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