It has been a long time coming – and not for the want of us imploring Indian to do more with their Thunder Stroke motor – but our prayers have been answered … and potentially Harley’s worst nightmares realised.
The only surprise is that it has taken so long, but it was worth the wait and coincides with the 100th anniversary of the original Chief’s introduction in 1921.
The three models are closely related but offer different experiences and clearly leave a door open to much more diversity as the range develops, and are:
The Chief Dark Horse
Clearly a very different proposition from the last model to bear the name, this blacked-out, stripped-down street bike has a 19-inch front wheel and 16-inch rear, both cast and painted black with machined highlights, beneath cropped mudguards and solo bucket seat. Flat track bars in short risers will lean the rider into the ride, aided by the first set of mids that we’ve seen on a Thunder Stroke Indian.
The black engine finish is a rich gloss as is the Stealth Grey paint, although there are obviously matt options for the paint, and these are Black Smoke and Alumina Jade Smoke.
The Chief Bobber Dark Horse
Switch the wheels for laced 16-inchers front and rear, the mid controls for forwards and the tracker bars for mini apes transforms the Dark Horse, and you’d better like your sheet metal matt because all three colours are Smoke finishes: Black Smoke, Titanium Smoke, and Sagebrush Smoke.
The only chrome engined model of the three, the bobbed soft-bagged touring model retains the laced 16-inch wheels of the Bobber – and its austerity black rims – but adds a chrome exhaust, metallic paint, footboards, headlamp nacelle, fork shrouds and a screen as well as an interesting-looking set of panniers that look like they might be a decent size. It is the first to have a pillion seat as standard, too.
Those metallic hues: Black Metallic, Blue Slate Metallic, and Maroon Metallic.
Following a time honoured tradition, Indian have taken an engine designed to drag a large, spacious motorcycle with two people and a fortnight’s luggage on a continental road trip and shoe-horned it into a smaller, tighter, lighter frame. And in the case of the super compact Thunder Stroke, which has always looked like it was designed to go into a smaller frame – hence the big filler panels between the engine and the rear mudguard or panniers on a Chief – it is an engine that has finally realised its true aesthetic potential.
116 cubic inches out of the box – there was no sense trying to get away with 111 – it outguns the Milwaukee-Eights in the Softail range, which is its target market, and it finally puts a model range between the Chief and the Scout, where Harley-Davidson have had it all their own way since Polaris canned Victory. And even as a fan, I’m going to suggest it makes you glad that Indian didn’t just stick new badges on Victory’s street bikes.
We can debate how much Indian is in a Challenger – how much Freedom is in the PowerPlus – but this is pure 21st Century Indian.
It’s not quite the Thunder Stroke as we know it, as the observant will have noticed: well, I know Boz will have done. The down-firing fake flathead headers are no longer a feature, which will delight him: the biggest barrier to him getting maximum power out of a promising motor are gone.
It is the first full collaboration between Rich Christoph, whose work on the Scout and FTR we are familiar with, and the relatively recently appointed Director of Product Design at Indian, Ola Stenegard.
Ola was a lead designer on BMW’s R-nineT and whose R5 Hommage concept grew – literally and in every direction – from a tribute to the elegant 1930s R5 into the R18 production bike, and this is his first major contribution to Indian’s range.
Size, proportions and attention to detail all mark out this new range as special, and with Harley-Davidson a little on the back foot with a slow and begrudging acceptance of their stunning Softails combined with strategic changes at the top, it couldn’t have come at a better time for Indian … or Harley, to be honest, them having demonstrated that they can rise to a challenge.
Traditionalists will be pleased about the vote of confidence for the Thunder Stroke motor, which has been overshadowed a little by the new liquid-cooled Power Plus in the Challenger, and there are more than enough changes to require the motor to be homologated again, burying any concerns regarding Euro5 compliance for the air-cooled OHV motor.
It borrows the twin shock back end and hardtail lines from the Scout, but has an all-new tubular steel frame that is a piece of sculpture, which from the outset has been designed to take the wiring through the backbone to reduce the external clutter!
And it has THE sexiest digital dash of all time: a Ride Command with a circular screen that is as conventional as you like if you go for the instrument dials, but has all the functionality that a modern rider could ask for. Talk about raising the game! I want one for the dashboard alone!! Okay, and the engine: I do love the Thunder Stroke engine and 116-inches with less weight to haul around is going to be a riot.
The big question is going to be whether it would the Chief Dark Horse, the Dark Horse Bobber or the Super Chief, which at £15,795, £17,695 and £19,995 respectively are going to be very attractive to a lot of converts who I suspect will be itching to get their hands on one!
“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 Motorcycles. “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.”