Lean and mean and filled with modern tech, Indian takes the legacy of the Chief and brings it to the next frontier
Words by Kali Kotoski
Photos courtesy of Indian Motorcycle
Since Polaris acquired the Indian namesake nearly a decade ago, they have consistently rolled out motorcycle after motorcycle that aims to preserve the heritage of the early 20th-century marque, while giving riders the latest advancement in two-wheeled technology expected from a major manufacturer.
That blanket statement regarding heritage is, of course, full of holes seeing the ambitious FTR effort and the surprising success of the Challenger platform that is—if online message boards and social media comments are a reliable metric—questioning Harley-Davidson’s dominance over the V-twin universe.
But history also comes with baggage as seen in Indian’s styling cues for their flagship Chief platform that debuted at the Sturgis Rally in 2013, which to their credit was widely viewed as a fantastic and well-manufactured new beginning for the brand. Meticulous effort was spent on design to keep the mythology of the early 1900s alive, while delivering great ride quality.
Yes, the baggage I am talking about are those huge and curvy front and rear fenders on the Indian Chief Classic, the bulky cyclops-looking nacelle and the 1950s linoleum kitchen paint scheme of the Chief Vintage (not to mention the outdated leather fringe on the saddlebags and saddle that would be fitting at a Texas hoedown).
I am firmly in the camp that believes vintage should stay vintage and modern copies of those elements make me question if the styling back then really was cool, or if it is really just a longing for nostalgia. Rightfully, there are many that should disagree with that opinion and I respect that.
But now, 100 years after the first Chief rolled out of the factory, the lineup has been “totally reimagined” with three new models that combines “iconic, American V-twin style with modern performance and technology” that honors “a simplistic and mechanical aesthetic.”
Utilizing the powerful Thunderstroke engine, the new Indian Chief, Chief Bobber and Super Chief rest on a simplistic steel-tube frame and each one offers a unique take on the classic American V-twin motorcycle with enough differences to appeal to a variety of riders.
The bikes are stripped-down and rugged, making the beauty of the machine focused on what it should: power. The new Chief is reminiscent of a minimalistic attitude that reaches back to the simple days of American motorcycling, when hitting the road to nowhere was how legends were born.
Then there’s the new Chief Bobber. With bulky tires wrapped around spoke wheels, a muscled-up front end and a solo bobber seat, the Chief Bobber pays stylistic homage to the classic post-war era V-twins, bobbed and chopped by military veterans and blue-collar rebels that were intent on breaking norms.
Lastly, Indian Motorcycle offers the Super Chief, which has saddlebags and a windshield to provide the versatility for riders taking on longer, high-mileage trips.
“The Indian Chief is a truly iconic motorcycle and what better way to celebrate its 100th birthday than unleashing an entirely new Indian Chief lineup,” said Mike Dougherty, President of Indian Motorcycle, in a release. “These bikes capture the mechanical simplicity and attitude of classic American V-twins, yet bring it all forward with modern sophistication and features. We could not be more thrilled to bring this new platform into our lineup.”
The lineup features a four-gallon fuel tank, bobbed rear fender, dual outboard preload-adjustable rear shocks, dual exhaust, LED lighting, keyless ignition, and Pirelli Night Dragon tires. Along with cruise control, Chief riders can adjust throttle response by selecting one of three ride modes: sport, standard or tour. These ride modes are tuned well and very responsive to real world conditions when tested on the Challenger.
The new Chiefs feature a short wheelbase of 64-inches, a low seat height of 26-inches and a wet weight as low as 670 pounds, making it an ideal choice for freshman and veteran riders.
The Chief’s conventional 46mm front forks with 5.2-inches of travel, 28.5-degree lean angle, and comfortable ergonomics, create a machine designed to handle the most technical roads.
“We wanted to capture a timeless look that never goes out of style, and looks beautiful whether naked or fully dressed,” said Ola Stenegard, Director, Industrial Design for Indian Motorcycle. “We also wanted to keep it simple enough to allow riders’ imaginations to take flight with personalization options and possibilities. Ultimately, this is a bike that evokes emotion with simple mechanical styling and raw American muscle. It’s a pure riding machine.”
Powered by Indian Motorcycle’s Thunderstroke 111 powertrain with 108 ft-lbs of torque, the Chief, Chief Bobber and Super Chief feature an analog gauge, chrome and matte black finishes, and is available with or without ABS.
For the premium Chief Dark Horse, Chief Bobber Dark Horse and Super Chief Limited the more powerful Thunderstroke 116 engine provides 120 ft-lbs of torque. ABS comes standard, while premium finishes showcase the craftsmanship that went into the build. Each Chief and Chief Bobber Dark Horse model packs further attitude with premium gloss black finishes, while the Super Chief Limited touts premium chrome finishes.
Additionally, each model comes equipped with Indian Motorcycle’s industry-first 4-Inch Round Display with RIDE COMMAND. Riders can operate the RIDE COMMAND system through grip controls or via the digital IPS touchscreen display. Riders can cycle through multiple interfaces, including two different gauge configurations, bike and ride information, and turn-by-turn navigation with connected services featuring weather and traffic overlays. If using a wireless helmet communicator, riders can control their music within the RIDE COMMAND system once their phone is paired via Bluetooth or USB.
All in all, this is a welcome expansion for Indian Motorcycle that brings back a classic, mean motorcycle for a raw, simplistic riding experience.
The 2022 Chief lineup will begin shipping to Indian Motorcycle dealers throughout the U.S. and Canada in April 2021.