Indian Challenger takes on the world

Andy H Indian, New Models Leave a Comment

The news we’ve been waiting for since Sturgis has finally broken, and it takes American v-twin motorcycles into new territory … a couple of years after Polaris might have done wearing a Victory badge, but with more chance of success thanks to the strength of the Indian brand.

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The realisation of a long-held ambition – to break out of the constraints of American motorcycling heritage – the new Indian Challenger challenges global preconceptions and builds on the success of Victory’s touring models in markets where European and Japanese brands have previously dominated: markets that might respect the abilities of a Chieftain or Roadmaster to cover enormous distances in comfort, but are looking for a more dynamic package.

Basically, a purchasing decision made by the head more than the heart … although it doesn’t hurt that it has been wrapped up in an internationally recognisable yet modernised brand image.

As such, it is going to be a marmite bike round here: more acceptable than a Livewire to more people thanks to its new 108-inch PowerPlus 60-degree v-twin – a short-stroke 108×96.5mm which we expect to be a DOHC, judging by the positioning of its spark plug, with a semi-dry sump, gear-driven primary and 6-speed gearbox – which Indian is telling us features best-in-class performance in a low-maintenance, high reliability powerplant.

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In case you missed that post, that’s 122hp and 178Nm@3800rpm and begs the question, what class? It delivers a couple of Newton metres of torque more than BMW’s 6-cylinder 1650cc tourers and Honda’s flat-6 1800cc Gold Wing, but it’s 40hp less than the Beemer, even if it’s only a couple of horse’s shy of the big Japanese Boxer.

It remains to be seen where it slots between them in terms of modern riding dynamics – the Beemer is lighter and quicker than the Wing – areas where conventional American heavyweight tourers have made little impact in the past.

In terms of weight, it doesn’t help that everyone measures things differently, with BMW claiming 336kg unladen but fuelled for their baseline K1600B (364kg for their Grand America dresser) and Honda stating a kerb weight of 365kg which might or might not include fuel, but both are undoubtedly lighter than the Indian’s 361kg dry, to which we’d guesstimate about 20kg of fuel and oil.

Where the Indian does score highly is in a high GVWR – the maximum load including rider, passenger and luggage – which tops out at 628kg, thanks in part ot the use of Metzeler’s Cruisetec tyres. That is compared to all BMW K1600’s 560kg and the Gold Wing’s … err, they don’t quote one: the best I can offer is 186kg of rider and passenger and 32kg of luggage on top of the kerb weight, suggesting 583kg, but don’t quote me. And don’t forget, that 186kg includes riding gear, unless you ride naked, so don’t get too smug about stressing the scales no more than you did in your teens, you could be into three figures by the time you’re ready to ride.

Taking the bike’s weight into consideration, that means you can carry about 218kg on a Wing, 224kg on a baseline BMW (196kg on the Grand America) and 247kg on the Challenger, which is good news because the panniers are massive.

Yes, of course you can carry a lot more – and people do – but if something breaks, or the bike develops a weave or worse, the onus is on you rather than the manufacturer.

American tourers typically exceed expectations in terms of pannier size and the Challenger is no exception with 68 litres of storage space on these two models – neither of which come with a trunk but will inevitably be followed by a model that has – aided by a lower exhaust than its rivals. And while they might look small, that’s only relative to the size of a frame-mounted fairing that is packed with technology: something else that the Challenger doesn’t lack.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (“Get it out, with Optrex”, Spike Milligan), and the Challenger’s biggest challenge in this market is going to be in the acceptance of this signature piece of bodywork, but let’s wait until we’ve seen it up close and personal before condemning it.

It will make it immediately recognisable on the road thanks to its all-LED lighting rig, but it’s massive: certainly much bigger than the new stylised headdress on the front mudguard. That has been reduced to a modern, thinner and more 2-dimensional version with an LED strip running the length of its top edge.

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It takes a lot to dwarf a Springfield Dark Horse with Apehangers but the Challenger manages it quite easily, and we expect it to make the Road Glide look sleek, but this is a market that values function as highly as form and that’s hopefully where it is going to make an impact.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s best angles are head-on and a rider’s eye view of the twin analogue instruments with an updated Ride Command with a new and faster quad-core processor beneath. It is also a far simpler cockpit than either BMW or Honda’s overwhelming selection of switches and buttons. The 7-inch LED screen looks a bit low on first sight – requiring more than a glance down from the road ahead – but then the whole fairing sits high so that might not be an issue. As previously, it has the most configurable infotainment system in its class, which now includes weather and traffic overlays on its satnav map, and it integrates with phones and headsets out of the box over Bluetooth.

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More importantly – for those familiar with the Road Glide, and even the Street Glide – it has an electric screen with a three-inch range that can be raised and lowered to counter headwinds: we all love a low screen for looks, but you can’t beat a taller screen for maximum deflection at speed, and the ability to choose between them and anything in-between is frequently under-rated. Add to that a vent in the fairing itself that interacts with the screen to channel the air above the blade itself, and we expect great things.

While the Challenger’s upside-down forks could look old fashioned compared to the BMW’s Duolever and Honda’s Double-wishbone front, they don’t only feature radial 4-pot Brembo calipers, but Indian’s ‘Smart Lean Technology’, adding a new level of traction control and ABS using a Bosch ‘Inertial Measurement Unit’. A what? Think of a smart phone accelerometer combined with a gyroscope and you’re half way there.

As a finishing touch, Indian have launched the Limited and Dark Horse with The Challenger Tour Collection: a range of accessories to allow riders to make their bike their own – including backrests, alternative screens and audio enhancements, as well as things to make it blacker or shinier. All part of their bid to make their modern, aggressive-looking new model stand out as the ultimate bagger.

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“While we are grounded in our iconic history, we are focused and driven to break new ground and establish a higher standard for riders; and the Challenger is a testament to that,” said Steve Menneto, President of Indian Motorcycle. “The amount of technology and level of detail packed into this bike is incredible, and it’s something we’re extremely proud of.”

Can it run alongside the Thunder Stroke tourers?

Yes, of course it can. We get bogged down in American manufacturers occupying one corner of a market that they dominate, but we don’t point an accusing finger at any other brand that builds different bikes for different markets. Honda make Fireblades, retro-styled streetbikes and Adventure Sports in the litre-plus bracket as well as Gold Wings; BMW make seven litre-plus in four distinct families, including an impressive range of 1,000-1,600cc tourers that no current American bike competes against, for no other reason than they do a completely different job.

Of course, I would like to have seen Indian focus on a family of middleweights to fill the massive gap between the Scout and Chief – taking on Harley-Davidson’s new Softails, although The Motor Company are doing a very good job at competing with themselves with their broadest range of heavyweight street bikes – but this is Indian challenging the world and looking beyond national rivalries.

Good news for Harley-Davidson, less so for BMW and Honda if Indian have got their calculations right.

The 2020 Indian Challenger Dark Horse will be available in Thunder Black Smoke, Sandstone Smoke, and White Smoke, while the Indian Challenger Limited will be available in Thunder Black Pearl, Deepwater Metallic, and Ruby Metallic.

Prices are expected to be in the mid-twenties – more Gold Wing than BMW – and it will be revealed at EICMA and shown at Motorcycle Live at the NEC.

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