First Ride: New Indian Chieftain Limited

Published: 04 April 2017

Baggers might not be your bag for a whole host of reasons, but if your primary objections revolve around poor handling, unsophisticated chassis, agricultural engines, and vast swathes of chrome – this new offering could boast the ability to challenge your perceptions. Indian’s new Chieftain Limited is a shockingly effective motorcycle – and I say that as someone who enjoys fast corner hunting far more than I do boulevard cruising.

No single element of the Limited’s spec sheet is responsible for its brilliance – instead, what is central to its skill set is a level of holistic design that reminds me of BMW’s R1200GS: There’s nothing individually special about any part of it – and yet the overall result is exceptional. What Indian have done here is to ignore the level of performance considered ‘normal’, and built the best bike they could imagine to America’s blueprint for an everyday motorcycle – the bagger.

TOP STORIES

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 firm’s Chieftain platform. Maybe more tellingly, I’m struggling make much of a shortlist of bikes I’d rather be riding. Styling aside, the most fundamental change that sets it apart from the stablemate on which it’s based is the 19inch contrast-cut front wheel, matched to an equally stylish 16inch rear. The front is now topped in a more slender fender, ditching Indian’s trademark faired-in look for a more modern aesthetic. Of course, there’s the de rigueur solid bags that make this a bagger, too. They’re usefully capacious, while narrow, and add a level of practicality that explains their popularity. Remarkably, Indian left the geometry and suspension hardware alone, and they were right to.

You might expect the 19/16 wheel combination, running 130/16 R19 front and 180/60 R16 rear rubber (Dunlop’s American Elite up front, and Elite 3 at the rear), a 371kg (dry) mass, 25º head angle and bagger stance to be a near-perfect storm for lazy steering – but you’d be wrong. And much of the Limited’s 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 – but there’s 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. There’s no significant pitching on the brakes, nor any see-sawing if you’re constantly switching from hard braking to full-throttle. While it’s long and low, the Limited loves to hustle on mountain passes.

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. There’s nothing particularly impressive about its 91.5bhp, while it arrives at an accessible 4500rpm, but the surfeit of torque (99.6ftlb at a near-tickover 2100rpm) means dancing on the gear lever is only ever a matter of choice, not necessity. And that’s helped by the big V’s elastic flexibility. While some gargantuan V-twins run into an invisible wall at the top of their rev range like a cheap turbo diesel, the Thunder Stroke III revs out cleanly as you pull another gear, and that flexibility means that from near tickover to the redline, you’ve got drive at your behest.

The addition of Indian’s intuitive and effective Ride Command multimedia system as standard equipment is also welcome, and makes navigation and all the bike’s 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.

Style-wise you’ll either like the understated bagger looks, or you’ll have your head in a bucket while you take a second look at your breakfast. But the lack of chrome bejewelments is likely to appeal to as many riders as the new Chieftain Elite’s glitz will.

MCN VERDICT

The bagger segment, especially in the States, is owned almost wholesale by Harley-Davidson, and if Indian can chip away just a small percentage of their market share it could double the firm’s scale. But do they deserve to? Yes, absolutely. The Limited’s engine, chassis and technology package is every bit the match, or better, of Harley’s – and if brand heritage matters to you, they’ve got that box ticked, too.

Indian Chieftain Limited Tech Specs

Price – £21,999

Engine – 1811cc (101x113mm), air-cooled, pushrod, 49º V-twin

Power – 91.5bhp @ 4500rpm

Torque – 99.6ftlb @ 2100rpm

Weight – 371kg (dry)

Tank capacity – 20.8 litres

Frame – Tubular steel double cradle

Seat height – 660mm

Suspension – Front: 46mm telescopic, non-adjustable. Rear: single shock with air adjustment

Brakes – Front 2 x 300mm discs with four-piston calipers. Rear: single 300mm disc with two-piston caliper

Colours – Thunder Black

Available – Mid-April

 

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