US bagger rival to Harley’s Street Glide is better than ever, thanks to a styling refresh and spec updates, writes Phil West
Revived US brand Indian, which relaunched in 2014 after being bought by Polaris in 2011, had already proved itself a more-than-credible Harley-Davidson alternative with its big twin cruisers and Sportster-rivalling Scout, but with this significantly improved Chieftain it might actually be one step ahead.
Make no mistake, this an important bike. As Indian’s take on the ‘bagger’, the US-style, chopped-down, pannier-equipped tourer which, by being half-tourer, half-custom has become America’s favourite (shouldn’t that be favorite? – Ed). Harley’s version, the Street Glide, is the US’s best-selling motorcycle bar none, meaning that this was already probably the most important bike in Indian’s range.
The original model was a decent effort, too. The 111 cubic inch ‘Thunderstroke’ V-twin was already bigger and arguably punchier than Harley’s 107ci offering. Its die-cast aluminium chassis and quality suspension, though having larger proportions than its H-D rival, also gave a plusher ride and more sophisticated handling. While the Indian’s equipment levels and build quality gave little away to its American rival, either.
But this significantly updated version for 2019 goes that bit further. First and most obviously, the Chieftain’s been given smoother, more modern styling. One potential criticism of the old Chieftain, after all, was that its reliance on Indian’s heritage styling cues made it look overtly retro. This new version, with a slicker, more aggressive fairing, mudguard and panniers, is very much a modern bagger, something accentuated further by its larger, 10-spoke, cast alloy front wheel (the predecessor had a 16 incher). All of that, meanwhile, is rounded off with slick new badging and LED lights (but you’ll be glad to hear the classic Indian ‘Warbonnet’ fender mascot remains…). It’s also worth pointing out here that the new Chieftain also comes in this featured ‘Dark Horse’ trim, meaning it comes in a moody white, black or bronze satin paint finish complete with blacked-out engine, exhausts and other brightwork.
But just as importantly, the new Chieftain also gets a significantly uprated specification, most notably with its improved ‘Ride Command Infotainment System’. This combined satnav, Bluetooth-enabled stereo and comms’ system plus instruments and on-board computer all integrate and display through a truly impressive, 7 inch (that’s almost 18cm in modern money) big, full-colour touchscreen and is truly a wonder to behold and listen to.
This unit also acts as the hub for an extra new addition – the three new, switchable performance modes, namely Tour, Standard and Sport, which can now be switched between via the touchscreen display.
And the result of all that combined is a significant overall improvement. The new Chieftain not just looks better, especially in this Dark Horse trim, it’s finished better too. Thanks to the new modes it goes better, as well, and the handling and comfort is as good as ever. While, finally, the whole touring ‘bagger’ experience is significantly enhanced by the updates and improvements to Indian’s neat infotainment system. Simply, American cruisers have never been so slick. For every tactile and measureable reason, this Indian has got Harley beat.
In the real world, however, things aren’t quite so simple. In this spec, the new Chieftain also costs – at £23,499 it’s also significantly more expensive than the equivalent Street Glide, nor can it boast Harley’s dealer network or second hand resale residuals. But for those who are feeling bold, the new Chieftain is a superb machine that stands out from the crowd.
And isn’t that what bikes like these are supposed to be all about?
|ENGINE TYPE||49-degree V-twin, pushrod, 4v per cylinder, air cooled|
|BORE X STROKE||101 x 113mm|
|MAXIMUM POWER||100 hp (75 kW) @ 5000 rpm|
|MAXIMUM TORQUE||161.6Nm @ 3000rpm|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||46mm telescopic forks|
|FUEL TANK||20.8 litres|