New version of classic Chieftain transforms the American bagger
Baggers might not be your bag for a whole host of reasons, but if your primary objections revolve around poor handling and agricultural engines Ð this new bike could challenge your perceptions.
No single element of the spec sheet is responsible for its brilliance Ð instead, what is central to its skill set is a level of holistic design that reminds me of BMWÕS R1200GS. Thereõs nothing individually special about any part of it Ð and yet the overall result is exceptional.
As we carve through the sinuous maze of Californian mountain roads, taking fast sweepers with the same composure as nadgery hairpins, it seems that nothing can unsettle this new take on the firmõs Chieftain platform. Maybe more tellingly, IÕM struggling to make much of a shortlist of bikes IÕD rather be riding. Styling aside, the most fundamental change that sets it apart from the stablemate on which itõs based is the 19in contrast-cut front wheel, matched to an equally stylish 16in rear. The front is now topped in a more slender fender, ditching Indianõs trademark faired-in look for a more modern aesthetic. Of course, thereõs the de rigueur solid bags that make this a bagger, too. Theyõre usefully capacious, while narrow, and add a level of practicality that explains their popularity.
You might expect the 19/16 wheel combination, running 130/16 R19 front and 180/60 R16 rear rubber (Dunlopõs American Elite up front, and Elite 3 at the rear), a 371kg (dry) mass, 25¼ head angle and bagger stance to be a near-perfect storm for lazy steering Ð but youõd be wrong. And much of the Limitedõs composure and steering stability is gifted by the exceptional performance delivered from the KYB suspension. Bikes of this scale are often suspended so badly that they can barely control their own mass. Add, in my case, an 18-stone rider into that equation, and images of jelly trifles sliding across greaseproof paper spring to mind Ð but thereõs none of that here.
Ground clearance becomes the limiting factor, but the hinged footboards give you a margin of grace, and with such an impressive balance between the 46mm fork and air-adjustable rear monoshock, bumps and swells mid- corner give no cause for concern. The fact that you can actually feel what the front tyre is doing through that fat and heavily weighted fork is another confidence-boosting surprise. Thereõs no significant pitching on the brakes, nor any see-sawing switching from hard braking to full-throttle.
The 1811cc Thunder Stroke III engine gives plenty of encouragement to get a shift on, too. Drive is punchy but linear throughout the short rev range, and it pulls with super-smooth, glitch-free delivery throughout and dancing on the gear lever is only ever a matter of choice, not necessity.
The addition of Indianõs Ride Command multimedia system as standard is also welcome, and makes navigation and all the bikeõs system management just a touchscreen swipe (or button press) away. The interface is excellent, and only the chunky left switchgear comes close to being disappointing.
Ever y aspect has been properly thought through