Racing up to the blind rise on the Texas highway, you roll off the throttle of the new 2023 Indian Sport Chief slightly, and the pleasing roar of the engine lowers to more of a threatening growl. As you crest the hill, there’s a moment of weightlessness, and you see a line of about a dozen other riders, all on the same performance cruisers, gliding down the roller coaster-esque drop and blasting back up the sweep to the left on the other side. It looks almost as if they are defying gravity – or getting ready to launch into the air. It’s a quick flash of a scene, a rush of exhilaration that makes you feel younger than your years, and you open the throttle back up. The bike responds without hesitation, pulling you forward as if it can read your mind and knows that, in that moment, all you want to do is catch up and take off into the sky with them.
(Another) New Take on a Familiar Favorite
The first Indian Chief, offering 61 inches of displacement, was released a little over a 100 years ago. At the Feb. 21 launch for the Sport Chief, Brandon Kraemer, Indian’s VP of product and motorcycle electrification, said that Charles Franklin, who also designed the Scout, had a goal in mind when he developed the Chief.
“His goal was to take what was great about the Scout and basically make it a little bigger and a little more capable, a little more powerful,” he said, “and ultimately they did that.”
In 2021, we tested the new 2022 Chief models: the standard Chief, the Chief Bobber, and the Super Chief, all of which feature the air-cooled Thunderstroke 111 49-degree V-Twin. The Dark Horse versions of the Chief and Chief Bobber and the Super Chief Limited boast the Thunderstroke 116, which makes a claimed 120 lb-ft of torque compared to the 108 lb-ft of the standard engine.
Taking Sport Up a Notch
Kraemer said that while the 2022 Chiefs were largely targeted after the bobber segment, “we always knew we were going to after the performance segment second.” Enter the 2023 Sport Chief. Kraemer mentioned the obvious rival in this category, the Harley-Davidson Low Rider S. “That’s what we’re going after.”
The suspension and brakes of the Sport Chief get a major upgrade over previous Chief iterations, including the same front end as used on the Challenger bagger, with its 43mm KYB inverted fork offering 5.1 inches of travel and a pair of Brembo 4-piston calipers biting 320mm rotors. The Sport Chief has new piggyback FOX shocks that are preload adjustable and that bump travel by an inch and lean angle by 1 degree.
From a visual standpoint, a new quarter-fairing also sets the Sport Chief apart from the other models, combined with a new moto-style bar with a machined triple clamp and 6-inch machined riser. A solo gunfighter seat with 2 more inches of bolster than the standard Chief is complemented by mid-mount foot controls.
The bike features cast wheels (19 inches in the front, 16 in the rear) wrapped in Pirelli Night Dragon tires, a 4-gallon fuel tank, a bobbed rear fender, dual exhausts, LED lighting, keyless ignition, cruise control, and three selectable ride modes: Sport, Standard, and Tour. The Sport Chief comes in Black Smoke, Ruby Smoke, Spirit Blue Smoke, and Stealth Gray starting at $18,999.
Read all of American Rider‘s Indian coverage here.
Where the Rubber Meets the Texas Roads
We tested the 2023 Sport Chief on a 120-mile mix of Austin city streets, interstate, and the Texas Hill Country. The pace was brisk where traffic would allow, and with the exception of some patchy spots of construction around town, the conditions were perfect for trying out this new performance cruiser, especially rolling through Hill Country and the short side jaunt we took on a narrow road with some nice twisties.
The first thing I noticed when firing up the Sport Chief was the pleasing rumbling of that blacked-out Thunderstroke 116. We started our trip with some laps around the city, but it wasn’t until we could get on the interstate that I really got the first tastes of what this bike wanted to do.
Once we got rolling, some of the unavoidable potholes and bumps of city riding were a little more jarring than I would’ve expected given the new suspension, and even with rear-cylinder deactivation, there was still some serious heat coming off the exhaust (something which could be mitigated by the DEI heat shield kit we reviewed in our February issue). But once we got outside of town and off the interstate into Hill Country, that’s where the Sport Chief really shone. And in this case, some of the positive response I experienced from the bike was directly related to that new rear suspension.
Changes to suspension subsequently alter the bike’s geometry. The approximate 1-inch raise from the new piggyback shocks not only gives more lean angle but also pivots the front end and results in a slightly lesser rake of 28 degrees and 4.4 inches of trail. Kyle Goede, product manager for the Super Chief, said the reason they did this was for “flickability.”
And Indian nailed it with that one. For a bike with a wet weight of 685 lb, it handled in the corners like a much lighter motorcycle. It was almost effortless. I can admit that I probably didn’t take advantage of the full increased lean angle, but it didn’t take much more than a bit of countersteering or shifting of my upper body to carve out a nice apex…
For the full review, check out the upcoming April issue of American Rider, and see the specs for the 2023 Indian Sport Chief below.
2023 Indian Sport Chief Specs
- Base Price: $18,999
- Price as Tested:
- Website: IndianMotorcycle.com
- Warranty: 2 yrs, unltd. miles
- Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse 49-degree V-twin, OHV w/ 2 valves per cyl.
- Displacement: 116 ci (1,890 cc)
- Bore x Stroke: 103.2 x 113.0mm
- Torque: 120 lb-ft @ 2,900 rpm (claimed)
- Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet assist clutch
- Final Drive: Belt
- Wheelbase: 64.6 in.
- Rake/Trail: 28 degrees/4.4 in.
- Seat Height: 27 in.
- Wet Weight: 685 lb.
- Fuel Capacity: 4.0 gals