Indian Motorcycles shows its dark side with the Indian Chief Dark Horse. Built as a cruiser/boulevard bruiser, the ’16 and ’17 CDH models marry a low-slung stance with gobs of Indian’s trademark details and a dark-and-menacing matte black finish. The powerful 1,811 cc Thunder Stroke 111 mill supplies over 100 pounds of grunt to push the CDH into the power-cruiser category, so you can be sure that you get plenty of “go” along with the “show.” Indian has benefited mightily from its relationship with Polaris, and is starting to almost represent the same sort of threat to Harley-Davidson’s dominance that it did during the first half of the last century.

Continue reading for my review of the Indian Chief Dark Horse.

  • Year:
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Engine:
    Thunder Stroke III
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    80 (Est.)
  • Torque @ RPM:
  • Displacement:
    1811 cc
  • 0-60 time:
    12 sec. (Est.)
  • Top Speed:
    120 mph (Est.)
  • Price:
  • Price:


2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse - image 617424

A glance is all it takes to peg the heritage of the CHD, and the genetic markers are in evidence right from the very front edge. Indian’s full-skirt fender sports the distinctive “Headdress” ornament, and the blackout fork shrouds and headlamp nacelle add a bit of beef to the front end.

The slope of the upper lines are defined by the tank-mount instrument console and the deep-scoop solo seat that resembles the old spring-post seats and provide plenty of butt-retention— an important feature given the crushing torque from the mill.

Below the seat, body panels tie into the full-skirt rear fender to close off all the internals aft of the engine from view. If you like to see lots of rear wheel, you’re going to be disappointed, but I think we can all agree that the hidden rear suspension really cleans up the rear end nicely.

Indian’s Thunder Black Smoke paint serves to create the blackout effect, but the chrome exhaust, pushrod tubes and fender trim pieces plus polished cooling-fin edges keeps the bike from looking like a hole in the night. If all that wasn’t enough to identify the bike, the gray, Indian-head fuel-tank graphic should give it away to even the thickest observer.


2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse - image 692141

For long and long the double-downtube, double-cradle, tubular-steel frame has been the standard for American-made bikes, and so this style of skeleton plays right into the classic look of the CDH. The steering head comes set at 29 degrees for an almost custom-looking kick, and it pushes the wheelbase out to 68.1 inches with a whopping 6.1 inches of trail. These numbers point to a solid and stable ride on the straights, but indicate a certain reluctance in the corners.

At 783 pounds wet, there’s no doubt that this is a lot of bike to control, but Indian threw on a pair of four-pot calipers up front with two-pot calipers in back and 300 mm discs all around. No ABS or brake balancing, but I’m OK with that, it just means that there’s less to go wrong. Suspension components are likewise vanilla. A single shock springs the two-sided swingarm, and fat, 46 mm forks buoy the front.

Wheel travel at the axle is sufficient for civilized roads with 4.7 inches of travel up front and 3.7 inches in back, but the lack of adjustment means what you see is what you get, period. Cast-alloy rims mount the 16-inch Dunlop hoops with a 130/90 on the front rim, and a 180/65 on the rear.

The frame construction and seat layout leave us with a dead-low seat height of 26 inches, low enough for the shortest inseams and to inspire confidence in even the greenest riders at stops and low-speed parking lot maneuvers.


2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse - image 617425

As cool as the CDH looks, the Thunder Stroke 111 still manages to steal the show with its classic, flathead-looking valve covers and pushrod-tube geometry that also strongly resembles the old sidevalve mills. At 111 cubic-inches (1,811 cc), this is one big V-twin folks. The 3.976-inch bore and 4.449-inch stroke gives us the typical long-stroke layout so common with American mills, and at 9.5-to-1 the compression ratio allows for the use of mid-grade fuels so at least you don’t have to buy the premium-priced pump champagne.

"The biggest selling point on the engine has to be the stump-pulling torque: a whopping 119.2 pound-feet of grunt at only 3,000 rpm..."

Much like the brakes and suspension, engine management is simple. The factory shuns ride-by-wire, traction control and all the other systems that are great to have all the way up till the time they fail and you have to pay someone else to work on it. Electronic fuel injection meters the air-fuel mixture through a 54 mm throttle body and cruise control makes up the only fandangled feature. I have to admit that it’s nice to have CC on even short jaunts on the highway if you decide your right hand needs a break.

The biggest selling point on the engine has to be the stump-pulling torque: a whopping 119.2 pound-feet of grunt at only 3,000 rpm, plenty for solid holeshots and roll-ons in spite of its great weight.


2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse - image 692140

Indian is in direct competition with H-D for its share of the domestic market, and I’ve wondered more than once if it was pricing its product because that is what Harley has proven the market will bear. Whatever the reasoning, the CDH is definitely carrying a premium price tag at $17,499, and I can’t help but wonder if Indian is shooting itself in the foot with that lofty tag, especially in light of some of the recent advances H-D has made.


2015 - 2017 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy / Fat Boy Lo / Fat Boy S - image 692144
2016 Indian Chief Dark Horse - image 692145

Since Indian has but one true domestic competitor— Victory doesn’t count since it also falls under the Polaris umbrella and carries a different style — and so H-D is its sole foe.

With deep roots to draw upon, both manufacturers have plenty of established design characteristics to bring to the table for a genuine look that is neither borrowed nor stolen. Since Indian went to great lengths to conjure up a design with heavy overtones of yesteryear, I decided to go with the Softail Fat Boy. Harley never has been fond of the fullish body panels that hide the ass end so it went another route to make a connection to the past with its Softail frame that mimics the look of the old rigid frames. Couple that with the fat hydraulic front end and you have a bike that would fit in around the late ’40s to early ’50s. Much like the CDH. Granted, the base Fat Boy doesn’t come with the blackout treatment, and although the Fat Boy “S” model does, it’s a different beast entirely. The takeaway here is; both bikes look fabulous each in its own way, and I am hard-pressed to pick one over the other.

Suspension is something of a yawn on both rides. I’m talking plain vanilla here. Same with the brakes, though H-D does include ABS in the standard equipment package. I know some of you will like that feature. Seat height is also close enough for government work and plenty low at just over two feet off the ground. Same with steering geometry; both are meant to be comfortable cruisers driven at speeds somewhat lower than “breakneck” and so carry numbers within a hair of one another.

The Fat Boy runs the air-cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103B that runs an entirely function-driven form for all that it somewhat resembles its forebears, while Indian’s Thunder Stroke 111 goes to great lengths to imitate the look of one of its antique engine styles. Both have their own charm to be sure, but honestly that Thunder Stroke just makes the deal for me, it’s just too cool for school. Indian gets an eight cube advantage and they take it straight to the bank with 119 pounds of grunt versus only 102.5 from the H-D plant for a difference you can definitely feel. I still maintain that for a cruiser, anything over 100 pound-feet of torque is just overkill, but for those of you counting every ounce of power, there ya go.

It ain’t every day that I see a bike with a tag higher than a comparable Harley, even if it’s a razor-thin margin. You can score a Vivid Black Fat Boy for the everyday low price of $16,899 (try to say that with a straight face, I dare ya’) and the top-tier paint will set you back $17,649. The CDH falls in-betwixt with a $17,499 sticker, but comes only in Thunder Black Smoke.

He Said

“Really digging what Indian has going on these days. The looks of the bikes are just as classic as anything Harley is putting out, and the Thunder Stroke is an impressive mill with good looks to boot. This is one more case where Indian comes off looking like Harley’s hot sister with oodles of curb appeal and bottomless torque to back it up, and as much as I like to bust on them for price, it is what it is, and I doubt that is ever going to change.”

She Said

My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "While I love the Indian line-up as a whole, I’m not a big fan of the Chief Dark Horse, but it’s an aesthetics thing and all personal taste. You can’t fault that Thunder Stroke engine and until I see a little more of the Milwaukee-Eight, the Thunder Stroke is still my favorite mill."


Engine Type: Thunder Stroke® 111
Displacement: 111 cu in (1811 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 3.976 in x 4.449 in (101 mm x 113 mm)
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Electronic Fuel Injection System: Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore
Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Drive/Driven Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate
Final Drive: 2.2 : 1
Peak Torque: 119.2 ft-lbs (161.6 Nm)
Peak Torque RPM: 3000 rpm
Gear Ratio (Overall):
1st: 9.403 : 1
2nd: 6.411 : 1
3rd: 4.763 : 1
4th: 3.796 : 1
5th: 3.243 : 1
6th: 2.789 : 1
Suspension: Front - Type/Travel: Telescopic Fork / 4.7 in (119 mm)
Front Fork Tube Diameter: 46 mm
Suspension: Rear - Type/Travel: Single Shock / 3.7 in (94 mm)
Brakes/Front: Dual / 300mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper
Brakes/Rear: Single / 300mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Wheels/Front: Cast 16 in x 3.5 in
Wheels/Rear: Cast 16 in x 5 in
Tires/Front: Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H
Tires/Rear: Dunlop® American Elite 180/65B16 81H
Exhaust: Split dual exhaust w/ cross-over
Wheelbase: 68.1 in (1730 mm)
Seat Height: 26.0 in (660 mm)
Ground Clearance: 5.5 in (140 mm)
Overall Height: 46.3 in (1176 mm)
Overall Length: 103.5 in (2630 mm)
Overall Width: 39.4 in (1000 mm)
Rake: 29°
Trail: 6.1 in (155.0 mm)
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons (20.8 liters)
GVWR: 1260 lbs (573 kg)
Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel): 751 lbs / 783 lbs (341 kg / 356 kg)
Gauges: Tank mounted electronic speedometer with odometer; dual tripmeters; digital tachometer; ambient air temperature; fuel range; average fuel economy; battery voltage; gear position display; real-time clock; vehicle trouble code readout; heated grip level (if heated grips installed); low engine oil pressure; and 9 LED telltale indicators: High Beam, Chassis Fault, Turn signals (separate), ABS, Neutral, TPMS, Check Engine, Sidestand
Standard Equipment: ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Keyless Start
Color / Graphics: Thunder Black Smoke
Price: $17,499

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