The Indian Super Chief straddles the line between cruiser and tourer, giving it versatility that pure cruisers lack. The addition of saddlebags and a quickly removable windshield to the Chief platform makes the call of the open road more persuasive.
Indian revamped the Chief last year, tossing out the model’s aluminum frame and ornate fenders for a much leaner appearance built around a tubular steel frame. Traditional dual rear shocks replace the previous monoshock, helping shrink the wheelbase by 3 inches. The amiable and handsome air-cooled Thunderstroke engines carry over with a new ECU.
The Super Chief is built on the Chief Bobber’s underpinnings, including the 16-inch wire-spoke wheels. It also receives a wide, pullback handlebar, roomy footboards, and a more supportive saddle. It’s built in Spirit Lake, Iowa, like all American-market Indian motorcycles, and retails for $18,999.
We tested the higher-end Limited version of the Super Chief, which gets the burlier 116ci motor as well as Ride Command electronics, extra chrome finishes, and metallic paint for a $21,499 base price.
Enticed by the Super Chief’s adaptability, I planned to use it as a cruiser for bopping around town, with intentions for some overnight horizon chasing when time and schedules allowed. Sadly for me, the only overnighting my SC experienced was in my garage, so I used notes from Phil Buonpastore – the author of the Natchez Trace Parkway story in our August issue – for this review.
Indian Super Chief Captain’s Chair
The Super Chief’s cockpit is accommodating. The single-unit gauge panel leaves a relatively uncluttered view ahead, and the old-school cop-style windshield barely intrudes on the forward view, unlike baggers with fairings such as Street Glides and Chieftains. The touchscreen TFT display delivers a wealth of info packed in its 4 inches, including ride modes, a fuel gauge, a compass, ambient temp, and gear position.
All Chiefs have full LED lighting, cruise control, and keyless ignition. The Limited version of the SC also includes Indian’s Ride Command system with navigation and smartphone integration via Bluetooth for music or to display incoming message information, plus a USB charging port.
The Thunderstroke V-Twin fires to life with a wheezy-sounding starter followed by a deep rumble from its 945cc cylinders splayed at 49 degrees. The engine shakes at idle, but it’s not as lumpy as 45-degree Harley motors, and a counterbalancer keeps objectionable vibes at bay during cruising speeds. Engaging 1st gear from neutral is reported by a thunk, with lesser thunks in the succeeding gear changes, engaging positively.
The motor pulls ably from just above idle speed – when you can nearly count the cylinders firing – and its 116 cubes supply brawny grunt throughout its rev range. Indian says the 116 mill twists to 120 lb-ft, 12 more than the 111ci Thunderstroke. Ante up for premium fuel or suffer audible pinging under heavy load. A new Bosch ECU improves drivability, but throttle response remains a bit abrupt, especially in Sport mode. Also, the ride-by-wire throttle doesn’t respond with the immediacy we’d prefer, especially in its lazier Touring ride mode.
At 739 lb with its 4-gallon tank filled, the Super Chief is no lightweight, but it proved dramatically more manageable at low speeds than the Indian Challenger I had recently tested. The saddle is placed 26.2 accessible inches from the ground and is comfy and supportive enough for several tireless hours.
A beach-style handlebar is comfortably placed, and its wide stretch makes the SC easier to bend into turns than the Chief Bobber with its narrow mini-apes. Footboards provide room to stretch from a mids position to one akin to forwards. The control interface we disliked is the location of the rear brake pedal. It’s 2 inches higher than the shift lever and requires an awkward reach.
Switchgear is well-placed and operates seamlessly. Cruise control is welcome, as are self-canceling turnsignals. Dogleg levers provide an easy reach but at a cost of leverage for two-finger brakers like myself. Heavy braking requires a firm tug on the lever despite decent hardware, like braided-steel brake lines and a 4-piston front caliper.
While I preferred popping off the quickly detachable windshield for an open-air experience around town, the shield is a definite plus when racking up miles out on the highway. It sits above eye level, providing relief from the elements without buffeting.
The suspension is adequate but falls short of exceptional. The shocks have 3 inches of travel compared to the 4.5 of the previous Chief, and we’d wish for another inch.
The 9.7 gallons of combined bag capacity is handy but not capacious – Indian’s Chieftain bagger has 18.2 gallons. If you’re serious about traveling long distances, you might want to add a luggage rack to pack more stuff.
The Super Chief combines the lean, elemental profile of an air-cooled cruiser with adaptability provided by touring conveniences.
“It has the useful amenities found in the newest motorcycles pared down to the most-used features and functions,” Buonpastore relates. “It’s the easiest handling and most fun full-sized bagger I have thrown a leg over in a long time.”
The SC is basically what Harley-Davidson’s ever-popular Heritage Classic is to a Softail, with similar layouts, powertrains, and pricing. The Heritage excels for its fit and finish, roomier bags, and 1.4 inches of additional rear suspension travel. The SC earns points with fuller instrumentation with navigation and Bluetooth capabilities, as well as its modern aesthetic of bobbed fenders that are less bulky than the big tins on the Heritage.
They’re both designed to provide the American V-Twin cruiser experience while being able to head out to distant horizons on a whim. The Heritage Softail has been in Harley’s lineup for more than 35 years, so there’s unquestionable desirability for the appeal of a big-inch V-Twin in a versatile platform.
Buonpastore and I agree: The Super Chief has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
For more information, visit the Indian Motorcycles website.