Fair enough. But I have ridden Harley Dressers, Goldwings, the Guzzi California, a Kawasaki Vulcan and some other big, heavy bikes with floorboards. I was shocked by how unpleasant the Chieftain was to ride, at least in high winds. My rental machine had around 15.5 k miles, and there were no signs that the bike had been crashed before I rented it. I can only say this to Polaris -- put the Chieftan on a diet and fix the front end!

    • See 1 previous
    • Paul McM Paul McM on Oct 21, 2016

      I would like to hear what the shop guys have to say. I think the issue might be somehow worsened by the new (2016+) short windscreen that may have changed the bike's handling. I found a review on MotoUSA.com of an identical 2016 bike (silver with short windscreen) that said: "but at times hustling through some of the tighter bends the Chieftain required constant input at the handlebars to keep it on the desired line". I am wondering if Indian made some bad changes for 2016 or if, with the short-top screen, the fairing is developing lift causing the front end to be twitchy. Honestly after riding that thing around Lake Mead and feeling tense in nearly every curve, you couldn't pay me to ride that thing again. Getting back on my ST was like night and day.... See: http://www.motorcycle-usa.c...