Indian Chieftain- review

Following on from my 1000km tour on a 2016 Indian Chieftain, I thought it might be interesting to write up some thoughts on the bike.

I’m guessing that those in Europe reading this will probably not really have considered the marque as a purchase, and are even less likely to have taken one for a test ride. For starters, the dealership coverage is sparse, In France there are only 28 dealers, whilst the UK fares a little better with 15, 2 of which are in Ireland. The other thing potentially holding sales back over here, are the roads we ride on, and our prediliction towards sports bikes, and due to repressive speeding laws in recent years, nakeds. Neverthless they are a strong competitor for Harley Davidson so are worthy of consideration if you’re looking at a bike in their camp, so here is my review of what you’d find if you tried one.

The first impression is one of size and quality. The chrome looks deep and thick, even the footstand is beautifully finished. The bike is adorned with the Indian logo everywhere, just to make sure you realise the heritage of the machine you are riding.

Walking around the bike you can’t fail to be impressed by the detail. The panniers are centrally locked with either the key fob or via a button on the tank, or you can of course lock/unlock them manually using the key. The bike is started like many modern cars, with a button which is only activated when you are close by with the key fob, and like some Ducati’s, you only need to thumb the starter briefly, which then starts the motor cycling until it fires. The petrol tank takes 20.8 litres and has two filler caps but only the right hand side is used, the left side is a dummy.

The rear footpegs fold up to preserve the lines if you are riding solo, and the footboards are wide enough for support, but not so wide that they ground easily. I didn’t manage to deck them once, and I’ve managed to do so with a Goldwing before, so I’ve been known to corner hard! It’s also smart having crash bars fitted, again they’re covered in a thick lustrous chrome.

The dashboard is multi function, and scrolling through the multiple screens you’ll find: dual tripmeters with distance and time, instantaneous and average fuel economy; fuel range; clock; compass; ambient air temperature; gear position display; front and rear tyre pressures; engine hours of operation; engine oil life percentage; average speed; battery voltage; and radio stations!!!

Cruise control is standard and works extremely well, ABS probably works well too, although I never had occasion to find out. One small quirk comes from the fuel gauge, which sometimes flashes up the low fuel warning light, but then extinguishes itself again, often then showing around 100kms of range still left in the tank. I realised this happened on steep downhill inclines. It’s not a big deal or a problem, just an observation.

The electric screen looks so small as to be next to useless, but in fact is superbly sized, and once set to your favoured position does an extremely good job of deflecting wind from you without creating any wind noise, great ergos. There is a radio with flexi aerial mounted to a rear pannier, and a power socket for your MP4 player, so all bases covered from the technology standpoint.

Sticking with controls, there are LED indicators, and an additional pair of driving lights which can be switched on independently, thereby giving any myopic car drivers zero oppportunioty to say they didn’t see you coming. If they can’t see something that big with three headlights blazing they really should visit their opticians immediately and give up driving! The mirrors have the obligatory “Objects are closer” warning, and are well shaped, don’t vibrate, and give an excellent view of the road behind, so jobs a good un.

The bike runs on 16″ wheels and you’ll find braking is optimal when both front and rear brakes are used together, using the front only doesn’t really give the stopping power you need for a bike this heavy.

Panniers are quality items which can be locked via 3 different methods. The first by simply using the remote key fob lock function, which is cool; the tank mounted lock/unlock button, or of course by key. The lids have engraved Indian logos on the hinges. I’m sure for a single rider the combined volume of these would be sufficient, but for two up riding the bike could really do with a top box or an additional bag attached to the rear rack. Our bike had a detachable rear backrest, which I’d say is a must if you’re taking a pillion.

The engine is an 1811cc fuel injected twin which Indian call “Thunder Stroke111”. Peak torque of 135nm is available at only 2100rpm, which leads to extremely low revs at cruising speeds and little need to change gears for rapid acceleration. It starts to rip once past 3500rpm, but it’s not worth revving past 5000, and comfortable ( read legal) cruising speeds are nearer the 110-120kph mark. The belt drive is quiet and I never had any changing difficulties, other than occasionally having to reach a little to get to the gear change lever which is mounted at an angle, but then again I have small feet. Engine braking is useful, and although I’m not a big fan of riding twins as I always seem to lock the rear downshifting, the only time this happened was on some oil on the entrance to a hairpin bend. Generally one change down is sufficient to set you up for a bend and give good drive out of it. I wouldn’t say I was blown away by the power, but also I didn’t have any cause to think about it too much, so in my book that means it was ok.

The seat height is a low 660mm which makes putting both feet down a doddle. Handling was the biggest surprise of the trip. Despite the bike weighing a not inconsiderable 385kg, you’d never know it. When riding the weight just disappears, and maybe I had been smart parking in ideal spots, as I never had to move it or wheel it around, which meant I didn’t have issues with slow manual movements. It held a good line in long sweeping bends, turned plenty fast, and never gave me a moments concern in 1000kms, so I have to give it top marks for manouevrability, which was most unexpected given it’s physically imposing dimensions.

Reading this review you’re probably wondering by now when the “but” is coming? After all, I’m a long distance sports tourer who enjoys an R1 on trackdays, so there had to be something I didn’t like? The only thing I can comment on is that the width of the grips caused my left hand some discomfort, but I have small hands, so this comment probably wouldn’t apply to the majority of riders. Similarily the seat was comfortable for me and I never felt the need to stretch or move around to get comfortable, although Sue wasn’t quite as comfortable on her pillion seat and started fidgeting after 100km or so.

Overall I’d have to score this bike highly. Once you’ve adjusted to how the front goes light and waggles a bit when you’re slowing in traffic, you’ve pretty much found its sole weakness. I never thought I’d like a bike like this so much, but if I lived in Canada and regularly rode on the type of roads we’d been on, I’d have this bike at the top of my wish list, it was that good! Maybe its not the right machine for Europe, but over there it was ideal. Move over Harley Davidson, there’s a new king in town!

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