IN­DIAN CHIEFTAIN

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Amer­i­can mo­tor­cy­cles have a ten­dency to walk an imag­i­nary line be­tween main­tain­ing tra­di­tion and adopt­ing tech­nol­ogy, mov­ing for­ward with new de­sign while re­spect­ing and pay­ing homage to de­signs past. In­dian’s 2019 Chieftain adds some new tech, with three new rid­ing modes and rear cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion, while also re­design­ing the whole look of the bike with a new fair­ing and more squared-off sad­dle­bag shape. It’s dif­fer­ent but fa­mil­iar, and still dis­tinctly In­dian. To In­dian purists, the shape of the fair­ing might look a lit­tle like a Street Glide, but for con­quest cus­tomers, it might be just the bold new aes­thetic they needed to jump over the fence.

The fair­ing has lost the two large fog lights, slim­ming up the line around the bot­tom and bring­ing the fo­cus in on the main head­light. Above the head­light there is a new vent, ar­guably the most Har­ley-cen­tric de­sign ad­di­tion to the new fair­ing, with an out­let be­hind the wind­screen to de­crease head buf­fet­ing. The in­ner back­ing of the fair­ing stays pretty much the same, with new mount­ing points on the lower trees for the turn in­di­ca­tors. The sad­dle­bags also lost their bub­bly, rounded aes­thetic for more of a squared-off, hard-line look. While my ini­tial re­ac­tion to the 2019 model was a pretty bla­tant “That looks like a Street Glide,” the new styling seems to be in­stantly strik­ing a chord with rid­ers who hadn’t pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered In­dian an op­tion.

Three new ride modes have been ap­plied to the Chieftain’s throt­tle map—tour­ing, Stan­dard, and Sport. Tour­ing was the base mode on all pre­vi­ous mod­els, and Sport mode is based off of the map­ping used af­ter the 116ci dis­place­ment kit was in­stalled. Tour­ing mode is about what you would ex­pect; it doesn’t feel par­tic­u­larly docile, but it does take some twist­ing of the throt­tle to get a big re­sponse. Stan­dard is the mode. Stan­dard is where I spent most of my time, even rid­ing in the rain, be­cause the throt­tle ap­pli­ca­tion is still pretty smooth but a lit­tle more ag­gres­sive and quicker to get there than Tour­ing. Sport mode goes from zero gas to what feels like 15 per­cent as soon as you crack the throt­tle, which was def­i­nitely fun at first but seems like it’s in­tended to break trac­tion and squeal rather than get power to the ground. For any­thing other than red-light-to-red-light screech­ing and burn­ing rub­ber, I was more than happy to stay in Stan­dard mode. When hold­ing steady throt­tle on the high­way, Sport mode got a lit­tle an­noy­ing be­cause it would pulse dra­mat­i­cally with slight throt­tle ad­just­ments.

The rear cylin­der de­ac­ti­va­tion worked very well at man­ag­ing heat from the en­gine. This had been an is­sue for the Thun­der Stroke en­gine, and In­dian has made mas­sive strides to­ward fix­ing it. Best of all, I only re­ally no­ticed the de­ac­ti­va­tion when I was look­ing for it. Most of the time, I saw the icon on the dis­play be­fore I no­ticed the change in sound, and then, as soon as I cracked the throt­tle, it would come back to life, and off we’d ride. The en­gine is smooth and strong with great power, as it al­ways has been, and with this new tem­per­a­ture con­trol, it’s only get­ting bet­ter.

The rear end has been low­ered very slightly by in­creas­ing the sag of the bike, or the amount it sinks once a rider’s weight is ap­plied. Es­sen­tially, it sits 1 inch lower on the show­room floor, and 5⁄8-inch lower than pre­vi­ous mod­els once a rider puts their weight on. Be­cause rear ge­om­e­try has re­mained es­sen­tially un­changed, the lean an­gles stay at 31 de­grees and full sus­pen­sion travel re­mains 4½ inches. The floor­boards no longer have the lit­tle metal scrape feel­ers ex­tend­ing from them, so that def­i­nitely makes a dif­fer­ence in what you feel scrap­ing and when. A car­tridge fork and an air-ad­justable (re­quires a pump) Fox Sus­pen­sion monoshock do a great job of damp­ing the bumps and keep­ing the bike tight and smooth through the cor­ners. The chas­sis on the Chieftain is in­cred­i­ble, hold­ing steady even when hit­ting small bumps through turns at triple-digit speeds. Com­pared to other bag­gers on the mar­ket, I am con­fi­dent say­ing the Chieftain han­dles the best.

A new Rogue seat gives the pro­file of the bike a lower line, and the higher back of the seat does a de­cent job of sup­port­ing your lower back. In the two days we spent on the bikes, I never got sad­dle sore or felt ea­ger to get off of the seat, which says a lot with my bony butt. The seat and sad­dle­bags are both eas­ily in­stalled on pre­vi­ous mod­els of Chieftain as well, so if you like your old fair­ing and want to add a lit­tle bit of the new flair, that’s an op­tion from In­dian.

While the paint on the Lim­ited line is sup­posed to be one of its ma­jor sell­ing points, I was not im­pressed. On the flat sid­ing of the sad­dle­bags, you’re left with sort of an or­ange-peel tex­ture, rather than a smooth mir­ror fin­ish. When com­par­ing the Lim­ited to the base model $4,000 be­low it, I would ex­pect a lit­tle more at­ten­tion to this de­tail. The Dark Horse is avail­able in matte black, white or bronze, all of which have a nicer-look­ing fin­ish than the gloss paint.

Lim­ited and Dark Horse mod­els both start at $25,999, com­pared to the base­model Chieftain at $21,999. That ex­tra cash gets you a crash bar, nav­i­ga­tion in­stalled on the in­fo­tain­ment, full LED light­ing, re­mote-lock­ing hard bags, tire pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing, and paint op­tions other than Steel Grey. That may seem like a big price gap, but com­pare it to the gap be­tween a Road Glide and a Spe­cial at $5,900, and it doesn’t seem all that bad. If you’re a big­ger fan of pre­vi­ous years’ Chieftain mod­els, that fair­ing and bag style is still avail­able as the Chieftain Clas­sic. The Thun­der Stroke 111 is an ex­cel­lent mo­tor, and the Chieftain chas­sis is one of the best bag­ger frames out there. Make up your own mind on the styling, but the ex­pe­ri­ence on the bike is just get­ting bet­ter.

2019 IN­DIAN CHIEFTAIN LIM­ITED

2019 IN­DIAN CHIEFTAIN DARK HORSE

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