A Tribute To Yesteryear With Sexy Lines And Iconic Emblems

The Chieftain has all the classic elements that identify it as part of the Indian Motorcycle heritage, including classic badging and iconic War Bonnet mounted on the front fender, much like the figurehead on a wooden sailing ship leading the way into the wind. Carried forward into 2018, the Chieftain — powered by the triple-cam, V-twin Thunderstroke 111 engine — wears the same valenced fenders and vintage styling, leaving no question that it has a prominent place in the lineup of this historic brand.

Continue reading for my review of the Indian Chieftain and Chieftain Dark Horse.

  • 2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
  • Year:
    2015- 2018
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    THUNDER STROKE® 111
  • Displacement:
    1811 cc
  • Top Speed:
    230 mph
  • Price:
    23999
  • Price:

Design

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 765447
The Ride Command System adds considerable value to the Chieftain and closes much of the remaining gap between it and Harley's touring lineup.

Just for a little bit of trivia, the 2015 Chieftain holds claim to being the first Indian with a hard fairing and hard saddlebags. For the 2017 model year, a monochromatic dashboard and tank-mount console toned down some of the bling and visually tied the bike together a bit, but the big news was Indian’s new Ride Command System that came tucked away within said color-matched dash. The RCS comes as part of the standard equipment package on the Chieftain (as well as the Roadmaster), and presents a direct challenge to Harley-Davidson’s Boom! Box infotainment system.

The hard saddlebags hold up to 22 pounds each and mount on quick-release anchors for easy off and on. If you don’t want to fumble with a key, you can lock and unlock the bags using the remote electronic lock control button on the console. That’s the motorcycle version of the automatic trunk release, a feature I very much like.

To add more storage to your Chieftain, install the accessory trunk with cargo room enough to stash two full-face helmets. Another feature that endears itself to me is the power windshield, giving you push-button control over airflow. Driving lights and high-output audio let you see-and-be-seen as well as hear-and-be-heard as you cruise on the highway.

With a seat height of 26 inches, I can consider this bike as a rider and not just a passenger. I appreciate that there are baggers out there that short folks can ride. While in the accessories catalog, check out the passenger floorboards that flip up out of the way when you don’t have someone on the pillion.

New-from-2017, the RCS added a 7-inch touchscreen that works even with gloves and bundles up GPS/roadmap functions with AM/FM/USB/Bluetooth jukebox convenience and smartphone interface features. A ride data display keeps up with your trip, and the tire pressure monitoring system lets you keep an eye on that most-critical metric. This adds considerable value to the Chieftain and closes much of the remaining gap between it and Harley’s touring lineup.

Chieftain Dark Horse

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 765481
Almost the entirety of the bike comes shot in a deep matte-black finish that comes off as both sinister and stealthy at the same time.

On May 11th, 2016, Indian Motorcycles revealed a variant on the Chieftain platform, the Chieftain Dark Horse, since joined by the Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited. As the name suggests, it comes with a near-solid blackout treatment, and a quick look at the accessory catalog reveals bits and bobs that take the look even further over to the dark side.

Almost the entirety of the bike comes shot in Thunder Black Smoke, a deep black with a matte finish that throws subtle highlights as light plays across the curves with no hotspots like you get with a glossy finish. End result; a look that’s comes off as both sinister and stealthy at the same time.

The Thunder Stroke 111 carries chrome pushrod tubes and polished cooling-fin edges with a bright timing cover, but nearly everything else from the flywheel cases to the flathead-looking valve covers are blacked out. All this is meant to hearken back to the ’40s, and bring a bit more classic-custom style to the Chieftain line. This bike is part of the continuing effort on the part of the factory to entice a younger group of consumers who have an eye for rides with old-school roots.

Chassis

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 665702
Indian obviously built this bike as a tribute to yesteryear, evidenced by the sexy sweep of the valenced fenders used since the 1940s, iconic tank emblems and front-fender figurehead.

Indian obviously built this bike as a tribute to yesteryear, evidenced by the sexy sweep of the valenced fenders used since the 1940s, iconic tank emblems and front-fender figurehead. Large 46 mm forks float the front end on 4.7-inches of travel, and the single rear pneumatic shock can be adjusted for load or preference with 4.49 inches of travel, which can be considered adequate, at best. Suspension components with variable tuning capabilities are becoming more ubiquitous every year, and anyone not yet looking at such features is surely falling behind. Wink nudge, Indian.

Dual four-pot calipers bind the front brake discs, and a twin-pot caliper binds the rear disc. Indian didn’t skimp on the rear brakes either, they put 300 mm discs all the way around for plenty of stopping power, and the brakes at both ends of the bike also benefit from an anti-lock brake system. The calipers disappear behind painted-to-match brake covers that blend right in with the fenders.

Swingarm: Cast Aluminum
Rake: 25 degrees
Trail: 5.9 inches
Suspension: Front/Travel: Telescopic Fork, 46 mm Cartridge Forks with Dual Rate Springs/ 4.7 inches
Suspension: Rear/Travel: Single Shock, Pneumatic Adjustment/ 4.49 inches
Brakes: Front: Dual/ Floating Rotor/ Four-Piston Calipers Dual Front/ 300 mm with ABS
Brakes: Rear: Single/ Floating Rotor/ Two-Piston Caliper/ 300 mm with ABS
Tire, Front: Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H
Tires, Rear: Dunlop® Elite 3 180/60R16 80H
Wheel, Front: Cast 16 inches x 3.5 inches
Wheel, Rear: Cast 16 inches x 5 inches

Drivetrain

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 765445
I was struck by how much the valvetrain geometry, head construction and valve-cover design reminded me of an old flathead engine, but the innards of the engine are anything but old-school.

Engine design also reflects an effort to show the old-school Indian DNA. When I first laid eyes on the mill, I was struck by how much the valvetrain geometry, head construction and valve-cover design reminded me of an old flathead engine. But the innards of the engine are anything but old-school. Three cams operate the four-pushrod valvetrain, which is unusual but necessary for the nice parallel look of the pushrod tubes. The 111-inch Thunder Stroke V-twin engine breathes through a 54 mm throttle body to deliver a blistering 119 pound-feet of torque, proving that the builders looked forward even as they borrowed from the past. Finally, the six-speed transmission sends this power to the rear wheel while keeping the cruising rpm at a reasonable level.

Drivetrain options include a Stage-1 Slip-On exhaust and “Big Sucker” (really? Big Sucker?) intake that opens up both ends of the engine to let it breathe and perform as intended, sans government meddling, and while the Six-Shooter exhaust tips don’t increase performance, they do look really cool. I’m not sure why the heel shifter is optional instead of standard equipment — after all, who doesn’t like heel shifters? — but at least it’s available if you can’t live without it; for a few dollars more, of course.

Engine: Thunder Stroke® 111, V-Twin, Two Valves Per Cylinder, Hydraulic Lifters
Displacement: 111 cubic-inches
Bore x Stroke: 3.976 inches (101 mm) x 4.449 inches (113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 9.5 to 1
Peak Torque (J1349): 119.2 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm
Cooling System: Air/Oil Cooler
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed Loop Fuel Injection / 54 mm Bore
Rev Limit: 5,400 rpm
Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-plate
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Exhaust System: 1 into 2 with Catalytic Converter, Split Dual Exhaust with Cross-Over

Pricing

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 765482
Gray or Gray are your choices this year; there are no nice two-tones or color options to be had.

MSRP for 2018 falls in at $21,499 for the Chieftain and $23,999 for the Chieftain Dark Horse. Available this year only in gray or gray – Steel Gray for the Chieftain and Thunder Black Smoke for the Dark Horse – there are no nice two-tones or color options to be had.

Colors:
2015: Thunder Black, Indian Red - two-tone: Indian Red/Thunder Black, Springfield Blue/Ivory Cream, Indian Red/Ivory Cream
2016: Thunder Black, Indian Red, Silver Smoke - two-tone: Star Silver/Thunder Black
2017: Thunder Black Pearl, Silver Smoke, White Smoke, Star Silver/Thunder Black, Wildfire Red/Thunder Black (Dark Horse: Thunder Black Smoke)
2018: Steel Gray (Dark Horse: Thunder Black Smoke)
Price:
2017: $23,999, Dark Horse: $21,999
2018: $21,499, Dark Horse: $23,999

Competitor

2015 - 2018 Indian Chieftain / Chieftain Dark Horse
- image 731483
2015 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager
- image 737317
The Vaquero is clearly built for the American market with a liberal application of blackout treatment and boulevard bruiser attitude that should appeal to anyone considering a Chieftain.

Indian draws on its deep historical roots for many of the design aspects on the Dark Horse, but the large front fairing is an entirely modern invention. Rather than grabbing the obvious H-D bagger such as the Street Glide, Road Glide or even the Sport Glide, I want to give Kawasaki a shot and see how its Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS stacks up.

The Vaquero is clearly built for the American market with a liberal application of blackout treatment and boulevard bruiser attitude that should appeal to anyone considering a Chieftain. Kawi opted for a fixed fairing that is not unlike H-D’s sharknose, and while some like frame-mount fairings for their stability in the wind, I still prefer Indian’s fork-mount, batwing-esque fairing.

No matter which you pick, you’ll only be getting a smoked, vestigial windscreen to protect you from the weather, but at least they look cool and fit the overall flavor nicely. Both manufacturers make sure you can share your music with everyone around you with premium sound systems, and in a slight trade off at the rear end, Kawi chucks on the p-pad that the Dark Horse lacks but runs with smaller hard bags. It’s easy enough to add a p-pad, just sayin’...

Suspension components are remarkable similar with stadard, non-adjustable stems up front and a posh, air-adjustable preload in back across the board. Not only does this give you a wide range of adjustability, air-ride shocks are famously smooth operators. Both run ABS, but Kawi takes it up a notch with its proprietary Advanced Coactive-braking Technology that electronically distributes the braking effort for extra stability in all conditions.

Big v-twins sell well on our side of the pond, and both of these rides carry real bruisers. Kawi packs in a 103.7 cubic-inch (1,700 cc) plant that is a monster by most standards but still falls short of the 111-inch (1,811 cc) Thunder Stroke. Power is a little shy as well with only 107.6 pound-feet from the Vulcan against 119 pounds o’ grunt. Does that matter much? Not really, but there it is anyway.

You had to know that if Kawi was going to shine here, it was going to be at the checkout. At only $16,799, the Vulcan 1700 Vaquero ABS is significantly less expensive than the Chieftain Dark Horse with its lofty $23,999 tag. Price has ever been the toehold for foreign cruisers, and it’s still true today. Is that enough to make/break a deal? Depends on your budget and tastes, but my money would be on the Indian every time.

He Said

My husband and fellow writer, TJ Hinton, says, “I gotta say that Polaris is doing an excellent job refurbishing the Indian brand, and the Chieftain is a perfect example of this. Even though the decidedly retro looks of this ride will fit with a rather niche clientele, the performance is something that everyone can appreciate. I really like the engine design, and prefer it to the more post-modern looks of the Scout engine.”

She Said

"I really like these Indian bikes. They’re classy and classic, elegant and vintage. I’m hard pressed to choose between the Chieftain and the Harley-Davidson Street Glide. They’re priced comparably and the appeal of the Project Rushmore bikes is strong.”

Specifications

Engine & Drivetrain:
Engine: Thunder Stroke® 111, V-Twin
Displacement: 111 cubic-inches
Cooling System: Air/Oil Cooler
Valvetrain: Two Valves Per Cylinder, Hydraulic Lifters
Bore: 3.976 inches (101 mm)
Stroke: 4.449 inches (113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 9.5 to 1
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed Loop Fuel Injection / 54 mm Bore
Peak Torque (J1349): 119.2 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm
Rev Limit: 5,400 rpm
Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-plate
Transmission/Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Gear Ratio (Overall):
1st: 9.403 to 1
2nd: 6.411 to 1
3rd: 4.763 to 1
4th: 3.796 to 1
5th: 3.243 to 1
6th: 2.789 to 1
Final Drive: Belt - 2.2 to 1
Exhaust System: 1 into 2 with Catalytic Converter, Split Dual Exhaust with Cross-Over
Chassis:
Swingarm: Cast Aluminum
Suspension: Front: Telescopic Fork, 46 mm Cartridge Forks with Dual Rate Springs
Suspension: Front Travel: 4.7 inches
Suspension: Rear: Single Shock, Pneumatic Adjustment
Suspension: Rear Travel: 4.49 inches
Brakes: Front: Dual/ Floating Rotor/ Four-Piston Calipers Dual Front/ 300 MM with ABS
Brakes: Rear: Single/ Floating Rotor/ Two-Piston Caliper/ 300 MM with ABS
Tires: Front: Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H
Tires: Rear: Dunlop® Elite 3 180/60R16 80H
Wheels: Front: Cast 16 inches x 3.5 inches
Wheels: Rear: Cast 16 inches x 5 inches
Rake: 25 degrees
Trail: 5.9 inches
Dimensions & Capacities:
Overall Length: 101.2 inches
Overall Height: 60.2 inches
Overall Width: 40.2 inches
Seat Height: 26.0 inches
Wheelbase: 65.7 inches
Ground Clearance: 5.6 inches
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 Gallons
Fuel Requirements 91 octane minimum (R+M/2 Method)
Reserve Fuel: 1 Gallon
GVWR: 1,385 Pounds
Maximum Load Capacity: 537 Pounds
Weight - Empty Tank: 815 Pounds
Weight - Full Tank: 848 Pounds
Equipment:
Standard Equipment: ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Driving Lights; Highway Bar; Keyless Start; Power Windshield; Desert Tan Genuine Leather Seats; Remote Locking Hard Saddlebags; Tire Pressure Monitoring; 100-Watt Stereo with AM/FM Bluetooth and Smartphone Compatible Input
Gauges: Fairing Mounted Instrument Cluster Featuring Electronic Speedometer, Tachometer and Fuel gauge with Odometer; Dual Tripmeters with Distance and Time; Instantaneous and Average Fuel Economy; Fuel Range; Real-Time Clock; Compass; Ambient Air Temperature; Gear Position Display; Front and Rear Tire Pressure; Engine Hours of Operation; Engine Oil Life Percentage; Average Speed; Battery Voltage; Radio Information Display; Vehicle Trouble Code Readout; Heated Grip Level (With Heated Grips Installed); 15 LED Telltale Indicators: Cruise Control Enabled, Cruise Control Set, Neutral, High Beam, Turn Signal, ABS, Check Engine, Low Tire Pressure, Battery, Low Fuel, Security System, Low Engine Oil Pressure; and MPH Unit Designation
Power Points: Front - 10 amp maximum / Rear - 10 amp maximum / Combined - 10 amp maximum
Ride Command™: 7" Touchscreen including realtime clock; ambient air temperature; heading; audio information display; vehicle trouble code readout; Vehicle Status (tire pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); Vehicle Info (speed, fuel range, RPM, gear position); Dual Trip Meters (fuel range, miles, average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy time, average speed); Ride Data (heading, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change); Bluetooth connectivity for phone and headset; Map/Navigation
Details:
Colors:
2015: Thunder Black, Indian Red - two-tone: Indian Red/Thunder Black, Springfield Blue/Ivory Cream, Indian Red/Ivory Cream
2016: Thunder Black, Indian Red, Silver Smoke - two-tone: Star Silver/Thunder Black
2017: Thunder Black Pearl, Silver Smoke, White Smoke, Star Silver/Thunder Black, Wildfire Red/Thunder Black
2018: Steel Gray (Dark Horse: Thunder Black Smoke)
Price:
2017: $23,999, Dark Horse: $21,999
2018: $21,499, Dark Horse: $23,999

References

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero

2015 - 2018 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero / Vulcan 1700 Voyager
- image 737316

See our review of the Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Vaquero.

Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited

2017 Indian Chieftain Limited & Chieftain Elite
- image 733330

See our look at the Indian Motorcycle Chieftain Elite and Chieftain Limited.

All images featured on this website are copyrighted to their respective rightful owners. No infringement is intended. Image Source: kawasaki.com, indianmotorcycle.com

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